Just One of The Few…
I am a child of a service family. I have been in the Royal Air Force for 23 years – it’s the only real job I have ever known – and my brother similarly served for 31 years…My father himself served in the RAF for 22 years and before him HIS father served in the Army in the First World War. We are service through and through…
But I need to point out that what follows, the man I am going to talk about is no relation to me at all. He shares a family name, but we are no relation whatsoever. But I found out about this man, because I was interested in my name and to see if anyone with my family name was involved.
Sgt Roy Clement Ford (nickname ‘Henry’) flew with 41 Sqn during the Battle of Britain. He was just another pilot. He did nothing spectacular, he was not an ‘Ace’. His name is one one that springs to mind when you think of the famous pilots. In fact he was only credited with a ‘probable’ kill of a Bf 109, He came to 41 Sqn in December 1939 after joining the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1938 doing his flying training at Gravesend and Catterick.
His probable of a Bf109 fighter, was on 5th September 1940 when 41 Sqn, newly arrived in the south, took on a formation of Messerschmitts and Dorniers over the Thames Estuary and two days later on the 7th, after another contact with the enemy Roy, as he returned to Hornchurch made a forced landing in his Spitfire.
But he made it through the Battle of Britain, and given that it was a meritocracy, and that if he was good enough to survive he was good enough to move on, he was commissioned in November 1940.
By 1942 he had moved to Hawker as a Test Pilot and in June 1943 he was posted for a course at the Empire Test Pilots School at RAF Boscombe Down. He saw the end of the war and was released from the RAF in 1945, after rising to certainly a Flight Lieutenant and possibly making Squadron Leader. After two years out, he commissioned again in the RAFVR in 1947, instructing with them at Flight Schools…
He died on November 13th 2002. And that is all I know about him. All I can find out.
But he was one of the Few, not one of the names that people mention in revered tones, but still one of the Few. As I say, he was credited with just one ‘probable kill’. But remember the Spitfires and Hurricanes had about 15-20 seconds of bullets per trip…it’s amazing that any enemy aircraft were shot down, and a ‘probable’ just meant that no-one saw it hit the ground or a pilot bail out…but it had been hit and was seen heading down… And as Geoffrey Wellum himself said, you ‘had to be good otherwise you’d be a gonner’, so anyone who made it through that time must have been, well, one of the best. And to keep going back to that, back into that day after day after day…well, I can’t imagine that bravery.
I’ve waxed lyrical for days about the Battle and about written enough about the men that flew and fought in it…and today is when we should commemorate them, all of them. We should be thankful for what they did, and how they did it. The Few, the pilots, have come to symbolise every man and woman who was involved in any way in the momentous events of July – October 1940.
And Sgt Roy Ford was one of them. Tonight, as I said on Monday, another Sgt Ford (who share nothing with the earlier one other than a rank, name and being in the same service), will be raising a glass to each and every one of them.
If you are interested, please take a moment to have a look at this page to see if there was someone who shares YOUR name who took part in the Battle. You might know already that you have someone in your family who DID fly or participate in the Battle, if so then please post a comment after this blog.
My last words on the Battle of Britain for now, as I am certain I have written enough about it over the past few days and weeks come from a poem called ‘Prospice’ quoted by (my greatest hero) Sir Ernest Shackleton. I think that Robert Browning’s words are a fitting way for me to end my series of blogs about the Battle of Britain. They are more apt and sum up the battle in a better way than I ever could.
“For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave”.