Amongst a lot of great names to come out of Hull over the centuries it would seem that most of them are well celebrated if not captured for a lifetime in various works of art such as paintings, sculptures and statues.
We have a list of renowned poets in the form of Andrew Marveland Philip Larkin; entertainers and actors such as John Alderton, Ian Carmichael OBE and Maureen Lipman. Then we have J. Arthur Rank of the global Rank Organisation, James Reckitt, William Wilberforce even John Hall, a former prime minister of New Zealand.
If the likes of Hull film star, Tom Courtney played the leading role of a dashing World War 2 Spitfire pilot and Battle of Britain fighter ace, we would be holding him in the highest esteem and saying it was the greatest hero film ever made just because he was from Hull.
Well, we don't have to imagine. We already have a real Spitfire Ace and Battle of Britain hero in our recent history. His name is Ronald Berry.
Ronald Berry was born in Hull on May 3 1917 and attended Hull Technical School before going on to work for the Hull City Treasurer's department. His love was flying and he used his spare time learning to fly with the RAF Volunteer Reserve at Brough.
After the outbreak of war he immediately joined up as a volunteer reserve sergeant pilot which found his first posting, in November 1939, to 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, based at Turnhouse in Scotland.
Ronald Berry or Ras, as he became known throughout the RAF, was to become Hull's very own Spitfire Ace in various theatres of war including frontline operations through the Battle of Britain and Operation Torch in North Africa.
In 1940 Berry, still only 23, was with No. 603 Squadron, equipped with Spitfires, when it was ordered south as losses in the Battle of Britain had mounted and became stationed at Hornchurch.
On August 31st he was on the second scramble of the morning, and found himself 'in the thick of a mass of wheeling, milling Me 109s', which were protecting a flight of Heinkel and Dornier bombers on their way to London.
'The squadron split up and in seconds, I was in a dogfight with a 109. The turn got tighter.
The question was, which of us would straighten up first; would the 109 roll over and disappear or stay long enough for me to get a bead on him?
He left it too late. I got in a long burst, then another, and he burst into flames . . . Another 109 crossed below and in front. I rolled over and followed him. He never saw me.
'I gave him a long burst as I closed rapidly on his tail. There was a long trail of smoke and flame and he went straight into the ground.'
Ras was scrambled again late into the afternoon, and spotted 'a large swarm of fighters around a straggling clutter of bombers and the tell tale flashes on the ground where their bombs exploding'.
'Mad after seeing those bombs fall,' Berry chased an Me 109 heading east and shot it down on to mudflats at Shoeburyness, Essex. Circling, he saw the pilot standing beside his wrecked aircraft and shaking his fist. This, Berry noted afterwards, was 'a satisfactory ending to an eventful day'. For this action he was awarded the DFC and as a fearless and calculating Spitfire pilot at the height of the Battle of Britain shot down three Messerschmitts in one day.
Flying with this gritty, tightly knit Air Force unit, made up mostly of peacetime weekend flyers, Berry began to hone his skills in some of the Second World War's earliest fighter actions. He was soon commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
Shortly after the action for which he won the DFC, Berry was given weekend leave to marry in Hull on Saturday and honeymoon in London during Sunday air raids before resuming operations at Hornchurch on Monday.
Towards the end of the year, he had the unexpected experience of encountering the Italian Air Force on one of its rare and costly excursions over Britain and shooting down a Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter off Dover. He recalls the pilot being as determined and resolute as he was, not giving the fight up as easily as one might expect.
Following the Battle of Britain, and to some degree reluctantly, Berry was rested as fighter controller back on his previous station at Turnhouse.
In 1941 he was promoted to Squadron Leader and at Hornchurch took command of No. 81 Squadron, whose pilots had returned from Murmansk after leaving their Hurricanes as a gift for the Russians whom they had been training. The squadron was re-equipped with Spitfires and carried out offensive sweeps across the Channel.
From November, 81 Squadron covered the Operation Torch landings in north-west Africa. Based at Maison Blanche, Algiers, it supported the subsequent campaign. Berry then took over No. 322 Wing comprising No.'s 81, 152, 154, 232 and 242 Spitfire squadrons.
Some of these squadrons comprised American pilots and Ras had the job of putting them through their paces and bringing them up to battle speed by leading them on daring reconnaissance sorties to familiarize them with Britain's ultimate air warrior the Mk1X Spitfire.
By the close of the Tunisian campaign in May 1943, he had accumulated a score of 14 enemy aircraft destroyed, 10 shared, nine probables, 17 damaged and seven destroyed on the ground, although inconclusive data and statistics would indicate that Ras had a much greater tally. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC, and then a DSO.
Berry concluded his wartime service as Wing Commander, flying at a Spitfire operational training unit.
He was recognised as one of the leading fighter pilots of his day. After the war, he formed the Central Fighter Establishment at Tangmere, commanded RAF Acklington and served at No. 12 Group as Wing Commander Operations.
In 1947, Berry took command of the Air Fighting Development Unit at West Raynham. In the early 1950s, he was posted on an exchange to the United States Air Force with which he flew many types at the air proving ground. He returned as Wing Commander Plans at Fighter Command and in 1954 attended the Joint Services Staff College.
When the former fighter leader, Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst was appointed to lead Bomber Command, he sent Berry to command No. 543, one of the new Valiant Nuclear Deterrent squadrons. Along with other former Fighter Command stars, Berry spearheaded Broadhurst's effort to give, as he noted, 'a jerk to Bomber Command by bringing in a few fighter people like myself'.
In 1959 Berry was appointed Director of Operations Navigation and Air Traffic Control at the Air Ministry. In 1965, Berry was one of 13 serving group captains and one air commodore who had fought in the Battle of Britain, chosen to march at the head of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral procession as a representative of 'The few'.
Reclaimed in this period by Bomber Command he briefly commanded RAF Lindholme and had a spell at the Board of Trade until he retired in 1969 to live quietly - his wife having developed multiple sclerosis - at Hornsea on the east Yorkshire coast.
Berry was appointed OBE in 1946 and CBE in 1965. He married, in 1940, Nancy Watson; they had a daughter.
Ronald Berry, the unassuming town clerk from Hull died in 2000 at the age of 83.
Wing Commander Ras Berry's Spitfire MK1X, used during operation Torch is now a lasting memorial and public exhibit.
The National War Museum Association collected the wreckage in 1974 for reconstruction and display within the new War Museum at Valletta, Malta. This did not materialise and late in 1992, the Malta Historic Aircraft Preservation Group undertook its reconstruction with sponsorship from Mid-Med Bank Ltd, the Museums Dept. and the National War Museum Association.
With locally made parts and others from recovered underwater wrecks, together with help from the UK, the project was completed to static display standards in time for the 50th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, when it was prominently put on display for the occasion on the Palace Square in Valletta. It now has pride of place in the aviation museum, painted in desert camouflage and coded RB as flown by Wing Commander Berry in North Africa in 1943.
For the full amazing story of Hull's very own hero, read Ronald Berry, Hull's Spitfire Ace by Don Chester. ISBN 9781848841956
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