‘Ben’ Bennions enlisted in the pre-war RAF in 1929, serving first as an ‘erk’ before being selected for pilot training.
His first posting saw him serving in the Middle- East with 41 Squadron, returning to the UK and Catterick, where the squadron was still stationed at the declaration of war.
Patrols and scrambles were common throughout the early months of the conflict, but it was in May 1940, that 41 Squadron first saw the enemy in any number, providing air cover for the retreating BEF.
Bennions recorded his first combat victory on 28 July – he was to damage or destroy 20 plus enemy aircraft during the following months, earning the DFC and becoming one of the RAF’s top scorers.
The squadron alternated between Catterick and Hornchurch, and although Bennions was afforded some rest between operational periods, while on the frontline the sorties came thick and fast, particularly during the latter phases of the Battle of Britain when Bennions was flying several patrols and scrambles every day.
His tally grew steadily and a much deserved DFC was promulgated on 1 October 1940, the day he was due to begin a short period of leave, however, Bennions decided to have one last crack at the enemy.
During the patrol, he single-handedly took on a formation of 40 Messerschmitt Bf 109s about to pounce on a flight of Hurricanes, adding another Bf 109 before being hit and forced to bail out.
Badly wounded in the head, Bennions lost an eye and became one of Sir Archibald McIndoe’s Guinea Pigs.
His path to recovery was slow but he was determined to get back in the air and was permitted to fly but only with a passenger or second pilot assisting with take-offs and landings – it seemed that his life as a single-seater fighter pilot was at an end.
Several postings later Bennions was working as a liaison officer with the USAAF. Somehow he managed to talk his way onto flying duties and was soon flying a Supermarine Spitfire on operational patrols, contrary to all orders.
Never one to avoid a combat zone, Bennions was with the American forces when they landed on Corsica.
Luck would desert him, however, and he was wounded again whilst disembarking from a landing craft in the first wave to hit the beaches at Ajaccio on 30 September 1943.
The post war years saw Bennions offered a permanent place in the RAF but denied further flying duties – for a man with Ben’s passion to be in the air, this was intolerable and he resigned his commission. In his second career Bennions taught for many years at the school at Catterick Garrison, before retiring to become a stalwart of the Guinea Pig Club (of which he was a founder member) and the Battle of Britain Fighter Association.
Born in the Potteries but an adopted Yorkshireman, Bennions received a number of post-war honours – the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire has flown bearing his letter code EB – J. Despite his tally of 12 destroyed and a further 8 plus damaged or as ‘probables’ (all but one of his ‘kills’ being fighters), however, he never received what would have been a richly deserved Bar to his DFC.
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