As 17-year-old Bob Wigley's Spitfire hurtled towards the ground, there was no time for contemplation.
"When you're on your way down, you're not thinking about the results of the crash," he says, recalling in detail for the first time his extraordinary wartime exploits of more than 70 years ago.
"It happens so quickly and you don't get a lot of time to think about anything at all.
"Survival instinct just kicks in and your only thought is about how to stay alive. It was the same in every crash and every combat situation I've ever been involved with."
Bob, the brother-in-law of Uttoxeter Poppy Appeal co-ordinator Judith Leedham, lied about his age to join the RAF during World War Two.
Despite his youth, the teenager had already been involved in several crashes when his 118 Squadron headed to the Battle of Arnhem in 1944.
But nothing could have prepared him for what happened on the way back, when a frightening arsenal of 40mm anti-aircraft guns opened fire on him from the back of a German armoured train.
Bob's plane was hit in the engine and part of his tail and rudder was shot away. He was going down.
"Your adrenaline is going full-blast at this stage and you're not sitting there feeling sorry for yourself and thinking 'oh no, I’m going to die'," he says.
"You just become numb about the whole thing. We'd all had some problems adapting to the Spitfires after training in the US in aircraft with slightly different controls, so crashes weren’t a foreign concept by any means."
When he hit the ground in a field near the Belgian town of Wakken, the colossal impact smashed Bob's aircraft into two pieces.
He looked down and saw metal pressing against the bone in his right leg, which was completely trapped.
Despite fearing he'd lost his limb, Bob says things could have been much worse.
"One of the things that was unfortunate about the Spitfire was that you carried an 88-gallon tank of petrol right in front of the cockpit.
"When they crashed, they quite often caught fire – but luckily that didn’t happen on this occasion."
At that time, the Allies were tightening their grip on German forces and were ploughing a furrow through the territories the Nazis had conquered.
With France and Belgium liberated, Bob says Hitler's troops were "in disarray." Many were being picked off by Dutch insurgents.
And it was a band of resistance fighters who chanced upon Bob stuck in the remains of his wrecked Spitfire.
"I’d been sat in wreckages before – you just do what you have to do," he says.
"You just lose all semblance of time, but I'd imagine I'd have been stuck there for about an hour.
"I can't tell you the relief I felt when they pulled me out of the wreckage and they took me to the pub in Wakken.
"The people of the village were very kind and hospitable, but I had mixed feelings about the Belgians.
"You see, they'd had an SS brigade fighting with the Germans on the Russian front."
Bob was bandaged up in a Polish field hospital and put on a plane back to England, where he endured some painful treatment at an infirmary in Wroughton, Wiltshire.
"They tortured me for a month," he says. "The muscles in my right leg had been 'squelched apart', for want of a better word.
"So they attached electrodes and sent currents through the muscles to strengthen them, which made them twitch like mad.
"I was there saying please, please stop – I confess! I confess!'. I just wanted to get out of the place – it wasn't my cup of tea at all."
Bob's parents brought him up near Belper, in Derbyshire, but had moved to the small Worcestershire village of Broadway by the time he went to fight in Europe.
After he was shot down, they were sent the telegram every parent dreaded, saying Bob was "missing, presumed killed".
But their grief turned to unexpected joy when their son called from the infirmary and said he would stay with them while he recuperated.
"I don't know why, but I'd been hanging on to my parachute and I dragged it all the way back to Broadway," he says.
"I think its materials supplied wedding dresses for the whole village in the end.
"But the biggest problem when I went to my parents' house was the fact they'd sold my beautiful bicycle.
"I said 'where's my bike?' and they said 'we didn't think you were coming back, so we sold it'. I was far from pleased."
Soon enough, Bob was back with his squadron and switched from his beloved Spitfire to the new Mustang model, which had greater range.
The war was undoubtedly coming to an end, but the Germans were still fighting.
Bob said British fighter pilots could "not get near" their opponents' new rocket-propelled Messerschmitt planes.
Even when the 118s escorted Winston Churchill to Berlin for the Potsdam conference, where leaders decided how to administer Germany after its defeat, there was still the odd gun going off.
"Berlin was just a big pile of rubble and full of Russian troops, who looked like Genghis Khan's merry men," says Bob, who is now 91.
"They were a really vicious bunch and were having a whale of a time with the German ladies – I think they'll have a strong bloodline in the city, put it that way.
"When victory was declared, the squadron sat around, had a drink and 'jolly good – now what's going to happen?'."
Bob went on to have a distinguished career as an RAF and commercial airline pilot.
He served as a political officer in Germany just after the war, before being re-posted to Japan.
After that, he left the Air Force for a spell and bought a farm near Rugby.
But he soon missed the cockpit and quickly re-joined the RAF as a PA in Egypt, where he later served in the 208 Squadron.
It was there he met the love of his life, Mabel, known as "Red", who was a member of the Princess Mary's Nursing Service.
The couple enjoyed a happy life together, mainly living abroad in Aden and Lebanon, then France and Spain when Mr Wigley retired.
Sadly, Mrs Wigley died aged 90 three years ago, but her widower is still going strong, living in Wiltshire.