Commemorating the flying heroes who died in our borough - “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. Battle of Britain Day is next month.

  Posted: 27.08.20 at 11:05 by Susan Yates

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The latest in our occasional series of features by Thurrock Historial Society chair Susan Yates focuses on a time of commemoration.

THE 75th anniversary of VJ Day (Victory in Japan Day) was commemorated on 15 August.. In the pretty Thurrock village of Bulphan they commemorated the event by Mrs Iris Aedy of Bulphan Women’s Institute ringing the church bells 75 times.

They also remembered Pilot Officer Gerald Archibald Langley whose aircraft crashed at 12.30pm on Sunday, 15 September 1940. Gerald Langley, known as Gerry, was born in Stony Stratford in 1916 to Archibald Frank Martin Langley and Mary Elizabeth Langley. He was educated at Wolverton Grammar School and worked at the Prudential Assurance Company.

In March 1939 he became an airman under training and on 1 September 1939 he was called up. He underwent further training at No. 6 Flying Training School at RAF Little Rissington which went from 9 December to 17 June 1940.

The next day saw Pilot Officer Langley sent to 41 squadron RAF Catterick, North Yorkshire which had moved to join the Battle of Britain at RAF Hornchurch where the squadron saw some very heavy action.

On 11 September 1940 Gerry claimed a Junkers Ju 88 which was damaged but returned fire and hit his Spitfire X4325 over Sevenoaks but he bailed out unhurt. His luck however did not last. On 15 September his Spitfire P9324 was shot down while in combat with a Messerschmitt BF109S and he was killed. The Spitfire crashed at Wick Farm, Bulphan and burned out.

Pilot Officer Gerald Archibald Langley

Gerald Langley was 24. He left an estate of £622. 18s. 3d. and is buried in St. Peter and St. Paul Churchyard, Abington, Northampton. Pilot Officer Langley was just an ordinary young man who was thrown into the Battle of Britain action at its fiercest. He died on the day that the RAF. officially declared the defeat of the Luftwaffe. Like many young men he gave his life in defence of his country.

Tragic tale of three brothers

On 28 February 2004 I was present at Orsett Fire station for the dedication of a memorial to Wing Commander Reginald Joseph Cowan Grant DFC and bar, DFM, Royal New Zealand Air Force. Wing Commander Grant’s Mustang crashed on what is now the Southend-bound carriageway of the A13 opposite Orsett Fire Station.

Reginald Grant was born in Woodville, New Zealand on 3 June 1914 the middle son of Gertrude Isabella Grant nee Rowntree and William Edward Grant. Reginald’s older brother was William Edward Grant and his younger brother was Ian Allan Charles Grant. He also had a sister Veronique.

He was educated at Auckland Grammar School and joined the New Zealand Air Force in November 1939 after working as a metal spinner. On completion of his training Sergeant Pilot Officer Grant service numbeNZ391352 was posted to the UK. He was initially in 20th Fighter Group, 485 Squadron then in 465 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force before joining 122 wing RAF.

Pilot Officer Langley's grave.

His older brother William while in the RAF died of illness on 2 February 1932. His younger brother Ian was posted to 485 Squadron in November 1942. On 13 February 1943 Ian Grant’s Spitfire was shot down over northern France near Calais. Reg Grant witnessed the event, shooting down the German fighter that was responsible but sadly his brother did not survive. On 28 February 1944 Reg Grant took off at 12.35 hours on a mission across the Channel in his Mustang Mk 111 no. FX996.

Shortly after take-off Grant reported engine trouble and broke away from his flight gliding down to approximately 1,500 to 1,000 feet. Grant bailed out. The plane crashed at Barrington Farm near Orsett. Grant died when he struck the ground having failed to pull his ripcord on his parachute. It is believed that possibly engine oil from his failing plane obscured his view or perhaps fumes stopped him from pulling the cord.

Thameside Aviation Museum carried out an excavation in the late 1980s but sadly very little was found at the crash site.

Wing Commander Reginald Grant was buried on 3 March 1944 at Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, Surrey. His memorial at Orsett Fire Station and the service on the 60th anniversary of his death were organised by Roger Pickett. Wing Commander Grant was only 29 when he died. He had flown 205 operations totalling 673 hours and had eight confirmed kills to his name. Yet another young man who had given his life for freedom.

Battle of Britain Day will be commemorated again next month on Tuesday, 15 September.

The Battle of Britain lasted from July 10 to October 31, 1941. It was the first major air force campaign and the largest aerial bombing campaign to that date. Nazi Germany aimed at gaining air superiority over the Royal Air Force and targeted the coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres.

The German Luftwaffe also started targeting aircraft factories and ground infrastructure and used terror bombing strategy to the areas of political significance.

Observation of Battle of Britain Day primary commemorates the flying aces and their contribution to the outcome of the battle. Winston Churchill said about the pilots the words, that are still remembered by the nation: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

Battle of Britain Day is annually observed on 15 September, since it's the day, when the Luftwaffe embarked on their longest bombing attack against Britain. This event forced the entire Royal Air Force to be engaged in the battle in defense of London and the South East. This resulted in a decisive victory for Britain and marked a turning point in the course of the war.

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