In August 1939, aged eighteen, Geoffrey Wellum signed up on a short-service commission with the Royal Air Force. His initial pilot training was in a DeHavilland Tiger Moth flying from Desford airfield in Leicestershire. He flew his first solo sortie on 1st September, just two days before Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany.
His training continued in the North American Harvard at RAF Little Rissington, but such was the demand for pilots that in May 1940 with his training not yet complete, Wellum was posted to 92 Squadron to fly Spitfires.
Wellum’s first Commanding Officer, albeit briefly, was Squadron Leader Roger Bushell who was shot down whilst on patrol covering the Dunkirk evacuation and became a Prisoner of War. He was a prolific planner of escapes and as “Big X” headed up the organisation behind what became known as “The Great Escape”.
Geoffrey Wellum saw extensive action during the Battle of Britain. Still only 18, he was the youngest pilot to fight in the battle and was nicknamed "Boy" by his fellow officers. On 9 September 1940, 92 Squadron was posted into the thick of the action at RAF Biggin Hill in Kent and claimed a number of “kills”.
Of the numerous Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters which escorted the German bombers, Wellum wrote:
During the summer of the following year, Wellum participated in over fifty sweeps over occupied France and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; which is awarded for exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy in the air.
By August 1941, most of Wellum's original 92 Squadron cohort had been killed or captured. Wellum recalled that he and his Spitfire survived due to a combination of luck and skill:
Geoffrey Wellum continued to serve throughout the Second World War and finally left the Royal Air Force in 1960. His memoir, which he’d written in the 1980s from notebooks he’d kept during the war, was eventually published in 2002 as the book First Light: The Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain.
Image credit: Brian Kingcombe and Geoffrey Wellum, Imperial War Museum