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

The Sun (Malaysia) - - THE RIGHT READ -

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

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