Geoffrey Wellum: Author, Pilot, Example of Gallantry and Courage in The Battle of Britain.
WWII Royal Air Force Squadron Leader, Spitfire pilot and noted author Geoffrey Harris Augustus Wellum, has died. He was 96 years and 11 months old.
Geoffrey Wellum was a revered treasure of British history and a living example of the heroic ideal of the nation. He flew the Supermarine Spitfire during the pivotal Battle of Britain in 1940, when England was at risk of invasion by Germany across the English Channel and under a brutal succession of air attacks from the Luftwaffe.
Wellum’s illustrious career was one of many such stories of remarkable heroism and courage among young British men and women, many well under 20, who were charged with the aerial defense of England in the early years of WWII. As one of few recent remaining survivors of that illustrious era, Wellum has risen to considerable and well deserved adoration, epitomizing the remarkable patriotism and gallantry of all of WWII Great Britain. His flying career during the Battle of Britain received new found notoriety as the RAF recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Wellum joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 at the age of barely 18. He quickly progressed through flight training, beginning with the rudimentary WWI vintage Tiger Moth biplane basic trainer, to the mono-wing Harvard and then to the state-of-the-art air superiority combat fighter of the era, the iconic Supermarine Spitfire.
Geoffrey Wellum was one of the illustrious pilots of 92 Squadron flying from RAF Croydon and later, during the Battle of Britain, RAF Biggin Hill. Number 92 Squadron was the first British air combat squadron to see action in the Battle of Britain beginning on September 15, 1940. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on August 5, 1941, for gallantry flying against the enemy in combat.
Wellum’s experience in combat over England was horrific and harrowing. In the deadly, ambush style of aerial combat that the RAF employed against the Luftwaffe, Geoffrey Wellum was a deadly adversary for the marauding Germans. He scored one German He-111 bomber shot down and one Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter. He damaged and shared kills or damage on at least three other enemy aircraft.
In 1942, following his harrowing baptism of fire in the Battle of Britain, Geoffrey Wellum went on to become Flight Commander of No. 65 Squadron at RAF Debden in North Essex. In late summer, 1942, Wellum led a contingent of Spitfires launched from the aircraft carrier HMS Furious to serve as reinforcements for an aerial contingent on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. He went on to become a member of the No. 145 Squadron, charged with aerial defense of the island nation.
As a result of his terrifying experiences flying combat at a very young age and in the earliest stages of the war, Geoffrey Wellum contracted post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD while still serving in the RAF. The affliction was referred to as “battle fatigue” in WWII. Wellum remained steadfast in his commitment to King and country despite his wounds. He went on to become a test pilot on the highly successful Hawker Typhoon ground attack aircraft, analogous to the U.S. P-47 Thunderbolt strike aircraft of the same era.
In his later life, Geoffrey Wellum was reflective about his role in the war and his accomplishments over the arc of his lifetime. As an introspective examination and accounting of his life he privately wrote a journal that chronicled his role in WWII, the Battle of Britain and his life. Author James Holland read Wellum’s private diary of his experiences and urged him to publish the lyrical recollections as a book. In 2002, his diary was adapted as a book published as, “First Light: The Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain”. Three publishers, Viking Books, Willey & Sons and Penguin Books have published the popular accounting of his flying career and uniquely human experiences. “First Light” is a critically acclaimed success, widely revered by modern combat pilots serving today and aviation enthusiasts. It currently has a solid five-star rating on Amazon.com with 140 verified customer reviews.
Geoffrey Wellum is also featured in a new 2018 documentary “Spitfire” about the Supermarine Spitfire from Altitude Film that was directed by David Fairhead and produced by Ant Palmer. The documentary features the lilting recollections of Wellum as he recounts the grandeur of flying the Supermarine Spitfire.
Top image: RAF Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum, DFC, during WWII, and later in life. (Photo: BBC)