Thirty-five Australians flew combat operations in the Battle of Britain during the summer and autumn of 1940. The RAF suffered heavily throughout the campaign, losing more than 500 fighter pilots, of whom at least 10 were Australian.
One such airman was Paterson Clarence Hughes. Born in 1917 at Numeralla, New South Wales, Hughes joined the Royal Australian Air Force at Point Cook in 1936. The following year he sailed for England to take a short service commission in the Royal Air Force.
With the outbreak of war against Nazi Germany in 1939, Hughes became a flight commander at the reformed 234 Squadron which flew a mixture of Blenheims, Battles and Gauntlets until March 1940, when it began receiving Spitfires.
In this legendary aircraft, Hughes proved himself to be a tough, uncompromising and determined fighter pilot, quickly chalking up sufficient victories to be considered a flying ‘ace’.
Hughes used aggressive and dangerous ‘close-in’ tactics which involved getting as near as possible to enemy aircraft before firing. On 7 September, as his squadron dived on a large force of German aircraft, it probably proved fatal for the brave young pilot. As Hughes flew close to a Dornier 17, his Spitfire is thought to have been struck by a large piece of debris from the exploding bomber.
With a tally of at least 14 confirmed, 1 probable, 3 shared and 1 unconfirmed attributed to his total, Hughes was the highest-scoring Australian fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. For gallantry in flying operations against the enemy, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 22 October.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill immortalised the extraordinary accomplishments of skilful and courageous pilots like Pat Hughes in one of his most famous wartime speeches: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
The Perth Mint is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a superb release struck from 1oz of 99.9% pure silver. The coin’s reverse portrays representations of another iconic British fighter plane, the Hawker Hurricane.
While the Hurricane was considered less glamorous than the legendary Spitfire, more Hurricanes flew during the period of the Battle than all other British fighters combined, accounting for the highest number of RAF victories. The coin’s reverse shows two Hurricane fighters in cloud above southern England.
Issued as Australian legal tender, no more than 5,000 of these coins will be released, each housed in a display case and illustrated shipper accompanied by a numbered Certificate of Authenticity.