WHILE today’s teenagers might be crouched over their gaming consoles engaged in fantasy battles against surreal foes, for Geoffrey Painting in 1942 the danger was all too real.  

At only 17 years old, he was flying a Spitfire high in the sky in deadly aerial combat with the Luftwaffe.

Fresh faced and slim, he became known as the “Baby of the RAF”.

But tragically two days short of his 18th birthday, the young hero who had lied about his age to enlist was shot down by flak during an attack on enemy shipping  off Cherbourg.

 His plane plunged into the sea and his body was never recovered. So did Sgt Geoffrey Arthur Painting, both of whose parents were from Worcester, become the youngest Royal Air Force pilot to die during WW2.

His remarkable bravery and service to his country is told in the latest book - his 50th incidentally – by local war historian Dilip Sarkar.

Called Spitfire Down (Pen and Sword £17.50), it covers the stories of 13 pilots who failed to return.

 Dilip always comes up with a good narrative and he reconstructs Painting’s short life with the assistance of his family and forensically deconstructs his final fight with the help of the now late Wing Commander Peter Howard-Williams, who was flying with the teenage pilot that fateful day.

“In both Spitfire and wartime RAF history, Geoffrey Painting occupies a unique place,” said Dilip  “His parents Albert and Eva were originally from Worcester; Albert’s family lived in the Bath Road area, while Eva’s parents lived in Hanbury Park in St John’s.

 “Albert was an elementary school teacher and gained the position of head master at Westcourt Junior School in Silver Road, Gravesend, which meant a move there. 

Geoffrey was born in Gravesend and attended Gravesend County School, where he passed the General Schools and London Matriculation examination aged just 15.

“A school prefect, at the outbreak of war he was evacuated to Beccles in Suffolk. Returning to Gravesend, Geoffrey joined the cadet section of the

Local Defence Volunteers – better-known as the Home Guard – doing his bit to mount guard at the local General Post Office and waterworks.

 “His father, who had been decorated with the Military Cross during the First World War, remembered his son was always keen to get into the Army, but when war broke out, like many of his school’s old boys, he joined the RAF. Giving his age as eighteen and a half. Albert said: ‘We did not want him to go, but he was too set on it for us to stop him'."

 Geoffrey soon made his mark and went through his training with flying colours.

A report said: “He took the keenest interest in his training and passed from the Service Flying School with ‘above average’ on nearly every subject.” Dilip observed: “Without doubt, especially considering his young age, Geoffrey Painting was an exceptional young man of great potential.”

 However he had only a handful of missions under his belt when he was sent to take part in an attack on two German flak ships off the French coast to the north of Cherbourg.

 The report of the incident by 118 Squadron’s commanding officer Squadron Leader Frank Howell said that “during the attack, Sergeant Painting’s aircraft was seen to break away very sharply, turn over, and dive into the sea.

A Section from 501 Squadron were detailed to look for a survivor, but it has been agreed by all who witnessed the accident that Sergeant Painting must have lost his life.”

 The news soon got out, with the Daily Mirror headlining its story “Baby of the RAF is Missing”.

Adding: “Two days before his 18th birthday, the parents of the youngest pilot in the RAF have been told that he is missing, believed dead.

Mr Painting said that his son, who was ‘exceedingly happy in his work, had told us he would be home on leave for his birthday, but it was not to be’.”

After the war Sergeant Painting’s name was inscribed on the Air Force Memorial at Runnymede with his father’s final words to the Daily Mirror providing a fitting epitaph: “‘He was a fine lad. We are so proud of him.”

 *Spitfire Down by Dilip Sarkar and his next book Forgotten Heroes of the Battle of Britain (published at the end of August) each have an introductory offer price of £17.50 and can be obtained from publisher Pen and Sword Books. Tel 01226 734222.