Remembered by: Isabel Barrett
Date added: 22 Nov 2010
Group Captain John Ford AFC; Airman
Born June 16, 1921
Died September 8, 2010
John Ford, who died aged 89, was a young Commonwealth pilot whose war and distinguished career was punctuated by a series of hair-raising exploits.
Twice mentioned in despatches, he survived being burned in an air crash, shot at by the Turks and just missed being in Pearl Harbour during the catastrophic Japanese attack
He went on to fly the Yugoslavian king in exile, be awarded the Air Force Cross and rise to the rank of group captain, spending his retirement in Inverness-shire and becoming a qualified golf referee.
He was born on the other side of the world, in Ohakune, gateway to the Tonagriro National Park, a world heritage site in New Zealand’s north island, the only child of Arthur and Aileen Ford. The family moved to Westport in the South Island before he and his mother set up home in Christchurch where he attended Christchurch Technical College and excelled at sport, becoming an accomplished rugby player and member of the school council.
After gaining his higher leaving certificates in 1937, his first job was with the Customs and Excise Department in Christchurch’s Government Buildings. But with World War II raging in Europe, by May 1941 he had enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and trained at their bases at Taieri and Wigram.
That October he left New Zealand on the SS Monterey, sailing for San Francisco and then onwards towards Europe. He passed through Pearl Harbour on December 1, just days before it was bombed, and travelled by train across Canada before boarding a Donaldson Atlantic Line ship, finally arriving in Liverpool on Boxing Day.
As a flying officer in the RNZAF he was sent to the Middle East, arriving on April Fool’s Day, 1942. He was posted to 216 (BT) Squadron RAF for the duration of the war, flying Bombay, Valentia, Hudson and DC3 aircraft throughout the hostilities.
The autumn of 1942 saw him involved in dropping dummy parachutists in advance of the second Battle of El Alamein. And it was in December that year that he suffered burns when his Hudson Mk VI FK387 was involved in an accident while landing in Egypt. He was hospitalised in Cairo and out of action for three months.
Nine months later he was shot at by Turkish anti-aircraft batteries on Bodrum Castle while in transit to resupply drops at Kos.
Mentioned in despatches in February 1944, the following month he flew the exiled King Peter II of Yugoslavia and in 1945, by now a Flight Lieutenant, Ford was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Two years later he left the Middle East to return to the UK, joining the Transport Command Examining Unit at RAF Manston in June 1947 before receiving a permanent commission in the RAF in September 1948.
He served on the staff at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich from 1952-54, where he captained its rugby team during the 1952-53 season, moving to the RAF staff college at Bracknell in 1954.
During the mid 1950s he was appointed Air Adviser to the High Commissioner in Karachi, Pakistan, with the rank of Group Captain and in 1959 he became Wing Commander of Number 2 Wing at RAF Halton Apprentice Training School.
His second mention in despatches, in 1963, followed a spell as station commander of RAF Butterworth in Malaya and duties during the Indonesian Confrontation in Brunei and Borneo. Four years later he returned to the UK to take up a post as Permanent President Courts Martial, stationed at RAF Dishforth.
1969 saw him posted to HQBF Episkopi, Cyprus, to oversee the withdrawal of the RAF from Libya, where he remained until 1973 when he was posted to the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF Biggin Hill as president of boards, retiring from the RAF in 1976.
It was then he moved to his wife Norma’s native Scotland, settling in Croy, Inverness-shire where he was able to enjoy a stable home life and devote himself wholeheartedly to golf, mentoring and escorting Scottish schoolboys on tours and during competitions.
He served as secretary of Nairn Golf Club from 1977 to 1980 and as secretary to the Northern District of the Scottish Golf Union from 1981-1992, spending a further five years as the Northern District’s representative on the SGU Executive, during which time he was also district president. Around the same time he became a qualified golf referee, continuing to play until he was in his 80s.
Widowed 12 years ago, he showed typical resilience, determined to stay on in his own home, continuing to cook for himself each evening and enjoying a dram until the end.
He is survived by his son Christopher.