Six-year-old Jacob 'the pilot' to embark on Belgian charity trek to honour Second World War hero Al Deere

His is a story of bravery and determination that could come straight from the plot of a movie - and it has inspired a six-year-old “plane mad” boy in his latest fundraising endeavour.

Friday, 28th August 2020, 10:52 am
Updated Friday, 28th August 2020, 10:56 am
Jacob Newson will follow in the footsteps of Battle of Britain pilot Alan "Al" Deere who was shot down over Belgium in May 1940. Picture James Hardisty.

May 1940. Crash-landed on a Belgian beach after his Spitfire was damaged engaging in fire with a German bomber, RAF Pilot Officer Alan Deere, complete with head injury, battled to make his way back to his squadron - travelling by foot, “borrowed” bicycle and hitching in a lift in an Army truck, to Dunkirk, where he returned to his Hornchurch base with evacuating British soldiers a mere 17 hours after being shot down.

By the end of the Dunkirk evacuation, New Zealand-born Deere had claimed seven enemy aircraft and went on to have a distinguished RAF career, which included time spent at RAF Catterick, retiring from the force after 30 years and achieving the rank of Air Commodore.

Now, Jacob Newson, along with his dad Andrew, will re-trace Deere’s escape, walking from the Belgian beach where Deere’s Spitfire is thought to remain buried, 25km to Dunkirk over two days.

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Jacob Newson will follow in the footsteps of Battle of Britain pilot Alan "Al" Deere who was shot down over Belgium in May 1940. Picture James Hardisty.

Jacob, who has been “obsessed” with flying since he was a toddler, will wear an RAF flying suit for the challenge, and during the trek will visit the chapel where Deere received first aid from a Belgian soldier.

His father, Andrew Newson, himself an armed forces veteran who served in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, said: “The plan is to camp out on the beach on the French-Belgian border and end up at the point where Deere was rescued at Dunkirk. Jacob has been doing lots of walking and cycling to prepare, and is really looking forward to it.”

Jacob has already raised more than £15,000 for the RAF Benevolent Fund - taking the total he has raised for the charity so far beyond £21,000.

Last year, aged five, he climbed Pen-y-Ghent to raise money for the Fund, which provides financial and emotional support to injured pilots and their families.

Mr Newson, 52, said: “Last year, after the challenge, Jacob was invited by the RAF to visit several bases, including RAF Valley in Wales where we stayed in the Officer’s Mess and were shown around a Hawk Fighter Jet, and RAF Coningsby, where he flew in a £150m Typhoon simulator.

“We also met the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Commander, and visited RAF Cranwell where Jacob saw some of the historical sites where Battle of Britain fighters were trained.

“We felt like we wanted to say thank you again - and as the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations took place in May, it seemed fitting.”

The challenge was originally due to take place in May on the exact anniversary of Deere’s crash, and then postponed until next week, but due to quarantine restrictions now in place, will take place in October.

“For Jacob, it has always been about planes - not so much civilian planes but military aircraft. He wants to be in the Air Force when he is older and spends about 90 per cent of his time flying his toy planes around the house. He watches documentaries and clips from air shows and is just fascinated by it all.

“Co-incidentally his birthday is October 31 - the date the Battle of Britain actually ended.”

Jacob’s fundraising story has attracted attention from Deere’s home country, with a spot on national news in New Zealand. To donate to the RAF Benevolent Fund in recognition of Jacob’s trek, visit with distinction

New Zealander Alan ‘Al’ Deere became one of the most famous fighter pilots of the Second World War, rising to the rank of Air Commodore, and awarded some of the highest honours available to him - including the OBE and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), presented by King George VI in June 1940.

During the Second World War, he was personally responsible for taking down 11 enemy aircraft, and was commended for his “conspicuous bravery and determination” when receiving the bar to the DFC in September 1940.

After the Battle of Britain, his squadron, No.54 Squadron, moved from its previous base in Hornchurch to RAF Catterick, where Deere remained as an instructor, and later, operations room controller. In 1941 he returned to flying Spitfires, based in Ayr, Scotland, but later returned to Yorkshire.

Deere led his fellow Battle of Britain pilots during Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965, and after his death in 1995, his ashes were scattered from a Spitfire flying above the River Thames.