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Remembering Battle of Britain pilot Jimmy Corbin

Jimmy CorbinFlight Lieutenant Jimmy Corbin DFC had just 29 hours' flying time in the Spitfire when he joined No. 66 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Jimmy sadly passed away in 2012 but his youngest daughter, Margot, shares some memories of her heroic father who was the last of the ten Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots, known as Churchill's 'The Few'.

As a little girl my father didn't talk about his war experience at all. He would go to Battle of Britain events with mum, but I didn't know what they were all about.

He was a teacher and his nickname at the school was 'Bomber Corbin', so I knew he was involved in the war but had no idea in what way.

He volunteered before the war, and got called up to the RAF.

He wrote a book with a few of his colleagues called Last of the Ten Fighter Boys and he recalled how he was sitting in a room and some guy with a clipboard was calling out names saying "you're bombers" and my dad got put in Spitfires. He started as a Sergeant Pilot.

A lot of the other people he flew with at the time were very different to him because they were either officers, so they came from a very different social background or they were Reserves and my father was the son of a plumber and a teacher so he stuck out.

He was older than quite a few of them when he joined the RAF – 23 – and in the Battle of Britain that was terribly young but there were others there that were younger.

I don’t know what it was but when he was a little boy he always wanted to fly. He absolutely loved flying. He tells a story of when he was about nine-years-old and there was an air show near to where he lived that he was desperate to go to but he needed two bob to get into it and his grandfather gave him the money to go. When he talked about that air show he said he just wanted to see the planes and be in them.

Jimmy Corbin lost many friends and colleagues during the battle that raged over Britain’s skies between August and September 1940. Fellow pilots were much younger than Jimmy – the average age of an RAF pilot in 1940 was just 20.

In his book, Last of the Ten Fighter Boys, Jimmy admitted to being terrified on many of the raids.

He said: "I am not a religious man, but I prayed for good fortune and held on to the hope that a healthy dose of self-preservation would carry me safely through the dogfights, the convoy patrols, the unexpected encounters with a rogue Me108, enemy flak from escorting our own bombers and even friendly fire."

His daughter Margot recalls: "He told a story about how they were coming back from a mission and they realised they were flying over Maidstone which was my father's hometown, so his Squadron Leader said they could do a spin and fly down low over Maidstone. But what my father didn’t realise at the time was that Maidstone had been severely bombed that morning by the Germans so he felt very bad about that.

"He absolutely, without a doubt would say combat was the most terrifying thing in the world and anyone that didn't think that was lying. He also talked a lot about how amazing the Mark II Spitfire was in the air – he'd say it was a dream to fly."

At the end of February 1941 Jimmy was posted to Exeter and in 1943 he took part in battles over North Africa during the Allied landings, called Operation Torch, which won him a Distinguished Flying Cross. 

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