Richard’s Messerschmitt adventure outside the Embassy

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Tales of heroism and comradeship are common when the older generation relives the war years.

Richard Dawborn may have been far too young to join up in 1941 but he did have one adventure when he was allowed to sit in the cockpit of a German fighter plane.

The aircraft in question was a Messerschmitt and its flying days were long since over.

The plane was brought to Crawley around March 1941 as part of War Weapons Week. It was set up outside the Embassy Cinema – later Bar Med and now long gone to make way for the Morrisons’ development.

Richard was eight when the picture was taken, and his sister Susan, who was nine, is standing in front of the badly damaged plane.

Peaking over the fuselage is a member of the Home Guard. The bit of metal to the right of the Home Guard’s head is actually the wing of another plane, a Junkers Ju 88.

Friends and family of the Dawborns did some digging and believe the Messerschmitt was brought to Crawley from Faygate where a maintenance unit (49 MU) was stationed, which was where crashed aircraft were taken.

On the side of the plane, directly behind young Susan’s head, is a large ‘4’. This was apparently the code number for the individual aeroplane.

Using that information, the Dawborns believe they have tracked down the plane – and the British pilot who shot it down – on the Battle of Britain London Monument website (www.bbm.org.uk).

The airman in question was Peter Chesters, who was born on April 29 1919 and lived in Thorpe Bay, Essex.

In an article penned for the website in 2004, Simon Muggleton described how Chesters, as an excellent sportsman and able to speak and read German, joined the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) in 1939 and was posted to 74 Squadron on September 29 1940, where he flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain.

On October 27, Chesters shot down a Messerschmitt Me109 – believed to be the one pictured – during a dogfight over Kent.

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