AT one time Group Captain Peter Townsend was quite possibly the most famous man in England. For he was the central figure in a Royal family media frenzy.

Townsend had been a Second World War Battle of Britain flying ace, but it was not for his heroics in the air he became headline news.

Dashingly handsome, he later had the misfortune, as it turned out, to fall in love with Princess Margaret, the younger sister of the Queen. He was also divorced and while today this would be no impediment to marriage – witness Prince Charles and old flame Camilla and Harry and previously married Megan – this was the 1950s and attitudes were decidedly different.

It all ended in tears, with a painful parting and the young lovers going their separate ways. So Peter Townsend disappeared into the shadows of public life, to be forever known as a Royal also-ran.

Which was a shame because he was a much better figure than that, as is shown in the latest Battle of Britain book by Worcester’s prolific military historian Dilip Sarkar.  Researching Letters From The Few, Dilip revisited the correspondence he’d had with the group captain and Townsend’s wartime exploits form an interesting part.

“I got to know Peter Townsend well,” he said. “He was a very kind and courteous man and a great help to me. It was a real privilege to include his story.”

A former West Mercia police officer, Dilip has been fascinated by the Battle of Britain since he was a lad and came to realise that recording and sharing the Few’s memories was of paramount importance.

He said: “Back in the mid-1980s, membership of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association was well populated and the then honorary secretary, the now late Wing Commander Pat Hancock, supported my research by forwarding letters to individual pilots of interest.

“These included a wide-range of personalities, from famous airmen like Group Captain Peter Townsend and Air Marshal Sir Denis Crowley-Milling, an Old Boy of Malvern College incidentally, to the ‘also rans’, as Battle of Britain Hurricane pilot Peter Fox famously described himself and his peers.

“Indeed, it was Peter’s ‘also rans’ that were of the greatest interest to me, because I recognised that while many famous and distinguished pilots had either published personal memoirs or had biographies written about them, lesser-lights had no platform to record and share their experiences. This I became dedicated to resolving.”

For many years, Dilip enjoyed prolific correspondence with the Few. These letters – hundreds of them – now represent a unique primary source, confirming the incredibly close relationship the author enjoyed with his heroes and their appreciation of his work.

As the Few sadly fade away, it is only now the significance of Dilip’s correspondence, industry and archiving are really becoming apparent.

In Letters From The Few he shares for the first time a small selection of his letters with Battle of Britain fighter pilots, providing an insight into the value of this research and the personalities involved.

Dilip added: “In this 80th anniversary year, I wanted to produce two books, one, Battle of Britain 1940: The Finest Hour’s Human Cost, concerning the untold stories of casualties, which was published in June, and this book, covering the survivors’ memories. Re-visiting these letters from old friends, all of whom are now deceased, was a very emotional journey.”