Of the 25 South African pilots that flew in The Battle of Britain 8 of them lost their lives.
With the exception of 1 all the others were buried in numerous cemeteries around London and surrounds.
The exception was George James Drake born in Kroonstad on 27th July 1920. He matriculated at Paarl Boys High School in 1938 and immediately tried to enlist in the SAAF but was unsuccessful.
He went to England and was given an RAF short service commission in June 1939.
After completing his training in March 1940 and after converting to Hurricanes he joined 263 Squadron at Fulton. The squadron was shipped all over and in May 1940 finally ended up at Turnhouse. He was sent for firing range duties and on 13th June was posted to 607 Squadron at Usworth.
On the 1st September 1940 the Squadron moved to Tangmere. Flying on a mission on 9th September he was shot down over the Mayfield area and reported as missing. His Hurricane P2728 crashed at Bockingfold Farm, Goudhurst.
As he was reported as missing his name was inscribed on Panel 8 at Runnymede Memorial. For those of you that are not familiar with the Runnymede Memorial it was erected on a hill in Englefield Green near Egham Surrey and was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 17th October 1953. The memorial lists 20456 names of RAF aircrews both males and females detailing ranks etc that were lost in action during WW11. The memorial overlooks the Thames and on clear days one can see central London area. It’s a beautiful place to visit if you are in the London Area. ( You can Google Runneymede Memorial if you want more information. )
In May 1972 the wreckage of a Hurricane aircraft was uncovered at Goudhurst in Kent from the place where it had been shot down during The Battle of Britain. Amongst the wreckage, including the cockpit, the skeletal remains together with the remnants of his clothing and personal items was George James Drake. The find caused a real stir in the newspapers, radio and TV. This was the first find of a wrecked BoB aircraft that had been shot down and crashed in the English countryside.
The news reached the press in South Africa and the STAR Newspaper published the discovery. The story was seen by George’s two brothers, Eric and Arthur. Both brothers flight to England was paid for by The Star and South African Airways in order to attend the funeral of their brother.
George’s remains were transferred to Brookwood Military Cemetery in the Knaphill area of Surrey where he was buried on 22nd November 1972 with full Military Honours.. His brothers went to the Brenzett Aeronautical Museum to view the wreckage of their brothers aeroplane. They also presented the museum with some of George’s personal artefacts.
Although the family now finally had closure it was only the discovery of the body that a death certificate could be issued, and enabled the final settlement of their late mother’s will, which bequeathed everything to the three brothers but George’s share had to be left in trust pending confirmation of his death. It was their mother’s wish as she believed George was still alive somewhere and that one day he might return.
The discovery of George Drake started a quest for other pilots that had crashed and were never found which enabled remaining family to get closure. Many searches were started and an extremely interesting book, FINDING THE FEW, was written by Andy Saunders and published in 2009. It is well worth while getting a copy of this book as it covers a number of pilots that the wreckage and remains have been found.
I conclude with a very appropriate poem by K.D.Clarke
The Flight Lieutenant
In the marsh the curlews cry
beneath the empty bowl of sky,
beneath the sun and flying cloud
earth my grave and mud my shroud
for forty years I’ve quietly lain
In the wreckage of my plane
baled out, they said, or lost at sea
but no one came in search of me.
A distant ploughman drives his team
and rushes rattle in the stream.
In summer time the cattle tread
heavy footed overhead.
yet somehow in these bones I know
man will devise machines that show
where metal lies, and he wil trace
my plane in its last resting place.
Then will the lonely waiting cease
and these tired bones will rest at peace.