POST OFFICE TELEGRAM TO: FLIGHT CMDR. BRENDAN FINUCANE: 16TH OCTOBER 1941: RICHMOND IS PROUD THAT ONE OF HER OWN MEN SHOULD SO DESERVEDLY GAIN HONOURS, AND WE WISH YOU GOOD LUCK AND CONTINUED SUCCESS IN YOUR PRESENT JOB: - ALDERMAN MABEL LAWRIE. J.P, S.C.C. MAYOR
Their names are slowly fading from our memory, the fighter aces of the Battle of Britain – Douglas Bader, ‘Tiger’ Malan, Bob Stanford Tuck and the rest. But there is one name that we should perhaps hold onto a little longer, not just because he was one of the very best but because he once lived amongst us in Richmond.
Brendan Éamon Fergus Finucane was born on 16 October 1920 in Rathmines in Ireland. Although his father, Thomas, had been a member of the Irish Volunteers and fought against British rule in the 1916 Rising in Dublin, his mother Florence was English, and in November 1936 the family emigrated to England, moving into 26 Castlegate in Richmond. Brendan, or Paddy as he was known to his friends, was 16 at the time and found work in an accountant’s office, a job that he enjoyed…
“I like a job with figures, accounting or auditing. Perhaps that doesn’t sound much like a pilot, but pilots are perfectly normal people.”
In April 1938 he applied to join the RAF and in 1940 after training was posted as a Pilot Officer to 65 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch flying Spitfires. Paddy claimed his first victory on 12th August 1940 when he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. The following day he shot down another. By the end of 1940 his tally had climbed to 4 Bf 109s and a Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer heavy fighter. He was one of 9 Irish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain and flew with a large shamrock painted on his aircraft.
In April 1941 Paddy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation states…
“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”
In the same month he was posted as Flight Commander to the newly formed 452 Squadron, RAAF, at Kirton-in-Lindsey in Lincolnshire, the first Australian Squadron to serve in Fighter command. By his 21st birthday on 16th October 1941 Paddy Finucane’s score had climbed to 22 kills. On one occasion he and his flight took on an enemy force of 100 Bf 109s…
“It was a terrific dogfight. One of my pilots shot one down, three others destroyed two between them, and I got two – the first one blowing up at a full burst in the belly.”
With a recently awarded Distinguished Service Order and citations speaking of “ability, courage and brilliant leadership” Flight-Lieutenant Brendan “Paddy” Finucane D.S.O, D.F.C and bar was now seen as Britain’s No. 1 Fighter Pilot and successor to Douglas Bader…
“I shoot to hit the machine, not the lad in it; at least I hold him no grudge, but I have to let him have it. See him first before he sees you, hit him when you fire as you might not have a second chance”.
In January 1942, Finucane was given command of No. 602 Squadron at RAF Redhill. On 20 February 1942, he was slightly wounded in the leg during a strafing mission with his new command. In March he shot down four Focke Wulf 190 fighters. With his fame spreading street traders in Piccadilly Circus and the Strand were selling models of his Spitfire with the vivid green shamrock. As his reputation grew even German pilots were being encouraged to “Get Finucane of the Shamrock!”
In May 1942 Paddy was given special leave to return home to Richmond to propose to 20 year old Jean Woolford, who lived next door but one to his parents in Castlegate. Her parents were not totally convinced by the engagement as her mother told a local reporter…
“They’re very young. Her father thinks that they should wait….but we must remember it’s a very dangerous job he’s got.”
They needn’t have worried. Paddy had no intention of getting married that quickly…
“We’re not going to get married during the war, take that from little Irish Paddy. Hell! What’s the good of thinking about a beautiful wife back home with a German sitting on your tail waiting to punctuate your spine with lead?”
During his brief trip home Paddy found time to talk to the Barnes and Richmond Air Cadets. Although he never cared for talking publically about flying or himself the enthusiasm of the young cadets persuaded him otherwise. Afterwards he said that it was one of the most strenuous hours he had ever spent.
On June 27, 1942, and still only 21 years old Paddy Finucane became the youngest Wing Commander in the RAF, leading the Hornchurch Wing. He wasn’t to enjoy his promotion for very long. Three weeks later, on July 15th 1942, while returning from a low level attack against a German army camp at Etables in France his Spitfire was hit by gunfire from a machine gun post near Pointe du Touquet. With engine coolant leaking from a damaged radiator and his engine overheating Paddy set off home across the Channel, escorted by his “Number Two”, Pilot Officer F.A Aikman…
Aikman could see him quite clearly in the cockpit. He opened his sliding hood and took off his helmet. It appeared to Aikman that he was also releasing his parachute harness. Aikman called through his radio that he was going to climb so that he would be able to fix Finucane’s position when he crashed. Paddy replied: “Get as high as possible.”
Ten miles from the French coast Aikman saw the Spitfire with the green shamrock level off, drop its tail and fall into the sea. Just before it crashed he heard Paddy’s voice on the radio: “This is it, chaps.” The ship sank like a stone. At 5,000 feet Aikman circled, watching the spot where it had sunk. All he saw was a streak of oil floating on the water’s top.
TIME MAGAZINE – Monday, July 27, 1942
And that was the end of one of the greatest fighter aces the RAF had ever known. With a ‘bag’ of 26 confirmed and 6 shared ‘destroyed’, plus 8 ‘probable’, 1 shared ‘probable’ and a further 8 ‘damaged’ Wing Commander Brendan ‘Paddy’ Finucane DSO, DFC and bar, of Castlegate, Richmond was one of the top scorers of the Battle of Britain and the air war that followed. It is impossible to imagine the distress of his family or his fiancée, Jean Woolford, but certainly Richmond felt the loss. A Memorial Fund in his name set up the Mayor E.A Collings raised over £7500 to build an extension at Richmond Royal Hospital on Kew Foot Road. Later a block of flats was built on Lower Mortlake Road and called Finucane Court after him. In November 2004, a rose, ‘Spitfire Paddy’, named in his memory was planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin (home of the Irish Air Corps). It was from Baldonnel that 12 year old Paddy Finucane first took to the air in 1932…
At 21 you reached the top:
Where other boys begin you stop.
You let no enemy go by,
And made a stronghold of the sky.
You need no Medals, Crosses, Bars;
Your name is written in the stars.
— A.P HERBERT – SUNDAY GRAPHIC
There is one happy postscript to all this…
LATE “PADDY” FINUCANE’S FIANCEE MARRIED TO NEW ZEALANDER
LONDON, Sunday, AAP 5th June 1944
Jean Woolford, fiancée of the late “Paddy” Finucane, has been married to a New Zealander, Flying Officer Edward Crang. They met at the Boomerang Club in London, where she was a voluntary worker.
— from Martyn Day
CREDITS: THE PHOTOGRAPH OF JEAN WOOLFORD – DAILY MAIL