AT LAST: Wilson Taylor when he got his wings
AT LAST: Wilson Taylor when he got his wings

A 95-YEAR-OLD man who was inspired to become an RAF pilot after witnessing the downing of an enemy German plane over Barnard Castle, will make an emotional return to the town to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Wilson Taylor, from Newcastle, was visiting Barnard Castle when he witnessed a Spitfire shooting down an enemy plane during the Second World War.

On August 15, 1940, the Luftwaffe attempted to saturate the British defences and attacked the North East. Swarms of bombers pounded the countryside as the planes came inland. One Messerschmitt Bf 110 bomber got as far as Barnard Castle, but Spitfire pilot Sqn Ldr George “Ben” Bennions shot it down and it was forced to crash land near Broomielaw, close to the military camp at Streatlam.

According to reports the following week in the Teesdale Mercury the plane had two crewmen. Both were unhurt, but were “conveyed to Barnard Castle police station”.

When the plane crashed there was an explosion and one workman suffered slight injuries, the Mercury reported.

Mr Taylor said: “I was 15 at the time, walking to the bank. The noise above was tremendous and I could see there was a Spitfire and I knew there was an enemy plane as well.

“Well it shot down the Messerschmitt 110. I was determined then I wanted to get into the RAF and do my bit.”

He was called up in 1943 and spent time in England before being shipped over to Canada to train as a pilot. Mr Taylor qualified as a pilot in 1945 as the war was ending and earned his wings. But he never received them at the time as he had not completed flying duties.

After the war he returned to England and continued to do ground crew jobs for the RAF before being demobbed in 1947. He says he never lost his fascination and desire for flying. It was while he was running a shop in Alnwick that Mr Taylor had a chance conversation that led to him tracking down not only the English Spitfire pilot but also the German pilot who was downed.

Mr Taylor said: About 40 years after the war I had a shop in Alnwick and I was talking to a customer about the how the plane was shot down near Barnard Castle and he said he knew who the pilot was. It turned out he had been his teacher at Catterick.”

He said he corresponded with both pilots for many years. Mr Taylor continued to fly for many years and made his last flight at the age of 85.

He added: “They [RAF] never presented me with my wings, even though I had done the training. So five years ago I wrote to the Queen and I explained what had happened and asked if she could help. She sent my letter to the Ministry of Defence.”

The letter worked and just before his 90th birthday Mr Taylor was presented with his “wings” in a special ceremony near York. So when Mr Taylor returns to Barnard Castle in August for the anniversary of the Battle of Britain it will be finally with his own “wings”.