‘Absolutely first class treatment from first class fellows’: The Harold Bennett story – part one

Pilot Harold Bennett, who was shot down in 1941 and described his treatment as "absolutely first cla

Pilot Harold Bennett, who was shot down in 1941 and described his treatment as "absolutely first class". Photo: David Martin. - Credit: Archant

When he was shot down in December 1941, Harold Bennett described his time as a PoW as “absolutely first class treatment from first class fellows”.

The chain of events, which led up to this traumatic incident are extraordinary.

Harold signed up in 1940 with three friends. He was the only one who came back. During training three fellow trainee pilots were lost flying.

On a sortie a shell passed through the wing of his Number 1 without exploding.

If it had, both men would have been killed.


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Early in his flying career, Harold was under no illusion that once airborne he was in constant danger, and the caption on his photo Just back wobbly knees is how he would have felt after each sortie.

One Squadron Spitfire was allocated code HB.

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It did not escape Harold’s attention that these were his initials also. Harold flew this aircraft with the same enthusiasm as driving a car with personalised number plates.

Later Harold crashed landed it after running out of fuel.

On the day he was shot down, all leave was cancelled and Harold went flying in his best blue uniform.

Off Le Touquet his plane was hit and went spinning down.

His foot was trapped but eventually he escaped and hit the water as his parachute opened.

The flak ship, which shot him down, rescued him from the freezing water of the English Channel.

Out of the water he was no longer the enemy, they rubbed him with blankets and fed him hot coffee.

Harold said. “So much has been said of German troops, but on that day I was given absolutely first class treatment from first class fellows”.

It is fitting that his name and Just Back Wobbly knees is on the Fairlop Memorial.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for part two of the Harold Bennett story, coming soon in the pages of the Ilford Recorder.

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