THE second-youngest pilot to survive the Battle of Britain has died, aged 92.
Squadron Leader Graham Leggett, from Reigate, flew in some of the most dangerous theatres of conflict during the Second World War. He not only survived the Battle of Britain, but defied the odds to escape with his life when shot down over Malta.
He died at home on May 27 following a long illness.
"He did definitely have a guardian angel," said his widow Muriel, 82.
"A lot of his comrades didn't see their 20th birthdays, and he has died at the ripe old age of 92.
"He didn't only survive the Battle of Britain, but then the siege of Malta and then the Western Desert, which was no picnic either."
As a child growing up in Wembley, Mr Leggett had an early fascination with planes, and would cycle to Croydon Aerodrome just to see them.
After signing up as a reservist on his 18th birthday in February 1939, he was called up following the outbreak of war, and flew Spitfires over the southern counties during the latter weeks of the Battle of Britain, aged just 19.
In the summer of 1941 he was sent to the battered but crucial Mediterranean base of Malta. Shot down by an Italian fighter on December 21, he bailed out perilously close to the ground.
"It was amazing he survived it," said Mrs Leggett. "With hot oil burning, you need to get out quickly. If it is a choice between staying there and dying a terrible death, or jumping out when you might break your neck, there is no choice.
"Onlookers all said 'poor chap, he's too low'. But it had been raining heavily, and he landed up to his knees in mud in a ploughed field.
"He was just extraordinarily lucky. They sent a lorry to where his plane had come down, and they did not think they were going to find a chap sitting there smoking a cigarette."
Remarkably, when contacted by an aviation archaeologist 60 years later, Mr Leggett remembered the exact co-ordinates of the crash site. A few weeks later, a parcel arrived at his Reigate home containing a piece of the wreckage as a memento. It had been unearthed from 3ft below ground in a Maltese field.
The crash left Mr Leggett with oil in his eyes and shrapnel fragments up his leg, but after a brief spell in hospital he was back in the cockpit.
After nine months in Malta he went on to serve in the Western Desert campaign in North Africa, including in the Battle of El Alamein. He left the RAF in 1958.
"For him, it was about the romance of flying," said Mrs Leggett. "When the war came, he chose to serve his country in the air because he adored aircraft.
"He was a lovely man and very gentle. I have had stacks of letters from people saying what a gentleman he was, nobody would think of him going into battle."
Mr Leggett leaves two children from his first marriage and four stepsons, ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The Last Post was played at his funeral, held yesterday (Wednesday), and members of the RAF draped a Union flag over his coffin.