On Saturday 14 September, No. 1 Remote Sensor Unit partnered with the RAAF Association (SA) to host South Australia’s annual Battle of Britain Commemoration Service at Torrens Parade Ground in the Adelaide CBD.
The Commemorative Service is one of four during the year in which RAAF Edinburgh units collaborate with the RAAF Association (SA). Commanding Officer of No. 1 Remote Sensor Unit (1RSU) Wing Commander (WGCDR) Julien Greening gave the commemoration address and said that being an air and space surveillance unit, 1RSU has a strong linkage to the Battle of Britain.
“Today we remember the exploits and sacrifice of what has become known as ‘The Few’,” said WGCDR Greening.
“Those airmen and support personnel who fought so gallantly and so defiantly between July and October 1940 in what became the first major air campaign and the first military defeat for a German war machine that had, until that stage, over-run Europe in early World War 2.
“Their actions, achievements and sacrifice were so crucial in defending Britain they lead Winston Churchill to famously declare ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.”
Although difficult to confirm, it is believed there were 37 Australian aircrew who participated in the Battle of Britain. Of those 37 Australian pilots, eight were South Australians.
One of those was Desmond Fopp, whose relatives attended the commemoration service. Born 13 March 1920 at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, Fopp joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was called up in 1939 following the outbreak of war.
Fopp flew Hurricane’s in fighter sweeps across France, Netherlands and Belgium to cover the retreat of allied troops and then flew all over southern England as part of The Battle of Britain.
On 3 September, 1940 he and three other aircraft were scrambled to encounter an unknown size force identified on radar. Getting into the air, his flight suddenly found themselves facing overwhelming odds engaging a 60 strong German aircraft formation. He saw one of his mates shot down almost straight away and after spending all his ammunition damaging a Dornier 17, he was then attacked by three Me 110 fighters.
In Norman Frank’s The Battle of Britain book and the Australians in the Battle of Britain Blog, Desmond Fopp is quoted:
“We were scrambled late and did not get to sufficient altitude to achieve a favourable attacking position from above, with the result that we had to attack head-on at about 20,000 feet, and hope to break up the large formation of Do 17s, with guns blazing which did separate them considerably.
“I had just put a Dornier’s engine out and he was smoking badly when I saw three Me 110s coming in behind me in line astern, all I heard was a thump and the next second I was sitting in a ball of fire.”
Fopp was hospitalised for three months and blind for one month. It is said he was virtually unrecognisable. Showing incredible fortitude and resilience, Fopp recovered and returned to operations 12 months later flying "rhubarb" missions; exceptionally dangerous missions where the aim was to fly low level, shooting at anything that moved, disrupting communications and drawing the Luftwaffe into action.
He was mentioned in Despatches for actions over France with the squadron. In describing one of his attacks on a German train, a fellow pilot once said that Fopp ‘was a bloody crazy Australian, but he obliterated that train!’
Surviving the Second World War, Fopp retired from the RAF on 13th March 1975 at the rank of Squadron Leader after quite a remarkable career that spanned over three decades and included operations around the globe.
Despite serving in the RAF, Fopp held true to his Australian heritage and remained an Australian passport-holder all his life. He was a passionate supporter of cricket and took great delight whenever the Australians won the Ashes.
He died in 2005 recognised as Australia’s last surviving Battle of Britain veteran.
WGCDR Greening concluded the commemorative address by saying, “We remember Desmond Fopp as one of those remarkable eight South Australians of the Few and the many other allied aircrew that flew in the Battle of Britain.
"And while we commemorate the Few, we must not forget the many airmen and airwomen who perished on the airfields sustaining the pilots in the air.
“Together, they have carved a remarkable legacy of courage, sacrifice and airmanship battling against all odds to defend Britain.
"In many respects, it is a legacy unparalleled. A legacy that we as Australians and the Royal Australian Air Force, have as a responsibility and honour to nurture and hold into the future.”