Denis Robinson was a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, but did not enjoy talking about his experiences, mainly because he felt guilty about killing others
My grandfather Denis Robinson, who has died aged 97, was a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, one of Churchill’s legendary “few”. But he was reluctant to tell stories of the battle, mainly because he felt guilty about having killed others.
Particularly poignant was his account of shooting at a Messerschmitt 109, only to stop when it began to smoke. He justified it at the time on the grounds of saving ammunition, although later he came to realise that he hadn’t wanted to kill the pilot. A few weeks later it was Denis’s turn, when he was shot from behind by an Me109 near Swanage in Dorset. The engine failed and he remained with the plane on the basis that bailing out was “bloody dangerous”. He crash-landed in a field outside Wareham. The well-known photograph he took of the plane the following morning, with its tail in the air and its nose in a ditch, shows how lucky he was to escape.
Denis was born in Christchurch, Dorset, to Percy, an airman in the Royal Flying Corps in the first world war, and Christine (nee Gamage). He was educated at the Stationers’ Company school in Hornsey, north London, after which he learned to fly, joining the RAF volunteer reserve in 1938 and spending the next two years as an instructor, mainly on Tiger Moths.
After the Battle of Britain, Denis trained pilots in Canada and flew supplies into Normandy after D-day, before being seconded to BOAC, then a fledgling international airline. He later flew for British Caledonian, British United, and British Island Airways, before retiring in 1978. His voice can be heard on the indie band Cornershop’s 2002 song The London Radar, which sampled a film made by British United to promote the pleasures of European travel.
Denis was a charismatic, funny man. He spent the last years of his life looking after his wife, Margaret (nee Hopson), after she had a stroke. Margaret, who died in 2013, was originally an air hostess whom he had met on a flight to Australia. They married in 1953, and later in life she became a family therapist.
Denis is survived by his sons, Max and Barry, by his daughter Sue, and by three grandchildren, Chester, Polly, and me.