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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK
'Glad those days are gone'

Most Spitfire pilots were in their late teens and early 20s
Veteran fighter pilots are holding a reunion this weekend to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Two Battle of Britain veterans tell BBC News Online what the summer of 1940 was like for them.

Mention the "Battle of Britain" and the thoughts likely to come to mind are of plucky Spitfires heading out across the Channel, a stoical blitz spirit and possibly a few bars of Vera Lynn for good measure.

But while the aerial battle has become entrenched in the often sepia-tinted folklore surrounding World War II many veterans are far from misty-eyed about their experiences.

Barely out of school, they faced a daily round of terrifying battles from which they were lucky to escape with their lives.

I was frightened all the time

Paddy Barthropp, Spitfire pilot
On 15 September 1940, a day since commemorated as Battle Of Britain Day, 19-year-old Spitfire pilot Paddy Barthropp went into battle five times.

He says: "It was a particularly busy day. I was frightened all the time, so was everybody else.

"We were not exactly expecting it - but we all knew we could possibly be killed."

"My strongest memory from the Battle of Britain is surviving the damn thing."

'Then we'd all scramble'

Mr Barthropp, now aged 79, was shot down in 1942 and spent the remaining years of the war in a German prison camp, Stalag Luft III.

Joe Leigh, 80, another Spitfire pilot, describes his less-than glamorous role.

He says: "My main memory from that time is one of just sitting around. We had a bell that a bloke used to ring and then we'd all scramble - we were a bit like taxi drivers really."

They talk about us being heroes but not everyone thought so

Joe Leigh, Spitfire pilot
"I remember getting up there and hoping with some anticipation that there would be something to shoot at."

Mr Leigh was called up in September 1940 - and although he had learnt to fly in the volunteer reserves he had just two weeks training in an operational unit before he was sent out to face the Luftwaffe.

'It's nice to know some people remember'

But he remembers feeling that the people suffering the blitz were even worse off.

"I remember going to London and seeing all those people in the underground stations and on platforms - I remember feeling so sorry for them."

"They talk about us being heroes but not everyone thought so," says Mr Leigh. He recalls the time he was collared in a pub by some belligerent drinkers, who said to him: "You shouldn't be down here - you should be up there!"

Casualties were high and if you managed to stay alive you soon became a veteran.

My strongest memory from the Battle of Britain is surviving the damn thing

Paddy Barthropp, Spitfire pilot
"When I left the squadron people were calling me 'old uncle Joe'," said Mr Leigh, who was 25 at the end of the war.

Mr Barthropp says he is looking forward to meeting up with old friends this weekend.

He says: "It's nice to know some people remember.

"I'm glad those days are long gone, but I am nostalgic for, shall we say, the spirit of 1940.

"I had some great friends, you know, most of which got killed."

BBC One has coverage throughout Sunday live from Biggin Hill's Battle of Britain open day. Features a 60th anniversary service in Westminster Abbey and highlights of the air show.

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09 Sep 00 | UK
Spitfires regain the skies
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