Malta 1941. On Saturday Goostrey’s Martin Lardner-Burke was delighted to spend the afternoon with the pilot who had helped his badly injured father get out of his damaged Hurricane in Malta in November 1941; Wing Co. Tom “Ginger” Neil DFC & Bar, AFC, AE (at 97 one of the few remaining Battle of Britain pilots).
Martin’s father, fighter pilot Pat Lardner-Burke DFC & Bar, AE had been sent to Malta in early June 1941 on Ark Royal in Operation Rocket when the island was under constant bombardment. On the 8th Nov Pat had one confirmed kill and one damaged that day before his plane was shot by point-fives from a Macchi 202…one going thru the plane, armour plating, seat, then thru Pat’s chest and on into the dash and engine. (Four Hurricanes had taken off to intercept the enemy; a dog fight ensued with 18 Italian Macchis escorting 4 bombers heading for Malta. Pat was awarded a DFC.)
Martin only recently discovered that it was Tom “Ginger” Neil (then aged 21) who saw the plane flying oddly on attempting to land back at the airstrip and ran towards it. Ginger managed to get Pat, badly injured, out of his Hurricane down to the ground with great difficulty and on a stretcher after he had managed to land the damaged plane – Pat muttering, “Don’t shake me Ginger”.
Martin said, “Tom Neil wrote about how hard it was to get my badly injured father out of the cockpit in his book ‘Onward to Malta’ in 1992. Ideally a crane would have been used, but it was two miles away. My sisters and I just wish we had read the book all those years ago – but it is amazing that we have now met him.”
After initially being left for dead on a gurney a nurse noticed Pat was still bleeding – and therefore still alive! – so they operated and he survived. Recuperation (and marriage!) followed back in the UK then instructing others at Gunnery Training before Pat joined 222 Squadron in March43, with the now iconic MH434 ‘Mylcraine’ (the middle name of his Manx wife) as his personal spitfire. By the end of the war he was Wing Commander No. 1 Squadron.
It was a particularly meaningful meeting for Martin as his fighter pilot Ace father never spoke about his war time experiences, like many others, and died aged 53 in February 1970 – no doubt affected by his injury in Malta. Martin thoroughly enjoyed listening to Tom’s stories whilst they spent the afternoon going through old photographs and letters.