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Spitfire pilot salutes Battle of Britain aces

PUBLISHED: 12:59 24 September 2009 | UPDATED: 17:11 25 August 2010

IN HONOUR: The service at Westminster Abbey.

IN HONOUR: The service at Westminster Abbey.

ONE of the last surviving members of a Spitfire Squadron met the daughter of a famous pilot at Westminster Abbey at a Battle of Britain memorial service.

ONE of the last surviving members of a Spitfire Squadron met the daughter of a famous pilot at Westminster Abbey at a Battle of Britain memorial service.

Burma Star and WWII veteran Albert Bennett, from Dartford, formerly of 155 Squadron, met with Diana Lacey, daughter of James "Ginger" Lacey at a service on Sunday to remember pilots who defended the country from invasion in 1940.

Ginger Lacey, based at Gravesend airfield on September 13, 1940, engaged and shot down a German bomber that had just bombed Buckingham Palace. The Palace chapel was hit, injuring three staff.

The attack on the Palace features prominently in the first Royal biography for 20 years on the Queen Mother by William Shawcross.

In a letter to Queen Mary she wrote: "One could not imagine that life could become so terrible," adding "We must win in the end."

The terrifying experience and knowledge of what Londoners had to bear led to her famous phrase: "Now I can look the East End in the face."

Lacey's aircraft was hit in the attack and he was forced to bail out. He went on to become one of the RAF's best pilots, shooting down 28 aircraft, more than the legendary Douglas Bader.

Mr Bennett, 94, of Tudor Close, Dartford, later served under Lacey in Burma.

He said: "What they must have faced we can only imagine.

The memorial service was a marvellous tribute to them.

"Everybody in the RAF at the time knew of Lacey's bravery trying to defend Buckingham Palace.

"Airmen and ground crew respected him, but he was a really nice bloke with it."

Mr Bennett and Diana Lacey paid their respects at the impressive Battle of Britain memorial on London's Embankment.

A project to honour the pilots who died in North Kent and south-east London is being run by Shoreham Aircraft Museum.

A memorial stone was laid in Sparepenny Lane, Farningham, next to where Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Paterson crashed and died on September 27, 1940.

A sixth dedication will be to Robin "Bubbles" Waterston, shot down and killed aged just 23 on August 31, 1940, when his Spitfire dived into the ground in Repository Road, Woolwich, outside the main gates to the Artillery Barracks.

Sergeant John Ellis was listed as missing in action after an air battle over Orpington.

In 1993 his remains were discovered in Warren Road, Chelsfield, within the shell of his aircraft. A memorial stone marks the place where his Hurricane had drilled itself into the earth.

Others honoured are Nathaniel Barry, from Darenth, Trevor Oldfield, from Hesketh Park, Dartford, and Paterson Hughes, from Sundridge.

Geoff Nutkins of Shoreham Aircraft Museum said: "We are desperately keen to hear from any readers who still have anything at all from these incidents in their lofts."

Mr Bennett's poem Remembrance, commended by the Queen, has been included in Tides of Life, a book of war-time poems published last month.

It was read at many of the pilots' memorials and Rochester Cathedral at last November's memorial service.

martin.sawden@archant.co.uk

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