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Tribute to worst pilot' who became a Battle of Britain ace

PUBLISHED: 16:55 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:35 12 August 2010

SH1461-022	
09-08-05
Dartford	
Burma Star veteran Albert Bennett

SH1461-022 09-08-05 Dartford Burma Star veteran Albert Bennett

FRIENDS of a gentleman who became the joint-third most successful pilot in the Battle of Britain paid tribute to him before his funeral this month.

FRIENDS of a "gentleman" who became the joint-third most successful pilot in the Battle of Britain paid tribute to him before his funeral this month.

Bob Doe, who started off in the RAF, by his own admission, as "the worst pilot on the squadron", brought down 14 enemy planes to become one of the most highly decorated airmen of the war.

His family will hold a private funeral in Crowborough, Sussex, on Monday after his death last month, aged 89.

Two of his friends, Burma Star World War II veteran Geoff Nutkins, curator at Shoreham Aircraft Museum, and Kent veteran Albert Bennett, 95, described him as a "really lovely, ordinary man".

Mr Nutkins said: "He said he was the worst in his squadron, but he really was a very good pilot and he loved the Spitfire. He always said that when you get in it you become part of it. It was second nature to him. He was very modest."

He added: "I did a painting, called A Gentleman's War, of the moment he shot down a German aircraft over the English Channel during the Battle of Britain, but allowed him to crash into the sea, where he was picked up by a German E-boat.

"The pilot's name was Rolf Pringel. His widow wrote to Bob - God knows how she tracked him down - to thank him for letting her husband survive.

"He was just a really lovely, ordinary man. He was an ace by default, a very unassuming guy."

Born in Reigate in 1920, Mr Doe joined the RAF in 1939 aged 18 and barely passed his flying exams. He reportedly lacked confidence and disliked flying upside down, but ended up helping to win the decisive Battle of Britain. But it wasn't easy for him and in one particularly bad incident in 1941 he had to make a forced landing, his harness broke and he smashed his face into the gunsight. One eyeball fell out, his jaw was broken, his nose almost severed and he broke his arm.

But in just eight weeks he rose from being his squadron's junior pilot to a flight commander.

Mr Bennett added: "He wouldn't really talk about it, apart from if somebody asked him about it at the signings [at Shoreham Museum fundraising events]. It's funny that he was ever able to get into the cockpit though, given the size he was recently!"

Of his death, he said: "It is rather sad. He was a jolly good mate, ever such a nice fellow. He was a sociable guy and a very amiable, fun-loving bloke. It's important that we remember what people like Bob did for our country."

After the war Mr Doe settled in Rusthall, near Tunbridge Wells, where he established a successful garage and contract hire and self-drive car company.

He is survived by his third wife, Betty, five children and three stepchildren.

Visit www.aviartnutkins.com for information about the museum and Mr Doe.

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