Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot hailed following death aged 96

Tributes have been paid to a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot following his death aged 96.

Geoffrey Wellum, who was just 18 when he joined the RAF in August 1939, died at his home in Cornwall on Wednesday evening, the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust said.

One of the "Few", the decorated veteran airman was approaching his 97th birthday.

Mr Wellum, one of the youngest Spitfire pilots to fly in the Battle of Britain, was a "fine, decent and caring man", trust president Sir Stephen Dalton said.

In the 100th anniversary year of the RAF, he said: "In this year of such importance in the history of The Royal Air Force, this is a cruel blow to those of us who knew Geoffrey and our Service as well as to the country and of course his family.

Battle of Britain veteran Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum with the Prince of Wales
Battle of Britain veteran Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum with the Prince of Wales (Gareth Fuller/PA)

"I have such fond memories of him at The Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent, at Northolt, in the RAF Club and at the City Aviators Lunch each year, where he really enjoyed himself and told such moving stories and jokes.

"A fine, decent and caring man whom it was a genuine pleasure and education to know."

The former squadron leader served on the front line with 92 Squadron and some of his first combat missions included the "dogfights" above London and the Home Counties for which the Battle of Britain became known.

He went on to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and was promoted to Flight Commander with 65 Squadron and later led eight Spitfires from HMS Furious to relieve Malta.

"A fine, decent and caring man whom it was a genuine pleasure and education to know." Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton GCB, President, Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, marking the passing of Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC on Wednesday evening #battleofbritain#Thefewpic.twitter.com/dmWw7amzIJ

-- The Battle of Britain Memorial (@Memorial_theFew) July 20, 2018

The trust's secretary Patrick Tootal said members of the charity's staff and volunteers had been "much saddened by the news", adding: "Only this week Sqn Ldr Wellum had been talking enthusiastically about attending the Memorial Service at Westminster Abbey on September 16."

Speaking in 2013, Mr Wellum told how he was sent out to fly while still in his teens.

"Somebody said: 'Here's a Spitfire - fly it, and if you break it there will be bloody hell to pay'," he said.

"I ended with 146 hours of flying time.

"Looking at my life now, I had peaked at about 21 or 22.

"It was just lovely blokes, all together in Fighter Squadron."

Mr Wellum with Wing Commander Tom Neil
Mr Wellum with Wing Commander Tom Neil (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Wellum stayed on in the RAF until 1960 and went on to write a best-seller about his experiences in the war - his 2002 memoir First Light.

The book was later adapted into a film for BBC television.

Mr Wellum's death follows that of Wing Commander Tom "Ginger" Neil on July 11.

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