Henry Cecil Clark (Known to all as ‘Nobby’)
Born 9th December 1919 – Died 20th March 2001
A man of faith and generosity, whose amazing sense of purpose was to benefit so many, ‘NOBBY’ Clark endeared himself to all that were fortunate enough to know him. He was born in London on the 9th December 1919, spent most of his life in Langport, and learned the craft of ‘bespoke shoemaking’ from his father.
At the outbreak of World War 2 he joined the RAF as a Radio Mechanic, and was posted to the newly formed 656 Air Observation Post Squadron early in 1943. A unique unit of its time, with mixed Army and RAF personnel, the Squadron saw action in support of the 14th Army throughout the Battle for Burma. Nobby’s skills as a Radio Technician became greatly important to the effectiveness of 656.
The absolute need was for reliable communication both in the air and on the ground; the Squadron was equipped with the notorious Army number 22 Set, a radio that had been designed to operate over a distance of 12 miles under ‘normal’ conditions. Nobby contrived modifications to the sets carried in aircraft and also on the ground that enabled the Squadron to be in full communication at all times. At the height of the Campaign, all three Flights were operating at distances in excess of 350 miles from Squadron HQ. Nobby was made up to Corporal, and he said of this time:
‘Conditions in Burma were hostile and often very difficult, but it was just a question of make-do and mend.‘
His contribution had been vital.
His reputation among his Comrades, many of whom remained close friends over the years, showed strong qualities of leadership. On hearing of his death, one of them recalled ‘Nobby was a one off – he got us all together’. Soon after the War, Nobby married Claire and returned to his craft of bespoke shoemaking. He spent 23 years with Clarks of Street, where he held various managerial positions.
Even before retirement, he had begun a whole series of undertakings in which he displayed a tireless determination to reach his objectives. He saw the need for a 656 Squadron Association; at the outset it was a daunting task for anyone, but from a frustrating start his Association today thrives with a membership of 520. These include serving members as well as veterans, with an enthusiastic commitment by the Squadron itself. Those who witnessed the Association growing soon realised that this was a team effort. It was indeed Claire and Nobby together who achieved such a fine result.
His energies were at the same time being applied in other directions; for 40 years he has worked for the Royal British Legion. With a few others his persistence resulted in the opening of the Langport Branch Club, of which he has been both Chairman and President. He has been honoured by the RBL several times, including their Gold Badge, RBL Life Membership and the Poppy Merit Award for 30 years’ collecting.
Endless hours spent in his greenhouse have yielded a never-ending supply of plants that he has sold in the street outside. The proceeds have come to many thousands of pounds, which have benefited many organisations, including The Red Cross, The Gurkha Welfare Trust, RBL and local hospices. As a Freemason he has been able to extend still further his involvement with the welfare of others. A prominent member of his own Lodge, he was a regular visitor to others. It was during a visit to the small Lodge in Guildford, which had been formed by veterans of the Burma campaign, that he died.
Nobby had completed an incredible Journey, during which he had set the highest standards in all that he did and without, it seems, wasting a single moment. In his later years he would on occasion say to his friends, ‘When He wants me, He will call me.‘ His wife Claire, with whom he recently celebrated their 53rd Wedding Anniversary, survives him.
E.W. Maslen-Jones M.C. D.F.C.
Huish Episcopi Church, 28th March 2001
St Mary’s Church at Huish Episcopi lies in a peaceful Somerset setting less than a mile from Nobby’s home. It is where each year at its war memorial, 656 Squadron Association has placed its wreath in remembrance to our past colleagues in arms.
By 13:30 cars were vying for places in the normally empty church car park, and soon overflowed into the adjacent roads and side turnings. There was a huge gathering of representatives from all of Nobby’s supported organisations, as well as a large number from the village.
The church bells rang out muffled peals to welcome them to this solemn occasion. By the time the service was due to start all 250 seats were taken, and mourners were standing at the back. In the choir pews were representatives of 656 Squadron Association, the Royal British Legion and the British Red Cross, as though waiting to guard the coffin when it arrived.
Nobby’s coffin was carried into the church behind Royal British Legion and Burma Star Association (Weston Branch) Standard bearers, whilst the coffin itself was draped with the Standard of the Ilminster branch of the Burma Star Association. The service was conducted by Rev. Mark Rylands and opened with Psalm 23 (Crimond). Rev. R. Beevers, Padre of the Ilminster Burma Star Association then gave a bible reading, which was followed with the singing of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’.
It was during Mark Rylands sermon that some of the numerous letters which Claire had received were read out, each one giving a wide and sincere commendation to the humane nature that Nobby had towards many ways of life. His ambitions and achievements are a shining example for anyone to follow.
The final hymn was ‘Guide me, O thou great Redeemer’. A trumpeter from RBL then played the Last Post, and Mervin (Tubby) Godfrey of the Langport Branch recited the Exhortation followed by Ted Maslen-Jones reciting the Kohima Epitaph. Reveille was then sounded and the entourage made its way out of the church to the sound of the organ playing ‘Road to Mandalay’.
The rain showers that had threatened had moved away to leave a broken sky with bright patches, and right on cue a Gazelle helicopter from 656 Squadron, piloted by David Wilkins, and an Auster Mark 5, flown by a 656 Squadron Association member Eric Downing, did a ‘Fly By’ in salute to a great man.
The coffin and family members then moved off to journey to Taunton crematorium for the interment. Other mourners were invited to the Langport Arms for refreshments whilst awaiting the return of Claire.
In the evening a final tribute was paid with the muffled bells of St Mary’s church ringing a quarter peal of ‘Grandsire’.
Nobby’s last fundraising was for the Gurkha Welfare Trust, and indeed he had personally ‘adopted’ a Ghurkha soldier. To this end a request was made for no flowers but donations be given to this fund. Claire was delighted to be passed quite a large amount of money, as well as hearing of donations direct to the Trust’s Head Office.
By July the total was just over £2,300, for which Nobby would have been truly proud. A magnificent farewell tribute to a wonderful man.
“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”
( Kohima Epitaph.)
To All My Friends
I wish to thank everyone for the cards and messages of sympathy, and also all who have been so kind and helpful.
Thank you for attending the service at St Mary’s Church, I know many of you travelled great distances to be with Nobby in the end. I am grateful for the splendid donations that you have made to the Gurkha Welfare trust, which I know was Nobby’s wish, and will do so much good.
Please accept this as a personal message of thanks, to the friends who arranged for the Standards, the Trumpeter and the Flypast, and not forgetting 300 attendees. Having received over 270 cards it would be impossible for me to individually correspond with all of you. I’m sorry I was unable to return to the reception in time to speak to some friends who had to leave due to the distances home.
Some of Nobby’s achievements
Served in the RAF as a radio mechanic with 656 AOP Squadron RAF in India, Burma, and Malaya from 1943 to 1946.
On release returned to his own business as bespoke shoemaker.
Married Claire in 1948 and for 3 years worked with his father-in-law’s butchers, before returning to bespoke shoemaking.
Spent 23 years with Clarks shoes at Street in various managerial positions.
1960 Joined British Red Cross, treasurer for 28 years
1962 Joined Royal British Legion, has been Chairman & President
April 1967 One of 5 members who worked to open a British Legion Club
1969 Joined Burma Star Association. Has twice been Chairman.
1976 Joined AAC Association
1978 R.B.L. Gold Badge
1989 Joined R.A.F. Association
1989 Started single handedly to form Association for 656 Squadron
(currently 530 members)
1994 R.B.L. Life membership
1997 Poppy Merit award, 30 years’ collecting.
MONIES RAISED from sales of plants (Fuchsias, geraniums, etc), street collections, bingo etc.
British Red Cross
St Margarets Hospice
South West Childrens Hospice
Somerset Legion House mini-bus appeal
Gurkha Welfare Trust
Gurkha Welfare Trust
Gurkha Welfare Trust
B.R.C. (combined effort with Claire)
While Chairman of Burma Star Association, sale of plants and coffee mornings
Sales for Lebanon relief, (no total recorded)
Largest house to house collection for Poppy appeal by
Poppy appeal street collection
Gurkha Welfare fund
This list is not the grand total as there are large sums associated with the Freemasons, and others not recorded. He was currently running ‘Bingo’ sessions with Tubby Godfrey in aid of the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
He belonged to the Freemasons and had been Worshipful Master of a local lodge, and belonged to the Kohima Burma Star Lodge at Guilford, where he sadly died.
Nobby’s work was never finished, selling the plants for a few pence, without regard to the cost of pots, materials, heating bills, and endless hours nurturing them. He also raised so much money in other ways for the charities. Nobby volunteered for committees when others shied away, and gave his all, for the good and benefit of that organisation.
(This was part of my research whilst attempting to have Nobby nominated for a National Award.)
Brigadier Denis Weston Coyle M.B.E. D.F.C.
“When I first met Denis Coyle in 1942 he had already done more than some people manage in a lifetime. He was a Regular Royal Artillery Captain, had fought in France in 1940, and then served in the Home Forces until his inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm took him on to one of the courses for Gunner officers learning to fly for Observation and Artillery shooting. He had also in this time married Valerie Butler and they had started their family with their first daughter Diana. In 1942 he gained command of only the 6th Squadron formed and duly led 656 Squadron to India to help stem the Japanese advance.
In India he found Army G.H.Q. almost completely ignorant of the tactical uses of such a new Arm, and R.A.F. Headquarters quite unaware of their existence. Very quickly they all became aware that here was a Major who would not take no for an answer, nor “Next Week’ for a time. So the needs of a Squadron to go fighting in the jungle soon began rolling in, and in only a few months, and fully equipped, we were ready for action.
Already he had made himself that fairly rare person, a much loved Commanding Officer; tolerant, forbearing, even patient; he knew everyone and no one feared him, but all were proud to take his orders. There are several of us here to-day, to pay our respects, after 50 years.
In action he had soon led the Squadron to a high standard of efficiency. New ideas for combat flowed from his fertile mind; if a piece of equipment failed in its purpose he redesigned it and instructed his technicians how to make new ones. He altered the inside of one of our little aircraft to take a stretcher and then led a flight of American aircraft similarly equipped into an isolated Brigade box under enemy fire to evacuate casualties.
In the air against the Jap he showed great bravery, and was soon awarded the D.F.C., to go with the M.B.E. which had already marked his astonishing control and organisation of his Squadron in those difficult jungle conditions.
When the War eventually ended Denis returned to normal Royal Artillery soldiering for several years, and it was not until the introduction of helicopters and the obvious need to incorporate them into Army Observation, that he was recalled to flying duties and given command of a strange unit called ‘JEHU’, where trials of machines, and the whole vast subject of enlarging Air O.P. into an Army Air Force soon led to the formation of the Army Air Corps. At this stage of his career Denis at last began receiving the promotion that was long overdue, and he was translated in a very short time from Major to Brigadier, when he had great influence in the development of new aspects of Army flying.
When he finally retired from the Army he and Valerie bought an Old Rectory in Devon where he soon became a farmer. Vines were the first crop -(in an ‘astonished’ Devon village)- then he dug out ponds and dammed the stream to begin rearing trout. Plus, of course, a few bullocks running in the fields.
Sadly, it was not long before ill health began to slow him down. In the last few years of his life he came to depend more and more on Valerie’s loving care, with his daughters Diana, Rosamund and Josephine who so sadly is no longer with us.
Denis Coyle’s long life had been totally filled by his career, his family and his interests -no man wasted time less. He was a strong man, a leader, and yet thoughtful, also compassionate and God fearing. He will be very greatly missed.”
Given at the Service of Thanksgiving for the life of on 8th December 1995 by Major Frank McMath.
Major Herbert `Warby’ Warburton M.B.E. D.F.C. CdeG
Army pilot who directed artillery fire in North Africa from a slow and unarmed spotter aircraft
MAJOR HERBERT “WARBY” WARBURTON, who has died aged 82, distinguished himself during the Second World War as an Army observation pilot in North Africa, Italy and Burma.
After the Operation TORCH landings at Algiers in French North Africa in 1942, “Warby” – a nickname which reflected his warm and colourful personality – was quickly in action spotting artillery with 651 Air Observation Post (Air OP) Squadron RAF.
It was a perilous occupation, pottering about over enemy positions in an a fragile, unarmed, single-engined Auster that seemed more suited to a flying club than to the hazards of war. Derived from the American Taylorcraft, this light monoplane cruised no faster than 100mph, and was restricted to a range of 250 miles.
As the 1st Army made its bold but unsuccessful dash for Tunis, there was a constant demand from Air OP crews for tactical information. Careless of the risk, Warburton circled enemy positions and directed artillery fire. Constantly attacked by enemy fighters, he was also highly vulnerable to ground fire. But Warburton became known as “The Artful Dodger”, so canny was he in manoeuvring his Auster until German pilots were forced to break off their attacks for lack of fuel.
He was awarded the Croix de Guerre in recognition of the operations he had flown in support of the Free French 19 Corps around d’Oum El Abouab, where his courageous observation in the face of enemy fire made possible the destruction of an ammunition dump and artillery battery.
Herbert Bradley Warburton was born at Amersham, Buckinghamshire, on July 26 1916, and educated at Hymers College, Hull. While still at school he learned to fly with the Hull Flying Club. Afterwards he joined the Civil Air Guard and the Blackburn Aircraft Company.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Warburton enlisted in the Royal Artillery, and in 1940 was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 52nd Anti-Tank Regiment.
He volunteered as an Air Observation Post pilot. Awarded his Army flying badge in 1942, he was posted in the rank of captain to 651 Squadron. The next year, after the end of the Tunisian campaign, Warburton, by now a flight commander, moved to Sicily and Italy.
Posted home from Italy in 1944, Warburton qualified as a flying instructor at the Central Flying School. The next year he joined 656, a sister Air OP Squadron, taking part both in its support of the 14th Army in Burma and in Operation Zipper, the liberation of Malaya and Singapore.
Following a brief spell as an instructor at the RAF Staff College, Warburton returned to the Far East, where he commanded 656 Air OP Squadron RAF in the messy attempt to help the Dutch recover their East Indies colonies, much against the wishes of the Indonesian people. He was awarded the D.F.C. in 1947.
Amid the chaos and general sense of frustration, Warburton raised spirits by declaring a weekly “Swiss Navy Day”, when officers were encouraged to wear caps back to front and to drive their jeeps in reverse.
While sharing an airfield with a Spitfire squadron, he was piqued by a young RAF pilot who bragged that soldiers flying Austers would stand no chance against a well-handled fighter aircraft. Warburton challenged the young blood to a dogfight, and in a dazzling display of evasive flying made a complete ass of him in front of spectators from the station. That night he ostentatiously wore his spectacles, and fumbled his way to the bar, where the drinks were on the RAF.
On his way home to be demobilised, Warburton served briefly in Palestine with his former squadron, 651. Back at home, he ran Warby’s Wine Store, the family shop, for a while, but fretted to return to the service. His opportunity came with the outbreak of the Korean War, when he was posted to No 1903 Air OP Flight.
He returned to Malaya in command of 656 Squadron, where his experience and unconventional command – especially with his flight’s Austers – contributed crucially to the defeat of jungle guerrillas. He was appointed M.B.E.
At much the same time, his Auster floatplane trials off Singapore, which involved take-off runs of up to a mile, indicated his potential as an experimental pilot.
Much of Warburton’s operational success was due to his gift for bringing on new pilots. They might find him forbidding at first, but they soon recognised his incomparable experience and innate kindness and generosity of spirit.
Warburton returned home as a major to command No 663 Air OP Squadron of the Royal Artillery (sic) Air Force at Liverpool, before training in America in 1957 as a helicopter pilot.
Subsequently he joined the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit at Middle Wallop as a trials pilot, flying Whirlwinds and Sycamores, and became a founder member of the Army Air Corps. As part of his work with the development of Army helicopters, he helped introduce the troubled Scout helicopter into service.
While second-in-command of the helicopter test squadron at Boscombe Down, he tested an open seated Wallis-Benson auto gyro for altitude, wearing an Irvine jacket, muffler and thick boots. An astonished Boeing 707 pilot called the Wiltshire experimental station and reported he had just passed under a teddy bear flying a curious motorcycle at 11,000 feet.
Warburton also undertook high-risk icing trials with the Wessex helicopter at Fort Churchill, Hudson Bay. He was attached to the Royal Norwegian Air Force to advise on icing trials.
After a spell working on the Lynx helicopter and other projects at Army Aviation HQ, Warburton retired in 1971 as the second-longest serving Army pilot.
But there was no break from helicopters. Warburton immediately joined Ferranti Helicopters as flight operations manager at Gatwick, and held similar posts with British Caledonian and British Airways.
When he finally retired, his career had embraced 42 fixed-wing and 24 rotary types, involving respectively 4,075 and 2,200 hours flying.
Latterly, Warburton enjoyed trout fishing on the Wiltshire Avon, though his activities were restricted by bronchial problems deriving from his time in the desert.
In 1974 he was elected Freeman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, and the next year he received a Ministry of Defence award for his work on the Scout and the invention of the Warby Weight Computer. Warburton was also a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
In addition to his wartime medals, he was thrice mentioned in dispatches.
He is survived by his wife Joan.
© Daily Telegraph (London) 14/7/99
Colonel Bob Begbie US Air Medal
Army pilot who flew Spitfires, became a founder member
of the Army Air Corps and introduced helicopters to the Service
COLONEL BOB BEGBIE, who has died aged 88. was a founder member of the Army Air Corps (A.A.C.).
Following the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, Begbie went to the theatre in command of a troop of self-propelled Bofors guns. In the absence of worthwhile airborne targets these were deployed in forward areas in a heavy machine-gun role.
During the massive Chinese attack over the Imjin river in April 1951, both field and light anti-aircraft gunners were firing over open sights as the enemy advanced over the hills on three sides of them. The mountainous terrain with deep, tree-covered valleys was a ground observation post officer’s nightmare, and in the early stages of the war, there were no Air Observation Post (Air O.P.) or reconnaissance planes.
The failure to detect the huge enemy build-up worried Begbie and after some persuasive advocacy, he managed to get himself attached to the US 3rd Light Aviation Section, with the primary task of providing Air O.P. support to the British forces. There followed a year of clandestine, deep-penetration sorties behind enemy lines, seeking and marking targets, often wrestling with difficult aircraft on short muddy airstrips with deep monsoon ditches on either side. Begbie’s efforts were recognised by the award of the U.S. Air Medal.
On his return to England, Begbie was posted to Middle Wallop, Hampshire and appointed OC 1906 Helicopter Flight. He became the first Central Flying School Qualified Helicopter Instructor in the Army and introduced helicopters to the Service.
In 1957 the A.A.C. an amalgamation of the remaining elements of the Air O.P. Squadrons and the Glider Pilot Regiment, was formed and Begbie played a leading role in the organisation and operation of the new unit.
Robert Martin Begbie was born in Edinburgh on May 11 1920 and educated at local schools. In 1936 he enlisted in the TA in the Edinburgh Field Artillery Regiment (EFRA) and accompanied it to France as part of the BEF. After the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, EFRA joined the Eighth Army in the Western Desert, and Begbie fought at the battle of El Alamein.
The succession of artillery barrages left many of his comrades permanently deaf with “Gunner-ear”. One day near Tunis, an Auster flew over and landed close to the gun position. Out stepped the pilot, an Artillery officer from an Air O.P. Squadron, wearing a rather natty sheepskin flying jacket and looking quite untouched by the heat, dust and discomfort of life in the desert. Begbie had no idea that such an organisation existed but from that moment he was determined to be part of it.
Transferred to the Leicestershire Yeomanry, an ex-cavalry regiment, Begbie had to fight his way up the length of Italy before he was sent on an Air O.P. course in England and could realise his ambition. Now a regular officer, he was posted to 654 Air O.P. Squadron RAF in Italy before joining 651 Air O.P. Squadron RAF on counter-insurgency operations in Palestine.
It was in Venice that Begbie met Ann Marsh, a Sister in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Corps who was to become his wife in 1947. He was sitting in the dentist’s chair with a mouthful of primitive drilling equipment when the Dental Officer, a friend of hers, asked him if he flew aeroplanes. ‘Uh-huh,’ was the muffled reply. ‘Good,’ said the officer with an extra twist of the drill. “I have a Sister who would like a trip. You will fly her, won’t you?” Begbie, recognising that he was somewhat at a disadvantage, replied: “Uh-huh, uh-huh. uh-huh.” So began a happy relationship that lasted more than 60 years.
Shortly after the two met, Ann discovered Begbie’s Jeep upside-down in a canal outside the Nurses’ Mess -one of his less accomplished landings. Unconscious and almost drowned, he was pumped out by a local man who was passing by. She kept him alive for an hour in a small boat until they could rendezvous with an ambulance.
Service with a Spitfire Squadron in Cyprus and the Canal Zone preceded his tour in Korea. He was subsequently posted to BAOR. where he raised 654 Light Aircraft Squadron and introduced the use of helicopters. After attending RAF Staff College, he was appointed Commander A.A.C. Far East Land Forces and CO of 656 Light Aircraft Squadron AAC, with the task of introducing Scout and Sioux helicopters to the theatre. The Azahari-led rebellion in Brunei in December 1962 and the Confrontation with Indonesia found the Squadron deployed across Borneo and Malaya.
In 1965 Begbie returned to England on his appointment as GSO l (Army Aviation). Promotion to Colonel followed his appointment as Commandant of the School of Army Aviation, Middle Wallop. After a posting as Defence Attaché to the British Embassy in Jedda, he moved to the British High Commission in Kenya as Defence Adviser.
Begbie retired from active duty in 1975 but took up a position in Defence Intelligence at the MoD. After successfully applying for the post of R02 Intelligence at HQ DAAC, he finally retired in 1985, having settled at Andover. He remained an indefatigable champion of Army flying and the A.A.C.
Bob Begbie died on June 16 2008. His wife survives him with their son and daughter.
© Daily Telegraph 20th August 2008
John K. Humphrey
John (Jack) Humphrey who died suddenly on 21st April 1999 was a founder member of 656 Air O.P. Squadron RAF.
He joined at Larkhill before moving to join the Squadron at RAF Westley in 1943, and went on to serve in ‘A’ Flight as Section Signaller in India, Burma, Java and Sumatra from 1943 to 1946.
Returning to his home town of Crawley, he married at Droitwich in 1953 and eventually moved to Worcester, where he became a supervisor with the GPO/British Telecom.
His wife became a semi-invalid and Jack cared for her until her death in October 1998. He himself had a quadruple heart bypass operation some years ago, but did not let this detract from his care and attention. Condolences are extended to his daughter Mandi, who lives with her husband in Georgia, USA.
Brigadier Dickie Parker CBE MC
Dickie Parker first joined the 656 Air Observation Post (Air OP) Squadron RAF as a newly qualified Air OP pilot in 1946, when the Squadron was in Java and Sumatra. He died on 21st March 1999 and was cremated on 30th March.
Amongst the many at the crematorium service were a few pilots who were in the Squadron at that time, namely Michael Cubbage, Bill Eastman, (who was Dickie’s ‘Best Man’ at his wedding), Russell Matthew and Mike Webb. The many other ex-Servicemen mourners, (generally younger than us four!) reflected the stages of Dickie’s distinguished service career.
In 1947 Dickie returned from 656 to the UK to undergo a flying instructors’ course (fixed wing) which he passed with top A1 qualifications. Later he gained similar distinction as a rotary wing pilot and instructor.
He returned to 656 as Squadron Commander in 1967/8. After some regimental service he transferred as a founder member to the Army Air Corps and ended his service career as Brigadier, Commanding the Army Air School at Middle Wallop.
His imaginative and vigorous advocacy of the offensive capabilities of the helicopters found expression in the present military thinking and practice. Dickie, who like his friends Russell Matthew and Mike Webb, had won the Military Cross when barely out of their teens was awarded the CBE on retirement.
Michael Cubbage. April 1999
Gordon Donald (‘Don’) Powley
GORDON DONALD (DON) POWLEY was born in Hamilton, Scotland on the 6th December 1938. He went to India, where his father was serving with the Cameronian Highlanders. He remained there until 1945 moving around various stations, when for most of the time his father was away serving in the Burma Campaign.
He enlisted on the 18th February 1954, as an apprentice at the Army Apprentice School Chepstow, training as a Vehicle Mechanic, REME.
He was posted to Germany in January 1957, where he volunteered for Aircraft Mechanic training at Middle Wallop, prior to joining 653 Sqn AAC. Don served in Cyprus and at Middle Wallop until joining 656 Squadron AAC in late 1961 initially with 7 Flight in Taiping, KL and Kluang, Malaya. On promotion to Sergeant he went to Borneo with 14 Flt AAC in 1963, serving in Labuan and Tawau in the “longhouses” and Kuching. He said this was the best time he had in the service and often recalled many of the events and tales in later years. Don was posted back to Germany in 1964.
He returned to his family home in Nottingham in 1966 and took up employment with the local power company at one of their power stations. It was here, in the Nottingham Conservative Club, that he first met Valerie whom he married in 1967. He re-enlisted in 1967, completing Artificer Training in November 1968 being promoted to Staff Sergeant.
After finishing his ‘Tiffie’ course Don served again in Germany during which time he undertook a six month detatchment to Sharja. He then went on to fill various posts in Middle Wallop, Berlin, Manchester and Northern Ireland.
On promotion to WOI Don went on to Bordon in an IT training role where he completed his service.
He returned to the School of Aeronautical Engineering, as a civillian Instructor on Basic Airframes and Engines and later moved to Bristow Helicopters.
Throughout his career Don was a ‘Squadron Man’ of exemplary character, dependable, with a sense of responsibility, a wonderful sense of humour and a raconteur without parallel. A member of the Beachley Old Boy and 656 Squadron Association to the end.
Maj. Derek Walker
Maj-Gen Ken Perkins C.B. M.B.E. D.F.C. DCM (Selangor)
MAJOR-GENERAL KEN PERKINS, who has died aged 83, had many narrow escapes in an adventurous career, during which he served in an array of post-war theatres including Palestine, Suez, Korea, Malaya, Northern Ireland and Oman.
In 1975 promoted to Major-General, Perkins was seconded to command the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces. When he took over, these comprised two Brigades of Infantry, an Air Force and a small Navy. They were engaged in a counter revolutionary war against Dhofari rebels supported by South Yemen, a communist state which aimed to topple Sultan Qaboos, push through to the Straits of Hormuz and obtain a strangle hold on the tanker routes to the West.
Responsible only to the Sultan, Perkins’s mission was to make the country secure for civil development. He had British, Omani, Iranian and Jordanian forces under his command and the assistance of subordinates of exceptional ability.
Much of his time was spent in the forward areas and his personal decision to attack military targets in South Yemen hastened the end of a long and debilitating campaign. On one occasion, during a mortar attack in which everybody seemed to be dashing for safety, he shouted at his ADC: “Don’t run – Generals don’t run! Just move briskly!”
Kenneth Perkins, an only child, was born at Newhaven on August 15 1926. His father was a gardener. His mother made all her own clothes and took in lodgers in the summer to help make ends meet.
Aged eight, Ken joined an elementary school where the headmaster combined an enthusiasm for the cane with acute short-sightedness. His aim was imprecise and as each desk accommodated two boys, Perkins discovered that it was best not to sit next to habitual offenders.
He moved to Lewes County Secondary School where he played for the first XV and became the schoolboy quarter-mile champion of East Sussex. In February 1944 he applied to join the Royal Artillery (RA) and took the university short course at Oxford.
Commissioned in 1946, he joined 7 Field Regiment RA on the shore of the Little Bitter Lake, Egypt and after fighting broke out between the new state of Israel and her Arab neighbours – following the end of the British mandate in Palestine – he commanded a troop on the Suez Canal.
Perkins returned to England in 1949 to join the 64 Training Regiment RA in Shropshire. A proficient boxer, he captained the team. When the Korean War broke out, he qualified as an Army pilot, volunteered to serve with the UN forces and joined 1903 Air Observation Post Flight at Fort George.
In his slow-flying Auster aircraft he was an easy target for the Chinese guns and had to fly at a high altitude to keep above their effective range. When forced lower by bad weather, he had to hide among the clouds. One morning, on a photographic sortie to provide pictures of the Chinese positions, he flew at 250ft, coming out of the sun and hoping to find the enemy standing down and at their breakfasts. As he finished his run there was a tremendous bang and a large hole appeared in the engine cowling.
A single bullet had severed both port side engine bearing struts and taken a chunk out of the fuel pump. Had the fuel pump not remained intact the aircraft would have ignited instantly in a ball of flame and had the flight lasted any longer, the starboard struts would probably have sheared and the aircraft broken in two.
On another occasion, with the Imjin river in spate, Perkins had to fly a few feet above the surface to report on a wrecked pontoon bridge which was being swept downstream and seemed likely to damage other bridges. His wheels struck some unmarked wires, and his aircraft cartwheeled and plunged into the river.
His engine mechanic clambered out of one door; Perkins, imprisoned in his seat and underwater, struggled out of his harness, got through the other door and reached the surface. The mechanic, his heavy boots full of water, was trying desperately to keep afloat. “I managed to grasp him,” Perkins wrote later, “but my calf length flying boots, strapped firmly round my ankles, were pulling me down like two filled water buckets and my swimming was not up to saving my companion.” The tragedy haunted him for the rest of his life.
By the time of the ceasefire in 1953, Perkins had flown 214 sorties and engaged 470 targets. He was awarded a D.F.C.
He then joined 656 Air O.P. Squadron RAF near Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, where operations consisted of looking for signs of terrorist activity, helping to direct attacking troops to the right point in dense jungle and making small supply drops.
Once, while attempting to drop a consignment of explosives, the static line of the parachute did not part, and 50 pounds of gelignite and detonators were left swinging beneath the Auster.
Perkins reached for the machete but someone had removed it, and violent manoeuvres failed to jettison the package.
He had no radio and could not warn his ground crew, so he orbited the airstrip twice to alert them to the approaching danger. As he lined up his approach he could see them crouching in a monsoon drain but as he landed, the only bang was caused by the aircraft being brought suddenly to earth.
In 1955 Perkins returned to England to take up an appointment as an instructor at Mons Officer Cadet School. He attended Staff College, Quetta and then joined the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) as second-in-command of a battery.
After two years as Brigade Major at HQ RA, Malta, and a spell at Joint Services Staff College, he joined 1 RHA in BAOR. A return to Staff College as an instructor was followed by command of 1 RHA at Colchester.
In 1970 Perkins was promoted to Brigadier and assumed command of 24 Air Portable Brigade. The Brigade was in Northern Ireland in 1972 and took part in Operation Motorman to eliminate “no go” areas.
After returning from Oman, in 1977 he moved to the MoD as Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) before being appointed Director, Military Assistance Office.
On retiring from the Army in 1982, Perkins joined British Aerospace as military adviser. He left the company to devote more time to writing, painting and bringing up his second family. He was military correspondent for The Sun newspaper from 1991.
Perkins was a ‘soldier’s soldier’. He rose through the ranks to command one of the most prestigious units in the British Army – the Royal Horse Artillery. He achieved the coveted command in Oman solely by dint of his own merit and talents and always contrived to be where the action was.
There were some who thought that Perkins might have climbed higher were it not for his uncompromising nature: he was never afraid to go out on a limb or to ruffle feathers by questioning the official line.
At the age of 60 he took up skiing; on his 70th birthday he cycled 70 miles. Even when he was seriously ill, he continued with a rigorous exercise regime. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and published his autobiography, A Fortunate Soldier, in 1988.
Appointed M.B.E. in 1955 and C.B. in 1977, he also received awards from Malaya, Jordan and Oman.
Ken Perkins died on October 23 2009. He married first (dissolved), in 1949, Anne Barry. He married secondly, in 1985, Celia Sandys, daughter of Lord Duncan-Sandys and Diana, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill. Both wives survive him with three daughters of his first marriage, and a son and daughter of his second marriage.
Major Robert `Red’ Meaton AFM
Once met, Bob (Red) Meaton was not quickly forgotten. Large in size, humour and personality, he seemed to fill any space he was in. He was also a most modest and very private person.
Born in Maidstone in 1927, he was much influenced by the build-up to and activities of the war, which led to his joining the Royal Artillery as a Gunner in November 1944. Over the next seven years, he was promoted to Sergeant, serving in Cyprus, Italy and Germany. In 1950, when a Signals Instructor teaching young Army pilots the rudiments of Morse Code, he was persuaded to train as a pilot himself, gaining his wings in 1951.
Red’s first flying tour was with 656 Air Observation Post Squadron RAF in the Far East, where he saw active service in Korea and was awarded the Air Force Medal.
In 1955, he returned to Middle Wallop and two events were destined to change his life. The first (and most important) was his meeting, courting and marrying a tall, attractive WAAF. The second was to train as a flying instructor at the Central Flying School.
In 1962, now with two sons Mark and Simon, he returned to 656 Light Aircraft Squadron Army Air Corps, where his exemplary flying and instructional skills were recognised by a Mention in Dispatches. Commissioned soon afterwards, he joined 130 Flight Royal Corps of Transport in Singapore, which had Beavers deployed in Nepal and Laos. This gave Red the title of Theatre Flying Fixed Wing Standards Officer, as well as squadron pilot. It was typical of Red that when the government decreed military withdrawal from all bases East of Suez (except Hong Kong), he should plan and successfully complete the task of flying the Beavers home to the UK.
Converting to helicopters, he was promoted to the rank of Major and served in various Aviation units at home and abroad until he took early retirement in 1979, to continue flying for Bristow Helicopters over the North Sea. This in turn led happily to his return to Middle Wallop as a Bristows helicopter instructor in Basic Rotary.
When the time came to hang up his helmet, he became an enthusiastic member of a small band of brothers known as `The A Team’, who devoted much time and technical skill to exhibits in the Museum of Army Flying, where Red was a leading member of the Society of Friends. The Horsa, Hamilcar and Hotspur gliders in the Hayward Hall all bear testimony to his remarkable handiwork.
All told, Red accumulated more than 12,000 flying hours and achieved things which most people can only dream about. Everyone with whom he came in contact will have some story to remember him by. To them all he was a true friend and a big man in every sense of the word – someone who had `been there, done it’ and whose modesty prevented him from talking about it unless it was with close friends, when tall stories would be lubricated with the odd glass or two of his favourite tipple.
Died 17 October 2004 (Obituary by) Lt. Col. Peter Shield
20th December 1940 – 20th October 2011
John Heyes was born on the 20th December 1940 in Great Harwood, Lancashire. At the age of seven he went, with his mother and sisters, to Iwakuni in Japan where his RAF father was posted. This was the start of many years of moving in and out of married quarters in places like RAF Lindholm, RAF Mildenhall, RAF Wynton, RAF Conningsby, RAF Cottesmore, Guttersloh Germany, RAF Yatesbury and RAF Wittering.
John joined the Army on the 6th January 1959 and went straight to REME Basic Training Unit at Blandford in Dorset. After basic training John was sent to Depot REME at Arborfield to begin electronics training but soon decided electronics was not for him and he was offered a change of course to vehicle mechanics which he took enthusiastically. This was at Norton Manor Camp near Taunton.
John’s first posting was to Malaya during the Malayan Emergency, where he was sent to Noble Field, which was the HQ for 656 Light Aircraft Squadron Army Air Corps, and subsequently to Trincomalee Camp, Taiping.
John was also a qualified navigator and had picked up the Malay language very well and he was asked by his OC if he’d like to volunteer for a detachment to the Malayan Scouts, as he’d get an extra ninepence per day whilst on detachment! On finishing his detachment with the Malayan Scouts, John returned to Taiping to take up his trade.
When he finished his tour, he returned to Middle Wallop for a short time, before he was once again posted to Kuching, Malaya for six months and was again employed on deep penetration patrols.
He then went onto Cyprus to support the UN Peace Keeping Force. Back to UK for a few months, then another tour of Malaya where he worked very closely with the Intelligence Corps people at Sibu until he was posted to Tidworth where operations were conducted from the parade square in Jellallabad Barracks.
About this time John married Anne and they were posted to Singapore where his son Timothy was born in 1967.
After twelve years in the Army, John decided to leave and went on to do many jobs until he met an old friend from the Malayan Scouts who offered John a job with the Sultan of Oman’s Army. This job was to run a workshop and convoys from Muscat to Thumrait.
From there he joined Sedco, an American Drilling company in Abu Dhabi, then Iran, Tehran, Bushire and Algeria. He then took a job with Transworld Drilling Company and went to Singapore. For several years John worked with various Oil Exploration companies, the longest being with BP where he served in places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar. It was here that Anne, John’s wife was taken ill and flown home to the UK with John, but sadly died in hospital.
John went back to work and travelled to Oman, Malaysia and Shetland. It was here, four years after Anne had died, that he met and married Sylvia. They went on to travel with BP to Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Wytch Farm, Dorset and Papua New Guinea.
John took early retirement at age 51 and returned to UK where he started a Consulting business going on consulting jobs himself to Brisbane, Melbourne and Venezuela.
John then found that his old 656 Squadron had an Association, which he joined, eventually joining the committee and becoming Honorary Secretary. He was also the Editor of the Association Journal, The Chinthe, and he organised several tours to Malaysia, which were most successful.
In 2008 John was found to have cancer but was in remission for three years before he died from a heart attack on the 20th October 2011.
He is survived by his wife, Sylvia, his son Timothy, his step children Paula and Brett, his grandson Noah, his three sisters and his parents. He is greatly missed.
Sylvia Heyes BEM
22nd January 2017
It is with great sadness we report the death of Sylvia Heyes BEM on Sunday 22nd January 2017, at Wrexham Hospital.
Sylvia had been on the Association Committee for many years, initially with her late husband John. She continued to work as Membership Secretary until only two weeks before her death.
She was a wonderful lady and an outstanding and compassionate Honorary Secretary; she always thought of others before herself. An obituary will appear here shortly.
Captain Keith Edward Bush AFC
29 September 2017
It is with sadness we record the passing of Keith Edward Bush, who served with 656 Squadron Army Air Corps in Malaya and was one of the earliest members of the 656
Keith, Russia specialist with a lifelong dedication to economic and political analyses of pre- and post-cold war Russian republics, died September 29, 2017 at George Washington University Hospital following complications from congestive heart failure and kidney failure.
Born in London on December 7, 1929, Keith was educated at Dulwich College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He pursued his love of languages and passion
for travel and exploration as a Captain in the British Army with active service in Egypt, Italy, Cyprus and Malaysia before obtaining an MA at Harvard University with focus on the Soviet economy, politics and history.
From 1963 to 1994, he worked as Director, Radio Liberty Research, at Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany. His Daily Bulletin was essential reading for anyone interested in economic and political developments in the Soviet Union. From 1994 to 2001, he was Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as Research Director for the U.S.-Russia Business Council in Washington, DC. from 2001 to 2013. Following this, he volunteered as a translator for the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
He was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2002 for work in assisting the transition to democracy in the former Soviet Union and promoting the principles of liberty. His full and varied life was shaped by love for travel, opera, and current events. He is survived by his wife Rosilyn Alter of Washington, DC and his two daughters, Jennifer Bush of Paris, France and Caroline Bush of Munich, Germany.
20 November 2017
Ray Pett was born in Newton St Petrock, North Devon on 27th December 1923. By 1926 came the general strike which along with the Wall Street Crash of ‘29 brought a severe economic depression and tough years for families.
Ray was schooled at Shebbear Primary School and his secondary education was at Chagford Senior School, close by Dartmoor. Entering his adult life he became a blacksmith’s mate. Ray wasn’t keen on that so he went to work with Rachel, his sister. She was working as a chambermaid at Rockbeare Manor near Exeter. Ray started there as a footman, working 6 days a week, and in time was promoted to butler.
When he reached eighteen Ray was called up to serve in the Army. He enlisted at Colchester. This was actually the first time he had been on a train and the first time outside of Devon. It was while he was stationed at Bury St Edmonds that he met Alice…she would become the love of his life.
Alice, who was serving in the Land Army, worked on a nearby farm. Ray and Alice met in the January and only had a few months together before he was sent to India and Burma with 656 Air OP Squadron RAF. He didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to Alice – in fact the first she knew about it was when he sent a short note from the troop ship in Liverpool to say they were setting sail, but didn’t know where they were going!
To give a flavour of Ray’s time in Burma – as part of the 14th (Forgotten) Army – Ted Maslen-Jones’ book ‘Fire by Order’ recalls a worrying time when the Japanese were very close and attacking hard.
After 3 long years fighting in the Far East with 656 Squadron Ray returned home in September 1946. He was reunited with Alice and they found they were still in love with each other. Sealing their love they married on Boxing Day 1946 in St John Parish Church, Hackney, London.
When Ray left the Army in April 1947 on his “Soldiers Release Book” it tells us that his military conduct was exemplary. …the Officer’s testimonial reads: “Honest, sober and trustworthy, a first class driver. Pleasant manner and well turned out. A good man.”
Ray worked very hard to support his family; their marriage was blessed with 6 children. He joined the Burma Star Association and continued supporting them until they laid up their standard in 2013. Over time Ray held the offices of Treasurer, Chairman and President of the Exeter Branch. Burma Star members were like a second family, having great family social events and get togethers and supporting widows of members.
Ray was a founder member of 656 Squadron Association, and Ray and Alice had very fond memories of one of the Association’s trips to Singapore and Malaysia, along with family members. They also attended every annual reunion, often travelling long distances. On one occasion they arrived by Auster.
Ray was very proud of his dear family; his legacy is 6 children, 12 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren whom he loved dearly…watching over his large family and keen to hear of their lives unfolding well. Ray and Alice’s marriage was an enduring love story which stood the test of time.
Brigadier Furdoon Siavax Behramji (“Duck”) Mehta
March 1920 – March 2021
It is with sadness that we report the passing of Brigadier Furdoon Siavax Behramji(“Duck”) Mehta, Royal Indian Artillery, who died on his 101st birthday in his home city of Mumbai.
Furdoon Mehta was born on 3rd March 1920. He commissioned into the Royal Indian Artillery (RIA) in Apr 40. Whilst serving in an artillery regiment he heard of the call for Indian artillery officers to train as replacement Air Observation Post (Air OP) pilots to serve in 656 Air OP Squadron, which was based in India prior to deploying with 14th Army into Burma. Captain Mehta attended No 2 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Station Jodhpur for his initial flying training, and then moved to Deolali and Ranchi for his Air OP training and conversion to the Auster. He holds the double distinction of being the only Indian Officer to serve as an Air OP pilot in the Second World War, and the only one that actually trained on his home soil.
On qualification he joined A Flight, 656 Air OP Squadron. Members of the squadron soon learnt that he was from Bombay and it was not long before he was known to all as “Duck”; a nickname he carried with good humour and some pride. He was an invaluable member of the Squadron, given his local knowledge. He also proved a highly capable pilot who seemed fearless in such a testing and uncertain operational environment. On one occasion, as recalled in ‘From Auster to Apache’ , “Duck” Mehta had a very fortunate escape when a bullet or piece of shrapnel passed through the door of his Auster and out the roof, via his cap, forcing out a large piece of lining which stood out like a Fusilier’s plume.”
He remained with the Squadron when they advanced into Malaya, before deploying to the UK in 1946 where he attended the Land Air Warfare Course at Old Sarum, Wiltshire. He retained affection for UK and returned over the years, along with his wife, to attend reunions and meet old comrades.
Whilst his service in 656 Squadron remained dear to him, he went on to have a full and distinguished career in the Indian Army. He was CO of 9 Para Field Regiment at the age of 27, the youngest officer to command an RIA Regiment as a Lieutenant Colonel.
He served as Chief Instructor, Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, prior to attending the Long Gunnery Staff Course at Larkhill, which was followed, in 1956, with an attachment with the British Army of the Rhine, Germany.
His subsequent commands included Commander Artillery (Colonel) of 25 Division, Rajauri, Jammu & Kashmir, Commander of 27 Division Artillery, Jullunder, Commandant, School of Artillery, Deolali, Commander IV Corps Artillery, Tezpur (on the North-East Frontier Agency’s Indo-Tibet-Burma border), Brigadier Artillery, and Chief Artillery Advisor to Army Commander, Western Command, Simla.
Before, during and after the Indo-Pakistan War of September 1965, Brigadier Mehta was directly responsible for planning and allocation of surface to air defence resources for both the field armies, as well as the static strategic points through Leach, Jammu & Kashmir, the Punjab, Himachal to Rajasthan, and Delhi itself.
His final military appointment, prior to retirement in August 1969, was Military and Naval Attaché to the United States and Canada at the Embassy of India in Washington DC.
He returned to Mumbai and retained a very close link to his military roots, writing articles for a number of magazines. When he turned 99, representatives from several Indian Army Commands organised a party in his honour, held at his Mumbai home. The Director General Artillery, Director General Aviation Corps, Director General Intelligence, and officers from the Combat Army Aviation Training School and 9 Para Field Regiment marked their appreciation of the Brigadier’s long career by presenting numerous plaques and inscriptions. His wife, Villie Furdoon Mehta, predeceased him in May 2020.
The death of Brigadier “Duck” Mehta, Royal Indian Artillery, at the age of 101, marks the passing of a generation, as he was the last surviving pilot to serve in 656 Air OP Squadron in the Burma Campaign.