Spitfire pilot is saying goodbye to Grimsby
One of the last remaining Spitfire and Hurricane pilots from the Second World War is waving goodbye to Grimsby. Reporter Dan Russell met him
BEING one of the ten remaining airmen that piloted the famous aircraft is no mean feat but to have also spent time after the war teaching African children how to read and write is nothing short of inspirational.
Not only did Doug Nicholls defend Great Britain in the Second World War, he also survived being shot down by the enemy.
The 93-year-old of Westward Ho, Grimsby, said: "I have lived in the area since February 5, 1919, and I was born at my grandmother's house.
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"After all these years I am now moving to Leamington Spa to be near my two sons, Stephen and Christopher.
"A lot has changed while I have been here.
"I had a very good childhood and I particularly enjoyed going to Wales with my father.
"His name was Benjamin Nicholls and he was one of the first mounted policemen in this area.
"I started school at South Parade when I was 5 and when I left at the age of 10 I went to St James School until I was 16.
"After that I got a job at a motor insurance firm and I stayed there until the war came.
"I was in the reserves before the war in 1937.
"I started to train to pilot Magister aircraft, which were two-seated monoplanes.
"I picked it up fairly early and was surprised how easy the Magister was to fly.
"When we had qualified enough we were given biplanes.
"I went straight into action when the war started, but it was more like continual training.
"I could fly two aeroplanes but I wasn't fully trained, but we were all in the same boat.
"The call came and we were told we had to exercise secrecy and report to Grimsby train station and not tell anyone where we were going. But we didn't know at the time, so how could we?
"There were about 20 of us all wearing uniform, which wasn't very secretive.
"We got a train and ended up in Cambridge where we did more training which included drills and salutes.
"In February 1940 we started training in open cockpit planes, which wasn't pleasant.
"Following this we were sent to fly bigger planes in Montrose, Scotland, before we were posted to Spitfires in Hawarden in Chester.
"You are supposed to feel all sorts of things getting into a plane like that, but we still saw it as training.
"We were being led by an experienced pilot at the time and he got a message saying there was an enemy in the area so we went out to find it.
"We never made contact but that was my first live operation.
"We did a lot of operations against the Japanese in Sumatra in 1944.
"It was then when I got shot down and landed in a mangrove swamp, I remember it being very wet.
"I had to walk 40 miles back to safety and came across some Dutch soldiers that were sent out for me. I was taken back to the city of Palembang and came across my old flight commander who told me not to go to my quarters because the Japanese were there
"I had a lucky escape.
"I lost my log book and really wish I hadn't because I had various signatures in there including one from Douglas Bader.
"I was in Burma when the war finished and I came home in a hospital ship which was nothing like you would expect.
"I took my leave and came straight back to Grimsby and went back to my old job.
"People don't understand what it was like to be a pilot in those days.
"I am glad that people are not in the same situation I was put in all those years ago."
Doug went back to his old job at a motor insurance firm, but later decided he wanted a change of direction and became a teacher.
The Grimsby Town supporter said: "I was a maths and science teacher at Welholme School in 1947.
"The doctor one day told me that I needed to move to a warmer climate because of a chest problem I had.
"So I got a teaching job in Uganda, I packed the wife and the kids up and we went to Africa.
"We were out there 17 years and it was the best thing I have done in my life.
"We were told to leave the country at one point by the British Government due to the unrest in the area.
"So that is what we did and we came back, but I then got another job on the curriculum team in South Africa.
"We went into the Kalahari Desert and taught children without classrooms.
"We were teaching children up to the age of 14 to write with a stick in the sand.
"People don't realise the worst punishment you can give an African child is to tell them they can't go to school.
"A lot of the children out there would come to school and then go do a full day's work after it and not complain.
"When I was 58 we decided to come back home to Grimsby where I started teaching at the Nunsthorpe school.
"I did that until I retired at 62.
"I am going to miss the area a great deal especially the sea, the dock tower and the trawler boats."
Mr Nicholls has spent his retirement playing golf and spending time with his family.
Loving wife Betty, 85, added: "My husband is a gorgeous man who has a great sense of humour.
"We got married in 1948 and together we have seen the area change an awful lot.
"I like Grimsby and I don't really want to move, but I am looking forward to spending time with the family.
"We have had our adventures in life and now we are going to sit down and be good."
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