A Welsh Second World War Spitfire pilot has revealed how he reached his 100th birthday: his life was spared thanks to two German fighter pilots who respected his courage.
John “Jack” Hamilton Nicholls is chronicled in the Aces High book for his attacks on enemy aircraft which he damaged or destroyed in the war.
Jack, who was recognized with the awarding of a Distinguished Flying Cross, has confessed that his life is owed to two Messerschmitt pilots who let him escape after downing his Spitfire.
The Swansea-born centenarian related how his fighter was pursued and sprayed with cannon fire by a duo of Messerschmitt fighters off the North African coast.
Nicholls said he was hit across one wing and the fuselage and one cannon shell exploded in the rear of his seat.
Luckily he had a radio backpack on which absorbed some of the explosion, but he briefly passed out and then spiraled out of control from 36,000 feet, he explained, and the enemy aircraft followed him down.
He regained consciousness and recovered control of a severely damaged aircraft at around 2,000 feet. The enemy aircraft flew beside him, saluted and then left to leave Nicholls to his fate.
He managed to limp back to the base, but that encounter taught him something about the honor of battle that has never been forgotten.
His Aces High shows that he flew with 601 Squadron, destroying an Italian fighter aircraft in October 1942 and then a German fighter only ten days later.
In the next few months, he damaged two more enemy craft, maybe another and damaged yet another after flying from his Western Desert-based airfield.
He was promoted to Flight Commander in March 1943, damaging an Italian Macchi 202 and sharing in bringing down a German Junkers 88 bomber. In the same month, he damaged a Messerschmitt Bf109 and destroyed another in April.
After rest and recuperation, he joined 92 Squadron in Italy in 1943 as a Flight Commander.
Then he shared in the destruction of a Dornier 217 brought down into the sea off Termoli with four other pilots and in November claimed a Junkers 190, propelling his ‘Aces High’ score to five and two-thirds.
Humbly, he said there was as much luck as skill in his survival as he approached his 100th birthday in a care home in Ammanford, South Wales Evening Post reported.
A bachelor, he refused an invitation to travel to London to celebrate his birthday with the RAF. Rather, he partied and enjoyed receiving a card from Queen Elizabeth at his care home.