March, 1973, Canadian Aviation
The closing of a chapter in air force history came in January when the last of the Battle of Britain pilots still serving in the Canadian Armed Forces retired. Colonel Beverley E. Christmas, 53, of St. Hilaire, Quebec, deputy base commander Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt left the service after a 34-year career.
The veteran flyer joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in January, 1939 as a provisional pilot officer. When asked why he joined, Col. Christmas said, “In 1937-38 I was making about $1.00 per day. I saw this ad in the newspaper which indicated the going rate for pilots was $4.50 a day so I applied. I didn’t hear anything for about a year, when I got a call for an interview.” He’s been in the Canadian Armed Forces ever since.
After pilot training in Canada, he arrived in Britain on the eve of the battle, January 1940, with other members of the RCAF’s 1 Fighter Squadron. His Squadron was originally equipped with Hurricanes but later received the famed Spitfires.
“We were the first squadron to receive Spitfire Mark V’s, the hottest aircraft then flying. We thought this was our chance to be real heroes because the Spits were rumoured to be a challenge to fly. Some of the squadron pilots and I were standing around in our flight boots and white scarves waiting for the arrival of the new ‘birds’. When the first two arrived the first ferry pilot to climb out of the cockpit was a one-armed man! So much for our dreams of great challenge and instant heroics,” he said.
During the aerial battle over Britain, Col. Christmas was credited with two aircraft kills, a share in one other and two damaged. He shot down his squadron’s second to last German Messerschmitt 109 before the Battle of Britain was declared over.
In November 1941, he was assigned to the North African campaign and attached to the Royal Air Force and later the South African Air Force. While on operation he was shot down by a ME-109. He parachuted to safety and was later picked up by a desert army unit.
This article originally appeared in the March, 1973 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.