Although the Battle of Britain has an esteemed place in British military history – think of the few and the many, spits and hurricanes, Douglas Bader and all – of all the young airmen engaged in that desparate struggle, only one was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. Not only that, but he was the only RAF fighter pilot to win the VC during the second world war.
Flight Lieutenant Eric Nicolson, 23, was flying a Hurricane with 249 Squadron in August 1940, over Southampton.
Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs. Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.
Not until the second fighter had been destroyed did Nicolson bail out. On landing he was approached by a Home Guard unit, who proceeded to shoot at him.
Later in the war Nicolson fought in India, rising to the rank of Wing Commander. He died in 1945 when the B-24 Liberator he was flying in caught fire and crashed in the Bay of Bengal. His body was not recovered. His VC can be seen at the RAF Museum, Hendon.