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REMEMBERING BRIAN: The mystery behind the life of a young RAF officer from Pinner

 Published on: 24th March 2024   |   By: Panayiota Demosthenous   |   Category: Uncategorized

This month, PINNERnews has been looking into the fascinating 30-year investigation into the tragic life of a young Royal Air Force officer who grew up in Pinner.

Bestselling author and historian Dilip Sarkar MBE came across an image taken on September 21, 1940, by award-winning press photographer Flying Officer Stanley Devon. This iconic and oft-published photograph showed a young Spitfire pilot looking directly into the camera with a strained, tired expression, which captured the curiosity of many.

Who was this man? Why did he look so exhausted? What was his story?

Dilip found the photo “haunting” and made it his mission to find out who this man was.

Years after discovering the photo, Dilip came across a book, Spitfire! The Experiences of a Fighter Pilot. Dilip immediately recognised the author as none other than the young man in the photo: Squadron Leader Brian John Edward Lane DFC.

Dilip set off on a journey to explore Brian’s story, identifying individuals and locations that had been blocked out in the book by the wartime censor. During his research, Dilip traced all the surviving 19 squadron pilots and personnel from the 1939-41 period, piecing together the incredible adventures this young RAF officer had embarked on.

He discovered that Brian had grown up in Pinner during the early 1900s, before joining the RAF in 1936. He quickly became an exceptional fighter pilot and was promoted to Flying Officer in 1938.

Wing Commander David Cox DFC, who served under Brian as a sergeant pilot during the Battle of Britain, said: “Quite simply, Brian Lane was the best Commanding Officer I ever served under, in every respect, and when my turn came to lead, I modelled myself on him.”

Inspired, Dilip researched Brian’s story, but was saddened to learn that he had been reported missing in action over the North Sea on December 13, 1942. Further investigation revealed that pilots had been seeking targets of opportunity inland of the Dutch coast, but Brian was shot down by FW190 pilot Oberleutnant Walter Leonhardt – who was himself killed in action the following year.

Sadly, Brian left behind a young widow, the famous racing driver Eileen Ellison, whom he had married in 1940.

Dilip’s investigation into this tragic story led him to trace Owen Fargus, a landowner and motorsport enthusiast who became Eileen’s companion until her death in 1971. Owen still had Brian’s only known personal possession, a silver cigarette case inscribed with his initials, which he gave to Dilip.

Dilip spent 30 years exploring the incredible life Brian led, meeting all the people he had touched and interacted with, seeing Brian’s log book at The National Archives, and sharing his findings in his book, Spitfire! The Full Story of a Unique Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron, published by Pen & Sword.

Dilip presented Brian’s cigarette case to Craig Murray, curator of the Imperial War Museum Duxford, which was Brian’s 19 Squadron’s home station. Now part of the National Collection, the case has the same preservation status as Nelson’s topcoat worn at the Battle of Trafalgar, and is displayed in the refurbished Operations Room.

Dilip’s book, Brian’s logbook, and the cigarette case, along with the blue plaque arranged by Pinner resident Paul Baderman at Brian’s childhood home on Barrow Point Avenue in Pinner, are all that is left of this young man’s fascinating life and history.

Despite only living until 25 years of age, his legacy lives on.

To find out more about Dilip’s discoveries, head to

Photo credit: Dilip Sarkar MBE, WW2 Colourised Photos 

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