WWII pilot fights one last Battle of Britain
"We stood alone in 1940; we can do it again!" said Bryan Neely, a 91-year-old World War II pilot now battling for Britain to leave the EU.
The sprightly veteran is turning his fire on doom-mongers who claim Britain could not thrive outside the European Union, saying it is time to vanquish the bureaucrats "destroying" identity across the continent.
"We can't do it? That's a load of rubbish. Of course we can do it. Have some spirit! Have some guts!" the former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot said.
Neely is a vehement supporter of leaving the EU in the June 23 in-or-out referendum on Britain's membership.
Ever since he joined the "Veterans for Britain" campaign, his smartphone has been buzzing every five minutes as he travels around the kingdom to rally the troops.
"I do love Europe. It's a wonderful place," he told AFP over a cup of tea in the neat little garden of his flat in west London's chic Notting Hill district.
"All the nations in the European continent have their own history and I don't think that history, that culture should be in any way destroyed by bureaucrats."
"Who are these people in Brussels? Wait until they get up in the air and have their cockpit shot through.
"The plutocrats, money crunchers and politicians... they have no clue about culture, history."
- British resilience -
Neely recalls being a teenager observing the Battle of Britain in 1940, seeing a wave of 25 German planes being chased away from the River Thames by three British Spitfires.
"I felt really, really proud," he said.
Neely had dreamed of becoming a plastic surgeon but "went straight from a schoolboy into fighting".
He joined the RAF and flew his first raid over Germany at the age of 19 in a Lancaster bomber.
His last mission was to drop blockbuster bombs on Adolf Hitler's Alpine retreat in 1944. The mission was turned around in mid-air because the Nazi German dictator was in Berlin.
The wartime years left Neely feeling that Britain possesses a unique character: a blend of pride, strength and resilience.
"In 1940 at Dunkirk, Europe was flat on its back," he said, recalling the Allied retreat from the continent to Britain as Nazi Germany overran western Europe.
"We stood alone for 18 months before America came in. We did it once, we can do it again."
That Prime Minister David Cameron, world leaders like US President Barack Obama and international institutions think otherwise gets Neely's dander up.
"The financial people, they know nothing. Where the hell were they in 1940?" he asked.
"It was all doom and gloom... but one man stood up: Winston Churchill.
"We wouldn't be in this position if Churchill was still alive."
The wartime British prime minister, who died in 1965, proposed a "kind of United States of Europe" in a 1946 speech -- though Britain, tied to its Commonwealth, would play no part in it.
- Mass immigration 'submerging' Englishness -
After the war, Neely was the double for lead actor Donald Houston in the 1949 film "The Blue Lagoon" and launched his own charter flights firm.
He continued to fly for 50 years, travelled the globe, met Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and transported crayfish from Ireland to France.
Born in India, he spoke Hindi before learning English and watched as the British empire evaporated.
Now he fears for the identity of England itself. Unrestricted mass immigration from the rest of the EU is the issue dominating the referendum campaign.
"We as a nation are losing our character. Our immigration is completely submerging the Englishness," said Neely.
"Our norms, our way of life, our culture is being slowly destroyed.
"I'm not against immigration but I am very much for controlled immigration.
"If Europe wants England, let England be England."
Neely reckons the rest of Europe also needs to ditch the EU set-up.
"Let's start again. We want to work together but not under a system of bureaucrats," he said.
"All the people I was flying with, they all had guts. Get some guts back into this! Think properly -- really think properly.
"We can build something better."
© 2016 AFP