John Hart, who served as a Squadron Leader in Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF), has died at the age of 102. A Spitfire pilot, Hart shot down a German Messerschmitt 109 and participated in the downing of two Junkers Ju88 bombers. These accomplishments earned Hart the RAF’s Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded for “…an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.”
Hart was born on September 11, 1916 in New Brunswick and attended that province’s Mount Allison University, studying engineering. He learned to fly at the Halifax [Nova Scotia] Flying Club. Looking for adventure, he moved to the United Kingdom and joined the RAF in January of 1939, before the outbreak of the Second World War.
After training on Spitfires with the RAF’s 54 Squadron, Hart transferred to 602 Squadron in September, 1940. A month later his aircraft sustained serious damage when he assisted with the shooting down of a Ju88 of the East Sussex coast. On another flight during another battle, a Ju88 shot a hole in his plane’s radiator at 20,000 feet over the English Channel, but he was able to make it back to base.
“I know I have the Battle of Britain medal with a star on it, but I really didn’t have that much to do with it. You were posted to a squadron and you did your job,” said Hart later.
Hart went on to command the RAF’s 67 Squadron in Burma in 1943 and 112 Squadron in Italy in early 1945. After the end of the war, Hart returned to Canada, initially to Vancouver before retiring in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
Battle of Britain historian Andy Saunders told Britain’s Daily Mail in an interview “The debt that the nation and the free world owes to those heroes of the ‘Few’ can never be underestimated and it is terribly sad that the ‘Few’ are yet fewer.”
With the passing of Hart, there remains only four battle of Britain veterans still alive.
Photo above: RAF Squadron Leader (Ret’d) John Hart at the Penticton Regional Airport (CYYF) with RCAF Major Denis Bandet of 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron. Courtesy of the RCAF.