RAF Battle of Britain ace Tom ‘Ginger’ Neil dies

‘A truly great man’ One of last two living aces from the Battle of Britain dies, aged 97

Wing Commander Neil, who lived in Thwaite St Mary, near Bungay, flew more than 141 missions and shot down 14 enemy planes during World War Two.

He died peacefully on Wednesday, a few days before his 98th birthday.

Wing Commander Neil flew Hurricanes and Spitfires during his service between 1938 and 1964.

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

Wing Commander Neil outlived his wife Eileen, who died in 2014.

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

The RAF hero was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Bar and Air Force Cross (AFC) for his extraordinary bravery during the dark hours of 1940.

Today a family friend, who asked not to be named, said: “Tom was a truly great man.

“He, like all those alongside him, served his country with great courage.

“It gives us great comfort that he lived to see the centenary of the RAF that he served with such distinction, pride and bravery.

“His story was straight out of Boy’s Own, but he was a modest, dignified and remarkable man. He was immensely proud of his country.

“Tom’s wife Eileen was well into her 90s when she passed four years ago. She was his devoted partner for life.”

David Brocklehurst MBE, chairman and historian at the Kent Battle of Britain Museum Trust, also paid tribute to Mr Neil.

He said: “We are greatly saddened by his death and our hearts go out to Tom’s family – we have lost a true friend.

“He was the epitome of a Battle of Britain pilot. It was a great honour to have known him.”

He leaves behind three sons.

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.

“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”.

He spoke to the BBC just days before his death about some of the 141 combat missions he flew during those months.

And on BBC Radio 5 live’s Victoria Derbyshire programme in 2010, Wing Commander Neil explained that he regretted not performing better when he fought in the skies above England.

“I chastise myself mentally because I should have done more,” he said.

“There are times when I didn’t press home the attack as well as I ought to have done. I should have gone on longer.”

Wing Commander Neil died on the 12th July 2018

 

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