PTT, Dave Un­win

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

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.

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