Commemorating Harpenden’s Battle of Britain Hurricane pilot
- Credit: Photo supplied
Friends and family of a Battle of Britain pilot have met in Harpenden to recollect his happy days as a scout in the district, and pay tribute to him.
Sergeant Pilot Geoffrey Gledhill was flying his Hurricane fighter in a desperate aerial battle with raiding Luftwaffe aircraft over the south coast when he was hit and forced to bail out into the English Channel.
Just 19 years old, he lost his life in the Battle of Britain in August, 1940.
Rescuers were unable to find the pilot, but one month later, his body was washed ashore at Criquebeuf-en-Caux on the Normandy coast of occupied France, where villagers gave him an honoured burial in the local churchyard.
Sergeant Gledhill, who lived in Harpenden, was unmarried, but his older sister’s children, both born during the Second World War, grew up knowing of their uncle’s short but heroic life.
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They later visited his grave in France and met with the elderly inhabitants who had cared for the grave over the years.
At the same time, one of Geoff’s younger scouting friends spent several years searching, first to find his grave and then to try to make contact with any remaining family members.
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Colin Gaskin, now aged 89, had camped with the 3rd Harpenden Troop as one of the youngest members of Geoff’s ‘Peewit’ patrol in 1938.
He eventually traced Geoff’s niece and nephew, Gillian and Rupert Harvey, after a French newspaper had published a picture of their visit to the grave in Criquebeuf.
On Friday, February 12 Colin and Rupert, who now lives in Canada, met in Harpenden.
They paid tribute to him at the Harpenden War Memorial on Church Green, where the pilot’s name is inscribed on the gunmetal tablet to the fallen in the Second World War.
Colin said: “I had the great pleasure of taking Rupert to the old scout hut in Southdown Road. I explained how Geoff was an expert with the aerial ropeway we always had in camp and that he always helped with a safer version of it for us little kids.
“Trevor Miller, former leader of the 3rd Harpenden scouts, showed Rupert the framed Roll of Honour of the 71 old troop members who served in the war, ten of them having lost their lives.”
Local author John Seabrook, also a scout with the ‘Third’ during the war, gave him copies of his books which include chapters on Geoff and other Harpenden men who lost their lives during the conflict.
Rupert said: “It was a memorable day and one I’ll be digesting for quite a while. The visit, the conversations, and meeting those old friends help greatly in understanding more about Uncle Geoff and the family, and the world he grew up in.”
• The Royal Air Force pilot was among ‘The Few’ to have lost his life in the Battle of Britain in August 1940. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a speech on August 20, 1940, said: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much owed by so many to so few”. The press used this epithet as the collective noun for the RAF’s Fighter Command pilots and others who claimed victory over Germany’s Luftwaffe.