Geoffrey Page was born on 16th May, 1920. The nephew of Frederick Handley Page, Page was educated at Dean Close, Cheltenham, and Imperial College, where he studied aeronautical engineering.
Page joined the Royal Air Force two weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War. After training at Cranwell he flew a Hawker Hurricane during the Battle of Britain. He was shot down on 12th August, 1940, and received serious burns to his face and hands.
Page was sent to the Queen Victoria Burns Unit in East Grinstead, and after fifteen operations carried out by the plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, he returned to active service in 1942. He flew a Supermarine Spitfire before switching to the Mustang fighter.
In 1943 Page won the DFC and a second when his tally of enemy aircraft shot down reached ten. Promoted to squadron leader, Page was commander of 122 squadron until being shot in the leg during a flying operation.
Page returned to duty in 1944 and provided air cover for the D-Day landings and the assault at Arnhem. Soon after reaching his target of fifteen enemy planes shot down (one for every operation at the Queen Victoria Burns Unit) Page crash-landed and fractured his back.
After leaving the Royal Air Force Page became a founder member and first chairman of the Guinea Pig Club, an organization of men who had been the patients of Archibald McIndoe during the Second World War.
Page published his autobiography, Tale of a Guinea Pig: The Exploits of a World War II Fighter Pilot, in 1981. In later years Page worked for a variety of international aviation organizations. Geoffrey Page died on 3rd August, 2000.
Although the Spitfire and the Hurricane were basically alike, inasmuch as they were low-wing, single-seater monoplanes, powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines; to the fighter pilot's eye, the similarity ended there. Whereas the Spitfire had all the speed and grace of the greyhound in its sleek appearance, the Hurricane portrayed the excellent qualities of the bulldog, being slower but much more solidly built than the other. To the Spitfire pilot there will be only one machine, and similarly to the man who flew the Hurricane.
Slowly we overhauled the Domier bombers. Momentarily reassured that nothing lethal was sitting behind my aircraft, I settled down to the task of firing at one of the leading machines. Then the enemy rear gunners started firing. The mass of fire from the bomber formation closed in as I fired desperately in a race to destroy before being destroyed. The first bang came as a shock. For an instant I couldn't believe I'd been hit. Two more bangs followed in quick succession, and as if by magic a gapping hole suddenly appeared in my starboard wing. Surprise quickly changed to fear, and as the instinct of self-preservation began to take over, the gas tank behind the engine blew up, and my cockpit became an inferno.
Fear became blind terror, than agonized horror as the bare skin of my hands gripping the throttle and control column shrivelled up like burnt parchment under the intensity of the blast furnace temperature. Screaming at the top of my voice, I threw my intensity of the blast furnace temperature. Screaming at the top of my voice, I threw my head back to keep it away from the searing flames. Instinctively the tortured right hand groped for the release pin. Fresh air suddenly flowed across my burning face. I tumbled. Sky, sea, sky, over and over as a clearing brain issued instructions to outflung limbs.
Realizing that pain or no pain, the ripcord had to be pulled, the brain overcame the reaction of the raw nerve endings and forced the mutilated fingers to grasp the ring and pull firmly. It acted immediately. With a jerk the silken canopy billowed out in the clear summer sky. Quickly I looked up to see if the dreaded flames had done their work, and it was with relief that I saw the shining material was unburned.
One of the prettiest girls I'd seen in my life came into the room to help with the dressings. She was unable to hide the expression of horror and loathing that registered on her lovely face at the sight of my scorched flesh. Following her hypnotized stare, I looked down watery-eyed at my arms. From the elbows to the wrists the bare forearms were one seething mass of pus-filled boils resulting from the disturbed condition of the blood. From the wrist joints to the finger tips they were blacker than any Negro's hands.
Richard Hillary paused at the end of the bed and stood silently watching me. He was one of the queerest apparitions I had ever seen. The tall figure was clad in a long, loose-fitting dressing gown that trailed to the floor. The head was thrown right back so that the owner appeared to be looking along the line of his nose. Where normally two eyes would be, were two large bloody red circles of raw skin. Horizontal slits in each showed that behind still lay the eyes. A pair of hands wrapped in large lint covers lay folded across his chest. Cigarette smoke curled up from the long holder clenched between the ghoul's teeth. There was a voice behind the mask. It was condescending in tone. "Bloody fool should have worn gloves." Hillary's hands were equally badly burned and for the same reason - no gloves.
I suppose in physical appearance one would have described Archie McIndoe as being on the short side of medium height, with broad shoulders and a solid body. His hair was parted in the middle and brushed back above a broad open face that was difficult to imagine without glasses. His walk which was was usually rapid had the slight rolling gait of a sailor. His humorous, twinkling eyes and enormous workmanlike hands were perhaps the most striking features of this unique man. Unique inasmuch that apart from indefatigable skill as a surgeon, he had an insight into human nature and a willingness to help that is rare.
At our new airfield at Ford on the south coast of England, the pilots were allowed no respite. Dive-bombing training now took a more practical shape, and every day a load of bombs was dropped on targets in France. These usually took the form of Hitler's secret V.I launching sites hidden away in various corners of the French countryside. The objectives consisted of two or three small concrete buildings no larger than cottages, and a hundred-yard-long launching ramp.
My concentration relaxed for a moment as my gaze took in the roughness of the sea. It needed little imagination to conjure up a miserable picture of the thousands of troops cooped up in their landing barges, many of them prey to sea sickness despite their wonderful pills. The greyness receded from the early morning, and soon I was able to pick out the shape of the Cherbourg Peninsular ahead on the starboard. My keen sight soon spotted the low formation lying inland and covering the beach area.
Almost immediately afterwards I saw a sight that brought a flood of feeling into mind and body, both of which had felt little emotion, except resentment for so long.
Hundreds of ships of all sizes and shapes, from the vast battleships to small barges, littered the surface of the sea. Some were still completing their rough passage across the Channel, others lay at anchor while the big grey men-o-war belched forth sixteen inch shells from their gun turrets in the direction of the French countryside; two Seafire fighters buzzed above the battleships like flies around a cart horse, spotting the accuracy of the gunners below and supplying them with corrections.
Sleek destroyers guarded the flanks of the shipping armada, while overhead patrolled the ever-watchful fighter cover. Minesweepers plied their steady patrol back and forth, and an occasional column of water rose to prove the value of their efforts.
Superimposed on this fantastic picture were the ghostly outlines, in my mind, of the pathetic little fleet that I had watched standing off the beaches of Dunkirk. The pendulum had gone full swing. A feeling of savage delight passed through me.
Including ground-strafing, dive bombing and air-to-air fights, I had probably by now killed several hundred people, but from the air it was completely impersonal, and made no mental impact. This man was different.
I was out alone on another "cannon test", which was the usual thinly veiled excuse to look for trouble. None of the aircraft in the air had the slightest smell of the Luftwaffe, so I confined my searchings to objects on the ground many miles behind the enemy front. Suddenly I saw him!
His motorbike had caused a small cloud of dust to arise, giving away his position. Like a Kestrel hawk pouncing, I wheeled my Spitfire and streaked towards the ground.
By now my man had stopped on the corner of a hairpin bend, and as the range closed rapidly, I guessed he was studying a map. His military camouflaged bike and his grey-green uniform spelt him out as a dispatch rider, and therefore a legitimate military target. As I placed the orange reflected dot of my gunsight on the centre of his body, he looked up straight at me, and knew the moment of truth had arrived.
As I stabbed the gun button he threw up his left arm as if to shield his face from the impact. I cursed him with all my soul for making such a simple pathetic human gesture, and loathed myself as I saw a man and bike disappear in a torrent of bullets.
I returned straight to base, and found it difficult to talk to anyone for several days.
I can still see his face and the raised arm.