Harold Joseph Nixon flew in Spitfire ML295, the Spitfire that The Few watch is being made from, a total of 5 times – with recovered gun camera footage from the aircraft recording his incredible skill as a pilot.
His aggressive and professional attitude set the tone for his extensive tour as both a Hurricane and Spitfire fighter pilot – battling against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, defending Malta, training new recruits in Canada, protecting bombers over France and patrolling the skies over Normandy.
Harold “Nick” Nixon
Harold Joseph Nixon
Harold Nixon was born in 1919 in Hamilton, Canada, to Edmond Nixon and Elizabeth Dickens. After graduating from Central Collegiate in Hamilton, he went on to take the pre-engineering course at McMaster University, where he found a talent for both wrestling and boxing. Nixon was never scared of getting himself in the thick of a fight and so in 1941 before his studies were completed, he signed up to be a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, aged just 22.
Nixon, aged 19, in his University boxing and wrestling team
Training as a fighter pilot through the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada, Nixon clearly had an aptitude for flying, as by the summer of the same year he had passed his flight training, qualified as a Pilot Officer, and travelled over to England to complete his operational training.
Eager for the Fight
Nixon’s enthusiasm for the task at hand was clear, as evidenced by this newspaper interview from September 1941
His first posting was to North Africa where Harold took part in the Western Desert campaign. The Italians had begun their invasion of Egypt from Libya in September 1940, although because of poor planning, their operation floundered and they instead found themselves retreating back into Libya and suffering the destruction of their entire 10th Army.
Following these serious setbacks, the Italian leader, Mussolini, made direct pleas to Hitler for assistance. To aid the Italians, in February 1941 Hitler sent the renowned Field Marshall Edwin Rommel – later known as the Desert Fox – and the Afrika Korps. Their arrival on the battlefield soon led to the Allies being pushed back to the Egyptian border, which threatened the security of the vital Suez Canal that was providing desperately needed supplies into the Mediterranean.
One of Harold’s photographs showing Hurricanes taking off and lining the runway in North Africa, possibly at the RAF El Daba airfield in Egypt
Piloting a Hawker Hurricane that he had trained on in Canada, he enjoyed getting stuck into the action. There was certainly a plentiful supply of enemies to attack and the wide-open sandy plains, with almost no cloud cover meant that it was easy for aircraft to dive in and attack ground targets.
Nixon participated in the offensives over Egypt and Libya of late 1941 and early 1942, being heavily involved in softening up the Axis defensive positions. These efforts played no small part in the Allied success in the region, including Operation Crusader, which was the successful Allied counter offensive against the German/Italian lines – and saw almost 40,000 of the 120,000 Axis troops in the area become casualties.
The Move to Malta
The Axis troops in North Africa were facing huge problems with their supply lines, as almost all their fuel, ammunition and even food had to cross the Mediterranean Sea first to reach them. The crossing from Italy to Tunisia and Libya took shipping past the Allies’ “unsinkable aircraft carrier” – the small island of Malta.
In November 1941 alone, the Axis had lost 77% of all their supply shipping in the Mediterranean. The Wehrmacht’s new Commander-in-Chief South, Albert Kesselring, became resolved to either control or neutralise Malta. I talked previously in detail about the Siege of Malta in Sortie 9.
In April 1942, under the name of Operation Herkules, Hitler and Mussolini agreed on a plan to invade Malta. The plan revolved around an amphibious landing of up to 70,000 troops. The landings would be preceded by almost 30,000 elite paratroopers airdropped onto the island. These would secure both the airfields and high ground.
Facing such a determined and severe threat, Nixon was posted to Malta as part of 229 Squadron’s second wave. In his Hurricane mark 2C, he made the daunting trip from RAF Gambut in Libya, across hundreds of miles of open water to the tiny Mediterranean island under siege.
Defending the Unsinkable
During the height of Operation Herkules, on 6th April 1942, Nixon landed at RAF Luqa in central Malta with several other pilots. Following his long and exhausting journey, there was no respite as they immediately faced daily air raids and intense combat raging overhead.
The pilots from 229 Squadron were frequently scrambled to ward off enemy bombers who were trying to destroy their precious aircraft on the ground. These threats usually came in the form of Junkers 88, the Luftwaffe’s fast medium-bomber, along with their fighter escort of Messerschmitt Bf109s.
The beleaguered defenders often faced incredible odds. When 6 German Bf109s were sighted overhead, 2 Hurricanes from 229 Squadron were hurriedly scrambled to intercept them. However shortly after take-off, one of these Hurricanes was forced to turn back due to mechanical issues.
The remaining pilot, Flight Sergeant Brooks, made the decision to carry on alone. Despite his best efforts, the lone Hurricane, who was singlehandedly facing 6 enemy aircraft, was ultimately brought down, crashing into the waters near Malta’s Grand Harbour.
F/S Brooks, who sadly died in the defence of Malta
On 24th April 1942 Nixon managed to get his first “score” by damaging a Bf109 that he was scrambled to intercept. 4 days later however he tore a tendon in his left index finger and was admitted to the General Hospital.
By the time Nixon was discharged from hospital, 229 Squadron had ceased to function due to operational losses. However, the sacrifice these pilots had made had begun to pay dividends and the situation in Malta began to turn in the Allies’ favour. By the end May 1942, over 100 Allied fighter aircraft were available to defend the skies over Malta. In stark contrast, the Luftwaffe now had only 30 fighters and 34 bombers still operational in the area; out of 500 total aircraft just two months prior.
As the immediate threat of an invasion of Malta was over, Nixon was rotated out of service and travelled back to the UK. After a short break, in July 1942, he sailed from Scotland to New York and then travelled onwards home to Canada.
Article from the Ottawa Citizen dated 11th July 1942, including language of the era
Instructing New Pilots
Now back in Canada, Nixon would instruct trainee pilots as part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the very scheme that he had trained with himself just two years earlier.
Stationed at Bagotville, Quebec, Nixon worked as an instructor at number 1 Operational Training Unit (OTU). There is a possibility that he instructed some of Spitfire ML295’s other pilots, many of whom would pass their fighter training at Bagotville.
The new pilots at Bagotville were transitioning from two-seater trainer aircraft to the single-seater fighters they would be expected to fly over Europe. Having flown Hurricanes over North Africa and Malta and faced off against the Luftwaffe’s finest pilots and aircraft, Nixon spent the next 8 months developing the skills of his students.
Training from instructors such as Nixon helped ensure that the new pilots could handle a modern fighter aircraft under stress, were aware of the tactics to use against the enemy and also learned how to stay alive once they were airborne.
This constant improvement of the pilot training situation for the Allies was in contrast to the Luftwaffe, where new recruits saw a steady and then rapid decline in both the quantity and quality of their instruction from early 1942 onwards.
Adolf Galland, the famous Luftwaffe ace (with over 100 confirmed aerial victories), who from 1941-45 was General in command of Germany’s air fighter force, described the standard of Allied fighter pilot training as “astonishingly high”.
The German failure during the Battle of Britain had meant that the Luftwaffe had to refill their ranks with reserve pilots to remain fully operational. However, the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union had drained the pilot ranks even further. As a quick victory in the East eluded the Germans and with their reserve pilots all gone, by 1942 the Luftwaffe were sending some of their most experienced pilot instructors to the front lines to fill the gaps – leaving the new recruits ill prepared for combat and often expected to learn how to fly their aircraft “on-the-job”.
Back to England
While in Canada it wasn’t all hard work and Nixon (seated, second from left) found time to go on a successful deer hunt with the other instructors – Ormston is on the far right
While Nixon was instructing new students he became close friends with another trainer, Flight Lieutenant Ian “Ormie” Ormston DFC. He had himself been repatriated to Canada following a crash earlier in the year when he managed to parachute out over the English Channel. Their friendship grew and in April 1943 Nixon acted as the best man at F/L Ormston’s wedding.
The two of them were clearly similar characters, who enjoyed the thrill of flying their fighter aircraft in combat. Interviewed before his return to England, Ormston was quoted as saying “It’s real life over there. You can’t get away from it. There is nothing like it.”
Following the completion of his instructor assignment, Nixon was posted back to the UK, taking with him a new promotion to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He travelled with his friend Ormston and the two of them arrived in Liverpool on 15th May 1943.
Upon his return to England, Nixon spent the first few months providing additional training to pilots of 411 and 412 Squadrons, now based at Biggin Hill Airfield in Kent. He also used the time to get to grips with transitioning to his new fighter aircraft, the Spitfire.
Nixon sat in a 412 Squadron Spitfire at Biggin Hill Airfield
Arriving at 411 Squadron
By December 1943, Nixon began to fly operationally on sorties with 411 Squadron, who had just been outfitted with brand-new Spitfire Mark 9 (IX) aircraft. Here his old friend, Ian Ormston, was the Squadron Leader.
Unfortunately, just as Harold began his active duty, Ormston experienced a disastrous crash. Following an engine failure shortly after take-off, he was forced to ditch his aircraft. As his Spitfire crash landed it snagged some barbed wire and was cartwheeled along the ground. Although he survived, Ormston suffered serious injuries, including a fractured spine. He was sent home in a body cast – and although his flying days were over, he would go on to make a full recovery and eventually passed away in 2010.
Squadron Leader Ian “Ormie” Ormston, seen here on the left in his 411 Squadron Spitfire nicknamed “Marguerite” after his wife, while on the right he is enjoying a pipe in his garden in his later life
First Missions Over Europe
Nixon’s first mission with 411 Squadron was Ramrod 383, a bomber escort mission over the Rouen area of northern France. It proved to be uneventful as did the remainder of the sorties in December, which included escorting B17 Flying Fortresses on the descending leg of their raid into Germany.
The New Year, 1944, brought with it a reminder of the dangers of aerial combat. While providing fighter cover as part of Ramrod 419, Nixon’s Squadron engaged 12 Focke-Wulf 190s and 8 Messerschmitt Bf109s. As Nixon got on the tail of a fighter and began to open fire, the sound of his cannons roaring was soon drowned out by the metallic cracks of his own aircraft being riddled with machine-gun fire. Thankfully Nixon managed to escape the encounter unhurt and nursed his battered aircraft home.
Relaxing with the Squadron’s pet dogs at Biggin Hill Airfield
The risks of daily sorties into enemy territory, often in poor winter weather and low visibility, were demonstrated in February 1944 as Nixon flew in a large wing of Squadrons who were escorting American B17 and B24 bombers on a raid near Paris.
Upon sighting a swarm of enemy fighters, the Spitfires jettisoned their external fuel drop-tanks and prepared to engage. As they dived towards their foe, they discovered that these “enemy” aircraft were actually P-47 Thunderbolts from the US Airforce and thankfully managed to disengage before there were any friendly fire incidents.
Nixon (1) with other 411 Squadron members, including Spitfire ML295 pilots Kerr (2), LeBlanc (3), Dunn (4), Wheler (5) and Kramer (6)
Throughout January to March 1944, despite harsh weather, Nixon took part in a series of bomber escort sorties, along with a number of fighter sweeps and patrols.
As spring arrived and the weather began to clear, news began to spread through the camps that in the summer the Allies were going to open up a new front in German occupied France. The excitement that they were finally going to take the fight back to the enemy started rising, and the pilots of 411 Squadron could hope that the war was finally coming to an end.
Nixon was now one of the most experienced pilots, in what would become one of the most successful Spitfire squadrons of the war. He soon would take to the skies in Spitfire ML295, the same aircraft that The Few watch is being made from, piloting the Mark 9 Spitfire on 5 sorties deep behind enemy lines.
In many ways his journey as a wartime pilot was just getting going, and over the coming months he would find himself tested like never before.
D-Day Invasion Preparations
By April 1944, the Squadron’s bomber escort duties and scouting missions began to make way for exercises in preparation for the upcoming D-Day invasion, which included practicing flying as air cover for amphibious transports.
During May, Nixon undertook a more unusual mission, taking his Spitfire on a dive-bombing sortie against a V1 site in France.
Despite flak in the target area, the squadron scored 20 hits on their target and left for home with the area covered in thick black smoke. A further dive-bombing sortie the following day targeted a bridge, however less success was found with no direct hits observed.
Death off his shoulder
On 19th May, Squadron Leader Fowlow led a group of Spitfires, including Nixon, on a bombing run against a rail crossing at Hazebrouck, France.
However, on their way to the target Fowlow’s aircraft was hit by flak, with the anti-aircraft shell striking the 500lb bomb under his Spitfire’s fuselage. The explosion resulted in an instantaneous, fiery disintegration of the airframe right before the eyes of his squadron-mates.
Once of the anecdotes that Harold’s son, Wilson, remembered overhearing his father recall was of one of his wing mates getting shot down just off his shoulder. Fowlow had also served in Malta while Nixon was flying there in 1942, and so along with a professional relationship – there may also have been a close friendship formed over 2 years of piloting together. No doubt the violent death of Squadron Leader Fowlow was highly traumatic for all those that witnessed it and fuelled a desire for retribution.
As more offensive, ground-attack missions began to feature on the orders board of 411 Squadron, Flt Lt. Nixon’s aggressive streak came to the fore. On a fighter sweep in late May, squadron records note the Nixon dove on targets of opportunity including a lorry, strafing it.
D-Day and the Move to France
Further opportunities to settle scores and take the fight to the enemy would soon present themselves, as 6th June 1944 brought with it Operation Overlord and the invasion of Normandy, D-Day. Following a brief period of poor weather, operations began to pick up in earnest as the Allied invasion got underway.
Nixon found himself on daily patrols and sweeps, attacking both ground targets and providing air-cover against Luftwaffe counter-offensives.
During one of these sweeps on 10th June, Nixon managed to position his Spitfire on the tail of a Focke-Wulf 190D, the sleeker, “Long Nose” version of the Butcherbird. Closing from 400 yards, the German pilot tried desperately to evade the stream of fire being brought to bear by Nixon’s guns. Closing still, now at 200 yards, Nixon was forced to break off and allow Flt. Lt. Williams of 401 Sqn, to pick up the attack. Between them, they brought the FW190 down, sharing the kill.
Nixon’s first flight in Spitfire ML295 took place on the 15th June 1944, taking the aircraft up on a patrol that was described as “uneventful”. The Luftwaffe’s inability to effectively react to the Allied invasion of Normandy was evidenced by the lack of air-to-air encounters during this period.
On 19th June 1944, Nixon moved with the rest of the 411 Squadron to Beny-sur-Mer Airfield in Northern France.
Seen in gun-camera footage from late June, his approach to strafing runs on German vehicles demonstrated a determination to inflict damage, even risking his own safety to do so, getting lower, faster, and holding the gun button for longer. The risk to his aircraft and himself was evidenced when on 26th June 1944 the squadron notes that:
“On the second operation F/L Nixon’s aircraft was hit by flak and he was forced to bale out south of Bayeux. He was uninjured and back at dispersal two hours later.”
Early on the morning of the 29th June, Nixon took Spitfire ML295 out again on a dawn armed reconnaissance sortie in which several vehicles were seen to smoke, burn and explode. This was typical of many of the ground-attack sorties Nixon participated in.
Another Target Hit
Now that the Squadron was fully established in their base in France the pace of operations increased. By now the Luftwaffe had seen significant reinforcement and reorganisation in Western Europe. As the 2nd Tactical Air Force continued to support Allied ground operations attacking German targets on the ground, Nixon and his fellow pilots now found themselves increasingly engaged with enemy fighters too.
While carrying out an armed reconnaissance flight, primarily to engage ground targets of opportunity, 8-10 FW190s were spotted by Nixon’s flight. A fierce dogfight ensued, resulting in an FW190 being destroyed by Flt Lt Johnson and another being damaged by Nixon, with the shells from his 20mm cannons seen striking the aircraft before it took evasive action and disappeared into the clouds.
Down, But Not Out
Nixon’s characteristically aggressive approach to combat may have set him apart from more conservative pilots, especially in low-level strafing attacks, however his luck ran out on the afternoon of 27th July 1944.
Performing an attack on armoured vehicles, Nixon was flying his Spitfire at almost 400mph, as he skimmed above the roofs and treetops at just 50 feet from the ground. On one pass his Spitfire was hit by return fire.
Faced with perhaps as little as 3 seconds from the moment when he was hit to when his Spitfire would crash, Nixon was able to maintain enough control to crash-land his Spitfire safely and away from enemy ground units.
The Squadron’s notes reference Nixon’s Spitfire being shot down and as they flew over his crash site they were able to visually confirm his survival.
“Believed hit by return fire from tanks at 50 feet and crash-landed. He was seen to run into woods near Fleury sur Andelle.”
“The others in his section saw him running into a nearby woods apparently uninjured.”
Shot by “Tank”
Not many pilots would have been able to claim that they survived getting shot down by a tank!
The German tank divisions operating in the area were the 2nd Panzer Division, stationed in Caumont, just south of Rouen, who operated Panthers, and 102nd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion who were equipped with Tiger tanks.
A tank however would have been unable to shoot a low-flying and fast-moving aircraft with its main turret, and so it is likely that Nixon’s aircraft was either hit by small arms fire or by an anti-aircraft German halftrack which would have accompanied the German Panzers.
A Mucky Escape
Now stranded behind enemy lines, Nixon would have had to make a quick getaway as the local German forces would have flooded to the area of his crashed aircraft.
Harold’ son, Wilson, remembers overhearing his father mentioning that he was taken prisoner by the Germans, but he managed to escape by hiding in a pile of manure. There is no record of this part of Nixon’s capture and escape story in any of the reports, although as the official account only appears to cover the final 3 weeks of Harold’s 1 month and 3 days behind enemy lines, it is possible that he was initially captured but managed to get away during the first week following his crash.
Behind Enemy Lines
Madame Verhague, the heroine of the French resistance with whom Nixon spent 2 weeks hiding, wrote a letter to a friend in 1945 – in English – where she describes some of the events mentioned in Nixon’s report. Huguette, as she was known, provides clarity on the fate of many of the people Nixon met during his evasion and also gives a rare insight into the practicalities and raw emotions of coming so close to capture.
2nd Lt Theodore Baskette, known as Ted, was an American B17 Flying Fortress Co-pilot. He parachuted out of his damaged aircraft on 14th June 1944, and Nixon spent his days with Ted while staying with Huguette, who she affectionately called “her boys”.
Either following his crash, or his possible escape via a manure heap, Nixon stumbled upon a local woodsman who offered to help the pilot. Here the story of his escape, in Harold’s own words, from the debriefing he made to intelligence services on the day after he returned back to Allied lines, starts.
I have added in anecdotes from Huguette’s letter.
Nixon’s Escape Story
Nixon: “The name of the woodman was Marcel Dalaisment of Gaillardbois-Cressenville. His son-in-law was Lemire Louis.
At Fleury La Foret I was handed over to Lt. Andre, chief of the Armed Resistance in the district. I was told that in a day or two I would be flown home and was taken to the house of M. Touraine in the village, who was the head of the Unarmed Resistance. He is a notary and a very fine gentlemen. Here I met Lt. Baskette, USAAF, who had been there for two months.
A week later word came that the Gestapo had M. Touraine’s name and I moved to the house of Mme/ Huguette Verhague, who lives at Abbe de Mortemer, near Lisors. When we were there a man (name unknown) whom we had met, with another, at Fleury, brought us both civilian suits. He had plenty of money.
Fighting with the Resistance
While we were here we were asked to join the Armed Resistance and that night we went out with four Sten guns and six men to ambush Germans for weapons. We laid in ambush at dusk and I was to fire first. Some very tired Jerries came along, and I loaded the Sten four times, but it misfired each time. The Boche were too tired to hear the click and walked away, passing within four yards of where I stood.
On 24th August, on the day following my ambush, more arms had been recovered by the Resistance, and there were ordered to attack. Thinking the troops had crossed the River Seine, they attacked two Germans near the village where 50 enemy were encamped. This was against my advice. The chief’s Sten only fired one shot, wounding one man. He ran back for help, while the other defended himself with a sub-machine gun. Within a few minutes the Germans were searching the wood and in half an hour 250 S.S. had encircled the district and were shooting up everyone in the forest.”
Huguette writes: “Jerry went into the bush and began to chase our poor F.F.I.s! 5 were taken, tortured (feet boiled, broken forearms and so on) and shot in the evening, near here.”
(FFI was the Free French of the Interior, better known as the Resistance)
Nixon continues: “We had taken refuge in the loft above our cottage to which access was obtained through a trap door in the civilian’s house. We drew up the ladder and barricaded the trap door. We also made a hole in the wall, and had a rope ready to let ourselves down. Twice the Germans searched the house, but each time the owner talked them out of searching the loft.
It was very nerve wracking because the Germans were living in the adjoining abbey, and we could see them bringing in the Resistance men and boys. Their guards were patrolling the road just outside our hide-out for two days and for three they shot up anyone in the forest. They captured nine men altogether including the chief, who was very brave.”
Huguette: “Then, when we had lunch, we saw one S.S. opening the gate and rushing directly to the hen shed…under the loft, breaking the doors, with his pistols in hand! “This time, said René, “I think we are finished!” God made him come out without seeing the airmen, who were kneeling and praying. It is the only time I really wanted to kiss a Jerry! We had deserved so many times to be shot that we are still surprised to be alive!!”
Risk of Discovery
Nixon: “On the evening of 26th August, I received word that someone had betrayed the assistant mayor of Lisors, who was chief of the Unarmed Resistance, and who was helping to feed us. As 13 people in Lisors knew that Mme. Verhague had looked after five airmen she was afraid of gossip getting to the ears of the Gestapo.”
Huguette: “Next morning, S.S. went to arrest René Loucopoulos, you remember (1 wife 3 children) and shot him. He was F.F.I. chief. I saw, against the farm wall one more F.F.I. chief and a little F.F.I. caught by a dog and 30 S.S. beating the chief and keeping them. They knew we had the boys. (They were shot next morning). Then as I feared they would come during the night I asked the German to do patrols all night on the road, in front of the gate…so that the “terrorists would not hide in here!” So they did and so the boys were safe!”
Moving to a Cave
Nixon: “That night it was dark and foggy and we got out through the hole and took cover in a cave in the forest about 400 yards away. This cave had been shown to me by Mme. Verhague earlier for use in just such an emergency. We stayed here until the evening of 28th August. Mme. Verhague brought food for us each evening.”
Huguette: “I told Nic that if by night the next day I was not with them, it was because I had been shot, so they would need to leave! They both kissed us. Nic was weeping, and told me that God would be with us! Then at night I did at least 5kms to reach the hole, hiding from Jerry who was all over the woods. I brought the boys water, food and straw…which was most awful to carry!”
The Germans Pull Out
Nixon: “The Boche pulled out of the abbey on the evening of 27th August and we walked to the cottage the following evening.”
Huguette: “At last they left. It was delicious to see them rushing back to St. Catherine, using any vehicles, buses, horses, bicycles (they asked mine, also, well hidden, I told them it was gone to Germany!) Also they never found the wireless, nor the pistols, grenades and machine guns hidden here!!”
Nixon: “On 30th August Mme. Verhague came running from the village to say that the Tommies had arrived. We were picked up by a Welsh Division and reached IS9 at Bayeux on 31st August.
Mme. Verhague, who with her mother could speak German, used to talk to the German soldiers and lower their morale, at the same time keeping in with them to cover up her activities. In this way she saved the lives of two young Resistance men among those shot up. One of them she walked right through the Germans pretending that he was her lover. I have never met a woman of such sublime courage and daring.”
Rescued – with a Full Stomach
Huguette: “As I came back from fetching the bread, at 6.30, I heard the Ecouis bells ringing! We understood. You were there! We thought they were American, no, it was our dear English Army!
I said nothing to the boys, not thinking to give them wrong hope, and ran to Lisors in pouring rain. I heard all the village calling me. “At last, run M Hug, you must be the first there!” I directly went to the little caterpillar truck, and asked an officer, quick, (I think I have been the only one not to kiss that boy because I was so anxious to bring my two!) I went to ask the officer what I had to do. One forgotten mine had just exploded and the bridge was damaged. One girl lent me her bicycle and I rushed here!
The boys got mad! Ted walked screaming and Nic yelled!! I felt shy to walk with them! We had taken so much the habit of hiding them! All the F.F.I who had been with them in the woods, cheered and kissed them and at last! I gave them up to the British! And then got my first best English cigarette. We had missed them so much for years!! (It was a wild woodbine! I keep the box!!)
Then, Victoria’s nephew asked us three for lunch (poor Maggie was left at home with only the potatoes!) and we had the most excellent lunch. Ted ate at least 2 lb of cucumber, Nic, a dish full of tomatoes, then omelette, duck, beans, rice pudding, wine, brandy (Dear me, never the censor will have patience to read this!) They gave the boys a whole bottle of brandy, flowers, champagne afterwards at Derly’s wife.
At 3pm my two boys went in a jeep with the English going back to their base. They kissed me in front of all the village, and all the troops!”
Magdelaine Huguette Verhague survived the war and is remembered as being a great heroine of the French Resistance. The risks faced by both the pilots and members of the Resistance who helped ensure their rescue was immense.
Huguette is directly credited with saving the lives of 7 airmen, including her “boys” Nic and Ted, along with aiding countless others.
She died in 1961, described as being “blind and penniless”. Her bravery, along with other members of the local resistance, is commemorated each September in Lyons la Forêt.
Here is a link to a video showing Huguette’s home and the places where Nixon hid. It is in French, however if you turn on the closed captions, under settings, you can have the video auto-translated to English:
DFC and Return
For his exemplary service and stellar record, Nixon was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on 29th December 1944.
Nixon would return to his wife in Hamilton, Canada, in 1945, having earned credits of 0.5 enemy aircraft destroyed along with 2 damaged.
He built up a successful career in the construction industry, overseeing the building of many office blocks around Ontario before his death in 1985.
Through my research looking into Nixon’s wartime career, I was able to track down and locate his son – who bears a striking resemblance to his father.
Harold’s son, Wilson, joined us in October 2022 to take a flight in his father’s Spitfire.
There is a great video of Wilson being interviewed about his experience which I will share a link to. The interview also includes some footage from Nixon’s Spitfire’s gun camera – including clips from Spitfire ML295:
The Dial of The Few
When creating The Few watch, the origin and authenticity of the Spitfire material I was using was paramount, as this ensured that the spirit of Spitfire ML295 and the pilots that flew in her was kept alive.
Using material that was almost 80 years old and had not been kept in the best of conditions would be difficult, but I knew I could create something incredibly special and unique.
A standard modern dial is usually made from a disc of copper. It has dial feet soldered onto the reverse side, which are used to affix the dial to the watch movement. The dial is then painted and the numerals and markers are added using a technique called pad printing. This is where a negative of the design is filled with ink, which is then lifted using the pad and placed down on the dial, transferring the ink.
The problem I faced with using the Spitfire material was that I couldn’t solder dial feet to the metal, as the heat would damage the surface. I was also unable to use pad printing, as the metal surface was both oxidised and not completely flat – which would leave the printing uneven and unsatisfactory.
Following over 2 years’ of experimentation and development, I created an entirely unique way of solving both of these issues.
It was important to record the origin of each piece of original Spitfire material used, as this would be part of the provenance of the timepiece. The circled material was cut out and is shown below
This piece of material was relatively flat, although it was still surprisingly uneven when needing to carry out precise work. The material was carefully studied and measured and five areas were identified as suitable for dials to be cut from
These flat areas were carefully lined up in a high-precision laser machine and cut out, with the laser etching the surface of the areas to be later hand-engraved
The dials were then finished by hand, which adds depth and definition to the numbers and markers. The 3 dimensional result really brings the life and soul of the Spitfire material to life.
The engraved areas were then carefully painted, with each area being given up to 6 incredibly thin layers of ink. If desired, luminous paint can be added to the markers
Although the material had survived for almost 80 years, I did not want to see it deteriorate any further and so I contacted the British Museum to see how they prevent their old metals from degrading. They explained that they use a special wax, which provides an invisible thin coating to the surface and protects it from both moisture and air – and so this wax, the same that the British Museum use to protect their priceless collections, is used on each of the dials.
A closeup of a dial after being hand-engraved
The dial fits into the movement ring like a jigsaw piece preventing it from twisting, lifting or tilting. The movement is then fitted in snuggly behind the dial and both are secured into the watch case
For those who prefer a higher contrast dial, the top layer of oxidisation can be removed, which leaves a patina on the dial that will be unique to each watch
Absolutely none of the original Spitfire material is wasted, as pieces that are otherwise too small to create a dial from are instead made into items, such as these hand-made silver cufflinks, that accompany The Few watch.
We take a look at the pilot that flew Spitfire ML295 the most and called the aircraft his own, Harold Kramer.