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Tributes paid to Battle of Britain ace who dies aged 97

UK News | Published:

Tom ‘Ginger’ Neil was described by one of his sons as belonging to a ‘generation of heroes’.

Wing Commander Tom Neil, who has died aged 97, meeting Prince Harry during Battle of Britain commemorations

One of the last surviving Battle of Britain aces Tom ‘Ginger’ Neil has died at the age of 97 as one of his sons described him as part of a “generation of heroes”.

Wing Commander Neil flew more than 140 missions and shot down 14 enemy planes during the Second World War, making him a near triple ace.

The term ace is given to a pilot who has shot down five enemy aircraft.

Wing Commander Tom Neil, who flew Hurricanes and Spitfires during the Battle of Britain, has died aged 97. He is pictured in his service years. (Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO/ PA)
Wing Commander Neil (Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO/PA)

He flew Hurricanes and Spitfires during his service between 1938 and 1964 and has multiple awards for bravery.

Wing Commander Neil, who lived near Bungay in Suffolk, died peacefully on Wednesday, three days before his 98th birthday.

He outlived his wife Eileen, who died in 2014.

Tom Neil was described by his family as part of a 'generation of heroes'. (Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO/ PA)
Wing Commander Neil was described by his family as part of a ‘generation of heroes’ (Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO/PA)

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The pair met at Biggin Hill while she was working as a WAAF officer and they were married for more than 70 years.

They had three sons, who he leaves behind.

His middle son Patrick Neil, 69, said: “I like to bracket my father with his generation.

“I think that generation were heroes because of their instinctive notion of duty and their instinctive notion of others.

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“They did things as it wasn’t just about you; it was there to be done and you did it.”

He added that his father’s generation “didn’t understand the term celebrity” and had “incredible humility”.

“I grew up without hearing stories about being in the war,” he said, explaining that his father did not share wartime stories until he was aged in his sixties.

Mr Neil said this was prompted by the discovery of a trunk of letters, sent from Wing Commander Neil to his mother during the war, that she had kept for all those years.

Wing Commander Neil subsequently wrote three autobiographies.

He was once asked, while giving a school talk, what counselling he was offered after the war, Mr Neil said.

The schoolboy noted in his question that there was a high rate of attrition for pilots and a less than 50% chance of survival.

“He (Wing Commander Neil) spluttered and said ‘Counselling? You had enough trouble with the Germans’.

“He said, ‘At 19 I never thought we weren’t going to win or I was going to get hurt’.

“That epitomises the spirit of those days,” Mr Neil added.

He said his father gave many interviews and he would often accompany him.

“Time and time again he didn’t want to go, and time and time again the switch is turned, the lights are on and he’s off and he’s a performer,” said Mr Neil. “And when he performs he’s absolutely magical.”

Wing Commander Neil served with 249 Squadron and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar and Air Force Cross for his service.

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