Menu Donate Request our help

Helpline: 0300 102 1919

"We knew we were fighting for our lives"

The Late Sergeant Stan Hartill was 19 years old when he joined the RAF as an airframe fitter. Stan joined 609 Squadron and was looking after Spitfires at Middle Wallop for one week when the Battle of Britain broke out.

As Britain fought for its life, morale amongst the pilots and ground crew was surprisingly high even though they realised there was little between them and the invading German Air Force.

Stan Hartill

"Of course we were kept very busy during the Battle of Britain because the Germans were attacking in hordes all the time – we heard all sorts of stories from the pilots about what was going on.

"On June 12 everybody was bought to extra attention because it was feared that the Germans were going to invade Britain in what they called Operation Sealion.

"We were made to stand by for 24 hours a day and for one night the ground crew slept under the wings of the Spitfire and the pilots were ready to take off, even in the dark.

"We put temporary paraffin flares out for them to take off if need be – it was unheard of for a Spitfire to take off at night but they would have done it. But thank God Sealion never materialised as for some reason it was called off.

"But the bombings continued and one day a German bomber flew low and bombed our airfield but luckily he missed his aim and the bombs fell in the field just the other side of the Officer's Mess – and luckily he missed all our Spitfires.

"We realised that everything was depending on the RAF because the poor Army lads who had retreated from Dunkirk came back with no equipment so there was the Homeguard – and the RAF.

"So really there was nothing between England and the German armies but the RAF.

"I was told by an officer that Hitler had been told 'If we can destroy the RAF then I'll give you England' and he apparently said, 'No, I'm going to destroy London and then they will give me England'. And the RAF officer said to me 'That was Hitler's biggest mistake because if they had destroyed the RAF Fighter Command in 1940 they would have won the Battle of Britain'.

"We never moaned about the times we worked – the biggest moan we had was when the refreshment van was late coming to our dispersal! Otherwise the morale was very, very high because we knew we were fighting for our lives, there was no question about it and so much depended on us.

"Unfortunately the RAF's achievements weren't always recognised by a lot of people but thank God we had people like Winston Churchill whose famous words 'Never was so much owed by so many to so few' were so true.

"If you had been on those active airfields and saw what went on you would have realised that every word Winston Churchill spoke was the truth – to see those lads going off against terrific odds and fighting for our lives and then coming back and within no time at all they were ready to go again – it was wonderful."

Visit the Battle of Britain homepage

Related articles:

Sign up to receive the RAFBF e-newsletter