Charred notebook reveals the life of downed Battle of Britain Hurricane pilot

A hail of German bullets sent Battle of Britain hero Eddie Egan's Hurricane plunging in flames into a dense wood, where it was lost for years.

But now Sgt Egan's charred notebook, unearthed from his plane decades later, is to go under the hammer.

Collectors of war memorabilia are expected to flock to the sale of the effects of the airman, shot down by a Luftwaffe pilot exactly 68 years ago tomorrow.

Battle of Britain pilot Eddie Egan

Courageous: Eddie Egan poses beside his plane in the photograph now up for auction

Sgt Egan died just two days after downing his first Messerschmidt 109.

He had never flown a single-engined fighter before he climbed into the cockpit of a Hurricane in 1940 - and received just five days' training in combat flying before he was forced to tackle it for real.

Four sorties with 501 Squadron from RAF Kenley - one of the three RAF stations responsible for the defence of London - climaxed with the desperate gunfight against another Messerschmidt 109 on September 17, 1940.

Sgt Egan's plane was sent nose-diving into a wood on the Kentish Weald, exploding in flames.

Such was the speed of the crash that it buried both plane and pilot 20 feet beneath the leafy carpet covering the floor of Daniel's Wood, near Maidstone.

The 100-acre wood was so dense that Sgt Egan's remains lay undiscovered for 36 years.

But in 1973 his mother Grace made an emotional plea for his body to be found.

Aviation archaeologist Tony Graves finally identified the crash site thanks to a three-year search and the eyewitness descriptions of the death-plunge provided by Sgt Egan's fellow Hurricane pilots Tony Pickering and Gerald Welford.

Battle of Britain pilot Eddie Egan's jacket button and engine plate number

Egan's jacket button and the engine plate number which helped prove his identity at last

Now a photograph of Sgt Egan standing proudly beside a Hurricane is up for auction along with his identification plate, the remains of a charred notebook and a solitary shirt button recovered from the crash site.

Bidding is expected to be fierce at Dreweatts' Donnington Priory saleroom, near Newbury, on November 19 with an estimate of £400 to £600.

Auctioneer Malcolm Claridge said: 'We are expecting a lot of interest from Battle of Britain collectors - especially as this year is the RAF's 90th anniversary.

'Just like the rest of the Few, Eddie Egan was a hero. They were very young pilots, many with very limited combat experience, who stood up to fight when it mattered most.

'But what makes Eddie Egan's story so remarkable is that the crash site and his remains were not discovered until 1976 - 36 years after the Battle of Britain.'

Egan, born in Farningham, Kent, was one of 544 Allied pilots who sacrificed their lives in the RAF's 'finest hour' as they repelled the German onslaught on Britain's shores in the summer of 1940.

Today Mr Graves, who excavated over 400 Battle of Britain crash sites, said: 'It is a very poignant story. Eddie Egan's mother came to us and asked if we could find her son who was still missing.

'We spoke to the Hurricane pilots and eventually we tracked down the old farmer who had farmed the land and he led us to the crash site.

'The crash impact meant the Hurricane was buried over 20 feet deep but we found the cockpit and Eddie's remains,' said Mr Graves, who formerly ran the London Air Museum and now lives near Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Battle of Britain pilot Eddie Egan beside his Hurricane

Egan had only flown on four missions - and had had just five days' combat training

Eddie Egan's remains were buried with full military honours in the RAF section of Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, in 1978.

But disagreement over his identity meant his headstone simply read 'An Unknown Aviator'.

Mr Graves returned to the crash site and dug up the brass cockpit plate bearing the Hurricane's serial number - proving conclusively that Sgt Egan had been the pilot.

Mr Graves, 61, said: 'It was very satisfying, because it enabled his family to amend the headstone and proudly put his name on his grave after all those years.'

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