Benjamin Hargreaves

GROUP Captain Benjamin Hargreaves who has died aged 92, entered the Second World War as an Army private, and ended it as a senior-ranking pilot. He thrived on the challenges of warfare, but found those of civilian life less stimulating.

His father, Ben Hargreaves, ran Dodgson & Hargreaves, the family-owned blanket manufacturing mill in Hunslet, Leeds, and he was born in a desirable north Leeds suburb. Later the family moved to a large house near Arthington in Wharfedale.

He went to Scarborough College, and from there into the family business, but in 1939, aged 21, he joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as a private, rising through the ranks to Captain.

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After a spell as an infantryman, he transferred to an anti-tank battery and then to field artillery. From there he applied to join the Army Air Corps, earning his Wings in 1943 and becoming a pilot with 653 Squadron.

Formed in June 1942, the Squadron was originally equipped with Tiger Moths, later receiving the Auster Mark 1.

On June 26, 1944, it left England for France, landing in Normandy and going into action almost immediately. It was continuously in action, except for a short rest period in February 1945, until the end of the war.

In their book Unarmed into Battle, Major General HJ Parham and EMG Belfield refer to his citation for the DFC as providing an example of the dangerous operations the Air Observation Post squadron was asked to carry out: “In April 1945, this Officer was detailed to make a reconnaissance of the bridges over the Dortmund-Ems Canal which were held by the enemy.

“This entailed flying, in some cases, directly over the bridges and in the face of intense enemy fire. His aircraft was hit several times and damaged; nevertheless, Captain Hargreaves completed his mission successfully and the information he obtained was of the greatest value to the Army.

“Later the same month this officer was again detailed to reconnoitre 12 bridges over the river between Alfhausen and Bramache. The weather was very misty and the bridges were 5,000 yards in enemy territory, but after making sorties lasting 2½ hours Captain Hargreaves reported their condition accurately and, as a result of the information he obtained the Divisional plan was completed many hours before the expected and much patrolling was saved.”

By the end of the war, Group Captain Hargreaves was in Hamburg.

After the war, he went into the family business in Hunslet. He met Rosamund Leader at the outdoor swimming pool at Scarborough, and they married in March 1955. She died in 1993 after a long battle with cancer.

In 1998 he married Mary Langley.

After the closure of the mill in 1969, Group Captain Hargreaves had a number of jobs, and these included running a shop, being a school caretaker, a salesman and finally a porter at the British Library at Thorp Arch.

He had the dogged, strong-minded characteristics which distinguished him as a pilot, but they served him less well after the war. He was a man who spoke his mind, and his opinions were fixed.

He is survived by Mary and his daughters Rachel and Clare, and two grandchildren.