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One of last Battle of Britain survivors dies aged 99

Owen Valentine Burns, who lived in Brentford, was a gunner with the RAF during the Second World War and had an incredible life fighting for his country

Owen Valentine Burns in his RAF uniform in 1940

One of the last surviving Battle of Britain airmen has died aged 99.

Flight Lieutenant Owen Valentine Burns, who lived in Brentford for more than 30 years, fought for the supremacy of the skies as a gunner during the Second World War.

Britain's aerial success helped change the course of the war and Winston Churchill famously declared "never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", lending Battle of Britain heroes their nickname 'the Few'.

Mr Burns was born in Birkenhead on November 20 1915 and after volunteering for the RAF on October 3 1939 served as a wireless operator/air gunner with 235 Squadron, based in Norfolk.

The squadron's Bristol Blenheims were slower than the likes of Spitfires and Hurricanes so were mostly confined to protecting aerodromes and escorting fighters across the Channel on bombing raids.

As a gunner on the mid-upper turret, he had a number of close shaves during the war.

On September 11 1940, he was in one of six Blenheims escorting six Albacores to torpedo the German fleet at Calais, where they met with anti-aircraft fire and were attacked by more than 25 Messerschmitts. Only seven of the 12 British planes made it back.

Owen Valentine Burns meets Prince Charles (Photo by Heathcliff O'Malley)

On February 14 the following year, his Blenheim was caught in an enemy raid on its return from a night patrol over the North Sea. It crashed on landing, as the flare path lighting the airfield had been extinguished.

The plane's observer was killed and the pilot spent a year in hospital, but Mr Burns escaped with a broken collarbone - his middle name perhaps proving auspicious on Valentine's Day.

In January 1945 he was appointed gunnery officer for 19 Group, Plymouth, and a month later became PA to Air Officer Commanding Air Vice Marshal CBS Spackman.

He left the RAF in March 1948 and worked in north-west England for a whisky company before moving to Brentford in 1983 following his retirement. It was there he met his future wife Deborah, also from Birkenhead.

He became involved in Battle of Britain events and, as recently as June 10 this year, attended a tea hosted by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall for members of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association.

In March, he was presented to the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at the opening of The Wing visitor centre at the National Memorial to the Few, in Capel le Ferne, Kent.

He died peacefully in hospital after a short illness on June 30, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday. He is survived by his wife Deborah, his six daughters and his son.

For details about Mr Burns' funeral arrangements, please call Lodge Brothers & Wickenden on 020 8560 7499.

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