POVERTY is forcing the sale of war-time flying gear used by North Yorkshire Battle of Britain ace James “Ginger” Lacey, the pilot who chased and shot down a German bomber which attacked Buckingham Palace.
The items were given to Wetherby-born Lacey’s last flying pupil, Chris Lodder, by Lacey’s wife following the fighter pilot’s death in 1989, aged 72.
His financial circumstances are now forcing him to sell the items, which include a leather flying helmet issued In 1941, oxygen mask and goggles which were dented when the pilot bailed out.
Mr Lodder, whom Lacey taught to fly when he was an instructor at Bridlington in the 1980s, said he felt bad about having to sell the items but had the support of Lacey’s daughter Min.
“I had a heart attack a couple of years back and I’m only working part-time so it’s a case of being stuffed for money,” he said. “I had a word with Min about it because obviously I feel really bad about it but she said, ‘what would the old man have said? ‘Christ, it’s only a bl**dy hat – get rid’.”
Lacey, who was educated at King James’ Grammar School in Knaresborough, ended the war with a tally of 28 destroyed enemy aircraft to his credit. Eighteen of these were gained when Lacey was flying a Hurricane in the Battle of Britain, making him the second highest Battle of Britain ace.
His exploits with 501 Squadron sounded like the stuff of fiction but his best known “kill” occurred in September 1940 when he chased and shot down a German Heinkel He 111 bomber that attacked Buckingham Palace.
“That was the one that really mattered to him,” said Mr Lodder. “He took off in fog to go after the guy. They said ‘you can’t go up’ and he said ‘I’m bl**dy going’. He got him but the guy in the back of the bomber shot off his radiators.
So he’d smashed both aircraft really and had to bail out. He said ‘give that gunner his due – it was a hell of a shot. The floor just opened up under my feet and I could see daylight.’
“He’d lost his radiators and just carried on flying until his engine seized up.”
Min Lacey said her father would have approved of the sale.
The auction takes place today at Arthur Johnson & Sons in Nottingham and starts at 10am.