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John Milne – Much Missed

John Milne

We were saddened to hear that John Milne, one of 19 Squadron’s ground crew fitters, died recently.

John arrived at RAF Duxford on 11 March 1940 and served here during the build-up to the Battle of Britain. He was allocated to ‘A’ Flight, which was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Brian Lane, who was later promoted to Squadron Leader and Officer Commanding 19 Squadron. John was serving with ‘A’ Flight when Douglas Bader joined its ranks.

As John said, ‘…there could not have been a better introduction to the active RAF than 19 Squadron.’

John’s vivid memories of life at RAF Duxford have been captured on DVD in Duxford: The Second World War Years and also on paper, giving a rare insight into the life of ground crew here at Duxford.

John’s first experience of RAF Duxford was far from auspicious:

‘I travelled to Duxford via Whittlesford Station: the main road at that time passed over the railway on a level crossing, next to the Red Lion. I slept at first on a “let-down” metal bed in a crew-room off the hangar. Then I transferred to a ground-floor room in a barrack-block (not occupied by 19 Squadron) where I awoke one morning to find my trousers gone. Most of us had only one uniform. I waited until all those awake had left the room, and then stole another man’s trousers. I wonder how the episode finished! Soon I transferred to a 19 Squadron room on the first floor of another block, and things were much better.’

In the early days of 1940:

‘The war seemed at first to be remote and we routinely carried out the daily and periodic inspections of the aircraft, and performed all incidental duties involved in servicing the aircraft and attending their take-offs and landings. An exhilarating duty was lying across the tail-plane, breathless, while the pilot ran the engine at high revs.’

In the summer of 1940:

‘Duxford life became busier, with two Spitfire squadrons and 264 Defiant Squadron. 19 Squadron moved to Fowlmere , back to Duxford, and eventually settled at Fowlmere. When we first moved to Fowlmere, there was no permanent accommodation. We slept in bell tents, feet to the central pole. A mobile cookhouse accompanied us – one day it caught fire!’

John’s diary from 1940 records numerous incidents in RAF Duxford’s wartime history: ‘A’ and ‘B’ flights moving to nearby Fowlmere; Flight Lieutenant Brian Lane crashing on landing during a rare night flight; cannon-armed Spitfires in operation; Pilot Officer Howard-Williams crashing into the aircraft of Flight Sergeant George Unwin while taxying; and 19 Squadron in action.

John was posted to Gloucester on 24 August 1940, prior to the culmination of the Battle of Britain. He made three return journeys to RAF Duxford during the Second World War and has been a regular visitor in later life. He was at IWM Duxford for Remembrance Sunday 2011. It was a privilege to meet him.

He will be much missed but his vivid stories of life at RAF Duxford will live on.

The last word goes to John:

‘Odd memories remain: “digging for victory” – our vegetable patch near the dispersal hut; WAAFs playing hockey on the airfield; hot suppers from a huge Thermos flask in the dispersal hut, and frequent visits to the Chequers and Black Horse in Fowlmere. Altogether, those few months were one of the best times of my life, and so very different from anything that had gone before.’

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