My View, Mel Hewitt: The glider pilot hero I will never forget

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I love Spitfires. I think they are the most iconic plane – of any era – in the world. They are a force of nature aforce of nature and look as natural flying through the sky as a bird.

It has been a life-long love, sparked by watching films such as ‘The First of the Few’, ‘Reach for the Sky’ and ‘The Way to the Stars’.

To hear the organic sound of the Merlin engine overhead is the most thrilling experience of which I never tire.

This aircraft is forever part of our national identity and the one we most closely associate with the Battle of Britain, alongside the Hurricane.

And 75 years ago young pilots – with an average age of 20 years – were climbing in to the cockpits of these planes at the height of this battle which has been specially commemorated this week.

This extraordinary and pivotal engagement of the Second World War took place from July through to October in 1940. The Channel 4 programme ‘Battle of Britain: Return of the Spitfire’ this week, captured the flight of the largest collection of spitfires since the end of the War.

To see them taxi one by one and glide into the blue was breath taking.

It brought back memories of our own, original, airport which when it opened in 1916 was really in at the start of the aviation evolution. The airport, which closed in the early 1990s, was alongside the racecourse where the Lakeside development now stands. In the 1930s you could even fly from here to Amsterdam.

A few years ago I was thrilled to find a family connection when I discovered that all my dad’s brothers – my dad was only six at the time – had learnt to fly here, just before the war started. All then went on to play their part, as many young men from our town did, in the war that was to swiftly follow.

I cannot begin to imagine how my grandma felt with four sons away serving. She was featured in a local news story, with a picture of my four uncles – I’m guessing as an example of what mothers and families across the country were contributing and coping with as part of the war.Three of the four came home.

Dennis was killed at Arnhem in September 1944. As a glider pilot he had already survived D-Day. He was 26 years old.

He is buried at Oosterbeek alongside many comrades. The inscription on his headstone says simply ‘Beloved husband of Margaret and Keith’s daddy’ – the baby not yet born he would never see.

His name is also on the war memorial in Sprotbrough at St Mary’s churchyard and my son Geoffrey was given the middle name Dennis in is memory.

It is the millions like Dennis I shall be thinking of this week.

We owe them all a debt that words cannot express.