The story of Brendan “Paddy” Finucane, the Irish Spitfire ace from the Battle of Britain, makes remarkable reading from many standpoints, not only from his prodigious feats and bravery shown as a pilot, but the strange path he walked to arrive there.
He was born in Dublin in 1920 where his father had been active in the 1916 Easter Rising, fighting against British rule in Ireland. In 1940, like his father, Paddy was a patriotic Irishman but believed that the German invasion of Britain would eventually spell doom for Ireland. He therefore had no qualms in joining the British Air Force to combat the rising threat.
Finucane flew Spitfires and became noted for his bravery and skill as a pilot, and during the Battle of Britain he was credited with 28 kills, becoming an “ace” at only 21 years of age.
In 1941 he was posted to 452 Squadron, the first Australian squadron to serve in Fighter Command. During this time he became close friends with fellow pilot Bluey Truscott, a famous athlete back in Victoria who played for the Melbourne Football Club. Around this time Finucane’s Spitfire was decorated with his personal emblem, a green shamrock, in recognition of his Irish heritage, and three of his other Sptifires were similarly decorated over the next 12 months.
Finucane received three major gallantry awards that included the Distinguished Service Order, and the Distinguished Flying Cross with two bars – an astonishing set of decorations for such a young flier.
Such were his skills as a pilot and leader he was promoted to Wing Commander at 21 years of age – the youngest in the history of the Royal Air Force to achieve this rank.
On 15 July 1942 Finucane took off for a mission over France but was hit by ground fire and forced to ditch in the Channel. His Spitfire hit the water with Finucane still in the cockpit and sank without trace. His body was never found. More than 2500 people attended his funeral in Westminster Abbey.
Image: Paddy Finucane (left) shakes hands with his friend “Bluey” Truscott after returning from a successful mission, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.