George 'Grumpy' Unwin: A life celebrated in Duxford exhibition
'You might shoot somebody, or you might miss them. But two or three minutes and there isn't an aeroplane in the sky anywhere. They've all gone. Bloody remarkable.'
So said Wing Commander George "Grumpy" Unwin, a World War II Battle of Britain fighter pilot whose personal story is featured in a new exhibition about the men and women who lived, worked and fought for their country at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire from 1918 to 1961.
He became one of the most famous of "The Few", as the pilots were named by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
He flew with No. 19 Squadron, and during his time as a pilot was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) and Bar.
The son of a miner, George Unwin was born in 1913 in Bolton-on-Dearne, Yorkshire.
He joined the RAF as a clerk at the age of 16, volunteered to be a pilot in 1935 and flew fighters from Duxford a year later.
Legend has it he was given the nickname "Grumpy" by fighter ace Douglas Bader, who was based at Duxford for a time.
The story goes that Douglas Bader was noisily adjusting his artificial legs late one night when Mr Unwin told him to be quiet.
"Shut up, Grumpy," Bader replied, and the name stuck.
However, another story tells he earned the nickname after repeatedly complaining about not being allocated an aircraft during the Dunkirk crisis.
World War II: The Battle of Britain
- By summer 1940, the Nazis had conquered much of Europe and had Britain in their sights
- During a speech on 18 June, 1940, Winston Churchill announced: "... the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin."
- The Luftwaffe began attacks in mid-July, but met with resilience from the outnumbered RAF
- The air force frustrated Hitler's airmen and, by October 1940, he had abandoned invasion plans
- An estimated 1,023 RAF and 1,887 Luftwaffe aircraft were lost in what became known as the Battle of Britain
Source: BBC History
George Unwin and his Alsatian Flash were a familiar sight around the airfield and appear in many archive photographs.
He said he could be a bit of a rebel at times.
"I personally used to break the law every Friday evening.
"I used to take my fitter and my rigger... down to the local pub and buy them a couple of pints of beer every Friday evening.
"There was no question of lack of discipline, but that was my kind of thanks."
George Unwin flew out of Duxford on many sorties for the Battle of Britain and was credited with 14 enemy aircraft shot down by the end of 1940.
He was awarded the DFM that October with a bar award in December.
At the end of the year Mr Unwin was sent to train as an instructor to the flying school at Cranwell.
After the war he remained in the RAF and flew during the Malaya conflict in 1952 and was awarded the DSO for his efforts.
He retired from the RAF in 1961 as a Wing Commander.
George "Grumpy" Unwin died in June 2006 at the age of 93.
Mr Unwin's medals feature in the Historic Duxford exhibition, and he can be seen on some of the film screens talking about his life at RAF Duxford.
The exhibition, which opened on Thursday, is the first permanent exhibition at Imperial War Museum Duxford since the opening of AirSpace in 2007, which told the story of British aviation.