Thursday, March 01, 2007

British Heroes: Alex Henshaw

To be honest, It was not my intention to feature Alex Henshaw as my next selection for a British hero, but following his death last Friday at the age of 94 I decided that it was only fit and proper to pay tribute to him.

Although he never flew a combat mission, Henshaw's role as a leading test pilot was every bit as vital to the British war effort as those who flew, fought and died in the Battle Of Britain. Blessed with the dashing good looks and daredevil spirit that became a trademark for RAF Fighter Command at the time, Henshaw's fame was primarily as test pilot for the Supermarine Spitfire, but he was also renowned as the only pilot to have successfully barrel rolled the huge four engine Lancaster bomber.

The role of test pilot was, of course, a dangerous one and it is no surprise that he survived a number of close shaves, including one incident when he was forced to bale out of a stricken Spitfire only to find himself entangled in his own parachute that had been torn and damaged. The parachute was held together at it's edge by a single thread which, fortunately, held out and allowed Henshaw to land safely.

Even by the standards of those remarkable times, Alex Henshaw was a remarkable man. In truth, those times were full of remarkable men who felt themselves to be perfectly ordinary and were naturally unassuming. In a modern world full of braggarts and boasters and dominated by the cult of celebrity it strikes me as particularly poignant to say goodbye to a true hero the like of which we are unlikely to see again.

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