To Churchill and all Britons of a certain age they were 'The Few’, that band of brave men and women who kept Hitler’s Luftwaffe at bay during the dark days of the Battle of Britain.
On Saturday, Prince Harry met some of the surviving RAF veterans from that and other aerial campaigns of the Second World War, and paid tribute to their enduring courage.
Visiting Goodwood, close to former RAF Westhampnett – from where many of the Battle of Britain sorties flew – the Prince, himself a helicopter pilot and co-gunner during the more recent campaign in Afghanistan, inspected a Spitfire fighter, one of the aircraft which did so much in defending these islands.
During his visit, which saw him sit briefly in the cockpit of the rare two seater model, Prince Harry met Joy Lofthouse, 91, who, as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), flew fighter aircraft, including the Spitfire, to airbases around Britain in readiness for front-line missions.
He also spoke to Jimmy Taylor, 92, who crash-landed his fighter behind enemy lines in 1944 and was captured and interrogated by the Gestapo; along with Eric Carter, the last surviving member of a 38-strong task force sent to northern Russia in 1941 to protect supply routes; Joe Roddis, who as a teenage mechanic kept the RAF’s fighters; and Peter Hale, a pilot who flew Spitfires with No 41 (Reserve) Squadron in 1944 and 1945.
Prince Harry told Mr Carter: “I guarantee that us pilots now are nowhere near as good as you guys would be - but nowadays with technology the aircraft seem to have minds of their own.
Mr Carter, from Birmingham, replied: “It was true flying in those days, definitely.
Harry said: “You’re not flying by the seat of your pants anymore! Health and safety is now taking over.”
The Prince did not fly the Spitfire due to the bad weather, but he did fire up the engine.
Prince Harry was visiting the Boultbee Flight Academy, where he launched a scholarship for wounded ex-servicemen and women. With the support of Harry’s Endeavour Fund, the academy is working with Aerobility and Flying For Freedom, a non-profit organisation partnered with Help for Heroes, to set up flying schools across the UK run by the wounded, injured and sick.
It already has a number of specially adapted aircraft at airfields across the UK, giving more than 400 disabled and wounded soldiers the chance to fly very year.
Instruction is provided by military, ex-military and civilian pilots, including three officers who previously commanded the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the RAF Eurofighter Typhoon test pilot and Rolls-Royce’s chief test pilot.
Harry was presented with a mini jumpsuit for Prince George from staff at the academy.
He had earlier spent the morning racing classic cars at Goodwood Motor Circuit, alongside injured servicemen who have benefited from a charity set up to help them rediscover their self-belief and fighting spirit.
The Prince sped around the West Sussex circuit in a 1964 two-series blue Aston Martin DB4, a black Lamborghini, a silver Aston Martin and a red Jaguar, a prototype F-type Coupe R.
Harry, who is patron of the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, spoke to some of the 300 soldiers supported by The Endeavour Fund since its launch in 2011.
Among them was Captain Mark Jenkins, part of the Row2Recoveryteam who recently rowed across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
The 34-year-old, a member of the Royal Army Medical Corp, was joined by amputees, soldiers Cayle Royce and Scott Blaney, and fellow serviceman James Kayll.
Capt Jenkins said the project would not have been possible without a £30,000 grant from The Endeavour Fund.
He said: “It’s the best thing you have ever done, the hardest thing you have ever done, the worst thing you have ever done, all in one experience. It’s hard to mentally and physically motivate yourself to keep going.”
Eric Carter and Joy Lofthouse (BPM/SWNS.COM)
Joy Lofthouse, 91
ATA pilot, UK
Joy Lofthouse joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1943 after spotting an advert in a flying magazine and went on to become one of the.
forgotten women who broke through male-dominated barriers to pilot fighter aircraft and to deliver them for service in the front line.
She flew almost 20 different RAF aircraft during the war, delivering them to airbases throughout Britain, including the Spitfire.
The women became known as the Attagirls, boosting the war effort with their pluckiness and enthusiasm. It was said their smaller physiques made them perfect for the job, allowing them to fit into the cramped interior of the Spitfire 'like wearing a well-fitting dress’.
Joy, who joined ATA alongside her sister Yvonne, said: "I was working in an ammunitions factory at the time and began flying
after I saw an advert. We didn't get much training-just told to get up there and do it. It was amazing.
"The culmination was being able to fly in a Spitfire - the first time I did it was faster than anything I'd ever known in my life. There's nothing quite like it! In many ways we were trailblazers for female pilots in the RAF.”
The ATA delivered more than 308,000 aircraft from factories to airfields, also returning damaged aircraft for repair. Sometimes the Attagirls would be given only 30 minutes with a handbook before taking off in an unfamiliar plane. At one stage losses were so great that the casualty ratio was one in six.
Joy, who was stationed at Thame, near Oxford, and became a teacher after the war, said: “The weather was our biggest enemy. There were a couple of times when I thought I’d lost one of my nine lives.”
The role of the 'Spitfire Girls’ was largely overlooked until then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was persuaded to honour them with a commemorative badge in 2008.
Jimmy Taylor (BBC)
Jimmy Taylor, 92
Pilot officer, UK and Europe
Yorkshireman Jimmy Taylor crash-landed his fighter behind enemy lines in 1944 and was captured and interrogated by the Gestapo, Hitler’s feared secret police.
The engine of his stripped-down marque PRX1 failed as it was on a reconnaissance missions over northern Germany on November 19, 1944.
He was forced to bail out, but as he jumped he was hit in the stomach by the tailplane.
Mr Taylor said: “I really thought it had cut me in two.”
Despite falling in and out of consciousness Mr Taylor, from Leeds, managed to deploy his parachute. He said: “A little voice said to me 'Pull the string, pull the string’.”
When he woke on the ground he found himself on the run in Nazi-occupied Holland. Captured after five days he spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft 1, a German prisoner-of-war camp near Barth in northern Germany, before it was liberated by Soviet forces.
Following the war he discovered that four young Dutch men were gunned down in front of their families by the Germans for failing to hand him over. That prompted him to make an annual pilgrimage to Holland to lay a wreath on their memorial.
Last year Mr Taylor, a retired English teacher, once again took the controls of a Spitfire for during a half-hour flight at Goodwood Aerodrome, with senior RAF test pilot Willy Hackett.
Eric Carter, 92
Pilot officer, Artic Star Medal, Russia
Eric Carter is the last surviving member of a 38-strong task force sent to northern Russia in 1941 to protect supply routes.
The pilot, from Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire, was sent with 37 others as part of Force Benedict. They flew 365 sorties over four months to keep the port of Murmansk open, shooting down 11 Messerschmitt fighters and three Junkers 88 bombers. The operation remained secret for several years because Stalin did not want to admit he had asked for help.
In January 2012, Mr Carter was refused permission to sit inside a Spitfire at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in Stoke-on-Trent, because officials feared for his safety.
But he was later invited by an aircraft enthusiast to fly in a dual control Spitfire TR9 over Goodwood Aerodrome. Mr Carter said at the time: “I can only describe it as being like you jumping back into your first car and feeling at home. It was an amazing experience – some sad memories, some happy. It was just as I remembered it.”
Joe Roddis, 91
Chief Technician, RAF Coningsby
In 1940 Joe Roddis was an 18-year-old flight mechanic at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, now home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
He looked after the fighter planes and kept them ready constantly for service.
He said: “Without us, it was no good. And without them, the pilots, it was even less good.”
Mr Roddis has written an account of his long RAF career from early 1939 to 1965, called In Support of the Few.