Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum was just 18 when he joined the RAF in August 1939, making him the youngest Spitfire pilot to fly in the Battle of Britain. On the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, let’s take a closer look. Who was Geoffrey Wellum?
Who was Geoffrey Wellum?
Geoffrey Harris Augustus Wellum was born in Walthamstow, on London’s eastern edge, on 4 August 1921. His father, Percy, managed an off-licence. But he, too, had a history of military service.
Having neither brothers nor sisters to play with, Wellum (Jr.) satisfied himself with cricket in the schoolyard. While waiting his last term before he could join the RAF, he captained the school cricket team.
From playground fights to ‘dogfights’
In 1939, Wellum, aged just 18, signed on for a short-service commission with the RAF. His first flights were in a Tiger Moth, a British biplane used primarily for training purposes. His first solo flight was on 1 September. On 3 September, Britain declared war on Germany.
Before he could finish the training program, Wellum was posted to 92 Squadron. It was in this company that he first flew the Spitfire, in the cockpit of which he would later distinguish himself. In his memoir, published in 2002, Wellum wrote that flying the Spitfire “was like one of those wonderful dreams, a Peter Pan sort of dream”.
Nicknamed “Boy” for his youth, Wellum’s first missions included the “dogfights” above London and the Home Counties for which the Battle of Britain became known.
Wellum excelled in the air, surviving against all odds owing to a combination of luck and skill. In the summer of 1941 alone, he participated in more than 50 Circus offences, or “sweeps”, over occupied France. He later stated that “it was the German you didn’t see who shot you down.”
After returning to England in 1943, Wellum stayed away from combat. He turned instead to gunnery instructor, and later that year married his wartime girlfriend, Grace Neil.
What did Wellum do after the Battle of Britain?
On 5 August 1941, Wellum was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his mercurial talents in the cockpit. However, he saw little action after that.
After the war ended in 1945, Wellum worked variously for the RAF, first as a staff officer, then stationed in East Anglia, and finally touring with 192 Squadron.
In 1960, Wellum left the RAF. He took over his family’s haulage business, and later worked as a commodities broker in London.
Wellum retired to Cornwall and, experiencing something of a crisis wrote a longhand memoir about his experiences at a Spitfire pilot. In an interview with The Spectator, Wellum said, “I thought, ‘Well I have been of some use,’ and I sat down and wrote”.
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