The Messerschmidt that surrendered in Leigh
Bernard (“Butch”) Baker lived at 13 Lealands Avenue as a young boy during the Second World War. Writing from Australia, he has sent some extra information to augment Morgan Witzel’s excellent book, Leigh in World War Two.
It was on a Sunday morning when I was getting ready to go to church, as I was in the choir: my older brother, Johnny, was home on leave from the Glider Pilot Regiment at the time and I heard what was quite the distinct sound of an ME109’s engine. So I went to the back door and saw quite clearly at no more than a thousand feet an ME109 with the black and white cross on its side, turning to circle the Village Green. It passed beyond the poplars by the church and came round, maybe half a mile up the road, this time a bit lower and directly over Lealands Avenue, again, doing a circle. As it passed over our house, a Spitfire arrived, I suspect from Penshurst aerodrome and flew alongside, slightly to the rear. The Spit fired two, maybe three, very short bursts from its machine guns, leaving a row of little puffs of black smoke behind. Both planes were by then over the church, and swinging towards Penshurst.
I grabbed my old bike and tore up to the aerodrome, along Compasses Road and arrived in time to see an ME109, yellow nosed, parked on its wheels no more than fifty years from the hedge. Probably around a hundred and fifty yards across the field there was a group consisting of five or six men, one obviously the pilot under escort, walking over to the Nissan hut and sheds over the far side. At the same time the Spitfire was taxi-ing from the north up to the buildings over the far side.
In a book by Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire, he tells of the only case during the Second World War when a RAF pilot took a plane “prisoner” in the air, in the style of many occurrences in the First World War. I am positive this is the case he was referring to, as there was definitely no intention of the Spitfire to shoot down the 109. He simply gave a couple of warning bursts as he drew alongside the 109 and then escorted it to the airstrip.
Possibly someone can find old records of this event. My only clue is that it happened just before I should have gone to church. So it was a Sunday morning around 10 or 11 am and not likely to have been during the hop picking season. I know that Paul Coldwell’s father reported on an incident when an ME109 crash-landed on its belly at the Penshurst airfield. But I am absolutely certain ‘my’ 109 landed on its wheels. So probably the two incidents were separate.
Parish Magazine Article: Oct 2007: by Chris Rowley