Leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, the RAF found itself in desperate need of pilots to meet its operational commitments.
Post WWI saw Britain’s airforce severely depleted with Royal Flying Corps pilots returning to civilian life and aircraft development stagnating as nations sought to rebuild after the destruction of the Great War.
With limited resources, aircraft and instructors, Britain was forced to turn to the Commonwealth and her allies for help. This was to lead to the establishment of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) - a joint military aircrew training program created by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The agreement called for the training of nearly 50,000 aircrew each year, for as long as necessary: 22,000 aircrew from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, air crews received elementary training in various Commonwealth countries before travelling to Canada for advanced courses. Training costs were to be divided between the four governments.
One of the 151 training schools established across Canada was No. 6 SFTS Dunnville, Ontario which received its first batch of trainee pilots on November 25th 1940. With five hangers, three double runways the Dunnville air fleet included 46 Yales and 49 Harvard, advanced single-engine trainers.
After their initial eight week elementary flying training in their home countries mastering basic aircraft like the wooden framed Tiger Moth, students would spend another 12 - 16 weeks learning to fly the BCATP school's more powerful monoplanes.
The first 50 Donnville graduates received their wings on February 10th 1941, the first of some 2436 pilots, engineers, navigators and observers who would graduate from No. 6 SFTS by the close of the war.
One of these trainee pilots was a young man from Toronto, Gilbert Frederick Brown who joined Course 42 on Nov 7th 1941, graduating in Feb 1942 with 53 other pilots.
Whilst Gilbert had approx. 200 flying hours, covering as much of flying as the instructors could squeeze into the three month course, applying those skills to combat flying would prove to be another matter altogether. Instructors believed that the next 750 hrs would be the most dangerous for their graduates through over confidence and taking of unnecessary risks.
After a short furlow, Pilot Officer Brown boarded the Cunard-White Star Line troop carrier, Pasteur for its 7 day voyage to Great Britain.
One of the fastest wartime vessels running the North Atlantic U boat gauntlet, the Pasteur had originally been commissioned to carry 200 tonnes of gold reserves out of France to Halifax Nova Scotia, just before the country was overrun by German forces.
Camouflaged and converted to an armed troop carrier, the Pasteur was to transport some 300,000 soldiers and airman by the close of the war and due to her speed, would often make her crossings alone and unescorted without the usual convoy protection.
On arrival in Great Britain, Pilot Officer Brown took a number of orientation courses before being stationed with No. 411 Squadron RCAF based at Digby Lincolnshire.
The 411 Squadron was formed in June 1941 as a fighter squadron equiped with the Mk 1A Spitfire. It flew intercepter patrols over Southern England and later extended ‘search & destroy’ missions over mainland Europe.
It was here at Digby that new-comer Pilot Officer Brown first climbed into the aluminium cockpit of Spitfire R6897.
Unlike Pilot Officer Brown, R6897 was already a battle-hardened and war weary combat veteran.
The original Spitfire R6897 came off the Eastley production line as a Mk IA Spitfire with its Merlin II 1030hp piston engine on July 5th, 1940 and was immediately delivered to the RAF’s 6 Maintenance Unit in Brize Norton where it was fitted with two 20mm M2 Hispano Cannons. Mounted inboard on either wing, the cannons dramatically increased the fire power of the original .303 Browning machine guns.
R6897 saw its first action with RAF 92 Squadron based at Biggin Hill and was in the thick of combat defending Southern England during the desperate months of the Battle of Britain - a relentless onslaught it and its pilot miraculously survived.
On March 19, 1941, whilst returning from a high altitude patrol over Hastings, R6897 experienced uncontrollable engine speed fluctuations due to the freezing of oil in the aircraft’s Constant Speed Control Unit. With engine rpm’s now exceeding maximum allowable limits, it was forced to make an emergency landing, suffering considerable damage to its intakes, undercarriage and tail.
RAF Maintenance & Repair units worked around the clock and within less than a week, Spitfire R6897 had been fully repaired, including an upgrade to the new 1440hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III series engine.
Now designated a MkV, Spitfire R6897 commenced service again in June 1941 with the newly formed Canadian fighter squadron RCAF 411, based at Digby Lincolnshire and flew intercepter patrols over Southern England.
With the 411 Squadron code of DB-Z, Spitfire R6897 was teamed up with newcomer, 23yr old Flying Officer, Gilbert Frederick Brown and continued in its role of fighter interceptor against the Luftwaffe’s bomber force which had now moved their attention from the RAF airfields to Britain's main industrial cities.
By the start of 1943, the battle had shifted as the allies began to take the fight to mainland Europe with squadrons like the 411, finding themselves increasingly used in search and destroy missions over the coast of Belgium and France.
The respite provided Squadron Leaders with some much needed opportunity for advanced combat training for the newest of their pilots. Spitfires and Hurricanes were soon in the skies over Britain in mock dogfights, as each pilot honed their skills in close quarter combat. Many of these were filmed with cinegun cameras and used for later review.
On the morning of the 28th of January 1943, Pilot Officer Brown climbed into the cockpit of Spitfire DB-Z R6897 and taxied out of the hanger with Spitfire AB847 piloted by Flying Officer C. A. Graham.
Both aircraft had been fitted with cinegun cameras for the dogfight exercise and ascended into the Lincolnshire sky to an altitude of between 8 and 10,000 ft, Reaching operational height, they commenced combat passes and pursuit and evasion exercises.
It was during one of these pursuits that Brown, who was leading a stern chase, pulled the control column back, powering his spitfire up into a loop where he attempted a full roll at the top of its arc. Observers report the Spitfire’s engine suddenly stalled during the roll and they watched with horror as the aircraft sunk down onto the other Spitfire.
The mid-air collision was catastrophic with both aircraft plummeting to the ground outside the town of Orby.
Miraculously, despite the low altitude, Flying Officer Graham was able to bail out but Flying Officer Brown was killed on impact.
Survived by his young bride Mary Elsie May Brown (nee Westhead), of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, RCAF Flying Officer Gilbert Frederick Brown was buried with full military honours in the Scopwick Church burial ground - a young Canadian who had answered the call and made the ultimate sacrifice.
Spitfire DB-Z R6897 was to lay scattered and buried for almost 40 years in a Lincolnshire field before aviation archaeologists conducted a detailed search, mapping and recovery exercise of the crash site.
Although R6897 had disintegrated on impact, during the extensive 1982 dig, numerous engine and airframe components were recovered - one of which was the Merlin Engine Exhaust Valve featured here.
Mounted on a 100yr old mango wood stand with engraved plaque, this original Merlin III Engine Exhaust Valve from a Battle of Britain Spitfire comes complete with a large, highly detailed, 1/48 scale hand crafted model of Flying Officer Brown's Spitfire atop a magnetic arm plus a detailed printed and laminated Fact Sheet.
This original, one-of-a-kind,Spitfire, Battle of Britain Recovery Curios Aviation Collectable would make an amazing gift for any aviation enthusiast keen on owning an authentic piece of one of the most decisive air battles of WWII and wanting to remember and celebrate the life, times and ultimate sacrifice of the young Canadian pilot - Flying Officer Gilbert Frederick Brown.
This Supermarine Spitfire Collectable comes complete with detailed 1/48 Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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