Former RAF pilot Arthur “Dicky” Bird, who was one of the very few people to fly fighter planes and other aircraft throughout the Second World War, has died at his home at Birdby, Cliburn, aged 100.
Brought up on the family farm at Birdby, he learned to fly biplanes with the RAF Volunteer Reserve at Kingston, Carlisle, in 1937.
He was already mobilised when war was declared, and was one of only seven to survive from the group of more than 30 who left Carlisle with him.
He was selected for the RAF College Cranwell, Lincolnshire, going on to be commissioned and posted to 23 Squadron in 1940.
In 1944 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while serving with 605 (City of Warwick) Squadron.
He was a night fighter pilot sent on intruder missions over Germany.
He did the longest intruder flight of the war, to Griefsweld on the Baltic.
Those manning his home control tower went to bed assuming he was lost, but he returned with enough fuel left for just over a minute of flying.
The book Boston At War describes how he was sent as a lone aircraft to deal with more than 30 enemy planes over their own airfield on a particularly filthy night. He engaged seven of them.
Mr Bird also features briefly in The Nuremburg Raid, which is an account of the night of the greatest losses the RAF has ever suffered, and with which he was involved. He was fortunate to survive three tours of duty when so many did not survive one.
He always maintained that the intruder pilots, with their experience of low flying at night and knowledge of the ground-based defences, could have saved the lives of some of the bomber pilots involved in the Dambusters raid over Germany had they been allowed to escort them.
During a period of instructing, he was able to teach pupils to fly 14 different types of aircraft — everything from a Spitfire fighter to a Lancaster bomber.
He flew many types of aircraft, but his favourite was always the De Havilland Mosquito — a highly versatile plane known as the “Wooden Wonder”.
General George Paton, an American famous for his flamboyant style and aggressive military tactics, requested a flight with him and he took him for a roof top level joyride along England’s South Coast in his Mosquito, viewing the troops being assembled for D-Day.
On such occasions Allied planes frequently suffered friendly fire from ground forces who assumed they were German.
After the war he returned to work on the family farm at Birdby but continued to fly, instructing at gliding clubs and flying for a parachute club in order to get the hours required to keep his pilot’s licence.
In 1963, he married Hazel Lightburn, at one time music mistress at Tynefield School, Penrith, and they spent all their married lives at Birdby, celebrating their golden wedding in 2013.
They had two children, Roger and Heather.
Mr Bird celebrated his 100th birthday in August, when he gave a speech without notes.
He continued to do his daily crossword and take a keen interest in national affairs.
He is survived by his wife Hazel and son Roger, both of Birdby, and daughter Heather, of Appleby.
At the funeral service, held at Morland and conducted by the Rev Stewart Fyfe, the RAF ensign and his original cap were placed on the coffin, and the Last Post and Reveille were played at the graveside.