Roadside memorials in Kent honour Battle of Britain pilots near where they fell

  • Report by ITV Meridian's Derek Johnson

At 27, Flying Officer Malcolm Ravenhill was older than most of the other pilots in the Battle of Britain. The average age was 20.

‘Mac’, as he was known, had cut short his career in retail.

He’d been an assistant manager at Woolworths but in early 1938 as the spectre of war loomed he joined the RAF on a short service commission.

In a photograph taken on a break from flight training in the back garden of the family home he’s seen in uniform and smiling.

Malcolm in his RAF uniform Credit: Ravenhill family

Mac was soon in the thick of things. Posted to Belgium as the Nazis swept through Europe he described taking on two Henschel ground attack aircraft, believing he shot one or both of them down.

Returning to his colleagues in 229 Squadron he found himself where history was being made. One of The Few, the pilots and aircrew determined to scupper Hitler’s plans to take control of our skies ahead of a full-scale invasion.

On September 11 1940 his Hurricane was shot down over Biggin Hill. He bailed out and was taken to Shorncliffe Hospital, suffering from shock.

Like the other pilots he was made of stern stuff. And was soon taking on The Luftwaffe’s finest once again above Kent and Sussex.

Malcolm Ravenhill in the garden of his family home

Just 19 days after that close shave he was killed. His plane crashed and burned in Ightham in Kent.

In the decades that followed his sacrifice has been remembered. Firstly by his family. Justin Ravenhill is related via his great grandfather and is learning more about his relative.

"His Squadron was based in Northolt in Middlesex," he said.

"What I do know is they were on patrol over Biggin Hill and were attacked by approximately 50 Messerschmitts and there were various crashes from aircraft in the squadron and sadly his plane was on fire and he crashed in a field just down the road."

But Malcolm Ravenhill is also being honoured in another way. In July a memorial stone was put up in the middle of Ightham, close to the crash site. 

The young pilot's relatives visit the memorial stone close to where his Hurricane crashed

It’s part of an ongoing project run by dedicated volunteers from a nearby village who run the Shoreham Aircraft Museum.

The museum, established in 1978, collected items from the battle, mainly pieces of British and German aircraft scattered and buried around the village, nestled in the picturesque Darent Valley.

Geoff Nutkins took over the running of the museum from his father. An accomplished artist, he has painted many scenes of duelling aircraft.

"A large part of the battle was fought above this village," he said. "This was the area where the German bombers offloaded their bombs. RAF fighters intercepted the incoming raids. And the German planes en route to London then jettisoned their bombs and that's why Shoreham got a reputation for being a heavily bombed village because of the air action above it.

Reporter Derek Johnson with Geoff Nutkins at the Shoreham Aircraft Museum

Over the decades survivors of the battle donated memorabilia and supported the museum. As the living link with the Battle of Britain pilots comes to an end (there is only one surviving veteran) it wanted to keep the story of Shoreham’s part in the battle story alive.

Since 2006 eleven memorial stones have been put up, mostly within a ten mile radius of Shoreham. All mark the spot where pilots crashed and died. They may be buried elsewhere but the idea is for people to stop in the places where they fell, read the inscriptions and appreciate the sacrifice of these young men.

Among them Jack Hammerton, last seen at 25,000 when his Hurricane broke away from the formation in pursuit of enemy aircraft. He was killed when the plane crashed near a railway line close to Sevenoaks.

Another recipient is Ludwik Paszkiewicz who was part of the RAF's Polish squadron. He was killed just three days before Malcolm Ravenhill when his Hurricane was shot down by a Messerschmitt over a farm in Borough Green. 

The museum and tea rooms in Shoreham, Kent

Geoff said: "We felt we should try to do something for the guys who lost their lives locally to us, where the museum is. We fund it via our tea room and as soon as we get enough money we try and do another memorial. 

"It's worth it because these people were exceptional and gave their lives in sometimes really horrific ways and it's right we remember them. We try to get the stones as close to the crash site bearing in mind you can't put one in the middle of a field. Usually on a footpath where people can stop and ponder and remember those actions in 1940."

Museum helper Simon Hensley is typical of the volunteers working to preserve the memory.

"Our generation, we lived the Battle of Britain and the Second World War, although we didn't fight it. These pilots were the heroes of our generation. They were the racing car drivers and the footballers of our day. They also had integrity.

"Many didn't talk about the war and their experiences. And up til before they died they didn't open up at all as a general rule. Going back to that generation, we were at our best."

Members of 229 Squadron including Malcolm Ravenhill at one of the Fighter Command airfields Credit: Shoreham Aircraft Museum

One person who feels the same way is the youngest member of the Ravenhill family, 16-year old Matthew.

"It makes me proud to be a Ravenhill", he said. ‘’I know these pilots fought for our country and it makes me proud of my family as a whole."

2938 Allied personnel were entitled to wear the clasp as Battle of Britain airmen. 544 were killed or died from wounds sustained in the battle. More would be killed by the end of the war.

Kent Monument Honours Airmen of The Battle of BritainBravery of Battle of Britain's aircrew remembered in Folkestone