Legacy of a magnificent man and his flying machines

The collection of Sqn Ldr J.R. Fisher
The collection of Sqn Ldr J.R. Fisher
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He was an extraordinary man, one of the highly-skilled pilots who delivered troops, tanks and ammunition to France on D-Day, and was still taking to the skies at the age of 94.

Following his death in 2012 at the age of 96, the remarkable collection of Squadron Leader John Fisher which encompasses his flying career, from his early days at Dulwich College, through gaining his wings in Canada in 1943, to flying supplies to the Resistance in occupied mainland Europe, has been put up for auction.

Sq Ldr John Fisher

Sq Ldr John Fisher

His United States Distinguished Flying Cross awarded for “extraordinary achievements” over Paris, when he flew on with a punctured fuel tank, will also go under the hammer, along with his flying helmet and jacket and countless photographs and other memorabilia.

Pasted in his flying log book next to a record written 10 days after D-Day is a newspaper cutting of one of his more eminent passengers – Ernest Hemingway.

“Dear Fishy”, starts one memorable letter in the lot from a chum, TG Hynes, who was taken prisoner of war and ended up in Stalag XXA (5) “I am here after a lovely parachute jump. Poor Dunkels wasn’t so lucky.”

Hynes recalls one of their drinking holes, “The Snakepit”, and remarks that the beer where he is “isn’t up to Cornhill standard.”

There is already interest in the collection – including from the Yorkshire Air Museum where Sqdrn Ldr Fisher was a regular visitor and it is now trying to raise funds to buy the collection, estimated price £3,000 to £6,000.

Auctioneer Andrew Baitson said: “It is a nice big collection, in its entirety with medals, flying helmet, provenance and ephemera. A collection of this scale is fairly rare – normally families hang onto them or they get donated to museums.”

Gavin Osborne, who works for the auctioneers, said the collection was put up by Sqdrn Ldr’s Fisher’s daughter Melanie, who lives in France. “She didn’t want it splitting up because she recognised its historic value and while there are obvious emotional ties she wants them to be enjoyed for many years to come.”

Sqdrn Ldr Fisher flew with 644 Squadron on Halifax aircraft, mostly on Special Duties, dropping supplies and Special Operations Executive (SOE) personnel behind enemy lines.

On his second mission for SOE he was attacked by a nightfighter. He took extreme evasive action, but a wing tank was hit and caught fire – he later landed safely to find out his attacker was British.

The records also recall the part he played on D-Day – the greatest airborne assault of the war – when he flew Halifax LL219 towing a troop-laden Horsa in for the attack on Pegasus Bridge, the battle immortalised in the film The Longest Day.

This was followed by two further missions towing heavy Hamilcar gliders carrying military vehicles, crews and ammunition to the front line – and on the second occasion a light tank.

In an interview a colleague recalled: “Flying at 900ft they got a bird’s eye view of the Allied invasion force and the sheer weight of men and equipment involved.

“It was said there were aircraft in front as far as you could see, aircraft behind as far as you could see and aircraft returning as far as you could see.

“Sqdrn Ldr Fisher claims he saw a dog scratching his ear as he rattled over the beaches of Normandy in among the chaos of war.”

As a career officer in the RAF he stayed in the forces until 1966 having served all over the world and converting to jets.

After leaving the RAF he worked for Barclays Bank, living in Husthwaite, North Yorkshire, before moving to Thirsk and for many years was a visitor to the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, near York. Ian Richardson, from the museum, who attended Sqdrn Ldr Fisher’s funeral, said it was seeing if it could get a Heritage Lottery grant to acquire the collection.

He said: “Sqdrn Ldr Fisher was a member for many years and attended various events which we invited him to and took part in lectures and signing events.

“He was an interesting gentleman, a quiet but strong character. The collection of his memorabilia sounds very interesting, so hopefully we may be able to raise the funds to purchase it, to keep here in Yorkshire.”

The lot will be sold next Wednesday at Gilbert Baitson’s, Anlaby Road, Hull. It will also be online and live on www.the-saleroom.com