Canadian-born Squadron Leader who was one of the last surviving Battle of Britain pilots dies at 102

Tributes have been paid to John Hart (pictured during his time in Burma), who was one of the last surviving Battle of Britain veterans. He has died aged 102

Tributes have been paid to John Hart (pictured during his time in Burma), who was one of the last surviving Battle of Britain veterans. He has died aged 102

Tributes have been paid to John Hart (pictured during his time in Burma), who was one of the last surviving Battle of Britain veterans. He has died aged 102

Tributes have been paid to one of the last surviving Battle of Britain veterans who has died aged 102.

Squadron Leader John Hart was one of ‘The Few’ who ensured the Germans did not invade Britain in the Second World War by defeating the Luftwaffe.

The Spitfire pilot, who served in 602 Squadron, shot down a German Messerschmitt 109 and shared in two kills on Junkers Ju88 bombers, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for gallantry in the process.

His death means that the number of Battle of Britain heroes left is just four.

They are Flight Lieutenant William Clark, Wing Commander Paul Farnes, Flying Officer John Hemmingway and Flight Lieutenant Maurice Moundson.

David Brocklehurst MBE, chairman of the Kent Battle of Britain Museum, said: ‘John was the archetypal Battle of Britain pilot; very modest and self-effacing – the epitomy of what they stood for.

‘He should be remembered for his bravery. Many of these men said they were not heroes, just doing their duty, but we see them all as heroes.

‘Sadly they are a dying generation and there are only four of The Few still living.

Flying Officer John Stewart Hart (third from right) stands with his Royal Air Force colleagues at No 602 Squadron in Westhampnett, England, during the Battle of Britain

Flying Officer John Stewart Hart (third from right) stands with his Royal Air Force colleagues at No 602 Squadron in Westhampnett, England, during the Battle of Britain

Flying Officer John Stewart Hart (third from right) stands with his Royal Air Force colleagues at No 602 Squadron in Westhampnett, England, during the Battle of Britain

Squadron Leader John Hart celebrated his 100th birthday on September 11, 2016

Squadron Leader John Hart celebrated his 100th birthday on September 11, 2016

Lieutenant-Colonel William Radiff, commanding officer of 409 Squadron, presents Squadron Leader Hart with a framed 409 Squadron commemorative print in September 2016

Lieutenant-Colonel William Radiff, commanding officer of 409 Squadron, presents Squadron Leader Hart with a framed 409 Squadron commemorative print in September 2016

Squadron Leader John Hart celebrated his 100th birthday (left) on September 11, 2016. Right: Lieutenant-Colonel William Radiff, commanding officer of 409 Squadron, presents Squadron Leader Hart with a framed 409 Squadron commemorative print in September 2016

‘It makes it all the more important that we carry on their legacy as there will be a time when they will no longer be able to do so.

‘What they achieved must never be forgotten.

‘We will be flying our flag at half mast as a mark of respect to one of our heroes. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.’

Surviving members of The Few who fought in the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain veteran Squadron Leader John Hart died in June at the age of 102, taking the number of surviving members of The Few to four.

They are:

Flight Lieutenant Maurice Mounsdon

Flight Lieutenant Maurice Mounsdon

Flight Lieutenant Maurice Mounsdon

Flight Lieutenant Maurice Mounsdon

Born on February 11 1918 in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

He joined 56 Squadron at Digby, Lincolnshire, aged 22, on June 3 1940.

He made two confirmed kills of German bombers and fighters, two probable kills and damaged two other fighters.

His Hurricane was shot down over Colchester, Essex, on August 31 1940 and he spent nine months in hospital.

Wing Commander Paul Farnes

Born in Boscombe, Hampshire, on July 16 1918.

Trained as a pilot and joined 501 Squadron at Filton, Gloucestershire, on September 14 1939.

He flew Hurricanes and was credited with eight ‘kills’ during France and the Battle of Britain.

In a previous interview with The Telegraph, he said: ‘I don’t go along with this business of people saying how brave we were.

‘It’s a lot of nonsense, I don’t think the average chap was brave at all.

‘He was trained to do a job and he did the job and he did it well.’

Prince Charles talks to Battle of Britain veteran Wing Commander Paul Farnes during a reception on September 17, 2017

Prince Charles talks to Battle of Britain veteran Wing Commander Paul Farnes during a reception on September 17, 2017

Prince Charles talks to Battle of Britain veteran Wing Commander Paul Farnes during a reception on September 17, 2017

Flying Officer John Hemingway

John Hemingway, 98, who was born in Dublin

John Hemingway, 98, who was born in Dublin

John Hemingway, 98, who was born in Dublin

Born in Dublin on July 17 1919.

He served with 85 Squadron in France in early 1940 and destroyed a Messerschmitt on May 10.

His Hurricane was hit by flak over Maastricht in the Netherlands on May 11 and he made a forced landing.

Back in a Hurricane, he was shot down by a Junker on August 18 1940 over the Thames Estuary.

He parachuted into the sea and was rescued by a ship 12 miles east of Clacton, Essex.

On August 26 he was again shot down, this time by a Messerschmitt over Eastchurch, Kent, and forced to parachute to safety.

Flight Lieutenant William Clark

Born in Croydon, south London, on April 11 1919.

Completed his training as an air gunner at the age of 21 and joined 219 Squadron in Catterick, North Yorkshire, on July 12 1940.

His crew intercepted and destroyed a Junker and a Heinkel plane in the Guildford area of Surrey on April 17 1941, and he shot down five further enemy aircraft during the war.

Will Clark attends a service to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at St Paul's Cathedral on September 15, 2015 in London England

Will Clark attends a service to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at St Paul's Cathedral on September 15, 2015 in London England

Will Clark attends a service to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at St Paul’s Cathedral on September 15, 2015 in London England

Sq Ldr Hart was born in New Brunswick, Canada, on September 11, 1916. 

An engineer by trade, he learnt to fly at Halifax Flying Club in Canada and went to Mount Allison University.

But he got bored of working on the fishing fleets of his home town and moved to Britain, before joining the RAF in January 1939.

An engineer by trade, he learnt to fly at Halifax Flying Club in Canada and went to Mount Allison University. But he got bored of working on the fishing fleets of his home town and moved to Britain, before joining the RAF in January 1939. He converted to Spitfires, briefly joining 54 Squadron in September 1940, before transferring to 602 Squadron at RAF Westhampnett (pictured fourth from right) in West Sussex, later that month

An engineer by trade, he learnt to fly at Halifax Flying Club in Canada and went to Mount Allison University. But he got bored of working on the fishing fleets of his home town and moved to Britain, before joining the RAF in January 1939. He converted to Spitfires, briefly joining 54 Squadron in September 1940, before transferring to 602 Squadron at RAF Westhampnett (pictured fourth from right) in West Sussex, later that month

An engineer by trade, he learnt to fly at Halifax Flying Club in Canada and went to Mount Allison University. But he got bored of working on the fishing fleets of his home town and moved to Britain, before joining the RAF in January 1939. He converted to Spitfires, briefly joining 54 Squadron in September 1940, before transferring to 602 Squadron at RAF Westhampnett (pictured fourth from right) in West Sussex, later that month

He converted to Spitfires, briefly joining 54 Squadron in September 1940, before transferring to 602 Squadron at RAF Westhampnett in West Sussex, later that month.

He was scrambled on a daily basis over the south coast.

On October 12 he helped shoot down on a Ju88 fast bomber off the East Sussex coast, taking serious damage to his plane in the process.

The hand-written caption of this Second World War photo reads: 'Nigel Rose’s squadron just before the Battle of Britain. Back row (left to right): Dochilly, Rose, MacDowell, Hart, Brazebrook, Proctor, Douglas, Phillips, Lyall, Whipps, Gage, Barthropp, Taylor, Niven. Front row: Mount, Bayd, Squadron Leader Johnstone, Urle, Jack'

The hand-written caption of this Second World War photo reads: 'Nigel Rose’s squadron just before the Battle of Britain. Back row (left to right): Dochilly, Rose, MacDowell, Hart, Brazebrook, Proctor, Douglas, Phillips, Lyall, Whipps, Gage, Barthropp, Taylor, Niven. Front row: Mount, Bayd, Squadron Leader Johnstone, Urle, Jack'

The hand-written caption of this Second World War photo reads: ‘Nigel Rose’s squadron just before the Battle of Britain. Back row (left to right): Dochilly, Rose, MacDowell, Hart, Brazebrook, Proctor, Douglas, Phillips, Lyall, Whipps, Gage, Barthropp, Taylor, Niven. Front row: Mount, Bayd, Squadron Leader Johnstone, Urle, Jack’

Three weeks later saw a huge operation by the Luftwaffe after a few days of rest.

Five Spitfire and four Hurricane squadrons were rushed to the air and Hart played a part in shooting down 11 fighters.

He destroyed a Me109 during a duel in the skies over Kent in what was the last major conflict during the Battle of Britain.

Never was so much owed by so many to so few: Churchill’s enduring tribute to the Battle of Britain heroes 

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. 

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. 

All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day; but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. 

On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers, who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain.

Yet in November he was again called into action and shared another kill on a Ju88.

There were also several close calls, including one incident when a Ju88 put a hole in his radiator at 20,000ft over the English Channel and he somehow limped back to base.

Later recounting his experiences of battle, he said: ‘You didn’t have time to be scared. You’re thinking about what’s going on.

‘I know I have the Battle of Britain medal with a star on it, but I really didn’t have that much to do with it. You were posted to a squadron and you did your job.’

Sq Ldr Hart then had a stint as a flying instructor, before commanding 67 Squadron in Burma in 1943 and 112 Squadron in Italy in March 1945.

He led a formation of fighter planes in a successful attack on a railway line that ran from Italy into Yugoslavia and later a sortie that destroyed 11 transport locomotives.

He left the RAF in 1946 and he returned to Canada and became a property appraiser.

His first wife, Joan, died in 1977 and he then married second wife, Bette, who also predeceased him.

Sq Ldr Hart, who had three children, died on June 18 but news of his death has only emerged.

Battle of Britain historian Andy Saunders said: ‘The debt that the nation and the free world owes to those heroes of the ‘Few’ can never be underestimated and it is terribly sad that the ‘Few’ are yet fewer.

‘They are our last living link to those desperate days of 1940, but the debt we owe does not lessen or diminish with their passing.

‘In their day, they were a band of brothers.’

Members of the public also took to social media to pay their respects.

Hart (right with Major Denis Bandet, the deputy commanding officer of 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Penticton Regional Airport in British Columbia) destroyed a Me109 during a duel in the skies over Kent in what was the last major conflict during the Battle of Britain

Hart (right with Major Denis Bandet, the deputy commanding officer of 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Penticton Regional Airport in British Columbia) destroyed a Me109 during a duel in the skies over Kent in what was the last major conflict during the Battle of Britain

Hart (right with Major Denis Bandet, the deputy commanding officer of 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Penticton Regional Airport in British Columbia) destroyed a Me109 during a duel in the skies over Kent in what was the last major conflict during the Battle of Britain

Dave Cox said: ‘So good to see that such a brave man had such a good innings. RIP Sir.’

Sue Wood added; ‘Another loss, so sad. Fly high now with your brave band of brothers.

‘RIP and grateful thanks Sir for your selfless sacrifice xx.’

The Battle of Britain took place between July 10 and October 31, 1940.

Almost 3,000 Allied airmen, including 112 Canadians, took part, of which 510 were killed.

Sir Winston Churchill summed up the contribution of RAF Fighter Command to the war effort with the words ‘never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.

The Battle of Britain: Hitler’s failed attempt to crush the RAF

In the summer of 1940, as the Nazi war machine marched its way across Europe and set its sights on Britain, the RAF braced for the worst. 

Young men, in their late teens or early twenties, were trained to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes for the coming Battle for Britain, with others flying Blenheims, Beaufighters and Defiants, becoming the ‘aces’ who would secure the country’s freedom from Hitler’s grasp. 

But Britain’s defiance came at a cost. From an estimated crew of 3,000 pilots, roughly half survived the four-month battle, with 544 Fighter Command pilots and crew among the dead, more than 700 from Bomber Command and almost 300 from Coastal Command falling to secure Britain’s skies. 

The losses were heavy, but the Germans, who thought they could eradicate the RAF in a matter of weeks, lost more. 

2,500 Luftwaffe aircrew were killed in the battle, forcing German Air Command to reconsider how easily Britain would fall to an invading Nazi occupation force. 

The pilots who gave everything in the aerial fight for British freedom were named ‘The Few’, after a speech from Sir Winston Churchill, who said: ‘The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.

‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’ 

'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few' (pictured: An aerial photograph of Spitfires)

'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few' (pictured: An aerial photograph of Spitfires)

‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’ (pictured: An aerial photograph of Spitfires) 

After the fall of France to the Axis in May 1940, German High Command considered how best to push the fight across the English Channel to take Britain out of the fight.

Up until mid-July the German campaign consisted of relatively small-scale day and night air raids, targeting towns, aerodromes, ports and the aircraft industry.

But the Luftwaffe was at full readiness, ready to ramp up attacks on ships and ports and eliminate the RAF in the air and on the ground.

After the Allies were defeated in western mainland Europe, the German Air Force set up bases near the Channel to more readily take on Britain, hurriedly establishing the infrastructure needed to co-ordinate an aerial conflict with the UK.

As the Battle of Britain begun, the Royal Air Force consistently downed more Axis aircraft than they lost, but British fighters were often overwhelmed by the greater number of enemy aircraft.

Pictured: One of the most iconic images of the summer of 1940 and the fight above Dunkirk, with Squadron 610's F/Lt Ellis pictured at the head of his section in DW-O, Sgt Arnfield in DW-K and F/O Warner in DW-Q

Pictured: One of the most iconic images of the summer of 1940 and the fight above Dunkirk, with Squadron 610's F/Lt Ellis pictured at the head of his section in DW-O, Sgt Arnfield in DW-K and F/O Warner in DW-Q

Pictured: One of the most iconic images of the summer of 1940 and the fight above Dunkirk, with Squadron 610’s F/Lt Ellis pictured at the head of his section in DW-O, Sgt Arnfield in DW-K and F/O Warner in DW-Q

Fighting in France and Norway had left British squadrons weakened as the time now came to defend the homeland from Nazi occupation, but as the year went on, the RAF’s fighting force increased in strength, with more pilots, aircraft and operational squadrons being made available.

The Luftwaffe started a mounting campaign of daylight bombing raids, targeting strategic targets such as shipping convoys, ports, and airfields – and probing inland to force RAF squadrons to engage in an attempt to exhaust them.

German air units also stepped up night raids across the West, Midlands and East Coast, targeting the aircraft industry with the objective of weakening Britain’s Home Defence system, especially that of Fighter Command, in order to prepare for a full-scale aerial assault in August.

Heavy losses were sustained on both sides.

The main Luftwaffe assault against the RAF, named ‘Adler Tag’ (Eagle Day), was postponed from August 10 to three days later due to poor weather.

Hawker Hurricane planes from No 111 Squadron RAF based at Northolt in flight formation, circa 1940

Hawker Hurricane planes from No 111 Squadron RAF based at Northolt in flight formation, circa 1940

Hawker Hurricane planes from No 111 Squadron RAF based at Northolt in flight formation, circa 1940

Pictured: Squadron 610's fighter pilots, a unit which witnessed some of the most intensive aerial combat in the Second World War (taken at RAF Acklington, in Northumberland, between 17-19 September 1940)

Pictured: Squadron 610's fighter pilots, a unit which witnessed some of the most intensive aerial combat in the Second World War (taken at RAF Acklington, in Northumberland, between 17-19 September 1940)

Pictured: Squadron 610’s fighter pilots, a unit which witnessed some of the most intensive aerial combat in the Second World War (taken at RAF Acklington, in Northumberland, between 17-19 September 1940)

The Germans’ plan was to make RAF Fighter Command abandon south east  England within four days and defeat British aerial forces completely in four weeks.

The Luftwaffe battled ruthlessly in an attempt to exhaust Fighter Command through ceaseless attacks on ground installations, which were moved further inland, with airfields in southern England facing intensive daylight raids while night attacks targeted ports, shipping targets and the aircraft industry.

But despite sustaining heavy damage across the south, Fighter Command continued to push back against the Germans in a series of air battles, which inflicted critical losses upon the enemy, who thought the RAF would have been exhausted by this point.

Both sides feared becoming exhausted through the constant engagements.

Pictured: German plans to invade Britain, if naval and air superiority was achieved

Pictured: German plans to invade Britain, if naval and air superiority was achieved

Pictured: German plans to invade Britain, if naval and air superiority was achieved

Focus of the German attacks then shifted to London, where the RAF would lose 248 and the Luftwaffe would lose 322 between August 26 and September 6.

By September London had become the primary target of Luftwaffe aggression, with large-scale round-the-clock attacks carried out by large bomber formations with fighter escorts.

German Air Command had still not exhausted the RAF as it had hoped to, and British forces continued to face off against their German counterparts, with Fighter Command pushing back Hitler’s forces, forcing German invasion plans to be postponed.

By October, it had become apparent to the Germans that the RAF was still very much intact, and the Luftwaffe struck against Britain with single-engined modified fighter-bombers, which were hard to catch upon entry and still dangerous on their way out.

By the middle of the month German strategy had pivoted from exhausting the RAF to a ruthless bombing campaign targeting the Government, civilian population and the war economy – with London still the primary target.

But as of November, London became less of a target, with the Battle of Britain morphing into a new conflict – the Blitz.

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