Remembering Wing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane
Wing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane DSO DFC and two Bars was born in the Irish City of Dublin on 16th October 1920 and was the eldest of five children. His parents moved from Dublin to Richmond in England 1936. With the threat of war looming over Europe Finucane gave up his job as a clerk and decided to make a career in the Royal Air Force and joined in April 1938. His application was successful and he then began his training in the August of 1938 just before his 18th birthday. Though he initially struggled in learning to fly and was consistently rated as 'below average'. Despite this on-going frustration he achieved operational status and eventually qualified to become a fighter pilot flying the Supermarine Spitfire. The now 19 year old pilot Finucane was posted to No.65 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch in Essex during mid-July 1940 just as the "Battle of Britain" began over the skies of England. Soon he was sent into action with his Spitfire against the numerically superior German Luftwaffe. Finucane then shot down his first enemy plane, a Messerschmitt Me109, on 12th August 1940 along with a 'probable'and then on the following day Finucane promptly doubled his score when he destroyed another Me109. No. 65 Squadron RAF was rested at the end of August 1940 and did not return to 11 Group until November. Flying from RAF Tangmere, by years end, Finucane had claimed four Bf 109s and a Messerschmitt Bf 110. With the RAF winning the Battle of Britain and keeping air superiority over the skies the threat of a Nazi invasion of England receding, it was not until January 1941 that Brendan Finucane or 'Paddy' as he was now better known achieved another victory over the enemy. His success in combat led to the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in May, the citation stating: "This officer has shown great keenness in his efforts to engage the enemy and he has destroyed at least 5 of their aircraft. His courage and enthusiasm have been a source of encouragement to other pilots of the squadron" A year later in April 1941 his award coincided soon after a posting as a Flight Commander in April to a newly formed unit that was to become the first Australian squadron in England. Finucane now had to train and pass on his aerial fighting skills to a group of eager Commonwealth pilots before they could be sent into battle against the enemy Luftwaffe across the English Channel. Soon after No.452 Royal Australian Air Force Squadron became operational, Paddy then further demonstrated his growing reputation by scoring the unit's first aerial victory on 11th July 1941. Finucane added 17 fighter claims to his score by his 21st birthday in October 1941, also being awarded a Distinguished Service Order. The citation for the DSO stated: "Recently, during two sorties on consecutive days, Flight Lieutenant Finucane destroyed 5 Messerschmitt 109's bringing his total victories to at least 20. He has flown with this squadron since June,1941, during which time the squadron has destroyed 42 enemy aircraft of which Flight Lieutenant Finucane has personally destroyed 15. The successes achieved are undoubtedly due to this officer's brilliant leadership and example." Paddy managed to suffer an accident in November 1941 when he broke an ankle during a 'Blackout' when he tried to jump over a wall. Once later recovered he then re-joined the Australians of No.452 Squadron during January 1942, yet within a week he was promoted and given command of No.602 Squadron at RAF Redhill in Surrey. More misfortune befell Paddy on 20th February whilst in combat with deadly Focke-wulf Fw190 fighters over Dunkirk. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit of his fighter. Wounded and losing blood he showed skill despite growing ever weaker from his injuries to successfully land his aircraft, after which he then had to be gently lifted out from the shattered cockpit before being taken to hospital. Though with a quick recovery Finucane soon recovered and was back in the skies looking for revenge. He did so on 13th March 1942 when he shot down one of the dreaded enemy Focke-Wulf fighters. Finucanes fame spread beyond RAF ranks and model airplanes of his Spitfire with the vivid green Shamrocks were sold all along Piccadilly Circus and The Strand. Now a legendary figure, his leadership was outstanding and the aura surrounding him affected air and ground crews alike along with members of the general public. He became the youngest Wing Commander in the RAF on 27 June 1942, leading the Hornchurch Wing. Though he may have been a leading RAF ace and proud of the achievements of his squadron, he had no desire to boast about his personal victories in which he had no knowing of how many enemy airmen he may have killed. For 15th July 1942, the following entry appears in the No.154 Squadron Operations Record Book: "A fine bright day today and at eleven thirty pilots are called to the briefing room and told by Wing Commander Finucane that the hutted camp at Etaples is going to be shot up. He is leading 154. It is a tragic day for us all. Wing Commander Finucane has the foulest luck. A stream of bullets from a Hun machine gun on the beach in the Estuary mouth gets his radiator. He is forced to ditch and is not seen again." Finucane was killed at the age of 21 on 15 July 1942, when he was leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter operation, with the attack by his fighters using cannons and machine guns against ground targets at a German army camp at Etaples, France. He always said that the Luftwaffe would never get him, though a single burst of German machine-gun fire came up from the beach and hit the Spitfire MkVb BM308 being flown by the young Wing Commander. With the radiator damaged it wasn't long before the Merlin engine started to overheat, but no doubt hoping the damaged Spitfire would get him home Paddy flew on rather than risk becoming a prisoner-of-war. He even talked calmly to his comrades as they defended the stricken fighter from pursuing German fighter planes. Now with his Spitfire too low over the water for him to safely bale out, his comrades had to watch him descend down onto the unwelcoming Channel. They also reportedly heard his last known words when Paddy was said to exclaim over the radio, "This is it chaps!" He crashed in the sea, and both Paddy and the Spitfire sank at once. Only a thinning slick of oil on the sea marked the grave of a well-respected and much-loved leader. Paddy Finucane despite his Irish roots was a national hero in Great Britain and his loss touched a great many of its citizens. When a Requiem Mass was held for him at Westminster Cathedral in London, over 3,000 people attended, which was then followed by a nationwide appeal that resulted in the bequeathing of the 'Finucane Ward' in the Richmond Royal Hospital. Because he remains officially missing, Paddy is remembered upon Panel 64 at the RAF memorial at Runnymede near Windsor that commemorates over 20,000 RAF airmen of the Second World War who went missing over the European region. In his short life, Wing Commander Brendan Finucane DSO, DFC & 2 Bars, proved himself to be a remarkable young man who achieved incredible things, and though there are some arguments regarding the true number of enemy aircraft he destroyed, which number at around thirty, his sacrifice for our freedom makes him someone Great Britain should be forever proud. A rose, Spitfire Paddy, grown by horticulturalist Seán McCann, was named in Finucanes memory and planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin. Also a road named after Finucane at the Grassmead Estate in St.Mary Cray, Kent, there is a block of flats named 'Finucane Court' in his old hometown of Richmond in Surrey. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" Winston Churchill.