by Nicolas Trudgian
LIMITED EDITION PRINT
A TRULY ICONIC IMAGE TO CELEBRATE 100 YEARS OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE, 1918 – 2018
For one hundred years the Royal Air Force has provided outstanding service in the defence of the United Kingdom. Never was this more so than towards the end of the Battle of Britain when London became the focus of aggression from the German Luftwaffe.
Daily, from the streets of the city, onlookers witnessed the deadly conflict. In one of those battles, between a German Me 109E and the 603 Squadron Spitfire of Pilot Officer Basil ‘Stapme’ Stapleton, the aircraft were engaged in a particularly frenzied dogfight over Tower Bridge. This specially commissioned painting, ‘London Pride’, by Nicolas Trudgian, depicts that real event with the artist’s characteristic remarkable detail.
On one of the many occasions that ’Stapme’ and Nicolas met, they thought up the idea of depicting Basil’s memorable dogfight over the Thames. The sheets of paper that now form the Basil Stapleton Editions were signed by Stapme so that they would one day be published on a special anniversary such as this.
What better image to depict the defence of the realm, than combat over the very heart of the nation’s capital? Tumbling through the sky, rapidly losing altitude, suddenly, with the river perilously close, the pair separate, the fight unresolved.
The fate of the German aircraft is unknown. Stapme, low on fuel and ammunition, stayed at chimney pot height in order to follow roads he recognized all the way back to his airfield at Hornchurch.
Squadron Leader Basil ‘Stapme’ Stapleton DFC, DFC (Dutch) 1920 – 2010.
Thrown into the thick of the Battle of Britain from August 1940, flying in No. 603 Spitfire Squadron based at RAF Hornchurch in Essex, Basil ‘Stapme’ Stapleton became one of the outstanding fighter pilots of that period, accounting for nearly twenty enemy aircraft destroyed or damaged. He was consequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 15 November 1940.
One of the German aircraft that he downed was the Bf 109E of Franz von Weera, the only German pilot to subsequently escape from captivity and return to Germany. In another combat, Stapme was lucky to make it home, his aircraft having been badly damaged in a dogfight over the Channel.
From April 1941 Stapme served in various units including those operating ‘Hurricats’; Hurricane fighters converted to be launched by catapults from convoy-escort ships. In February 1942, he was made Flight Commander of No. 257 Squadron, before becoming gunnery instructor at Kenley and then the Central Gunnery School. Stapme returned to operations in August 1944 to command No. 247 Squadron’s Typhoons and for his part in the Battle of Arnhem he received the Dutch Flying Cross.
Whilst attacking a train in Germany his aircraft sustained damage from flying debris and he had to force land, becoming a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 1 until the war’s end. Always known to his many friends and admirers as ‘Stapme’, from a phrase in his favourite cartoon ‘Just Jake’, he was a very likeable character and looked every bit the classic image of an RAF fighter pilot; tall, blonde and with his characteristic handlebar moustache.