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Inspirational Books

 

About Witt

 
 
 

                                                        This ‘orrible Little Man

Could eat flowers with his feet
Was afraid of heights and spiders
Flew over 120 types of aircraft, including the Deperdussin in “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”
Shipped his vintage Lagonda to New Zealand for a rally
Had an epidural just so he could watch his hip replacement operation
Went on to have a career as a test pilot even after a 150 mph ‘prang’ in 1946
Blew out an ear drum at 40,000 ft rather than admit to a head cold

 

 

 

 

ALBERT HOWLEY ‘WITT’ WITTRIDGE DFC

CURRICULUM VITAE

 
Date of birth:  30th October 1922
Place of birth: Kingston Upon Thames
 
1941                Joined RAFVR, ITW Torquay
Jan 1942         Booker (Grading School)                                 DH 82
                        4 EFTS Canada                                               Fleet Finch
                        13 SFTS Canada                                             Harvard 2
Oct 1942          Wings; commissioned a week late due to 
7 days CB ‘Reckless Flying’
                        7 PFU Peterborough                                        Master 1/2/3
Jun 1943         56 OTU Dundee, Tealing A/F                        Hurricane/Sea Hurricane
 
Nov 1943         ATP Poona                                                       Hurricane 2B/2C
Dec 1943         155 Squadron, Imphal                                    Mohawk
 
Jan 1944         Alipore Road, Calcutta                                    Spitfire 8
                        Amada Road Gunnery
Feb 1944         Biagachi, defence of Calcutta
Aug 1944         Palel, restarting operations.  Attack and
bomber/supply drop escorts
Nov 1944         Sapam, Burma
Dec 1944         Tamu, Burma
Jan 1945         Tabingaung, Burma
Feb 1945         Sadaung, Burma; Mandalay
Apr 1945         Dum Dum, Calcutta
 
Jun 1945         73 OUT Fayid, Instructor                                Spitfire 5, Thunderbolt
                        213 Squadron, Ramat David, Palestine          Mustang 4
                       
Military Hospital, Tel Aviv, rehab No 3
MRV Loughborough, later Collaton Cross,
Near Plymouth
 
Nov 1946         691 Squadron, Chivenor                                Spitfire 16, Martinet, Oxford, Anson
1947                226 OCU Jet Conversion                               Meteor 3
Dec 1948         203 AFS, Chivenor, Instructor                      Spitfire 16
July 1949        Stradishall                                                     Meteor 4, Vampire 7
Jan 1950         616 Squadron R Aux Regular                        Meteor 3/4/7
                        Training Officer
 
1950                11 Course, Empire Test Pilot’s School,
Farnborough
1952-3             Experimental Test Pilot, Boscombe Down
1953                Left service
 
1954-6             Civil Test Pilot, Armstrong Siddeley             All types including helicopters
                        Motors, Rolls-Royce, Bristol Engines
 
1967                Company Chief Pilot ATPL                            HS 125, Bell Jet Ranger
1975                Grounded due to medical (old injuries:
spinal cracks, dislocated/fractured ankle)
 
1976                Metereological Officer, Birmingham University
 
1985                Retired
 
Hazards
 
At Imphal, Army ‘strawberry’ for reported 70 Japanese casualties
 
In tent under mossie net, heard coughing grunt, then spine-chilling snarl,
and leopard flew out of tent tearing mossie nets as it went!  Too frightened to use issue
Smith & Wesson from under pillow!
 
At Calcutta, Amada Road, Court Martial for mistaking target and shooting up fishing
stakes instead of pole targets.  Lost three months’ seniority
 
Stupid Kiwi put 100 octane down latrines ‘to see flies off’; couple of us were sitting
over holes when he flung in lighted match!
 
At Palel, clobbered steamer
 
Entered huge CuNb after Dakota escort for Wingate; two of my flight baled
out ok and walked 10 miles to camp
 
Shot down one ‘Dinah’ (Army 100) and one ‘Oscar’; double tour, 211 operational hours
 
Prang at Ramat David: one flap failed, hit deck at 150 mph, two spinal fractures, fractured and dislocated ankle (wished for full RAF straps instead of Mustang lap strap)
 
My Meteor seized on landing, open arrest, AOC enquiry, nine charges of dangerous low aeros, mock combat etc. AOC smiled and said “I find the charges unsubstantiated by the evidence – go away”.
 
Opinion of Meteor: antithesis of a fighter
  
Awards
 
DFC, 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal, War Medal, GSM (Palestine),
Loyal Service Medal.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Fl/Lt A H ‘Witt’ Wittridge, DFC, RAF (Ret’d)

It is with great sadness that we have to inform you of the passing of a very special man and one of the last few remaining Spitfire pilots from the Second World War.

Albert Howley Wittridge died on 23rd April 2009 – St George’s Day. How appropriate - he was a patriot and an Englishman to his very core.  His ashes are interred at Teddington Cemetery and he is included in the Borough of Richmond’s ‘People of Historical Note Buried in the Borough'.

 

For the Daily Telegraph obituary, please go to press releases

 

 

 

     Extract from an address given by son in law Joe at Witt’s funeral on 8th May 2009:

Everything for Witt was either a “box of birds” or a “ball of fire” - and quite often both at the same time, although he never explained how the birds would cope with such high temperatures! Had he ever been asked, he would probably have said they were phoenixes, birds rising from the ashes.

Which is what Witt did after his 150 mph crash in an American-built Mustang aeroplane - as he always pointed out, as a result of poor manufacture of the flap mechanism. “God-damn Yanks” he used to say or, sometimes rather more succinctly, the “Goddams”.  He was really badly damaged in that horrendous crash, but fought through his injuries. Witt always loved to make digs at the Americans, and he especially liked to recount that his Spitfire in Burma was always under more threat from friendly fire by the Yanks than from the Japs.

Politically correct he never was.  Most people were erks - an erk being pretty much anyone who wasn't a Spitfire pilot or a particularly distinguished individual - and of course, Witt was both of these.  Erks subdivided into “wogs” (on “Air Force left”)  and “noddy men” and “dolly birds” (on "Air Force right"). 

Witt had been a meteorologist at Birmingham University once he stopped flying. His enduring analysis of bad weather was that it was “ugly mate”. This was also used to describe people and circumstances - as in ‘Witt, what do you think of helicopters/Gordon Brown/etc.’ The reply: "ugly mate, full on ugly."

Witt called his book An Evil Boy, a self-addressed reference. He regarded himself as having lived a very happy and lucky life whilst pulling stunts and practical jokes that nearly prevented him from being presented with his RAF wings. He flew his aeroplane so close to his mate's that he dented a wing tip. He was duly made Officer in Charge of Bicycles. 

 

 

 
 
Joe playing Witt
a video of low flying
Spitfires in 2008
 

I can't think of Dad's Army without thinking of Witt: he would always guffaw when you said to him ‘Don't tell him your name Pike’, usually responding with, "stupid boy!" or "the Germans don't like it up 'em".  Or Tommy Cooper's, "not like that, like that".  And what about the New Zealand Haka: "Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora", which he'd also break into without warning, staring at you with his devilish grin, his arms waving like demented windmills and often making people jump out of their skins with the shock of it.

He was a very humble man and he had the ability of summing up things in pithy and often humorous one-liners. Ask him about how he decided an aeroplane was a good 'un or not he would say "If it looks right, it flies right".

He referred to his time in Burma during the Second World War as "when I was in the green hell".  He wrote about the few brushes with death that he had.  Flying his Spitfire through huge banks of deadly cumulo-nimbus, he somehow survived and whilst some of his men were lost, other pilots followed his advice to keep straight and level and they followed him home. That was Witt all along really, straight and level.

You could see Witt's enduring loves with a casual glance towards the mantlepiece. There was a picture of his mother, of whom he spoke with tears in his eyes during the last hours of his life. A statue of Winston Churchill, whom he respected above all men...

... and a painting of his darling Spitfire (Mark 9 with retractable tail-wheel, Merlin engine designed by Witt's other hero R J Mitchell).  And on the fire place there's his kukri knife, presented to him in gratitude by the Gurkhas. He deeply respected the Gurkhas and would always salute whenever you mentioned them. There are lots of cups from his vintage car days. He loved being at the wheel of his faithful Lagonda, completing the Mille Miglia with son Donald and various rallies across New Zealand and the continent.

Amongst the many wartime videos, pride of place was always given to Dame Vera Lynn. He had met her during the war and she has been informed of Witt's death. Her song "We’ll meet again…" always brought tears to his eyes.  She has asked for another copy of his book and has written several lovely letters to the family.

Witt was so dignified as he stumbled along to his former wife Barbara's funeral; he had just had a hip replacement operation and was in considerable pain but he refused to use a wheelchair and I'll never forget how uncomplaining he was as he dragged himself over the wet grass towards the grave.

To the last day of his life he still asked "got a fag?" and the day before he died he was lying in bed, eyeing up a “dolly bird” who was sitting in the sunshine outside his window. Witt couldn't take his eyes of her and it was as if she had been strategically placed for his benefit.

During the last couple of weeks of his life, as his ability to eat and drink failed him, his fingers could no longer grasp, his mouth barely able to enunciate the words he wanted to say, his eyesight diminishing and his body closing down for the final time, he did something that will never leave me. For hour after hour, day and night, he held out his right hand just as if he was holding onto the joystick of his Spitfire - talking about the manoeuvres he was performing and the enemies he was facing.

The last thing Witt said to me was "We are looking towards the past and the past is looking back at us."  Well, here's looking at you Witt. Your old body might have eventually failed you, but your courage and dignity never did.

 

Flying the Spitfire in death just as he had in life