Britain has lost one of its most modest and daring war heroes of the 20th century, the grieving daughter of a decorated Spitfire ace has said.
Wing Commander Owen Hardy, who lived in Birdham for many years, died on January 4 after contracting flu.
The celebrated fighter ace was one of the most successful pilots during the Second World War, single-handedly inflicting devastating losses on the German war machine.
The 95-year-old’s heroics as a young man saw him being decorated with France’s top medal for valour – the Legion d’Honneur – as well as Britain’s Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar.
Mr Hardy’s daughter, Debbie Elliott, said the family was heartbroken by her dad’s death.
“It’s a huge loss,” she said. “We’re all devastated. He has left a huge gap in all of our lives.
“He’s not just a huge loss for us, but a huge loss for the nation. He was part of a very special generation.”
Mr Hardy was born on July 31, 1922, in Auckland, New Zealand.
He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force a few months before his 19th birthday, in 1941, training first in Canada before joining the war effort in the UK.
In 1942 he joined 72 Squadron in the North African campaign as a Spitfire pilot, where he stayed for a year before being presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross in May, 1943.
In April 1944 he joined 485 Squadron where he remained until the end of the hostilities in Europe.
In all, the fighter ace achieved at least six air-to-air kills, damaged five other planes and destroyed one on the ground.
Debbie added: “He was a very modest and quiet man. He never spoke much about what he did during the war.”
After the war, he joined the RAF in 1947, later becoming part of its aerobatic team in 1950, as well as commanding RAF North Coates before ending his career as a Wing Commander in 1969.
He lived with his family in Birdham, working as an emergency planning officer for Portsmouth City Council before moving to Port Solent to work for Hampshire County Council.
Last year the veteran pilot got back in the cockpit of his beloved Spitfire during an event at Goodwood.
“He took the controls and did a barrel roll at the age of 95,” Debbie said. He had a deft touch.”
She added: “My dad loved his time in the RAF. It meant so much to him.”
Mr Hardy leaves son Andrew and daughter Debbie, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.