David Hearsey

David William Hearsey DFC
David William Hearsey DFC
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POSSESSING business acumen and a good head for figures, David William Hearsey started his career at the age of 14 with an accountancy firm and ended it as chairman of British Cocoa Mills in Hull.

An only child and born in Battersea, London, Mr Hearsey, who has died at the age of 92, was fascinated by all things mechanical, spending hours across the Thames in the Science Museum.

Good at arithmetic and obviously bright, he left school at 14 on the insistence of his father, William, a brass turner, who was determined he should get into a secure, well-paid line of work as early as possible; joining an accounting firm in the West End was the first step.

Early on he had shown a marked talent for drawing, and he went to evening classes at Wimbledon Art school where he was offered a place on a full-time course. But his father insisted he stick to accountancy.

At the art school he had a friend who brought along his sister, Joan, to a dance they both attended, and in 1943 she became Mrs Hearsey.

At the outbreak of war he joined the Home Guard, continuing with his accountancy training until a day in 1941 when he was walking over Hungerford Bridge during an air raid and a person near him was hit and killed by shrapnel.

Not waiting for his call-up papers, he volunteered for the RAF, his choice prompted by his interest in aircraft and flying.

Being good at maths, he assumed he would become a navigator, but his aptitude test pointed to pilot training, and this he undertook at the Alabama Institute of Aeronautics in Tuscaloosa, flying single and twin-engine combat trainers.

An enthusiastic piano player, he would never forget seeing Fats Waller in New Orleans, as well as being reprimanded for offering up his bus seat to a black girl.

Training continued in the UK from December 1942, flying Oxfords, Whitleys and, finally, the Halifax four-engine bomber.

Assigned to 51 Squadron, Mr Hearsey flew his first operations over Europe in July 1943, and a month later took part in the Peenemunde raid against a facility suspected of making hydrogen peroxide for the V-2 rockets. It cost 215 British aircrew and 40 bombers.

In 1944 he received one of 12 watches presented to Bomber Command captains who had carried out the greatest number of attacks on Berlin. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross “for high skill and fortitude in operations over Europe”.

The war over, he returned to accountancy, but joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and flew in the Berlin Airlift. He continued in the Reserve until 1953, by which time he was a flight lieutenant.

Living in Wimbledon, he bought a small sailing boat with a cabin which was moored at Kingston and until 1960 he and Joan and their son Peter spent most summer weekends on the Thames. The family also had sailing holidays on the Broads, in Salcombe and in Chichester harbour.

Mr Hearsey once again began evening classes at Wimbledon Art School, and he learnt to play the guitar, which he played at the impromptu parties held most weekends at the London River Yacht Club to which he belonged.

In 1960 the family moved to the East Riding – as it then was – when he was made chairman of British Cocoa Mills, and he eventually bought a house in Long Riston.

He relaxed from a challenging job by painting and drawing with the Hornsea Art Group, led by the renowned marine artist Harry Hudson Rodmell, playing the guitar, piano and organ and generally engaging in village life.

For a time, he was treasurer of the local Conservative Party, but resigned in protest when Edward Heath introduced VAT.

He and his wife visited cousins in Florida in the 70s, and on a couple of occasions flew with the Confederate Air Force in the US.

They also took up motor caravanning travelling all over the UK. They sometimes stayed at the Stone House Hotel near Hawes, which still displays a large collection of caricatures he drew over the years.

He enjoyed regular stays at the RAF club in Piccadilly, and spent time at the Royal Academy.

On October 13, 2011, he made a last entry in his RAF pilot’s flying log book to record a flight he made in a Cessna 172 with a member of the Hull Aero Club at Leven. He was 90, and it is marked “refresher”.

His wife Joan died in 2013 and Mr Hearsey is survived by son Peter, grandchildren Jane and Ian and great granddaughter Polly.