Grp Cpt Dudley Honor DFC & Bar
5 September 1913 - 26 December 2007
Group Captain Dudley Honor, who has died aged 94, flew during the Battle of France and as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain before going to the Middle East; shot down in the latter stages of the German invasion of Crete, he spent six days in the mountains before reaching the coast where he was picked up by an RAF flying boat.
Honor was the flight commander of No 274 Squadron flying Hurricanes when his unit was sent to Crete in the middle of May 1941 in an endeavour to stem the German landings. On May 25 he and another aircraft were tasked to attack the German-held airfield at Maleme. As he approached he saw many Italian and German transport aircraft preparing to land. Ignoring the dense flak, he attacked and within a few minutes he had shot down two of the transports laden with troop reinforcements for the island.
As he broke away from the enemy airfield German fighters chased him. His aircraft was badly damaged and became difficult to control. He managed to evade further attacks before his engine stopped when he was forced to ditch into the sea. His Hurricane sank to 40 feet before he was able to escape from the cockpit. His German lifejacket - obtained during his service in France - inflated immediately and he surfaced.
The sea was rough but he managed to swim to the shore half a mile away. He had great difficulty climbing on to the rocks and his hands were badly torn before he was able to scramble ashore and head for the hills, where the locals sheltered him. He travelled through the mountains to the coast on the south side of the island where he waited. On the sixth day he saw a Sunderland flying boat land close by; it had come to evacuate senior army officers and other survivors.
Honor flashed an SOS, which was detected and a single-seat dinghy was rowed ashore. He scrambled down the steep rocks to the shoreline and managed to squeeze into the dinghy and was taken to the waiting Sunderland. After collecting some Greek army survivors, the aircraft took off and flew back to Alexandria.
Honor soon recovered from his ordeal and rejoined his squadron, which had returned to the Western Desert after the fall of Crete. Shortly afterwards, he was awarded a Bar to the DFC he had been awarded in 1940. The citation recorded his "great skill" and noted that he had destroyed nine enemy aircraft.
Dudley Sandry Garton Honor was born, to British parents, on September 5 1913 at Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he was educated. He was brought up speaking better Spanish than English. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in July 1937 and after training as a pilot joined No 88 Squadron at Boscombe Down.
No 88 was equipped with the Battle light bomber and went to France at the outbreak of the war with the Advanced Air Striking Force. In May 1940 the outdated and inferior Battle squadrons were thrown against the German blitzkrieg when the RAF suffered appalling losses. Honor flew reconnaissance and attack sorties against the advancing German columns and dive-bombed the bridges over the Meuse. He was one of the few pilots of his squadron to survive and escape back to England. He was later awarded the DFC for his services in France.
As the Battle of Britain opened in July 1940 Fighter Command was short of pilots and Honor volunteered to fly Hurricanes. With no previous experience as a fighter pilot, he was sent to No 145 Squadron. Off Scotland he shared in the destruction of an Arado floatplane but after his squadron was transferred to the south he was forced to crash land in Sussex after a running battle with a Messerschmitt Bf 109. His Hurricane was a write-off. After a spell on night-fighting duties he was sent to the Middle East.
In January 1941 he sailed in the aircraft carrier Furious and a few days later he took off in a Hurricane for Takoradi in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). He then ferried his single-engine aircraft across the desert over Nigeria, Chad and the Sudan to Egypt where he joined No 274 as a flight commander in the Western Desert.
Honor soon opened his account when he shot down a Bf 109 over Tobruk, shortly after the German fighters had made their debut in North Africa. On May 15 1941, the British forces launched Operation Battleaxe and Honor and his pilots were in constant action. He shot down a Bf 109 and damaged three others. However, most of his action was attacking enemy motor transports and fuel and ammunition dumps. With the German parachute landings in Crete, his squadron was sent to reinforce the depleted RAF squadrons and he soon shot down a German fighter and destroyed a large transport aircraft on the ground. The fighting was fierce until he was shot down.
Shortly after his return from Crete his photograph appeared on the front cover of a topical magazine under the title "What our boys are doing for us". This was the work of Mary Bentley, who was working as a broadcaster with the Egyptian State Radio and was also on the editorial staff of the magazine. Two weeks later Honor walked into her office and she recognised him as her 'pin up boy'. They spent the rest of their lives together.
Honor took command of No 274 in August, and four months later was promoted to wing commander to lead No 258 Wing in operations over the desert. He achieved his final success in December when he shot down an Italian fighter near Tobruk. He served on the fighter operations staff in Malta before landing in Sicily and then in Italy.
Honor returned to England in 1944 before going overseas as the Air Attaché in South America, covering Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. He was promoted to group captain in 1946 but resigned his commission a year later to become 1st UK Civil Air Attaché accredited to Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil.
In 1951 Honor became director, Latin America, of Bristol Aeroplane Company. In 1960 he became Canadair's director in the region before becoming the manager of Air Canada, South America. His companies provided him with a Dove transport aircraft and he and his wife Mary flew together over most of South America.
In retirement the Honors moved initially to Canada, where they were given Canadian citizenship, but in 1973 they moved to Spain, where they started to grow lettuces. Honor introduced new varieties to the region and was dubbed the 'Lettuce King of Andalusia'. In 1990 they moved to England, settling in Devon. Honor was an avid golfer and his wife walked virtually every course with him.
Dudley Honor, who died on December 26, was twice married. With his first wife, Jill (née Elgie), he had a daughter, who survives him. He is also survived by his second wife.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.