Veteran who survived being shot down and captured returns to Fairlop for Remembrance Sunday

The veteran who flew the first mission from RAF Fairlop during the Second World War was back at the former base for Sunday’s service.

Flight sergeant Harold Bennett commandeered Spitfires from the base in 1941 and survived being shot down into the English Channel and captured.

Mr Bennett, now 91, said: “I think it’s good that people still come here to remember, it’s lovely to be able to do it.

“I didn’t think that people would be doing this 70 years ago.”

He was in one of only two planes on the mission codenamed “Rhubarb”, which according to son Peter, meant “find whatever you can and shoot it”.


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But the mission went horribly wrong when the Spitfires targeted a German train travelling in a valley in France, without realising that guns were stationed on the hilltops.

Mr Bennett came under heavy fire and abandoned his damaged plane in the English Channel, hoping to be picked up by the Royal Navy.

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Instead, he was found by a German U-Boat and spent three-and-a-half years in Polish prisoner of war camps before having to walk across Europe to get home when he was freed.

Chairman of the Fairlop Heritage Group David Martin, who organised the remembrance event, said: “Harold gave and nearly lost everything and we should never forget that.”

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