Remarkable War Hero Related to British Airways and Sherlock Holmes

The Second World War fighter ace Wing Commander Alan Geoffrey Page DSO, OBE, DFC and Bar is without doubt a remarkable man.

After being shot down during the Battle of Britain in 1940 he became the founding member of the infamous Guinea Pig Club, made up of severely burnt servicemen who benefited from pioneering reconstructive surgery during the Second World War.

He was also the nephew of Frederick Handley Page, the aviation pioneer whose company Handley Page Transport established a scheduled passenger service from Radlett Aerodrome to Paris in 1919. The company merged with four others in 1929 to establish Imperial Airways, which subsequently evolved into today’s British Airways.

In 1946, Page married Pauline Bruce, the daughter of the British actor Nigel Bruce, who co-starred with Basil Rathbone in numerous Sherlock Holmes films as well as the classic 1938 film Dawn Patrol with Errol Flynn and David Niven. The Hollywood legend, actor C. Aubrey Smith, was Page’s best man at the wedding.

During 1940 Page was posted to 56 Squadron of the RAF as a Hurricane pilot. He was shot down during the Battle of Britain on 12 August 1940, while attacking a formation of Dornier Do 17 bombers.

During the attack the fuel tank in front of Page was hit and it sprayed burning aircraft fuel into the cockpit. He received horrific burns to most of his front side, in particular his hands and face. Despite his appalling injuries he managed to bale out and was later picked up from the English Channel.

He received treatment at the Burns Unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, West Sussex, from the noted plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe. It was during his recuperation in hospital that Page established the Guinea Pig Club, with other badly burnt servicemen. Sir Archibald was elected the club’s life president, while Page was the first to take the role of chairman.

Despite his injuries, and fifteen operations, Page was determined to return to active service. Astonishingly, by 1942 he had regained full operational status with the RAF.

On 29 June 1943 Page, along with Wing Commander James MacLachlan, who had lost an arm two years earlier, brought down six enemy aircraft in just ten minutes, while flying south of Paris. Sadly, MacLachlan was killed in action the following month.

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