Published: 14:36, 24 June 2021
| Updated: 15:41, 24 June 2021
A Battle of Britain hero's nephew took to the skies in a Hurricane to pay tribute to his uncle who was shot down and killed.
David Carruthers sat in the rear seat of the converted Second World War fighter as it took off from Biggin Hill in a moving memorial to Flt Lt Ian Muirhead DFC.
Battle of Britain pilot's nephew follows in uncle's footsteps with memorial flight in Hurricane
The 27-year-old RAF pilot died when his Hurricane crashed into a field in Hempstead, near Gillingham on October 15, 1940.
But the sound of the Hurricane engine – operated by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger – filled the skies above Kent again as David set off on a commemorative flight yesterday.
He said it was a "nervous but very proud" day for him.
"It's very daunting going up in an 80-year-old aeroplane but it looks in beautiful condition, they're absolutely magnificent machines," he said.
"It really does make me feel connected to Ian. I've never sat in a Hurricane before so I can't imagine feeling closer to him, it's great.
"I understand a lot more about what he went through day by day flying and we just owe him so much and all the brave pilots that didn't make it through - it's amazing.
"My mum adored Ian – she was the youngest and he was the eldest – and they had a special bond and was terribly cut up when he was killed.
"We learned about Ian from when I was two or three years old so know his story backwards.
"He just wanted to be in the RAF and wanted to fly and was very good at machinery."
He said the family is "very blessed" that a memorial had been set up in Ian's memory to reflect his sacrifice.
"It's a beautiful thing to have the memorial where he crashed is magnificent and I'm really pleased he won't be forgotten.
Ian joined the RAF aged 16 in 1929 as an apprentice aircraft fitter and by the start of the war had trained as a pilot in 1936 joining 151 Squadron before being transferred to 605 Squadron.
Early in the war, Ian served at Wick in Scotland protecting the skies around the naval base at Scapa Flow.
From there he moved to RAF Hawkinge and sent into the Battle of France with Ian receiving a Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery during the campaign.
He was shot down near Ostend but managed to scramble back to port, boarding the SS Abukir which was torpedoed and sunk leaving Ian stranded in the water for five hours before getting picked up again and making it home.
After a few weeks in hospital recovering from his injuries, he was back up in the skies.
The bravery and courage shown by pilots is epitomised by Ian, who on one day was shot down and returned to the skies later that afternoon.
But his final mission came on October 15 when he was hit by a Messerschmitt ME109 fighter near Maidstone and landed at Spekes Bottom in Hempstead and he was unable to bail out and died near his aircraft.
The flight and memorial stone erected in the field where Ian crashed was organised by Spitfire author Greg Davis, who lives in Hempstead just minutes away from where the Hurricane came down.
It was unveiled on Remembrance Day last year but due to Covid restrictions only Greg and fellow organiser Mike Fry were able to attend.
David said: "Greg's been an amazing guy and he should have the plaudits for organising the memorial and this flight and I can't thank him enough for this opportunity.
"We have learned a bit more about Ian and I hope more people come out with memories they have stored away about Ian and have a connection – that would be lovely."
Greg, who runs the Two Seat Spitfire forum on Facebook, said: "Many pilots and squadrons were based here at Biggin Hill but Ian's sortie was from Croydon, so not far from here.
"As we get to a time in history where there's hardly any veterans left – there's one Battle of Britain pilot left alive – and move out of living memory it's really important to remember their sacrifice.
"We wouldn't have the freedoms we have today and it's very easy to forget that and it's important we don't and mark these occasions and remember people like Ian, who died at 27, so the rest of us can be free and our country wasn't invaded.
"He was unfortunately shot down three times and obviously the first two he survived those.
"Sadly, the third time he did not and bailed out too low and the plane crashed.
"Since his story has come to light we've had members of the public alive at the time and turned up with part of the story and things they remember and were children at the time and dealt with this tragedy.
"Even parts of the aircraft have been uncovered and it's quite lovely that we've come up with people remembering it happening.
"The pilots in the Battle of Britain came from 16 countries and those people had little choice to fight of the Luftwaffe.
"If they had not been prepared to fight then this country would have been invaded and we'd have lost the war.
"If you think of the consequences of that – free elections, education, health and all the things we take for granted came at a price and people like Ian paid that price."