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Arnold Walker

ARNOLD "Blondie" Walker, DFC and Bar, was a man for whom the single-seat British fighters of the Second World War might have been designed.

Daring, glamorous and unconventional, he was in his element when at the controls of his Hurricane.

He went to war when he was 23, and returned to civilian life with two Distinguished Flying Crosses, having flown 169 operational sorties, been shot down three times and seen many of his flying companions killed in action.

He lived on the edge as a fighter pilot and went through life in the same manner.

Mr Walker was born 91 years ago at Warley Edge, Halifax. The youngest of the three children, their father Edgar, a stonemason and bricklayer with his own business.

Mr Walker went to Heath Grammar School, leaving at 15 to join his father's business, and studying three nights a week at technical college for the national building exam.

The qualification, plus some practical experience, helped equip him when at the age of 18 he was left to run the business following his father's death. In the next few years, the dynamic new boss expanded the workforce from eight or nine to 70, building houses and doing mill repairs.

Being "mad keen on flying" – as he states in his memoir A Fighter Pilot's Reminiscences – when the Second World War broke out, he volunteered for the RAF.

He was sent to Canada to train, and by the time he returned to the UK had been commissioned.

Stationed in Carlisle, he made an unscheduled flight to Halifax where he made two low-level passes directly over his house in Westborough Drive, his mother running into the garden and waving a towel.

Before being sent to the Middle East, he married Masie – the first of his three wives – who he had known since he was 18.

His posting was to an aerodrome near Port Said, mostly protecting convoys.

His first kill was a Junkers 88, completely shooting out its starboard engine during his prolonged attack. The Junkers made a crash landing, plane and crew being captured. When he eventually came in to land, his fuel tanks were empty, and halfway down the runway his engine cut out.

His most stressful experience was when he had been scrambled to intercept an enemy fighter, shot its wings off and after it crashed into the sea, glimpsed US markings on a still-floating piece of wing. He later found out it was an American plane 150 miles west of where it ought to have been.

A court of inquiry was held, followed by a court martial in Cairo at which he was exonerated.

Posted to Italy, he instigated night attacks on convoys, firing rockets at a range of 150 yards while flying 20 feet above the waves, his attacks destroying or damaging numerous enemy vessels.

In August 1944 he was awarded an "immediate DFC", which is a field award.

Having once ditched his disabled Hurricane, climbing out before it sank, he was soon in trouble again. This time he bailed out over the sea, survived a storm in his tiny dinghy and was marooned on a tiny island, surviving for five days on barley sugar sweets, some malted biscuits and water from an underground tank he discovered in an abandoned house.

He was rescued by an American Air Force seaplane, the man helping him aboard being the same who had pulled him from the sea two weeks earlier.

In October 1944 he was awarded a Bar to his DFC. He remained in the RAF until April 1946, returning to Halifax and re-establishing the business, Joseph Walker & Son, which he had had to shut down at the outbreak of war. It would build 2,000 council houses in three years and 1,000 private houses.

He continued over the next 50 years to build private housing estates in the Halifax district, and over the past 40 years he also had business interests in Australia. Eventually he was spending three months of the year at his home in Halifax and nine months at his home in Perth.

He was a Liberal councillor for the Warley ward of Halifax during the early 50s, and president of the Halifax Building Trades Council.

Arnold Walker was ever a fierce competitor in sport, business and life. His golf swing was far from pretty, but it was effective, resulting in a handicap of around four, and he was captain of West End Golf Club, Halifax. He was also made an honorary member of The Royal Perth Golf Club.

The first occasion he skied was in the winter of 1948 in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and from then on, he skied there virtually every year until he was nearly 80, becoming known there as "Halifax".

He loved fast cars, fast skiing and beautiful women.

He died peacefully in hospital in Perth, entertaining the nurses to the end. His son predeceased him, and he is survived by his three former wives and his daughter and three stepsons.

 
 
 

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