Edward Tolan, 94, was the last surviving wartime member of 78 Squadron, warding off German fighters from the tail of Halifax bombers across the war, following his service with the 102.
Tomorrow, a service will be held at St Roberts RC Church in Harrogate, honouring a man ‘who loved his country and risked his life to fight a genuine evil.’
Grandson, Rory Ffoulkes, said: “You can’t think what it must have been like for him. There were often times he wasn’t sure he would be coming back.
“The night missions over ‘Happy Valley’, so-called because it was anything but stood out. Flying over heavily guarded military targets under intense fire from Nazi anti-aircraft guns and being targeted by German fighter planes. As a rear gunner on a Halifax, it was his job to protect the aircraft and crew as best he could.”“I think, like many, he saw what he was doing as fighting against a genuine evil.
With lights out as a precaution against interception Mr Tolan faced hours alone in darkness manning his turret.
Mr Ffoulkes said: “He was there on his own for upwards of seven hours sometimes, but he allowed himself a small treat every few hours,checking his watch with a small, imperceptible light. The idea of him considering this a ‘pleasure’ is testament to the powers of concentration and mental strength he had to demonstrate, and he never lost that. “
Flying 30 night missions in 1943 alone he was awarded multiple medals, including the War Star and Aircrew Europe Star.
At Buckingham Palace, he was presented with honours by King George VI and later the Queen.
However, his family say he was especially proud of his Distinguished Flying Medal presented to him by the King in front of his parents.
Mr Ffoulkes said: “It’s incredible to think how a lad from Halifax in those days could go on to see the world and live the incredible life he led. His parents must have been incredibly proud of his brothers and he.”
Commander of RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Wing Commander Howard Newbould, will represent the service at the funeral
Recalling his first days in the RAF, Mr Tolan wrote of his journey to RAF Topcliffe as an 18-year-old in 1941, walking six miles in wet weather to report for duty.
He still remembered the comfort of being handed a warm cup of hot chocolate and a bullybeef sandwich after reporting in.
Following the war, he was demobilised, studying Economics at Leeds University and took up a number of jobs.
But the RAF,along with rugby and cricket, was his passion. He rejoined the RAF during the Berlin Airlift Crisis in 1948, serving across the world before retiring in 1975.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret, who he married in 1949. The pair moved to Harrogate in the late 50s and had two daughters, Geraldine and Denise, along with five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Mr Ffoulkes said: “He loved his family and, though a fearless competitor on the rugby field and an imposing physical presence, he was an incredibly gentle person at heart who always was a massive support to the family.
“He was huge figure in all of our lives, a great character and a gentleman, and we will all miss him deeply.