Paul Farnes, a Royal Air Force fighter pilot and the last surviving R.A.F. ace of the Battle of Britain, in which he shot down six German aircraft and damaged a half-dozen more, died on Jan. 28 in West Sussex, England. He was 101.
His death was announced by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust.
Mr. Farnes was one of the last survivors of the nearly 3,000 airmen called “The Few,” a nickname inspired by Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s tribute to them in August 1940 while the campaign, begun in July, raged on.
“Never in the field of human conflict,” Churchill said, “was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Mr. Farnes entered the Battle of Britain having destroyed three German Luftwaffe bombers, on his own or with a fellow fighter, during the Allies’ defeat in the Battle of France in May.
With France having fallen, Britain had reached a critical point in World War II and now had to defend itself against a relentless aerial assault by the Luftwaffe. A German victory in the air would almost certainly have led to a ground invasion of Britain more than a year before the United States entered the war.
But for three months, through the end of October, the R.A.F. battled the Luftwaffe for supremacy in the skies over Britain. Flying a Hurricane fighter for the 501 Squadron, Mr. Farnes, a sergeant pilot, proved supremely adept at attacking German aircraft.
In August alone he shot down three Junkers Ju Stuka bombers, a Dornier 17 light bomber and a Messerschmitt 109E fighter.
At the end of September, as Mr. Farnes maneuvered his malfunctioning Hurricane back to the R.A.F.’s Kenley base, he spotted a German bomber flying directly at him at about 1,500 feet.
“I thought, ‘Good God,’ so I whipped out and had to reposition myself and managed to get ’round behind him,” he said in an interview with the website History of War in 2017. “I gave him a couple of bursts, and he crashed at Gatwick just on the point between the airport and the racecourse.”
When he landed at Gatwick, the station commander drove him to meet the German pilot, who had survived a crash landing. They did not speak — neither knew the other’s language — but Mr. Farnes’s attempt to shake hands with the enemy was rebuffed.
During one of his earlier shoot-downs, Mr. Farnes recalled, he had watched as the pilot bailed out of his aircraft and parachuted to the ground.
“I waved to him and I got a wave back,” he said.
Mr. Farnes, who qualified as an ace after destroying five enemy aircraft, received the Distinguished Flying Medal in late October 1940 and was the only member of “The Few” to attend an annual commemoration of the Battle of Britain in 2017.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,” he said, reciting from a poem by Laurence Binyon in a village near Kent. “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./At the going down of the sun and in the morning,/We will remember them.”
Paul Caswell Powe Farnes was born on July 16, 1918, in Boscombe, England. His father was a married Australian soldier with three children; his mother died shortly after childbirth.
His father did not want to raise him, but the midwife who delivered him had taken a liking to him and adopted him. “I couldn’t have had a more wonderful mother,” he said when he was interviewed for an oral history about the Kenley base in 2017. “I was very lucky.”
An indifferent student who attended a technical college, Mr. Farnes was working in a factory in London in 1938 when the prospect of war led him one day to a Royal Navy recruitment ship. Soon after, as he recalled, a friend of a friend suggested to him that flying might be more fun than serving on a ship and recommended that he join the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve.
But Mr. Farnes was worried that the circumstances of his birth would be an obstacle to joining the reserve. His adoptive mother wrote a letter on his behalf to the British Air Ministry voicing his concern; she was told that if he passed all the tests, he would be welcomed.
He was. After the war began in September 1939, Mr. Farnes went on active duty with the R.A.F., posted first at a base in Filton, near Bristol, and then in France in early 1940.
He was commissioned an officer after the Battle of Britain, became an instructor and served in Malta, North Africa and Iraq. He also commanded two squadrons in Britain.
After retiring from the R.A.F. in 1958, he worked for his father-in-law in a building-material supply business and helped run a hotel, both in the seaside town of Worthing, on the English Channel.
His survivors include a daughter, Linda Martin, and a son, Jonathan. His two wives died before him, as did a second son, Nicholas
Aerial warfare against the Germans meant breaking away from the squadron, finding something to shoot at, firing away, then breaking away to safety. But by Mr. Farnes’s account it was also enjoyable, because he was able to combine his love of flying with the mission to protect Britain.
“The C.O. would quite often pick the next members of the squadron that had to be at ‘readiness,’ and the two or three who weren’t picked would be pretty fed up,” he told History of War. “If you weren’t picked, you’d think, ‘Why can’t I go?’ I’m sure one or two must have felt, ‘Well, thank God I’m not going!’ But a lot of us were quite happy to go.”