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Last surviving Battle of Britain pilot wants to find the Italian girl who saved his life

Last of Churchill's Few seeks to trace Italian girl who risked her life to save him.

The last surviving RAF fighter pilot from the Battle of Britain has issued an appeal for help in tracking down an Italian woman who saved his life in northern Italy during world war two.

"I would like to meet that little girl who saved me from the Germans", said 104-year-old Group Captain John 'Paddy' Hemingway from Dublin, who was shot down in Copparo on 23 April 1945.

The public appeal was launched in Italy by a local aviation society, Archaeologists of the Air, following an article by Paolo Ricci Bitti in Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

Hemingway had been on a mission to attack a German column near Ferrara but had to make an emergency landing after the Spitfire he was piloting was hit by ground fire.

It was the fourth time the airman had been shot down and survived, a phenomenon he would later attribute to "the luck of the Irish".

Group Captain John Hemingway. Photo The Irish Times.

 

Stuck behind enemy lines, Hemingway was rescued by a local Italian family who reached him before he was taken prisoner by the Nazis.

With the help of Italian partisans, the family kept Hemingway in hiding despite threats on their lives by German troops searching for the pilot.

After being disguised in peasant clothing, Hemingway was entrusted to a seven-year-old Italian girl who took his hand and led her "papà" to safety beyond the Gothic Line, after walking through the darkness for hours.

Almost eight decades later, Hemingway has never forgotten the courage of the child who risked her life to save his.

"For all those hours I was scared as hell, not for my life, I'm Irish, but I was terrified of becoming the cause of the death of that brave little girl," said Hemingway, who now wishes to thank her, or her family, in person.

His appeal to track down the woman - who if still alive would be about 85 - is being shared widely on social media in Italy.

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