Geoffrey Wellum: The 93-Year-Old “Boy”

March 1, 2015

Geoffrey Wellum, who wrote the Prologue for What the RAF Airman Took to War, is one of the last surviving fighter pilots to have flown in the Battle of Britain.  Wellum achieved the rank of squadron leader and earned a DFC.   At the age of just twenty-one, he has survived the Battle of Britain and all that came afterwards in the Second World War.  Wellum is also an author, having written a marvelous memoir of his wartime experiences titled, First Light, as well as a credited actor, who appeared in the special BBC TV presentation that was made of the book.

 

 Back in 1940, an 18 year old Wellum wrote to the Air Ministry asking for a job.  Within very short order he was in the sky, in a Spitfire and in the thick of battle – fighting for England and for his life.  Posted to No. 92 Squadron, he transferred between Northolt and Duxford before the unit was positioned at Biggin Hill. Just twenty-four hours after his arrival, his squadron was scrambled over France, with four aircraft lost on the first day. When introduced to his commanding officer, the famous airman, Roger Bushell, was annoyed by the brash youngster and dismissed him as “Boy,” and a “cheeky cocky little bugger.”  The nickname, stuck, and at 93, he is still remembered as “Boy” Wellum.

 

Wellum remains uncompromising on the importance of the Battle of Britain.  In 1939 and 1940, the Nazi war machine was rampaging through Europe.  The air operations targeted against England were intended to soften the British defences and clear the way for a full-scale invasion.  It was the Battle of Britain and the tenacious response by the RAF that dissuaded Hitler from pursuing his Operation Sea Lion.  Frustrated with the British resistance, Hitler turned his attention to the Russian Front while continuing to bomb London.  The Battle of Britain was the first time Hitler was defeated in a campaign. Wellum is immensely proud of his contribution to that rebuff.

 

Wellum continued with No. 92 Squadron, flying operations over France and Belgium, until 1942 when he led a flight off the HMS Furious to help relieve a besieged Malta.

After Malta, Wellum was exhausted and near the breaking point.  He was provided with leave to recover and began the slow process of rebuilding his life at a very young age.  In an interview granted to a London newspaper on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Wellum recalled that what he missed the most was the association and friendship with the comrades who were lost in the war.  He described a trip taken to a Canterbury pub shortly after the battle where he found the words to express his most striking memories of the war: ‘The evenings at the Fleur-de-Lis, Chaps in their best blues, having had a shave and a wash, combed their hair. Tinkling jewelry. Rather attractive women. Smoke going up to the ceiling. The squadron -- 92 Squadron. Together.’

 

The author of What the RAF Airman Took to War is proud of the association with Squadron Leader Geoffrey “Boy” Wellum, one of the true heroes of the Battle of Britain.

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