One of the first of the Few I ever met, over thirty years ago, was the absolutely delightful William Walker, a real gentleman, who used to drive over from London to see us regularly, and attended every single event I ever organised, all over the country. William was also a prolific correspondent and early on provided me with an extensive account of his time flying Spitfires with 616 Squadron – and especially regarding the traumatic events of 78 years ago today, 26 August 1940, when he survived being shot down. At 1146 hrs that day, Blue and Yellow Sections of 616’s ‘A” Flight, just five Spitfires, were scrambled from Kenley to patrol between Dover and Dungeness at Angels 20. Yellow Section comprised Flying Officer Teddy St
Aubyn, Pilot Officer William Walker and Sergeant Marmaduke Ridley. Unfortunately, the ‘Father of Modern Air Fighting’, Major Werner Moelders, was leading the whole of JG51, 100 Me 109s, on a fighter sweep – pouncing on 616 Squadron over Dungeness. Pilot Officer George Moberley and Sergeant Marmaduke Ridley were both shot down and killed by Hauptmann Joschko Foezoe, Staffelkapitan of 4/JG51; Flying Officer St Aubyn, who crash-landed at Eastchurch, was claimed by Oberleutnant‘Pips’ Priller, Staffelkapitan of 6/JG51. Pilot Officer Walker was singled out by none other than Moelders himself, who attacked from the blind spot, behind and slightly below.
Wounded, William managed to bale out over 10/10ths cloud, eventually floating down and landing in the Channel. Having sat on a shipwreck sticking out of the water for half an hour, a passing fishing boat rescued the pilot and took him to Ramsgate harbour – where ‘a kind old lady handed me a pack of cigarettes’. Admitted to Ramsgate Hospital, William was then taken to RAF Halton Hospital where he was fed for the first time in 36 hours and eventually had a 7.92mm machine-gun bullet removed from an ankle – which he always carried with him as a talisman ever-after. The 616 Squadron diary described the events of 26 August 1940 as ‘a very unfortunate engagement’.
616 was virtually annihilated in the 15 days it flew from Kenley during that summer of high drama, losing 11 precious Spitfires destroyed and five even more precious pilots killed, six wounded and one captured. In response, ten enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed – seven of them by Flight Lieutenant Denys ‘Kill ‘em’ Gillam. I first told William’s story in ‘A Few of the Many’ in 1995, and re-visited it for ‘Last of the Few’ (2010); I well remember calling William with news of my discovery that he had been shot down by Moelders himself: “Well, Dilip, if you are going to be shot down, may as well be by the top bloke!” William was also a talented poet who wrote many about the Battle of Britain – one of which appears on the wall at the Battle of Britain Memorial. He left us in 2012, and was a ‘top bloke’ himself: ‘They were the most exhilarating days, but one lost so many friends who were all so young. It is sad that the best pilots seemed to get killed whilst the “hams” like me survived’.