One of the last of The Few

Born: February 11, 1918;

Died: December 6, 2019

FLIGHT Lieutenant Maurice “Mark” Mounsdon, who has died aged 101, was one of the last of what Churchill famously called The Few, the outnumbered RAF pilots who defeated the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. He was also the epitome of the Battle of Britain airman: handsome, dashing, with a big moustache twisted upwards at each end by the only cosmetic available to him – aircraft engine grease.

Trained at RAF Kinloss on the Moray Firth, then Pilot Officer Mounsdon, flying Hawker-Hurricanes for RAF 56 Squadron, was credited with shooting down or putting out of action six Luftwaffe aircraft. In all, 56 Squadron alone “killed” 59 Nazi warplanes during the Battle of Britain.

Around 0830 hours on Friday August 31, 1940, it was a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109 which proved Mounsdon’s downfall, literally, and ended his cockpit career though not his war effort. His Hurricane and seven others from 56 Squadron scrambled to stop a formation of around 20 enemy DO-17 bombers backed by Messerschmitt fighters over Colchester, Essex.

“I got a good burst at an Me 110 and then had to break away, as I was being hit by enemy fire,” he later reported. “I glanced over my left shoulder to see an Me 109 with yellow spinner as he opened fire close behind and beneath me. He couldn’t miss. Shrapnel hit my left leg, then the instrument panel shattered, and glycol and petrol spilled everywhere. Then up it all went. Suddenly I was sitting in a blowlamp. I undid the Sutton harness, put the aircraft into a roll to starboard, stood up and pushed myself over the side.”

As if that weren’t enough, Mounsdon had another problem. In the rush-up to the Battle of Britain, he had never used a parachute. All they had shown him was how to put it on. “Falling, I could see my trousers were nearly all burned away but the remaining cloth and my tunic edges were still soaked in petrol and burning,” he recalled. “I knew I had plenty of height and so didn’t deploy the parachute straight away in case it caught fire too.” After a freefall, he tugged on the only thing that looked tuggable, his parachute opened and he landed just outside the village of High Easter, Essex. “I think I was jolly lucky,” he said.

What followed could have made a decent Dad’s Army script. Two schoolgirls were the first to see him and were not impressed by the fact that he was naked from his flying jacket down. His trousers had been burnt off and his legs were still aglow. Local farmers ran up with pitchforks, assuming he was a Nazi, and local Air Raid Protection (ARP) warden Charles Wright was swiftly on the scene. But the schoolgirls said “no, he sounds English” and Mounsdon’s RAF moustache won the day. He was rushed to a hospital in Black Notley, Essex, where severe burns to his arms and legs put his life in danger.

He was moved to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex, where he was one of what became known as “the Guinea Pigs.” These were servicemen given skin grafts – often life-saving -- and rehabilitation by (later Sir) Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealander of Scots parentage. It was during his rehab that he met and later married his childhood sweetheart Mary Allen.

Maurice Hewlett Mounsdon, always known by his RAF comrades as Mark, was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on February 11, 1918, and enlisted in the RAF in August 1939. On November 2 that year, with Britain now at war, he was sent for training at RAF Kinloss, an experience, he said later, which sparked a lifelong love for Scotland.

Although Mounsdon and his comrades were still in training, they were quickly aware that they were very much at war. RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth were buzzed by enemy aircraft from April 1940 and later that month he and many of the trainees were sent south to England to prepare for what would become the Battle of Britain.

After his flying was over, and his long hospital recovery, Mounsdon became an RAF flying instructor. Immediately post-war, he was part of the RAF’s Disarmament Wing in Germany, where he helped to destroy the Luftwaffe’s remaining aircraft, munitions and other equipment. On retirement from the RAF with the rank of Flight Lieutenant, he worked as an engineer in London, spending his spare time building models of British steam trains and inventing things. He held many patents, including a design for sailing yacht mast pulleys.

After retirement in Hertfordshire, he and his wife Mary moved to Menorca in the 1970s. She died in 1993 but he stayed on. To mark his 100th birthday in February last year, Britain’s modern-day flying heroes, the Red Arrows, honoured him with a dramatic flypast over his Menorca home. Looping loops in their nine Hawk jets, they painted the figure 100 in red, white and blue smoke trails.

Maurice Mounsdon died in the Casa Remei care home in Sant Lluis, Menorca. He had no children but is survived his nephews, nieces and their families.