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'Hero' battle of Britain pilot dies aged 100

SAC Emma Wade/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

By Sam Russell, PA

A "hero" Battle of Britain veteran has died hours after celebrating his 100th birthday, taking the number of surviving members of The Few to five, his biographer has said.

Archie McInnes, who flew Hurricanes during the battle in the skies over southern England, completed his pilot training aged 21 and was commissioned the next day.

He died hours after celebrating his 100th birthday on Wednesday.

His biographer and friend Jonny Cracknell wrote on Twitter: "It is with a heavy heart and incredible sadness to advise the tragic news that Battle of Britain hero Archie McInnes sadly passed away last night, just hours after celebrating his 100th birthday amongst friends and family.

"An inspiration and hero of a man - rest in peace dear Archie."

He had earlier written to wish Flight Lieutenant McInnes a happy birthday, noting that he was the "last of the six remaining Battle of Britain 'Few' to become a centenarian".

Those who fought in the three-and-a-half-month Battle of Britain came to be known as The Few after a speech by prime minister Winston Churchill, who said of their sacrifices in battle: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

The British victory marked a turning point in the Second World War, but by the end of the battle 544 RAF pilots and aircrew had died.

Flight Lieutenant McInnes was born on July 31 1919 and joined the RAF volunteer reserve in 1938, the year before the war broke out.

He completed his pilot training in August 1940 and was commissioned the next day.

He flew Hurricanes with 601 Squadron in Exeter, later moving to 238 Squadron at Chilbolton, Hampshire, on October 8 1940.

After the Battle of Britain ended on October 31 1940 he was on board HMS Victorious as part of the team hunting for German battleship the Bismarck.

From April 1941, Flt Lt McInnes was part of the North African campaign where he flew various missions including providing cover for bombers.

He was shot down by a Messerschmitt fighter plane on October 30 1941 and lost his left arm.

He was released from the RAF in 1946 as a flight lieutenant and eventually retired to village life just outside Cambridge.

Mr Cracknell, who was Flt Lt McInnes's biographer, wrote on his website that it was a "huge privilege helping gain Archie some long-overdue recognition as a hero".

Last year Flt Lt McInnes was pictured beaming with delight as he was taken for a flight in a two-seater Spitfire over Kent, aged 99.

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