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A Spitfire pilot recalls his first glimpse of the big world beyond England

On the eve of World War Two, some British fighter pilots had never been abroad. What was it like for them to soar above the English Channel?


We tend to forget today how much travel was a luxury reserved for the wealthy until recent decades. In the summer of 1939, Hugh Dundas, then in training, flew over southern England for the first time. “I had never even seen the English Channel before then and the south coast was quite unknown to me,” he writes in his memoir Flying Start. “The very fact of being able to climb up a few hundred feet and thence to look across to France was a thrill. That was ‘abroad’ where I had never been.”

via Ian Stannard/flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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