Born in 1928, he was the youngest of three boys to whom military duty and patriotism were fundamental to life. His father had fought through the First World War in the Cheshire Regiment, ending his time as Lieutenant Colonel. Bob was just two when his eldest brother, John, went to Oundle School and then to Cambridge before a commission in the Royal Engineers. His elder brother, Philip, also went to Cambridge and then to the RAF as part of the Volunteer Reserve.
Bob followed his brothers to Oundle, where he was an accomplished cricketer, and also played rugby, squash, and golf – which he continued to enjoy for the next 75 years.
In April 1943, Philip was killed in a flying accident, an event which fundamentally changed Bob’s perspective and may have been the catalyst for his decision to join the RAF. To his parents’ and headmaster’s disapproval, he applied for pilot training at Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
He was told that his chances of passing the maths exam were negligible, but proved his doubters wrong and was accepted into the fold, joining the service in 1946, one of the first post-war entries.
Life at Cranwell was hard. His initial training was in the de Havilland Tiger Moth and subsequently the Havard. He passed out in July 1949, awarded his Flying Badge by Lord Trenchard, founder of the RAF.
Life beyond the base was harder still. In 1949, he was on Course No 1 at Driffield in East Yorkshire, flying the Meteor, the first British jet fighter. Many of the instructors were only a step of the students in learning its controls, and in the first six weeks of his course, three fellow trainees were killed in accidents. As he noted, “one needed a bit of luck as well as skill to survive”.
But on the Meteor he was graded as exceptional. He considered it a great aircraft if treated with respect – though it took a terrible toll amongst young pilots.
He was posted to Central Flying School in 1952, as part on an effort by the Air Ministry to reduce the appalling accident rates on Meteors. In 1952 alone there had been more than 150 crashes, with the loss of 94 pilots. During his course there were 14 accidents.
When he returned to Driffield in 1954 as a qualified flying instructor, he recalled one course of eight students – four of whom were chopped and sent home, two were killed and the remaining two decided to stop flying.
Display and formation flying was a big part of life in those days. He flew regularly in the four-ship CFS aerobatic display team. But that ended in the summer of 1954, when he was called to London for an interview and missed a display practice. During this formation sortie two aircraft crashed. Catching the evening train out of Waterloo, he read of his team mates’ deaths in the papers.
His interview saw him posted to serve as ADC to the Commander-in-Chief of Far East Air Command. It was a post he thoroughly enjoyed – companionable girls, social whirl, tennis, fast cars and golf. When his duty was complete he stayed out in Singapore and joined 60 Sqn as a Flight Commander, flying the de Havilland Venom supporting the Malaya emergency, which promoted his mention in dispatches home
The entry he wrote in his flying log book, on his first solo flight in the craft, was a single line: “Off you go, Bob. Don’t crash.”
He returned to England in 1957 to attend the Day Fighter Leader School, flying the Hawker Hunter. In his travels between RAF bases in Norfolk, Yorkshire and Wales he met his future wife, Sally Talamo. They married in 1958, moving to RAF Valley on Anglesey.
In 1970, following a series of other postings, including three years as personal staff officer to the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshall Sir Bing Cross, he arrived to command No 1 Flying Training School at RAF Linton on Ouse, north west of York, and the family moved to Easingwold. Later, he returned to Germany to serve in the headquarters of 2 Allied Tactical Air Force.
He played golf on some 500 courses in 26 countries, but none, he said, could match Ganton, between Malton and Filey. He became its captain, and, after his RAF days, its secretary. The highlight of his tenure, he said, was winning bids for the 2000 Curtis Cup and the 2003 Walker Cup.
He was also responsible for the establishment of the RAF Golf Association and became the first chairman and subsequently vice president of RAF Golfing Society.
He had four daughters and a son, and celebrated two silver wedding anniversaries, with Sally, who died in 1986, and then with Bea.