On the 1 September 1939, Johnny and Anthony returned from a morning patrol over the English Channel, to hear the news that Germany had invaded Poland and both realised they might soon be in action. Biggin Hill became a flurry of activity with the serviceability of aircraft high on the list and the ground crews worked late into the night in the large, floodlit hangars. The pilots flew many patrols over the next two days, but on the following morning, the station commander ordered them to remain in the mess where rumours and speculation abounded. Wing Commander Grice entered the room with the station adjutant, glanced at his watch and told a steward to switch on the large Marconi radio perched on a table beside the bar.
The voices of the expectant audience seated around the mess fell silent, replaced by the hisses and crackling of static over the airwaves from the radio, as the steward attempted to tune in the station. Next, the unmistakeable voice of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain filled the room, speaking from the British Broadcasting Corporation studio in London:
“This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.” stated the Prime Minister in a sad and strained voice.
“You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.”
The silence in the room was deafening.
‘The balloon’s gone up now!’ Johnny whispered to Anthony and Tom Beckett across the table around which they were sitting.
‘Too bloody right it has.’ exclaimed Tom. ‘Now we will have to earn our keep.’
Anthony Barker stared out of the window at the view across the airfield, contemplating the role that he would now have to play, a role different to that of his fellow RAF officers.
The stern voice of Wing Commander Grice echoed around the room.
‘Gentlemen, as you have just heard, we are now at war with Germany. It is time to put your training to good use. Listen to your flight commanders and the more experienced pilots among you, treat every contact you see in the sky as a bogey determined to kill you, and the first of you to shoot one of the bastards down, the drinks will be on me!’
A loud cheer resounded around the mess and pilots scrambling for the bar collided with others who were making a beeline for the nearest phone to ring sweethearts or their families. Johnny found a phone in an anteroom to call Miranda and then his family in Dover. For the rest of the day, both squadrons at Biggin Hill went on high alert with the other squadrons of 11 Group, at airfields dotted around the southeast of England. Many patrols took to the skies expecting to meet fleets of Luftwaffe fighters and bombers coming in for the attack.