Keeping the past alive
> War hero Humphrey Phillips becomes one of UK’s oldest published authors at age 97, with his debut novel recounting his exploits as a pilot
right) Guest, who works at Bupa Erskine Hall care home near Harrow, where Phillips spent hours penning his memoirs, said: “We’re all so proud of Humphrey, it’s been a real labour of love and it’s heart-warming that it’s been so well recognised.
“People often overlook the powerful stories that our older generations have, but it’s important that they’re encouraged to share them.
“Not only does it keep the memories alive for them, but it’s also important for younger generations to hear.”
Born in north London in 1920, Phillips was sent to live in Suffolk from the age of six to benefit from the country air.
After being put to work on a farm, he went to school at the age of 10, leaving five years later.
Phillips was called up in 1940, aged 20, becoming a flight engineer responsible for the maintenance of aircraft systems during combat and training operations.
He continued to serve until the war ended in 1945, and took part in the Battle of Berlin bombing campaign.
The book was written with the help of Sean Feast, an expert on bomber command history.
Feast said: “Humphrey had a few hairy escapes during the war. They got badly shot up on one of their operations and the midupper gunner was wounded.
“Humphrey had to go back and look after him. They managed to get back – but it was a touch-and-go landing because all their hydraulics were shot up so they’d lost their brakes, their flaps and everything.”
Upon leaving the Royal Air Force and returning to London after the war, Phillips joined a nearby tennis club where he met his wife, Iris.
“I took her for dinner on Dover Street down by Piccadilly. A friend of mine worked in the restaurant and had always said that if I needed a good meal to ask him,” he said.
“She was very impressed when the chef came out and said the meal was on the house.”
After 52 years of marriage, Iris died in 2003, leaving Phillips bereft, so he began to put his life story on paper to give him something to focus on and help manage his grief.
The title of the book refers to Phillips being the ‘one’ that took part in the Thousand Bomber Raids, which saw 1,000 aircraft take to the skies at once as a demonstration of strength from the RAF.
It is also a reference to what Phillips saw as his odds of surviving the mission, for which he was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross medal.
Feast added: “It is an award for bravery, not just to say ‘I was there’. But the bit that interested me the most was not his operational career but his career in training people.
“If you read biographies from the war of pilots or aircrew, that element is often dismissed within a couple of pages. They’re there for a few weeks then they move on.
“But if you are the person who is going up in the air day in, day out, with novice pilots, novice flight engineers, it’s bloody terrifying.”
Phillips’ proudest achievement was twice being mentioned in despatches for his accolades in training.
The book was published by Mention the War Publishing, whose director Simon Hepworth said: “Men like Humphrey Phillips beat the odds when so many of his comrades were not so fortunate, and it is vital that future generations are able to hear the experiences of the crew at first hand.” – The Independent