The Face of the Battle of Britain

August 22, 2010 in Culture Links, Latest Updates, Politics by Data Migration

The Brylcreem Boys have an iconic place in British culture: zooming about in Spitfires over the Garden of England, taking the fight to the Nazi beast, 175,000 of whom were massing in French ports waiting for air supremacy so they could board the invasion barges.

Of all the photographs of the Battle of Britain one stands out for me: Squadron Leader Brian Lane DFC, taken during September 1940.

Brian Lane

The exhaustion on his face. His eyes look like they've been punched. His hair blown about by propeller wash. The set of his mouth and jaw – a determined man doing his duty. His extreme youth: a squadron leader at twenty-three.

On the right of the picture is George Unwin, one of the most aggressive and successful fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain. He was twice awarded the DFM, one of only 60 men to receive the double award during the Second World War.

George Unwin, the son of a Yorkshire miner, refused initially to apply for a commission, preferring to fight as a flight sergeant. In the end he relented but his working class roots failed to impress the snobby selection panel.

A colleague then told him that an interest in horses might help, so at his next interview he waxed lyrical about his love of all things equestrian. He failed to mention that he was referring to pit ponies at his father's mine. But the snobs were persuaded and he became a pilot officer in July 1941.