PTT, Dave Unwin
Whose (abysmal) idea was ‘The People’s Spitfire Pilot’?
In a world that brings us such excruciating horrors as ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ and ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here’, I shouldn’t be disgusted by the RAF Museum’s initiative to find ‘The People’s Spitfire Pilot’, but you know, I am. I’m sure — or at least hope — that the RAFM meant well, but we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or, in this case, unutterably tacky naffness!
I suppose we should all be grateful that at least Simon Cowell didn’t get involved. Can you imagine the toe-curling ghastliness as Simon hitches his trousers up to his neck and says, “You know, he flew well, fought hard and died without blubbing, so it’s a yes from me; he’s through to the next round”, while Ant and Dec gurn enthusiastically from the wings. Incidentally, if you don’t know which one’s which, I believe that Ant is, confusingly, the larger one.
But I digress. You may well be thinking: ‘I wonder what the selection criteria were for The People’s Spitfire Pilot shortlist.’ Well, the principal requirement was that candidates had to have flown a Mk V. As for the rest, the RAF Museum’s curator, Peter Devitt said, “we’ve selected a wide, and perhaps surprising, range of people who flew the type to demonstrate to people of all walks that the RAF is relevant to them, and by extension the RAF Museum’s Centenary Exhibition also has something for everyone.” In fact, the list appears to have come straight from Central Casting’s PC Dept as, in a clear boxticking exercise, it features a gay man, a man of colour, a disabled man, an Eastern European, and a woman.
You can almost hear the chaps in the retired fighter pilot’s home spluttering
The list comes straight from Central Casting’s PC Dept A tasteful statue of an anonymous pilot represents all of them
their indignation over morning coffee. “I say, Bunty old boy — have you seen this list for The People’s Spitfire Pilot? There’s even a woman on it!” “Hells teeth, Ginger, that’s simply appalling — a woman you say? Bad show! I hope you’ve written to the Telegraph.”
And mention of the Daily Telegraph brings me to the next part of this tragi-comedy, where general tackiness descended into farce.
The Eastern European contender is Franciszek Kornicki, the well-respected commander of No 308 squadron when it operated Mk Vbs, who turned 100 last year. All well and good, but apparently Kornicki’s son Richard wrote to the Telegraph and opined that perhaps his father Franciszek had been confused with Josef Frantisek. Kornicki did not participate in the Battle of Britain, nor score any kills, whereas Frantisek was one of the highest scoring allied aces of the battle. Interestingly, although he flew with No 303 (an RAF squadron manned mostly by Poles) Frantisek was a Czech, and to add insult to (fatal) injury, he died in a Hurricane.
Anyway, the Polish weekly news magazine Newsweek Polska, national newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, and Polish Radio London all supported the campaign to have Kornicki voted number one, and to no one’s surprise (although, I suspect to Kornicki’s bemusement and embarrassment) the social media campaign ensured he won by a landslide. He will now be immortalised in cardboard, as a full-size cut-out next to the RAFM’S Mk V.
Does he deserve it? Of course he does. They all do! That’s what makes the whole thing so crass and distasteful. I mean, whatever next? ‘Britain’s got the VC factor’, hosted by Dermot O’leary and Tess Daly, with Alan Dedicoat reading out each citation and a ‘Brucie Bonus’ if the award was made posthumously?
It really is profoundly offensive. Ian Gleed is primarily included because he was gay, not because he was a brave man who flew (and died) in a Spitfire. What about other famous Spitfire pilots, such as Geoffrey Wellum, Al Deere or Robert Stanford Tuck?
Surely my namesake George ‘Grumpy’ Unwin (no relation) deserves to be on the list? One of the RAF’S original Spitfire pilots (his squadron, No 19, was the first to receive them), he shot down at least fourteen enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain, and is one of only sixty men to win a DFM and Bar. Perhaps even more impressively, having selected a good field to force-land in after his Spitfire’s engine failed, he suddenly realised there were children playing in it. Without hesitation he chose another, less satisfactory field and crash-landed there instead, destroying the aircraft and risking his own life in the process. If that’s not worthy of a cardboard cut-out then I don’t know what is!
In case you don’t know of it, a much better tribute to anyone who ever flew (or worked on) Spitfires can be found at the National Memorial to ‘the Few’ at Capel-le-ferne in Kent. There you will find a tasteful statue of an anonymous pilot gazing out across the English Channel for eternity. He’s clearly a young man — almost still a boy, and that’s all we need to know. His race, nationality and sexuality are completely irrelevant. He doesn’t have to be anyone, he represents all of them.