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29 October 2014

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Eric Lock in his Spitfire shortly before his death
Eric Lock in his Spitfire

Shropshire's 'Sawn Off' Battle of Britain hero

For all too brief a moment, Flight Lieutenant Eric Lock was a household name - a man who stood out even among The Few. A fighter pilot of great skill and bravery, he was killed before reaching his 22nd birthday.

Shropshire-born Eric Lock might have achieved much in civilian life, but circumstances conspired against him.

Instead he became the RAF's most successful British-born pilot in the Battle of Britain, shooting down 16 German aircraft (with a half share in another one).

His exploits won his a chestful of medals: The Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross, which he won twice.

Only Czech pilot Josef Frantisek shot down more between July and October 1940.

During the battle Lock, known as 'Sawn Off Lockie' to his RAF pals because of his short stature, was wounded several times, yet lost none of his zeal for the fight.

Spitfire at the RAF Museum, Cosford
Spitfire at the RAF Museum, Cosford

But within a year of becoming one of the most famous pilots in the RAF his luck had run out.

Eric Stanley Lock was born in Bayston Hill, near Shrewsbury, in 1920 and went to Prestfelde School.

He was still at school when he had his first taste of flying - a five shilling trip with Sir Alan Cobham's Air Circus - but apparently he wasn't impressed at all.

Instead he joined his father's quarrying and farming business and thought no more about flying until 1939 when he decided that if there was going to be a war, he wanted to be a fighter pilot.

So he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve - a sort of Territorial Army version of the RAF - and was called up on the outbreak of war.


Trained to fly a Spitfire and commissioned as a Pilot Officer, he was posted to No. 41 Squadron at the end of May 1940, based in Catterick, North Yorkshire.

Picture: Australian War Memorial 009730
Shot down German Me 109 in a field (AWM

'Lockie' returned to Shrewsbury in July to marry Peggy Meyers, a former Miss Shrewsbury, and then returned to his squadron after a brief leave.

Flying from Catterick meant long and boring patrols in a quiet area, while the Battle of Britain began in the south of England. The Luftwaffe sent over lone raiders that were difficult for the Spitfire pilots to catch.

At last, on 15th August, 'Lockie' got his first victory when a formation of German aircraft on a bombing raid came into his sights. He picked out a twin-engined Messerschmitt 110 at 20,000 feet and latched onto it, shooting it down into the sea.

On 3rd September the squadron was posted to RAF Hornchurch in Essex.

Flt Lt Eric Lock
Flt Lt Eric Lock

'Lockie' suddenly found himself in the middle of the Battle of Britain and in the thick of Luftwaffe raids on London as the Nazis tried to bring Britain to her knees from the air.

On 5th September, two days after arriving, Lock brought his damaged Spitfire back to base after destroying two Luftwaffe bombers over the Thames Estuary.

A German Messerschmitt 109 fighter had shot up his Spitfire (injuring him in the leg) as he finished off the second bomber.

An ace is born

Despite his wounds, Lock was determined to get revenge on his attacker. With a deft series of moves he shook off the 109, got into firing position and fired two short bursts into him. The German fighter exploded in mid air. He had shot down three German aircraft in just one day.

Mk1 Spitfire at RAF Museum, Cosford
Mk1 Spitfire at RAF Museum, Cosford

Lock's injuries can't have been that bad, because he was back in the air the next day, shooting down a Junkers 88 bomber.

Three days later he shot down another two Messerschmitt 109s, and on the 11th he destroyed another Junkers 88 and a Messerschmitt 110.

He'd destroyed eight aircraft within a week - nine in total - a truly remarkable feat, even during the Battle of Britain, and one that led to the award of his first DFC.

The citation described how the young pilot 'displayed great vigour and determination in pressing home his attacks'.

'Lockie's' extraordinary skill at the controls of a Spitfire ensured he continued to knock down enemy aircraft at a rate of knots, including one he chased right across the channel before shooting it down over Boulogne.

"The citation described how the young pilot 'displayed great vigour and determination in pressing home his attacks'. "

Just three weeks after receiving his first DFC, he was awarded his second, this time - for shooting down 15 aircraft in just 19 days. In the same period he had been slightly wounded once - and had to bale out an amazing three times.

By way of contrast, Fighter Command's highest-scoring 'ace' shot down 38 aircraft in the whole war. 'Lockie' was clearly something special.

This time the citation referred to Lock's 'great courage in the face of heavy odds' and his 'skill and coolness in combat'.

After a brief rest the squadron was back at Hornchurch in October, and once again 'Lockie' picked up where he left off, shooting down another four Messerschmitt 109s - the last over Biggin Hill airfield - and bringing his total to 20 kills.

Shot up

On 8th November Lock's Spitfire was badly shot up by Messerschmitt 109s at Beachy Head and he had to make a forced landing, although he was unhurt.

The victories had dried up for the young Shropshire pilot, but on the 17th he struck again - but at a cost.

On that day his squadron attacked a formation of 70 Messerschmitt 109s, and after shooting down one and setting fire to another, Lockie became the victim.

German bullets and cannonshells smashed into the cockpit, injuring Lockie's right arm and both legs.

A bullet also knocked the Spitfire's throttle wide open - something that may have saved the pilot's life as the aircraft leapt forward hurtled out of the dogfight at more than 400mph, leaving Lockie's attacker standing.


But his troubles weren't over. The bullet that forced open the throttle had also knocked the lever off, so Lock was alone at 20,000 feet, only able to use his left arm and with no way of slowing down the racing engine.

Unable to bale out because of his injuries, he got down to 2,000 feet before cutting his engine and looking for a landing site.

Eric Lock Road, Bayston Hill
Lock's name lives on in Bayston Hill

Force-landing in a field near an RAF base, Lock was so badly wounded that he couldn't get out of the cockpit of his machine.

Instead he waited bleeding and in pain for two hours - until he was found by two soldiers who carried him two miles on an improvised stretcher made of greatcoats and rifles.

Apparently the wounded airman was dropped three times by his stretcher bearers and eventually he passed out.

He woke up in hospital to find he'd been awarded of the DSO. Once again the citation paid tribute to 'his magnificent fighting spirit and personal example'.

Lockie spent the next three months undergoing 15 operations to remove bits of metal from his body, and remained in hospital until the end of May 1941 - except for a trip to Buckingham Palace to receive his decorations.


By now he was something of a star. The media of the day followed the progress of the RAF's fighter pilots the way they follow celebrities today, and Lockie went home to Shrewsbury on leave very much in the public spotlight.

In June 1941 he was fit for duty and promoted to Flying Officer, and soon after promoted again to Flight Lieutenant. The following month he was back in action, commanding a flight of Spitfires with 611 Squadron.

By now the air war had changed. Most of Lock's victories were notched up during the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe made daylight raids into British airspace on a daily basis.

Now the RAF's fighter pilots were engaged in long range massed sweeps over occupied Europe - known as Rhubarbs.

But, despite his injuries, the little fighter pilot had lost none of his courage. In his first few weeks back in battle he'd shot down another four German aircraft, taking his total to 26.

Last flight

Details of Lock's last flight are sketchy, but this much is known:

On 3rd August 1941, Lock was on his way back from a fighter sweep over northern France when he spotted some German soldiers on a road near Calais.

He swooped down to attack and was never seen again. It's most likely he was brought down by ground fire.

But the wreck of his aircraft has never been found, or a body recovered, so Shropshire's Battle of Britain hero has no known grave.

His name is carved on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, along with those of 20,000 British and Commonwealth airmen who vanished without trace in World War II.

  • The Battle of Britain lasted from 10 July to 31 October 1940.

    'The Few' fighter pilots who saw off the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain actually numbered 2,354 British and 574 overseas pilots. Of these 554 were killed during the battle, while another 791 - including Eric Lock - were killed in action afterwards.

  • Eric Lock's name lives on in several places in Shropshire. A road is named after him in Bayston Hill, while the bar at Shropshire Aero Club, based at the old wartime airfield of Sleap, is also named in his honour.

  • Despite the fact that Eric Lock was killed four years before the war ended, he still remains just outside the top ten RAF high scorers of the whole of World War II.

last updated: 14/04/05
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