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Last surviving Battle of Britain pilot, 103, reunited with WWII fighter plane

The last known surviving Battle of Britain fighter pilot has been reunited with a Hurricane aircraft, the type he flew during the war.

Group Captain (retired) John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, who turned 103 this week, was the guest of honour at the Irish Air Corps’ centenary year Veterans Day at Casement Aerodrome in Co Dublin on Friday.

As part of the ceremony, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, comprising an Avro Lancaster bomber and a Hawker Hurricane, flew in formation over Dublin before landing at the aerodrome.

Group Captain Hemmingway was brought to the vintage fighter in a wheelchair, and its engines were powered up, so he could once again experience the sight and sound of his WWII “office”.

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Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being escorted over Dublin by the 'The Silver Swallows'.
Image:
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being escorted over Dublin by the ‘The Silver Swallows’.

The RAF’s Air Marshal Sir Rich Knighton said: “Group Captain Paddy Hemingway, the last of The Few, is a true inspiration and his accomplishments are as relevant today as they were more than 80 years ago.

“As a fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain, he defended the skies over the UK daily, much as our Typhoon pilots do today. He fought bravely to uphold our values and way of life in the face of tyranny, laying the foundation for the way we deliver collective Air Defence through NATO to deter those who would do us harm.

“Paddy deserves our deep gratitude for all he did to preserve the freedoms we now enjoy.”

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Born in Dublin in 1919, John Hemingway joined the RAF in 1938 and, following the outbreak of the Second World War, was assigned to 85 Squadron in France.

He was credited with destroying a Heinkel He 111 bomber and a Dornier Do 17.

During the Battle of Dunkirk, he flew supporting missions over the Channel, before flying Hurricanes in daily sorties during the Battle of Britain throughout the summer of 1940.

In August 1940, he was forced to bail out over the Thames Estuary when his plane was damaged. He was shot down again over Eastchurch in Kent just a week later.

Squadron Leader Mark Sugden (Hurricane Pilot) speaking with Group Captain John 'Paddy' Hemingway shortly after landing
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Squadron Leader Mark Sugden speaks with Group Captain Hemingway after landing

‘Today we are both proud Irishmen’

On 1 July 1941 Hemmingway was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

He went on to be part of the planning for D-Day before flying Spitfires in Italy.

The veteran airman celebrated his 103rd birthday last Sunday, and lives in a Dublin nursing home.

“Today we are both proud Irishmen”, said General Officer Commanding of the Irish Air Corps Brigadier General Rory O’Connor.

“Seeing the iconic and historic Lancaster and Hurricane flying in Irish skies was very special.

“The arrival of the aircraft serves as a reminder that the Irish Air Corps flew Hurricanes during the Emergency [as WWII was officially known in Ireland].

“I was honoured to host Group Captain Hemingway and be there when he was reunited with his World War II aircraft type.”

(L-R) Air Marshal Sean Reynolds,  Group Captain John 'Paddy' Hemingway, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, Brigadier General Rory O'Connor, Air Marshal Sir Rich Knighton
Image:
(L-R) Air Marshal Sean Reynolds, Group Captain John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, Brigadier General Rory O’Connor, Air Marshal Sir Rich Knighton

It was the first visit to Ireland by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

The aircraft will take part in the Bray Air Display in Co Wicklow over the weekend.

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