Battle of Britain ‘souvenir’ given to war hero’s family

The great grandson of a Battle of Britain pilot has thanked a Bexhill resident for tracking him down 72 years after witnessing his great uncle’s heroic dog fight with Nazi Messerschmitt pilots in which he lost his life.

Paul Davies-Cooke said he was amazed when he was contacted ‘out of the blue’ by Basil Ludkin’s son in 2012 - who had traced him through the internet. Mr Ludkin then rang Mr Davies-Cooke, who says of the call: “Basil told me the most incredible, unbelievable and emotional story you would ever expect to hear from a complete stranger.”

Mr Ludkin gave a detailed account of what he’d witnessed through the eyes of a 6 year old as the Battle of Britain raged over the skies of Kent and how, a few months later, he found a piece of Pilot Officer Paul John Davies-Cooke’s plane.

Basil said what he saw at around 8.30am on September 27, 1940 during the Luftwaffe bombing raids will be forever etched on his mind, as PO Davies-Cooke valiantly took on the enemy. “The air-raid siren had not sounded and many people had come out in their gardens to watch.” Basil, along with his mum and dad cheered when PO Davies-Cooke sent off one of the ME109’s trailing a cloud of smoke, adding: “The fight continued until another Messerschmitt joined in and the Spitfire was hit and stopped firing (they only had 40 seconds of firing time). The Spitfire pilot bailed out and many of us, young and old, said a prayer for his safety but it was not to be, the Germans flew round him and gave several bursts of fire.

“We could see his body jerking about as the 20mm shells hit him. I had never heard my parents curse like they cursed those Germans. Our neighbours did likewise - everyone was angry and sad.”

Once abandoned the Spitfire ploughed through a pair of semi-detached houses, Basil said: “The engine demolished the party wall and ended up in the front garden. At the time I was only about 250 yards away and felt the ground shake.”

The area was cordoned off and salvage teams cleared the wreckage. Basil said: “Crash sites were guarded against looting, especially against small souvenir boys collecting any by-product of the war. I was no different and regularly scoured bomb-sites looking for any small item that may have been missed.”

Six months later whilst Basil was doing ‘another patrol of the crash sight’ he spotted a ‘dark smudge’ in the middle of a shrub which turned out to be the compressor from the Spitfire. Basil smuggled his treasure home but got into hot water with his dad. “My father found out what I’d got and gave me a good telling-off for picking up something which might have been a bomb or an ‘explodable thing.’”

Basil said the compressor had been a “cherished souvenir” but on sending it to Mr Davies-Cooke he said he hoped it would find “its place of honour” in his home.

Mr Davies -Cooke thanked Basil for all his efforts in tracking him down, and sending the compressor, adding: “As a family we never really knew how my great uncle died. Of course we knew he had been shot down in the Battle of Britain.

My grandfather being his eldest brother never spoke of the subject, my father said he ‘fell dead’, but to hear what really happened, even though it was sad, has brought an end to the not knowing.”