Sunday, 22 July 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Battle of Britain pilot called Geoffrey Wellum

Geoffrey's death, at the age of 96, has been recorded by the BBC and marked by obituaries in the Sunday Times and the Telegraph. They feature his exploits as a young pilot flying a spitfire in the skies over Southern Britain in the crucial 'Battle of Britain' in the Summer of 1940, at the start of the Second World War. He was 18 years old. Having survived in the skies for two years, his flying days came to an end in the shape of a nervous breakdown. He later recalled : “I’d shot my bolt. Something inside me gave way and I broke down. I grieved for my lost friends and I cursed that I had reached the pinnacle of my life before the age of 22. I’d gone over the top. A medal and a royal handshake didn’t seem important any more. I felt destroyed by the war.”

Geoffrey's story might have been lost to us, but for the fact that, in the mid 1980s, when he was in his mid sixties and feeling a failure with the family business in liquidation and his divorce pending, he retired to The Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall and settling in Mullion, to prove to himself that he had actually done something with his life, he picked up a pen and, with the aid of his wartime notebooks, wrote a longhand memoir of his time as a Spitfire pilot.

Twenty years passed, until in 2000, he was approached by author James Holland, who was researching a fictional novel based during the Battle of Britain and Geoffrey lent him his unpublished memoir. James showed it to friends in publishing at Penguin Books and, as a result in 2002, it was published as 'First Light: The Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain.'

The resulting celebrity saw Geoffrey asked to make contributions to tv documentaries : 'Spitfire Ace' for Channel 4 in 2004, 'Dangerous Adventures for Boys' produced by Channel 5 in 2008 and 'The Spitfire: Britain's Flying Past' produced by the BBC in 2011. However, it will perhaps be in the 2010 BBC drama, 'First Light', made to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, that Geoffrey will gain immortality.

Geoffrey was 86 when he provided a commentary for the programme and said :

"I ask myself : "Was it worth it ? Was it worth it ?" All those young men I fought and flew with. All those chaps who are no longer with us. I ask myself that question and I can't answer it. I suppose it has been. I suppose it must have been. I suppose it must have been. I am still struggling."

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