Meet the Sidmouth veterans honoured during air display
PUBLISHED: 13:00 24 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:54 28 August 2019
Sidmouth war veterans, with more than 150 World War Two missions under their belts, were honoured at Sidmouth Air Display.
Spectators heard about the exploits of former army artillery serviceman David Stuart and RAF pilots Fred Hill, Les Harlow and Alexander Fraser on Friday (August 23).
Mr Hill, Harlow and Stuart, who are born within two months of each other, were joined by family members and host David Burgoyne to watch the display on The Esplanade.
Former Flight Lieutenant Hill served on 87 operations throughout the war as a bomber pilot after joining the Royal Air Force at the age of 18.
Mr Hill began his career flying the Hampden twin engine bomber as a member of 49 Squadron, completing 32 missions in the aircraft.
After his first tour he became a flight instructor and returned for a second tour with 692 Squadron piloting the Mosquito combat aircraft, carrying the 4,000lb bomb.
He served in 55 missions, including 22 over Berlin, during his second tour which finished just before VE Day.
The 97-year-old said: "The survival rate was 43 per cent. I did not want to become an instructor but you did as you were told. To my great surprise I was told I was a very good instructor.
"Everyone wanted to fly the Mosquito but to be accepted you had to 1,000 hours in your log book and have a recommendation. You had to go into a decompression chamber and if you got the bends (decompression sickness) you were rejected."
After the war he made the 'hardest decision of his life' to be demobbed following operations in Algeria. He spent the rest of his working life as a school master working in Nairobi and Plymouth, before moving to Sidmouth.
Fellow serviceman, David Stuart served in the army as part of the artillery unit and participated in many of the war's desert campaigns including El Alamein.
Shortly after signing up to the army, Mr Stuart was sent to university to train as an officer before joining the 51st Highland Division.
He volunteered to go to North Africa and served with Eight Army on campaigns in Syria.
He was wounded but returned to the battlefield with the 73rd Medium Artillery to fight in campaigns at Alamein and Monte Cassino in Italy.
Among the machinery Mr Stuart used was the 56 pound shell, which could fire 13 miles - the distance from Sidmouth to Exeter.
Mr Stuart, who rose to the rank of captain of a training regiment, said: "You had to be careful what you were doing when the shell was fired."
Following the war, he worked for HM Colonia Customers in West Africa for 15 years and became senior collector. He moved to Sidmouth 39 years ago with his wife Norma.
The eldest of the servicemen Les Harlow served the war flying a Lancaster bomber - surviving 36 bombing raids over Germany.
Aged 16 he travelled to South Carolina to train as a pilot and was the oldest of his squadron of seven, who all survived the war.
Mr Harlow was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions on December 12, 1944 over Witten in Germany.
His daughter Cathy Duke said: "At 21 he was the oldest of all the crew. They all survived the war and they said it was because of dad that they managed to come through it."
In 1943, Mr Harlow married his wife Marry.
The couple first knew each other aged eight but did not see each other for some years until their paths crossed during the war. They have been married 76 years and have two daughters, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Mr Harlow continued working as a pilot, working for British European Airways and Gulf Airways.
The youngest of the veterans honoured on Friday was Alexander Fraser, 95, who served in 10 squadrons over his 42 year career in the RAF.
The 95-year-old flew Halifax and Lancaster bombers during World War Two and carried out 36 operations over Germany.
He continued his service after the war, flying many different types of aircraft including the Royal Flight De Havilland Comet to transport the Royal Family on overseas visits.
His favourite aircraft of his career was the wartime Lancaster Bomber with its four Merlin engines.
Mr Fraser, who was a warrant officer, said: "If you did five operations you were lucky. One trip there was 11 of us and only two came back."