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Squadron Leader Harry Pears DFC 134139 RAF

Born 30th May 1923, Died 11th March 2016. Age 92

Squadron Leader Harry Pears, who died two months short of his 93rd birthday, was a former World War 2 and post-War Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot, and long served Air Training Corps (ATC) Civilian Instructor.

Above Harry at the former base RAF Gamston, visiting a rebuild of a former RAF/Indian Air Force Hawker tempest which had been recovered in India. Taken in 2002.

Born in Durham on 30 May 1923, in the summer of 1941 (at the age of 18) Harry volunteered (after service in the Home Guard) for service as aircrew in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), and was called forward for pilot training on 8 September 1941.

Left: His Instrument Flight Test certificate.

After initial training and a grading course on De Havilland (DH) Tiger Moth aircraft at RAF Peterborough, Harry was dispatched by sea to Canada to undertake flying training in the United States, under the Admiral Towers scheme. However, upon arrival in Moncton, in Canada he was given the choice of either training in Canada or at No.1 British Flying Training School (BFTS) based at Terrell, in Texas. Harry chose the latter and in May 1942, he began his formal flying training as part of No.9 Course, No. 1 BFTS on the Boeing PT 17 Stearman and the Vultee BT 13A Valiant basic trainers, and then the North American (NA) AT6 Texan advanced trainer (known as the Harvard in RAF service).

After gaining his pilot’s wings and having been commissioned as a Pilot Officer, he was one of a number of newly trained RAF pilots retained for a year in the US, to train and then serve as flying instructors, in his case training at Kelly Army Air Field, and then serving as a flying instructor at Waco Army Air Field in Texas, training prospective US Army Air Corps and RAF pilots under the ‘Arnold (Flying Training) Scheme’. Having completed his time as an instructor, he returned to the UK at the end of 1943, whereupon he volunteered to fly the rocket-equipped Hawker Typhoon IB fighter-bomber aircraft on operations.

Upon completing his operational training, Harry joined the Typhoon-equipped No 175 Squadron, 171 Wing, 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force (2 ATAF), flying from a range of Allied advance landing grounds in the Low Countries, and then occupied Germany, during the period September 1944 – May 1945.

It was whilst serving with 175 Sqn that Harry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for having completed over 81 operational sorties, shooting down one enemy aircraft and damaging two others. 

Upon the end of the War in Europe, Harry, by now a Flight Lieutenant, was posted to India in late 1945, eventually joining No 5 (Army Cooperation – AC) Squadron, flying the Hawker Tempest Mk II fighter bomber aircraft, until the squadron was disbanded in 1947.

Having returned to the UK from India, Harry (who had in May 1946 been granted a permanent commission in the RAF), was appointed as a weapons instructor – flying a wide range of aircraft including the DH Mosquito, Hornet and Vampire, also the Supermarine Spitfire and Gloster Meteor – serving initially at RAF Acklington, then with the Central Fighter Establishment and Air Fighting Development Squadron (AFDS) based at RAF West Raynham. During his time with CFE/AFDS Harry was one of the RAF team who undertook the pre-RAF service assessment of the NA F86N Sabre aircraft.

At the end of 1951, Harry was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to HQ RAF Cyprus, at RAF Nicosia, as Officer-in-Charge of No. 2 Armament Practice School. In 1953, he returned to the UK to reform and command 111 (Fighter) Squadron at North Weald, with the squadron been re-born on 2 December 1953, flying the Gloster Meteor Mk 8 fighter aircraft.

Right: Harry next to a Spitfire taken sometime in 1943.

Having completed his task of reforming 111 Squadron, in January 1955, Harry was posted to the Air Ministry as Officer-in-Charge Air Weapons Ranges. After two years at the Air Ministry, he was then posted to Head Quarters RAF Bomber Command where again he was concerned with air weapons policy. Part of his new role was to oversee the introduction of new weapons systems into service. One of the new systems Harry was involved with was the Douglas Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic (Nuclear) Missile (IRBM), with him been part of the Thor missile ‘Project Emily’ project team who led on the survey, and then the development of the 20 identified deployment sites for the RAF’s four Thor missile squadrons.

Whilst with Bomber Command, Harry also undertook an English Electric Canberra conversion course at RAF Bassingborne, and in late 1960, having completed his Canberra conversion course he was posted as Squadron Leader Bomber Operations to 224 Group RAF, based at RAF Changi, in Singapore. In this new role Harry took on responsibility for the provision of live weapons training for the three Canberra bomber squadrons (one each from the RAF, RAAF and RNZAF) based in that Theatre. He was also required to provide similar facilities and opportunities for the two fighter squadrons in the area – i.e. 1x Hawker Hunter Squadron (RAF) and 1x NA F-86 Sabre Squadron (RAAF).

Left: with W/O. Don Willmot (ex USAAF) at RAF Hendon in 1956. Harry first met Don in San Antonio in 1943 whilst he was an instructor – remained friends. (Behind a DH Chipmunk)

Unfortunately, early on in his tour with 224 Group, Harry attended a Full Medical Board at HQ RAF Changi. Sadly, the result of this Board was the loss of his flying category due to the deterioration of his eye-sight. With this he was given the option of continuing to serve in a ground role or to retire from (RAF) service on medical grounds. Luckily, Harry was given the opportunity by his Air Officer Commanding to continue as Squadron Leader Bomber Operations even though he was now deemed a none-flyer. During the remainder of his tour, Harry led on the conversion of the High-level Bombing Role of the Canberra to that of High-level (Target Area) Approach / Low-level Weapons Release – this technique been better suited for the weapons systems then been developed and introduced for the Canberra.

2nd row, 3rd from right (courtesy Mair Cawston No. 1 BFTS April 2017

In May 1963, Harry to the UK to start his last tour before his retirement from RAF-service. As he wanted to be based post-retirement in the North of England the RAF arranged for him to be posted to HQ No.23 Group, which was then based at RAF Dishforth, North Yorkshire. Whilst at Dishforth, on 19 November 1964, our third child – a son Michael – arrived. Finally, on 30 May 1965, (aged 42 years) Harry retired from the RAF as a Squadron Leader.

However, despite the distraction/s of various ground-based commercial jobs culminating with his joining the Post Office as a Sub-Post Master (a role which he retired from in 1988), Harry’s flying career did not end with his retirement from the RAF; as in c. 1970 he gained a Civilian Flying Instructor (CFI) rating and licence, flying with both the Teesside and Cleveland flying clubs out of Teeside Airport. After a further five or so years back in the air as a CFI, Harry’s flying career came to a rather sudden and (nearly terminal) end with his involvement in a serious air-crash in June 1975. This occurred after the DH Chipmunk aircraft he was instructing newly qualified pilot in failed to recover from a spinning exercise. Sadly, Harry’s pupil was killed from injuries received in the crash and Harry was left permanently disabled, with him eventually requiring the replacement of his right ankle joint – which had been badly smashed in the accident – with the UK’s first successful artificial ankle joint.

However, Harry’s involvement in aviation didn’t quite end with his accident, as by then he had become involved as a Civilian Instructor (since 1974) with the UK’s Air Training Corps (ATC), a youth organisation sponsored by the RAF for aviation-minded and (RAF) service-orientated young people aged between 13-18, with which he put in another 25-years of service (which included some further (as he said ‘active’ passenger) flying hours in a number of RAF in-service aircraft types) with three different ATC Squadrons (in Bishop Auckland, Malton and York) until he finally retired from ATC-service in 1999.

Harry in later retired life, by then having returned to his native Co. Durham, was an active member of the Typhoon and Tempest Association, the Typhoon Entente Cordiale Trust (TECT), and 5 (AC) and 111 (F) squadron associations.

Above – reunion with his former armourers of 175 Squadron taken in 1999, Normandy, France. L-R: Harry Cliff, Harry Pears and Les Bellamy.

Relaxed and good company, he was equally at ease with both older and younger generations. He remained until the end passionate about the RAF and all things aviation.

He married his wife Ann on the 29th January 1949; she survives him along with their son and two daughters, three grandsons and one granddaughter, and three great grandsons.

Information kindly submitted to Aircrew Remembered on 16th March 2016 by his son, Mike Pears. Also many thanks to Mair Cawston of BFTS – April 2017.

KTY 16.03.2016

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