In the USA they were labeled ’Gung-ho,’ the British called them ‘Cocky’ – in essence, the words describe an attitude of enthusiasm coupled with an eagerness for war. It is probably this character attribute that was responsible for the success of so many WWII fighter pilots.
Due to the grave shortage of trained fighter pilots during WWII, a huge proportion of very young men were trained as RAF pilots – and were known to be a largely Cocky bunch – they had to be, considering the unbelievable successes they managed during the war, frequently against incredible odds.
Many of them did not return from their missions, so knowing their lives were always at risk, these pilots lived life to the full. Cocky they may well have been – but sometimes, enthusiasm spilled over to include over-boldness generated by a certain amount of conceit – and then came trouble!
It was an ordinary day and an ordinary flight in a Spitfire when a rather Cocky young pilot decided to have some fun which landed him in real “Trouble!” Flight Lieutenant Brooks wanted to give the ground crew a good scare, by flying over them at a very low level, thereby forcing them to duck! It was a boy’s trick – and one which was often played on the long-suffering ground crews! This time, however, on 29
This time, however, on 29th June 1946, the intended joke went sour. Brooks, in high spirits, as he was shortly to return home, decided to really leave the ground crew something to remember him by. The plan was to fly extra low for a good scare, but the plan backfired, for he flew too low and so ended up smashing into the runway and damaging the Spitfire NM 823 he was flying, beyond repair.
Brooks himself was uninjured but would now be in big TROUBLE for this careless ’writing off’ of a fighter plane. This type of action would have had very serious consequences for Brook himself. Very fortunately for him, however, the mechanics stood by him, and they covered for him so that the cause of this crash was officially recorded as being due to “catastrophic engine failure.”
The truth about the real cause of this ‘crash’ was kept secret for all these years. It is only now – 70 years after the event – that Corporal Dick Finch decided to finally set the record straight. Dick, who is now 95 years of age, was a-RAF mechanic and witnessed that fateful crash at the Malaysia Air Base.
He decided, after keeping the secret for so long, to tell the truth. Dick remembers that the pilot, excited to be going home soon, was “feeling pretty clever… he dropped down too far and had to belly-flop his plane … he was jolly lucky nobody found out, or he’d have been in serious trouble.”
Corporal Dick Finch was just 19 years old when he joined the RAF in 1941. He served in the Far East as a mechanic and after the war was head of a crew which repaired planes at Penang Airport in Malaysia. The entry for June 29, 1946, in his diary mentions this crash, for he wrote, “He got away with it because no one important got to know the truth.” Dick had told the bosses that the fighter plane had crashed after showing a light, warning that there was no oil pressure in the engine, Mirror reported.
While Dick went on to explain that almost all the pilots wanted to show how clever they were by flying very low and making the crews duck, Brooks had flown too low, just managing to pass over the crew, but right afterward hitting the ground! Dick felt that it was time to set the record straight – even though it was 70 years later.
Even today, he is still of the opinion that the ‘top brass,’ had they known the truth then, would have been extremely angry and that Brooke would have been both extremely heavily punished and not allowed to go home. Dick felt that “It didn’t seem fair, so I told a few lies and the rest is history – the pilot was very thankful.”
Although the consequence of this rather boyish prank was the destruction of an expensive fighter plane, how many of us have never done anything silly? Sometimes one needs a second chance!