John Fisher

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JOHN Fisher, who has died aged 95, was one of the highly-skilled D-Day bomber pilots who towed troops, tanks, ammunition and heavy gun-laden gliders across the Channel.

His task was to release them at the right height and the right place so they landed in the target zone.

Squadron Leader John Fisher was born in Kensington and had an elder sister, their father being a retired international award-winning clock maker. He went to Dulwich College where he joined the Officer Training Corps, forerunner of the Cadet Training Corps, and later, when working as a stockbroker – a job he loathed – he joined the Supplementary Reserve of the Royal Tank Corps as a Territorial, and then became a volunteer with the elite Artists Rifles.

In 1935, he changed course and enlisted with the RAF, but was turned down for flying because of his eyesight. Mysteriously, however, his second attempt to become a pilot succeeded, and he was trained in Canada, gaining his wings in 1943.

Back in the UK, he flew Halifax bombers from Marston Moor, becoming a Squadron Leader of 4 Group.

Informed they would be heading bombing operations across Europe from northern England, the members of 4 Group completed their training in record time and found themselves posted to Tarrant Rushton in Dorset instead. There they were to train for towing giant gliders.

Part of that intense training involved making night-time pin-point drops of supplies to SOE operatives throughout Nazi-occupied northern Europe.

On his second mission for the SOE, Squadron Leader Fisher’s Halifax was attacked by a night fighter. He took extreme evasive action, but a wing tank was hit and caught fire. He succeeding in landing, and afterwards it was found out that the attacking fighter was British.

On June 6, 1944, he was involved in the D-Day airborne assaults, his Halifax towing a troop-laden Horsa for the subsequent attack on the Pegasus Bridge across the River Orne.

As operations developed, he towed a heavy-duty Hamilcar glider carrying military vehicles, crews and ammunition to the front line, and having re-fuelled and re-armed on his return to base, towed a second Hamilcar, this time with a light tank.

In September, 1944, he towed a Horsa for the ill-fated airborne Arnhem assault, and the following year he took part in the big airborne drop preceding the Rhine crossing.

After the war, Squadron Leader Fisher remained a career RAF officer, converting to jets and serving around the world as a pilot before accepting a desk job.

He retired in 1966, joining Barclays Bank and managing its Clifton branch at York.

In 1957 he moved to Husthwaite, near Easingwold, North Yorkshire, where his first wife, Nadine Radford, had property.

That marriage ended 30 years ago.

Later he would meet Audrey Harrison-Broadley whom he wooed with the gift of a little St Kilda’s ram, black with four horns and earning the name “Diablo”.

The couple married and bred Hebridean sheep, winning prizes at local shows. For Squadron Leader Fisher, flying remained high on his list of preferred activities, and it was made possible at the near-by Bagby airfield, from where he made his last flight at the age of 94 with David Smith.

A spirited, sometimes unconventional man who was willing to bend rules which he judged to be stupid, he did believe in getting things done – and done properly. He could be relied upon to help out, as he did on his 70th birthday when he picked potatoes for a friend who was short handed – his birthday cake being brought out to him in the field.

He enjoyed life right to the end.

He was fathered by a 69-year-old and his death brings to an end a three-generation sequence which began in 1849 with the birth of his grandfather.

Squadron Leader Fisher is survived by Audrey, his daughter Melanie and great-grandson Edd.

The funeral will be held on Tuesday, May 8, at St Nicholas Church, Husthwaite, at 11am.