In Memoriam

Sadly the following members have died since publication of the last newsletter. We extend our deepest sympathy to their families and friends.

Gp Capt J I S Digman OBE DFC

Mrs Bessie Hanson

Joe L’Estrange AFC AFM

M J O’Leary

Mrs M Shorthouse

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Group Captain John Ivor Spenser Digman OBE DFC

Group Captain John Digman passed away on December 11th 2017, aged 94 years.

He had a long and distinguished career of 29 years in the Royal Air Force. In March 1942 he undertook his navigator officer training in Canada. Four months later, as Flying Officer, he was sent to Bomber Command to a Wellington Operational Training Unit and crewed up with a multinational crew. They remained together throughout the war. In September 1944 they were assigned to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron flying Lancasters based at Spilsby in Lincolnshire. From here they completed 36 sorties over Germany, Norway and Poland. John recalled “My abiding memory is of feeling extremely apprehensive when nearing the target area and then of hearing the calm voice of the master bomber over the radio who was directing the pathfinders in marking the target. His measured tones helped no end in settling my mind.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in October 1945.

Shortly after being posted to Spilsby, John married (Ethel) Babs Pilbeam. In October 2017 they celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.

In 1947 John became a navigation instructor. On a liaison flight to the South Africa Air Force, he was part of a world record-breaking crew by completing the flight via Kano in 26 hours and 57 minutes. In 1948 he was stationed at RAF Upwood as Station Navigator officer. Two years later as Squadron Leader he moved to the Central Navigation and Control School as Officer Commanding Specialist Navigation Courses. In 1953 John was the first officer to take specialist navigation course students to the geographic North Pole.

Between 1956 and 1958 a posting took John and family to the Far East Air Force base in Singapore. In 1959 he was promoted to Wing Commander and spent 4 years at the Air Ministry in charge of policy for navigator, air electronics officer and combat survival training.

In 1963 John went to RAF Coningsby as Wing Commander Operations of three Vulcan nuclear bomber squadrons. In November 1964 the Squadrons moved to RAF Cottesmore. In January 1966, as the senior navigator, John took his final flight in a Vulcan to Auckland, New Zealand, to display at the opening of the new airport – flying time of fifty five and a half hours.

At the end of 1966 John was awarded the OBE for his valuable service to the RAF. The next 5 years were spent at the Ministry of Defence and in 1969 he was promoted to Group Captain as Deputy Director RAF Security. He took early retirement in 1971.

John remained an active member of the RAFA and Aircrew Association. He raised thousands of pounds for the Wings Appeal and the RAF Benevolent Fund.

John kept in touch with two of his crew and this ceased only in 2017 when they both passed away.

He is survived by his wife Babs, their 2 daughters, granddaughter and 3 great grandchildren. John was a man proud of and devoted to family and country. Like others of his generation who fought during the Second World War, these remarkable men showed courage and modesty in equal measure and their passing is mourned deeply as their numbers diminish.

Joe L’Estrange AFC AFM

Sadly we have to report Joe’s passing on 14 January 2018, following illness. He had been active up until the autumn but his illness finally took its toll.

Joe had a distinguished career with the RAF. After joining in August 1944, training initially as an Air Gunner on Wellingtons and Lancasters, he went on to retrain as a pilot in 1950. This led him to fly Hornets, Vampires and Venoms, as well as many other different aircraft throughout the 1950s. Joe also flew naval aircraft from the aircraft carriers Ark Royal, Albion, Centaur and Victorious during a two-year exchange posting with the Fleet Air Arm.

In 1962 Joe was posted to 230 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at Finningley to begin his 21-year association with the Vulcan. He joined 35 Squadron at Coningsby in May 1963 and gave the first of many Vulcan displays at Honington in July the following year. After four years as a Vulcan QFI, he was posted to the Vulcan force at Akrotiri in 1969. Returning to the UK with 101 Squadron in 1975, Joe began a second spell with 230 OCU and, in June 1979, led the Trooping of the Colour Flypast over Buckingham Palace, a task he would repeat in the following three years.

Joe was a vastly experienced Vulcan pilot, with 6,102 hours on type. He was renowned as a display pilot, something which put him in demand for air displays and other ceremonies. He flew our own XL426 many times, including displaying 426 at 50 Squadron’s disbandment ceremony at the end of March 1984, which marked the withdrawal of the Vulcan from operational service. He also captained Vulcan XM655 for its delivery flight to Wellesbourne Mountford, where she is now cared for by the 655 Maintenance & Preservation Society.

After leaving the RAF, Joe continued flying, holding a Private Pilot’s Licence for many years. He continued his connection with the Vulcan through his Honorary Membership of the Trust and was at XL426’s controls for taxy-runs at London Southend Airport on a number of occasions.

Joe was a thoroughly nice man who was always willing to share his memories of his career in the RAF, in particular his time on the Vulcan, with anyone who was keen to listen.