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Lost in Training: The Final Flight of RAF Sergeant Emrys Ivor Lewis

While it is the brave Fighter Command pilots who flew during the Battle of Britain that stir the imagination and conjure up Churchill’s proud remembrance of “The Few,” there were many RAF pilots who were lost in action during the Battle of France or who died unceremoniously during training missions whose memory has faded into history. During the Battle of France more than 1,000 British aircraft were destroyed and more than 1,500 RAF personnel lost. In the months of the so-called “phony war,” the RAF lost many inexperienced pilots during training exercises.

Flight Sergeant Emrys Ivor Lewis (531760) of No. 222 (Natal) Squadron was one of those young pilots. Lewis, a native of Wales, was just 24-years-old when he lost control of his Spitfire IA while undertaking a gunnery training flight on July 4, 1940. The aircraft descended in a steep dive from the clouds and crashed at South Owersby, Lincolnshire. He was just 11 miles from his airfield in Kirton-in-Lindsey, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Flight Sergeant Lewis was killed in the crash and his remains returned to his family and buried in the Llandinorwig Churchyard at Caernarvonshire, Wales. He was the son of Thomas and Elinor Lewis of Llannerchymedd, Angelsy, Wales.

Lewis had left RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey in Supermarine Spitfire IA, numbered N3294. It was an aircraft that had been built under contract 527113/36 by Vickers Armstrong Ltd at Woolston and had first flown on January 18, 1940. The aircraft was issued to No. 222 Squadron at Duxford on March 9, 1940. It moved with the Squadron to Digby on May 10, 1940 and to Kirton-in-Lindsey on May 23, 1940. The aircraft took part in air operations over Dunkirk, France during the evacuation and then returned to Kirton-in-Lindsey on June 4, 1940.

In 2017, the wreckage of the Spitfire flown by Flight Sergeant Lewis was excavated by Gareth Jones and a team from Winchester University in the U.K. The wreckage of the aircraft was found buried under twenty feet of earth. During the supervised archeological dig, a surviving niece of Flight Sergeant Lewis, the 82-year-old Beryl Wilson, was present as fragments of the aircraft were recovered and inventoried. The items included the aircraft's Rolls Royce Merlin engine block, propeller blades and thousands of bits of airframe and aluminum skin sheeting.

This original portrait photograph of Flight Sergeant Lewis was taken by Dorondo Mills Ltd. of 49 Lime Street in Liverpool. A handwritten note on the reverse of the photo reads: “Sgt. Pilot Emrys Lewis killed in action July 1940 (friend of Terence Hunt) they served together at Henlow Camp Beds until Lew went to pilot’s course in 1939. He came from Liverpool [and] his brother was “Lewis Gerard” a professional Cinema organist in the 1930s.” The portrait is inscribed on the front by Sergeant Lewis: “To My Affectionate friend Kerry” and signed “Lew.”

Gazing at the portrait of Flight Sergeant Lewis, one recalls the lines of Robert Laurence Binyan’s poem, “For the Fallen,” written to mourn the loss of an earlier generation at war:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

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