From a pre-school 4-year old to a university bound 18-year old, I lived in Hornchurch on the east side of London. About a mile or two from our house on an adventurous route across fields, through woods and along a river, was Hornchurch Aerodrome; a disused, abandoned and partially dug up relic from The Second World War. This was a common destination during school holidays; perhaps with a little scrumping in the farmers’ fields along the way. There was always the dream of finding part of an old RAF fighter aircraft or some lesser find of parts from a bygone era. When that didn’t materialise, then it was the perfect place to wheelie, skid, jump and fall off our cycles and later motorbikes. It really was a place of dreams and adventures. Some of those dreams later became reality for me as I was lucky enough to fly fighter aircraft in the RAF.
On October the 25th 1940, towards the very end of The Battle of Britain, 23-year-old Pilot Officer Peter Olver was scrambled from Hornchurch Aerodrome in his Mk II Spitfire P7309. On his first operational sortie with 603 Squadron and with only 10 hours experience on the Spitfire, Olver was to intercept a raid of enemy aircraft over Hastings on the South Coast. In the ensuing battle, Olver engaged a number of Messerschmidt 109s in combat, but his aircraft suffered serious damage after being attacked by a 109 flown by Werner Moelders. Although himself wounded, Olver managed to bail out of his aircraft and parachute to safety. P7309 then crashed at Brede in Sussex.
The centre pieces of these cufflinks are made from from fragments of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that powered Peter Olver’s P7309 that day in 1940, after the remains of the aircraft were recovered by aviation archaeologists. They were a recent gift from my brother and I got to wear them for the first time this evening at a dinner party hosted by some good friends – they feel rather special.