Bio / Text:
Squadron Leader Geoffrey Harris Augustus Wellum DFC (4 August 1921 – 18 July 2018) was a British fighter pilot and author, best known for his participation in the Battle of Britain. Born an only child in Walthamstow, Essex, Wellum was educated at Forest School, Snaresbrook before serving in the RAF. Aged eighteen, he signed up on a short-service commission with the Royal Air Force in August 1939. The first aircraft he flew was the Tiger Moth at Desford airfield in Leicestershire; after successfully completing the course he then went on to fly the North American Harvard at RAF Little Rissington with 6FTS. He was then posted directly in May 1940 to 92 Squadron, flying Spitfires. He saw extensive action during the Battle of Britain. His first commanding officer was Roger Bushell, (later immortalised in The Great Escape), and his close colleagues included Brian Kingcome. He claimed a Heinkel He 111 shot down on 11 September, and a quarter share in a Junkers Ju 88 downed on 27 September 1940. Two (and one shared) Messerschmitt Bf 109s were claimed 'damaged' during November 1940. A Bf 109 was claimed shot down on 9 July 1941 over France.
In February 1942 he was transferred to 65 Squadron based at Debden, being appointed a Flight Commander in March 1942.
On 11 August 1942, Wellum led eight Spitfires launched from the carrier HMS Furious to reinforce the fighter complement at Luqa airfield on Malta. Here he joined 145 Squadron on air defence duties. Wellum suffered severe sinusitis and battle fatigue after three years' intensive frontline flying. He returned from Malta to Britain, becoming a test pilot on the Hawker Typhoon, based at Gloster Aircraft.
He finished the war as a gunnery instructor, staying in the RAF, first as a staff officer in West Germany, followed by a four-year tour with 192 Squadron. He married Grace, his wartime girlfriend, and they had three children. Wellum left the Royal Air Force in 1960 and took over the family business.
In the mid-1980s, with the family business in liquidation and his divorce pending, Wellum retired, as he had promised himself in his youth, to The Lizard peninsula, Cornwall, settling in Mullion. To prove to himself that he had actually done something with his life, he took his wartime notebooks and wrote a longhand memoir of his time as a Spitfire pilot, that he never intended for publication. He was a member of the Royal Air Force Club.
Approached in 2000 by author James Holland who was researching a fictional novel based during the Battle of Britain, Wellum lent him his unpublished memoir. Holland showed it to friends in publishing at Penguin Books and, in 2002, Eleo Gordon, Penguin’s editorial director, approached Wellum with a publishing deal – two decades after he had originally written the memoir.
First Light: The Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain was published by: Viking Books, 2002 (hardcover, ISBN 0-670-91248-4); Wiley & Sons, 2003 (hardcover, ISBN 0-471-42627-X); Penguin Books, 2003 (paperback, ISBN 0-14-100814-8).
Wellum has contributed to various television documentaries on the Battle of Britain, including Spitfire Ace produced by RDF Media/Channel 4 (2004), Dangerous Adventures for Boys produced by Channel 5 (2008) and The Spitfire: Britain's Flying Past produced by the BBC (Sep 2011). To mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the BBC commissioned a one-off drama for TV called First Light, based on Wellum's book of the same name. The film was first shown by the BBC on 14 September 2010.