Bringing back battle memories

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Warwick district councillor Jerry Weber recently attended the Battle of Britain Memorial Service at Nuneaton. These are his reflections on the service and his father Jack’s experience as a pilot in the battle:

The southern shore of Hayling Island can be bitter and desolate in winter. My father and I stood hands in pockets protecting ourselves from the coastal wind and frozen sea spray.

The sea looked dark, dangerous and uninviting. My father pointed out to sea andsaid “that’s where I bailed out.” It was just 300 yards from the shore.

This return journey was in 1980. My father, Jack Weber, had taken me to see the site where he was shot down during the Battle of Britain. I looked across the water and wondered just how terrifying the experience must have been.

On the other hand, there was a matter of fact way that he described it which was typical of many service men and women during the Second World War; modestly and quiet bravery.

Jack, pictured above, was not an ace and did not manage to score a hit throughout the dark days of the summer and autumn of 1940.

Even though, he went on to achieve much in his life after the war, and he was always quietly proud to be “one of the few”.

Jack was shot down just after the official end of the Battle of Britain on October 27. He recorded in his log book that he had seven days sick leave. On the day of his return to duty he was again shot down and this was when he landed in the murky sea off Hayling Island.

He wrote to his brother while he was on sick leave “I was shot down last night and bailed out ‘somewhere in the South’. How I got out of the kite, I will never know. Once I was out I pulled the rip cord and then everything was quiet and peaceful; in fact there was rather a deadly silence after the drone of the engine. So to overcome this strange silence I started singing ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’.”

This was the scene that we saw on that winter’s day 40 years after the event.

I was privileged to attend the Battle of Britain Memorial Service. I was there as a personal commemoration to my father. I took with me my father’s flight log books that he gave to me before he died; a lasting memory of a different world. A time that we still fortunately remember today. The highlight of the service was a Spitfire fly past.

Just as the service was coming to a conclusion almost as if by chance the lone aircraft passed across the war memorial. And it came again and again. At that moment, for me, it was almost as if my father had returned and was reliving those exciting, dangerous and momentous days over 70 years ago.