The amazing wartime story of a distinguished Spitfire pilot has emerged as organisers commemorating the 80 year anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation appeal for help tracing his relatives so they can honour him.
In the space of four days Squadron Leader Kenneth Grahame Hart from Thornton Heath, crash landed twice but on both occasions walked away without injury – the second time after bringing down a German Messerschmitt.
The flying ace flew in the Battle of Britain, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for destroying a total of nine enemy aircraft, and damaging many others during World War II .
This picture shows the damaged plane on the beach in La Panne in Belgium, (18 miles from Dunkirk, France) and was provided by Johny Recour who contacted The Chronicle appealing for help in tracing relatives of Sqd Ldr Hart.
Belgian Mr Recour would like to honour the decorated fighter pilot at the 80th commemoration of Operation Dynamo, which was the codename given to the Dunkirk evacuation and has now been postponed until May-June 2021 due to
Johny has so far organised commemorations to remember four RAF pilots who crashed during WWII near his home in the coastal town of De Panne, each time succeeding in tracing family and relatives.
Sqdn leader Hart died in combat aged only 23. He was born on April 27 1921 in Mitcham , the second son of Frederick and Elizabeth Hart. The family moved to Thornton Heath living at 75 Headcorn Road.
He entered Norbury Manor Junior Mixed School on the in April 1926 along with his brother Charles, moving to the seniors in March 1930. He then won a place to Heath Clark Central School in Thornton Heath in September 1932 and was an active member of the 34th Croydon Scout Group.
Having passed the Royal Society of Arts Stage 1 in English in July 1935, he left school prematurely during May 1936 in order to start work. He would travel to his work past Croydon Airport, often stopping to look at the aircraft taking off and landing and always had an interest in flying, being an avid reader of the Biggles novels.
Aged just 18 he joined the RAF and after his training finished was posted to 65 Squadron at Hornchurch.
During March 1940 the squadron featured in LIFE magazine, Ken being photographed by William Vandivert wearing his flying helmet, goggles and oxygen mask, looking the part of a dashing fighter pilot.
On May 22, while on patrol over Calais and Dunkirk, his Spitfire engine developed trouble around the Arras area resulting in fire breaking out but skilful belly-landed the aircraft.
The dedicated pilot was back on patrol over the French coast the next day. On May 26, twelve Spitfires from the squadron were soon involved in several dogfights with the Luftwaffe.
Pilot Hart shot down one of the Me 109’s at about 8.40am, seeing it crash in flames onto the beach at Dunkirk, unfortunately his aircraft was hit in the starboard wing forcing him down onto the same beach alongside the enemy plane.
He escaped back to the UK via a ship quickly rejoining his squadron. Having now crash landed twice in four days, on his return he was given leave. However, he was quickly back in the thick of combat. Later that year on December 4 he claimed a Mc200 along with damaging a Me110.
Three days later on the 7th, he claimed a share in damaging the engine of a Ju88. On December 11 Hart destroyed a Me109 and damaged another, along with a share in a Ju88 over Gazala. For these actions, along with his previous combats during the Battle of France and Britain he was finally recognised in January 1942 with the citation reading: “This officer has displayed great courage and skill in operational duties.”
Later he was posted to 18 Squadron, flying Boston light bombers and in 1944 was promoted to Squadron Leader. Sadly he died on December 28 1944 whilst flying on a night recce when his aircraft was hit by flak and was seen to be enveloped in fire when it crashed with no survivors.
He is remembered with honour in a collective grave with his crew at Coriano Ridge War Cemetery near Riccione, Italy.
For more information about the Battle of Britain airmen visit: www.bbm.org.uk. If you are a relative or knew the Hart family and can help email: firstname.lastname@example.org