As part of the ongoing research into Spitfire ML295 and the pilots that flew in her, I have managed to make contact with a number of family members of the original pilots.
This part of the research has always been one of the most gratifying. Almost without exception, when the Spitfire pilots returned home from the war, they spoke very little of their time as a pilot. Being unable to unravel the mix of both positive and horrific experiences, they instead decided to hold all the memories inside and try their best to forget about them.
Decades after the events of the war, I have found that sharing the details, photographs and stories about the pilots to their relatives has been very satisfying. As families learn, often for the first time, that despite the hardships they faced, what true heroes these few brave men were.
Spitfire ML295 at Biggin Hill
At Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, where the Spitfire was restored back into flying condition and where it is currently operating from, we held a special event for the family members where they could experience first hand what it was like to fly a Spitfire!
Biggin Hill’s close proximity to London was, and still is, the reason why the airfield there is so important. During the war any German bombers on route to London from continental Europe would pass over the runway.
Pictured is Spitfire ML295 just after take-off, as the undercarriage is being raised into the wings. Visible in the background is Canary Wharf, the financial centre of London
Spitfire ML295 underwent a painstaking 5 year restoration at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, where it was meticulously brought back to life. During the rebuild it was converted into a 2-seater aircraft, allowing for passengers to be given the opportunity to fly in the Spitfire
Biggin Hill was the airfield where 411 Squadron were based in 1944 when Spitfire ML295 was built. Here we have Harold Kramer, one of the 11 original pilots who flew in the aircraft, sat in the Spitfire at Biggin Hill.
Kramer would go on to fly 37 missions himself in ML295, and was the pilot of the aircraft when it was shot down on 30th July 1944 (he escaped unharmed and survived the war)
78 years later, at the same airfield, in the same aircraft, touching the same controls, Harold Kramer’s nephew Jeff Pietz, sits in the aircraft prior to his unforgettable flight in his uncle’s Spitfire
Larry Tracey, the son-in-law of another of ML295’s pilots, Bob Cooke, makes his way over to the aircraft
Standing in front of ML295 is Wilson Nixon, holding a photo of his father, Harold Nixon DFC, whilst wearing the dad’s original flying cap
Wilson touching down after flying in the same Spitfire his father flew over Northern France in 1944. I spoke with Wilson and he said that a week later he is still on a perpetual high – he said words could not describe the sensations and emotions he experienced
The 3 family members, representing 3 of ML295’s original 11 pilots
In the sky we managed to get some incredible photos flying in a chase aircraft, with two Spitfires in formation over the White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs were a welcome sight for any Allied pilot, who used the unmistakable feature to help navigate back towards the English coast
Despite the time of the year, we were blessed with absolutely glorious weather, with a small rainbow making an appearance over the rolling countryside
As ML295 breaks away to the left, the black and white “invasion stripes” on the underside of the Spitfire are clearly visible. These were added shortly before D-Day to help identify them as friendly aircraft
The sun soon set on what had been an immensely enjoyable, emotional and unforgettable day for everyone involved
Remaining authentic to the wartime period, we all went to the pub afterwards for a well deserved pint. On the left is Graham Oliver, owner of Spitfire ML295, who made the flights possible
The visit to the Spitfire occurred just before remembrance day on 11th November 2023, a day where we take a moment to remind ourselves and reflect on the sacrifices that were made by those in the past so that we can enjoy the safety and freedoms of today.
Along with those that died, the survivors of the war were often left emotionally scarred by their experiences, leading to both the horrors and heroics they encountered being something that remained unspoken.
Spitfire ML295 pilot Flight Lieutenant Bob Cooke, father-in-law of Larry Tracey. You can learn more about Bob here
Flight Lieutenant Harold Nixon, father of Wilson and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Nixon’s biography has just been sent out to the newsletter subscribers and will be published on here shortly
Flying Officer Harold Kramer, uncle of Jeff Pietz. A summary of Kramer’s wartime experience with ML295 is in this article, with a more comprehensive biography to follow
We must also not forget the ground crews that kept the Spitfires in the air. Here, on the right, is my wife’s grandfather Clifford Page, who worked as a member of the ground crew with 610 Squadron who were based at Biggin Hill during the Battle of Britain. The casualty rates amongst ground crew was particularly high after the RAF’s airfields became the Luftwaffe’s primary targets
My own grandfather, Donald Andrews, was part of the 1st Malta Infantry Brigade and protected the Spitfires at Hal Far Airfield in Malta. The Siege of Malta, as it became known, saw the small island earning the title of “most bombed place on Earth”
Sharing the Story
As you have seen in the pictures so far, we captured some incredible moments from the event, reflecting a memorable day that will be treasured by all involved.
So, I was delighted that one of those images was selected by the Sunday Telegraph in the article above. It was incredible to see the positive response from people who are also passionate about seeing the story of aircraft like Spitfire ML295 and her pilots commemorated
Although a digital copy of the brochure for The Few has always been available to anyone interested, if you would like a physical copy of the brochure sent to you, please let me know