Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

Tom Neil

One of the most gifted flyers on Malta was Tom Neil of Bootle, Lancashire (14 July 1920), who joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve (VR) in October 1938, at the age of 18. His interests in aviation went early, and as a child, he was frequently found drawing aircraft of all sorts. His skill in freehand sketching even netted for him a prize while he was at Eccles Secondary (grammar) School. And the subject of the drawing? An aircraft. Heavily engaged during the Battle of Britain, he shot down 11 planes and shared in the destruction of four others — all without being shot down himself. With a DFC and promoted to flight leader, he was sent to Malta, where the found the conditions appalling and the attitude of the RAF chief on the island, the bulldog-faced Air Vice-Marshal Hugh Pughe Lloyd, indifferent. Infuriated at the heavy combat casualties experienced by 249 Squadron on the island, Neil placed the blame squarely on Lloyd. “So many people were lost unnecessarily,” he said. “So many golden people shot down because the people leading us didn’t really know what was happening. We were flying stuff we should’ve never have flown…because Lloyd was concentrating on other things.” Transferred back to England soon after, Neil spent the rest of the war holding a series of successful commands, although he never scored another aerial victory again. He is still alive as of today.

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