Facing his fear - Sqd Ldr Charles Patterson
The World War II generation is leaving us. Reading their obituaries, I see that their courage was not always – or even often – inborn. How, then, in the face of constant death, did they manage to defy fear?
Sqd Ldr Charles Patterson, who “excelled at flying Blenheims and Mosquitos”, was selected to film bombing routes and the results of bombing runs with a camera in the nose of his specially modified aircraft. Both missions were dangerous, whether flying over Nazi Germany in daylight at very low levels to film the approaches or flying to record the damage after “German flak batteries. . .had been alerted by the 20 or 30 bombers just ahead of him”.
Born in Edinburgh, he had been learning about farming in Ireland when war was declared, and straightway returned to Britain to volunteer to be a pilot in the RAF. Unlike so many fliers, he survived. In the summer of 1941, casualties were “so high that Patterson was promoted three times in the space of a few weeks, and by August was a 21-year-old acting squadron leader and flight commander". One of his last missions was a “daring and hazardous daylight” raid, made without fighter escort, against power generating stations on the outskirts of Cologne. "After 40 operations Patterson was awarded the DFC and sent to be an instructor." But not for long.
The RAF was desperate for instructors and pilots, and Patterson was determined to return. In August 1942, he joined the first Mosquito squadron and began his death-defying camera duties.
He was afraid, but he had a simple, unconquerable response - "Despite my constant fear, I flew because it was my duty to continue, and others relied on me."
I note from the obituary that Sqd Leader Patterson died on 2 March, before the the Labour Party rejected its pledge to voters and denied them a democratic referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and before reports were aired that RAF personnel in Cambridgeshire were being advised not to wear their RAF uniforms due to a hostile public. I am glad he missed both events. I hope they will be put right by those in our generation who, no matter the setbacks, have a "duty to continue" the defence of liberty.