Harry Southgate

HARRY Charles Southgate, who has died aged 91, left school at 14 and became an Air Vice-Marshal after being director general of supply for the RAF.

Chairman of Ripon Arts in his retirement, he supported the farming community around his home in Winksley.

His term as DG of Supply for the RAF was a stressful time during difficult economic conditions 
and he had to oversee budget cuts while keeping the RAF 

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Promotion was in recognition of his role, and he was invested as Commander of the Order of the Bath.

Born in Walthamstow, East London, the future Air Vice-
Marshal was judged a sickly child and missed much schooling. Even so, he left at 14 to work as a runner for the London Stock Exchange.

The war changed his life.

He volunteered to join the RAF and was sent by troopship to India, where he served and was commissioned as a flight lieutenant.

With that rank he returned to the UK in October 1945, and he held it for many years until the start of his inexorable rise through the ranks. His first action on returning to England was to seek out his childhood sweetheart, Violet Louise Davies, to whom he always referred as Vicki, only daughter of variety artist and former bandleader Billy Davies, and propose to her.

Their wedding was a fortnight later – a minor logistical miracle given the limitations of rationing which applied at the time.

His early career was in the Secretarial Branch of the RAF, where he found himself organising attractive postings for fellow officers.

He made a key decision to transfer out of this role and chose the Equipment Branch (latterly renamed Supply Branch) and set about taking the appropriate examinations.

He was successful, but by then was somewhat behind his fellow officers in terms of relevant experience for his age.

If anything, it spurred him on, and after postings to RAF stations at Stafford and Tangmere, he became commanding officer at RAF Heywood, where he had to oversee its closure.

Between 1954 to 1956 he spent time in the Far East, the Communist insurgency in Malaya being fought at the time.

It was at Andover Staff College (1956), the Joint Services Staff College at Latimer (1961), Bracknell Staff College, where he joined the directing staff (1963), and finally at the Imperial Defence College (IDC) in London (1969), that he showed his future promise.

At Bracknell he was famous for taking advantage of an arrangement whereby he was able to join Wentworth Golf Club. He reduced his handicap to single figures, playing during the day and working overnight to fulfil his duties.

His time at IDC followed a spell at RAF Germany in Rheindahlen as senior equipment officer, and preceded his tour of duty as
air commodore, responsible for the Ministry of Defence in Harrogate.

It was during this time in 1972 that he bought a field in Winksley, near Ripon, with spectacular Dales views and on which he had his retirement house built.

Following his retirement, he was offered a variety of jobs, including a state governorship and a distribution directorship for an international car manufacturer, but he turned them all down to apply himself to enjoying retirement in Yorkshire.

An accomplished painter, 
he was made chairman of 
Ripon Arts, and many of his landscapes and vivid seascapes were sold through their exhibitions.

He took on the chairmanship of a MacMillan appeal, and joined a number of local committees serving the needs of the local farming community around Winksley.

The Air Vice-Marshal was noted for his fierce opposition to motor bike scrambling and other activities which threatened the peace of the area.

In 1991 his idyllic retirement was shattered by the death of wife, Vicki.

In time, however, he resumed his social activities, now joined by his long-term companion, the widowed Peggy Redfearn, who lived independently with her family in Ripon.

Since his sickly childhood, he had hardly a day’s illness until his late 80s when his health declined. He moved to Cheshire near to his only son, Roger, and was cared for in a local care home up until the end.

He is survived his son and his two grandchildren, Annabel and Jane.

There will be a thanksgiving service for his life at St Cuthbert and St Oswald Church, Winksley, Ripon, on Monday at 11am.