This year sees the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, an event that proved to be a huge turning point during the Second World War, as 2938 brave young souls flew and fought for our freedom.
In the aftermath of Adolf Hitler’s successful invasion of mainland Europe, it soon became clear to all that Britain was next in his sights. Code named ‘Operation Sealion’, Germany intended to knock out the Royal Air Force, as a precursor to invasion and total domination of the European continent.
The scene was set for the first battle in history to take place solely in the air and one where the fate of the free world hung on its outcome.
For the allies to make a stand against Nazi tyranny, they needed a base with which to do it and that base had to be Britain - there was no other option. It was this perilous situation which led Winston Churchill to utter those famous words on August 20, 1940 ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few’.
As the nation prepared itself for the threat of imminent invasion, one of the sons of St Neots, Squadron Leader Victor Ekins MBE DFC, was ready to do his duty.
Having joined the Volunteer Reserve, Victor was an inexperienced Sergeant pilot at the outbreak of war but would go on to make a significant contribution.
Serving with the battle hardened 501 Squadron, he and his fellow squadron members rose to the challenge of stopping this determined and experienced foe.
On September 27, 1940, after months of hard fighting, 501 Squadron were climbing to engage enemy bombers when they were set upon by 20 German Bf110s and Victor’s Hurricane was attacked.
His aircraft was badly shot up and he was seriously wounded. Incredibly, a bullet had passed through his body before smashing into the controls of the Hurricane, bringing it down.
Victor took to his parachute in a very bad way, but miraculously landed in a Canadian field hospital which immediately gave him the medical care he needed. He was back in the firing line with 501 Squadron within just eight weeks.
Victor Ekins was a people’s person and had no problem communicating successfully up and down the chain of command. Due to this and his natural leadership ability in the air, he was later promoted to Squadron Leader and put in charge of 19 Squadron.
In June 1942 he was awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation reading ‘He is a skilful and gallant officer, whose indomitable spirit and cheerful courage have been an inspiration to his squadron’.
Not afraid of being at the centre of a party, Victor would often be found playing the piano as his squadron mates gathered around for a hard-earned drink after a day’s combat.
A privileged glimpse in his wartime diary shows what a popular character he was and how people gravitated towards his fair and sociable nature. His diaries also reveal his utter love and devotion to his wife Kim, who served as a plotter at RAF Kenley during the Battle of Britain. They were married on November 25, 1941.
Victor dutifully served his country until the end of the war before returning to St Neots and working successfully as a land agent and livestock auctioneer. Always at the heart of the community, this was a role he simply adored.
On September 15, which is also Battle of Britain day, the Ekins family along with David Duker from The Tally Ho Project will be unveiling a blue plaque in Victor’s honour at 28 New Street - the house in which he was born on April 16, 1914.
He really was a St Neots boy through and through. Let us take a moment to remember one of our own, who belonged to a generation who gave so much.
The Tally Ho Project is based on the Second World War - and in particular the efforts of the RAF during the Battle of Britain - and is taken into schools and other organisations as a learning tool.
Members of the public are invited to St Neots Museum on September 15, from 12.30pm to 3pm to explore some of Victors collection. David Duker from the Tally Ho Project will be there to answer any questions.