Second World War Fleet Air Arm pilot and Norfolk farmer dies aged 97
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One of the last surviving Second World War Fleet Air Arm pilots and a long-time north Norfolk farmer has died aged 97.
Never a man to be in debt, at the funeral of George Henry Shepherd Jones its attendees were surprised to learn of a rare occasion when he called upon a friend for a loan.
When asked how much he needed, he declared the grand sum of 10p to put on the front doorstep for the paperboy. A week later the debt was cleared.
Described by loved ones as a “charming and strong-willed character”, Mr Jones will be remembered as a self-effacing man with an indomitable spirit.
Born on December 19 in 1923, Mr Jones lived in Melton Constable and was educated at Gresham’s School in nearby Holt.
His wartime flying career began when he left school, which at the time had been evacuated to Newquay in Cornwall after the outbreak of the war.
From there he returned home and informed his father that he wanted to join the Royal Navy to fly in the Fleet Air Arm. Being from a farming family, he was reminded that their occupation was a reserved-occupation, which meant he would not be called up for compulsory military service. Mr Jones volunteered for service anyway and enlisted as a Naval Airman, before being selected in 1943 as a Petty Officer for pilot training in Canada.
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After training on a First World War Tiger Moth biplane and US Harvard trainer, he was awarded his Fleet Air Arm wings and commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in the rank of Sub-Lieutenant.
On returning to the UK, his first operational aircraft was the Swordfish torpedo bomber, an open cockpit biplane which he flew in the Battle of the Atlantic. He went on to fly Barracuda and Fireflies with the odd spin in a Supermarine Seafire, from bases in Scotland, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland, from a number of aircraft carriers. He recorded around 125 operational deck landings.
It was his one regret that he was unable to continue flying with the Fleet Air Arm for a few more years, but he was required back on the family farm.
On demobilisation in 1946 he returned and initially assisted his father. He would later take over from him while his elder brother, Peter, ran their Briston farm.
In 1949, he married Hazel and together they had two children, Andrew and Sue. The family lived in High Kelling, where Mr Jones remained until his final days.
When he started his farming career, Shire horses were still being used to bring in the harvest. They were gradually replaced by tractors during the post-war period. By the time he retired, harvesting had become fully mechanised. Mainly an arable farmer, he had a milking herd. This saw him complete a daily milk round delivering 250 gallons around the Holt area every morning. Later, he kept a beef herd.
In 2004, after 38 years working as a farmer, he handed the farm to Andrew. In 2006, Mr Jones suffered a server stroke, leaving him partially paralysed. Through sheer determination, he managed to return to a reasonable level of mobility and even returned to driving. He was recognised for taking regular spins in his duct-taped-together Honda, well into his 90s.
Mr Jones was a governor at Gresham's School for 27 years, and spent a long spell as vice-chairman. During this time, he was invited to become a member and liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, founded in 1272. He was also appointed a Freeman of the City of London.
He was a keen sportsman and played hockey at club level. He represented Norfolk in 75 matches in the position of goalkeeper, wearing none of the protective equipment required today. He was also an accomplished golfer being captain of Sheringham Golf Club in 1976 and a member of the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club at Brancaster into his 90s. He was an avid Norwich City supporter too.
A keen Bridge player, he enjoyed a weekly glass of whiskey with friends, followed by an episode of Dad’s Army.
In 2013, he suffered the loss of his wife, Hazel. The couple had been happily married for more than 63 years.
One of the highlights of his latest years included a visit to a hangar at RAF Marham in September 2019. He was the official guest of the Officer Commanding 617 Squadron - the Dambusters. While there, he saw one of the first Lightning 2 Joint Strike Fighters to arrive in the UK, a plane dubbed one of the most advanced military aircrafts in the world.
A friend to Mr Jones of more than 40 years, Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Houston CBE, read a eulogy at the funeral, which took place at All Saints Church in Beeston Regis, near West Runton, on Thursday, August 12.
A resident of Colkirk, near Fakenham, he said: “[He was] a strong-willed character, a charming but self-effacing man with an indomitable spirit, a strong Christian faith, a lifelong sense of duty and a real interest in people.
“He really did live through a period of extraordinary change.
“He did not hark back to the old days, unless asked about them, and he remained interested in current affairs to the end.”
Mr Jones died on July 22, 2021, and leaves behind his son and daughter, grandchildren Rebecca, Hannah, Nathalie, and Hillary, and great-grandchild Bonnie.
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