Wing Commander Tim Elkington’s path led from the suburbs of Birmingham to the white vapour and arcing cannon fire of the Battle of Britain.
The Royal Air Force pilot had quickly proved a formidable defender of the realm, registering his first kill, a Messerschmitt Bf 109, at the age of just 19.
Commissioned into RAF No1 Squadron just a month previously, his next encounter with the Luftwaffe would come 24 hours later and be on a far grander scale.
The Hurricane pilot was among British airmen who intercepted a major force of German fighters along the coast near the Solent in August 1940.
His mother, Isabel, was among the thousands of civilians watching the dogfights from the ground
Staring upwards through binoculars from her balcony on Hayling Island, near Portsmouth, she watched as her son was shot down by Luftwaffe ace Helmut Wick in one of the best-known fighter-to-fighter encounters of the Battle of Britain, when ‘The Few’ faced overwhelming odds.
Despite coming off worst, the RAF pilot-officer felt no bitterness towards his adversary.
Tim’s son, John, said: “Tim always said he felt rather less bad about being shot down by such a skilled enemy. As it was, Helmut Wick would himself be shot down and drown in the Channel some time later.”
John Francis Durham Elkington, known as ‘Tim’, was born in Edgbaston on December 23, 1920.
He went to primary school in Hockley Heath, Packwood Haugh Prep School in Shropshire and Bedford School. While there were ties to Birmingham’s esteemed Elkington silver family, the schoolboy’s upbringing far from guaranteed him a place in the RAF’s officer class.
Isabel made dresses to make ends meet but her fortunes took an upturn in later years, particularly when she married her second husband, Dr Carey Coaker.
Enrolling as a flight cadet at the age of 18, the new recruit would look to the RAF as a second family in the face of his upheaval at home. He painted a picture of Eugene the Jeep, a mysterious Popeye character who can see the future, on the nose of his Hurricane for good luck.
If it was meant to ward off the Luftwaffe’s deadly intentions, it worked.
On the day he was shot down, Elkington was a ‘top weaver’ flying above his No1 Squadron comrades as a lookout before they engaged the force including Stuka dive-bombers and 100 Bf109s closing in on their target, an RAF base at Tangmere, near Chester.
Watching through binoculars on a sunny afternoon, Elkington’s mother trained her eyes on his Hurricane and its distinctive nose art as it was hit by cannon fire from Major Helmut Wick’s Bf 190. The prone fighter plane burst into flames, with the RAF pilot having to make two attempts to bale out over Portsmouth.
“He was quite an experienced chap, so I’m not too put out,” Elkington would say later.
Ever stoical, he would also remark on the fine view he had of Portsmouth before losing consciousness on the 10,000ft descent.
The miraculous escape was completed by Elkington’s flight leader and mentor, Sergeant-Pilot Fred Perry, using the slipstream of his aircraft to blow the parachutist onto land and away from the certain fate of a water death in the Channel.
Undeterred, Elkington dusted himself off and went back to score two more kills, outliving both the average Battle of Britain fighter pilot’s survival time of 87 hours and the war itself.
Other war time roles included training assignments that took him to Russia in September 1941 as part of RAF 151 Wing, where he again took on the Luftwaffe, helping to destroy a Ju 88.
Fortune favoured the brave once more back in England when Elkington survived hitting a 440,000-volt power cable across the Tyne, which caused a blackout in nearby towns.
Elkington’s remaining war service included flying Typhoon ground attack fighters with No1 Squadron, serving during the Battle of the Atlantic and postings in India, during which he rose through the ranks. Yet another scrape came when he was forced to crash land in 1945.
With his Mustang’s engine having failed after take-off, Elkington had to escape the fume-filled cockpit by breaking the canopy. Retiring in 1975 with the rank of wing commander, he would go on to receive the Ushakov Medal from the Russian ambassador in London.
In 2016, he joined other remaining Battle of Britain veterans for a tea at Clarence House, hosted by the Prince of Wales, patron of an association for pilots who served in the pivotal conflict.
Only three members of the association remain, with the wider number thought to be no more than ‘a handful’.
Elkington’s others honours include being part of the British defence on the day he was shot down, an encounter in which the RAF lost eight pilots and gained a Victoria Cross.
Chief among the veteran’s prized possessions was a speed dial from his yellow-nosed Hurricane, which was found near West Wittering beach in the year he retired.
After the war, he married Patricia Adamson and they would have four children who, along with John, also included Caroline, Gray and Tessa. After a spell living in Cyprus, Elkington was posted to RAF Little Rissington, near Cheltenham, settling his family in the local village where, on retirement, he set up a picture-framing business.
The wing commander, who still had shrapnel scars on his legs from the duel with Major Wicks, was reunited with his airborne past for a Spitfire flight just before his 91st birthday.
One of the last members of ‘The Few’ died after a fall on February 1, 2019, aged 98.
A memorial service is planned for May, when the couple would have marked their 71st wedding anniversary, with the RAF’s Chaplain-in-Chief having offered his services.
“After his service in the Battle of Britain, Tim would fly across many different parts of the world, before settling in the Cotswolds with his beloved wife Pat in 1959,” John said.
“But Birmingham was where his extraordinary story began.”