Our Gateshead

The Passing of a True Hero

      Thomas Bartley Hughes 

23rd November 1921 - 31st December 2010

Aged 18 in 1940, he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a pilot and started his flying training on DH Tiger Moths at 7 Elementary Flying Training School at Desford, Leics, that October. There he flew in a mix of civilian and service-registered machines for 38 hours before moving on to 8 Flying Training School at Montrose, Scotland, to fly Miles Masters for a further 72 hours.

Assessed as 'above average', Tom was posted to the Central Flying School at Upavon, Wilts, joining 82 (23 War) Flying Instructors Course on Airspeed Oxfords and Avro Tutors. After a further 92 hours, and a total of just 202 hours flying, he qualified as a Flying Instructor on June 15,1941. Tom joined 11 Service Flying Training School at Shawbury, Shropshire, in June 1941, flying Oxfords. That October he was posted to the College Flying Training School at Cranwell, Lincs, still flying the Oxford, but in December he moved to the Advanced Flying Unit and started flying Masters as well. In March 1942, he moved to 60 Operational Training Unit at East Fortune, Scotland, and started to fly a wider range of types, including the Bristol Blenheim and Bisley, Beaufighter II, DH Dominie, Fairey Battle and Miles Magister.

Tom was posted to 72 Squadron on January 28,1943. No.72 Squadron was based at Pachino in Sicily, flying Spitfire IXs in August 1943. On August 19 opposition in Sicily ended and in September Tom was posted to 43 Squadron as commander of 'A' Flight, his new unit moving to Falcone, Italy.

On December 18,1943 his luck finally ran out when he was shot down just north of the monastery at Monte Cassino. His Spitfire was brought down by machine-gun fire when he was making a strafing attack. It caught fire and he was too low to bale out. His trousers were burned off his legs below the knees and he hit his head during the crash-landing and remembers little of the crash. His burns were treated by the Germans and then was moved, stretcher-bound from Italy to Germany. He was 'exchanged' in a 1 for 3 scheme with German prisoners, having been assessed by a panel of doctors as requiring repatriation. He then spent four days crossing Germany by train, worried sick that the RAF would find them and shoot them up. From Switzerland he was taken to Marseilles, where he boarded the liner Arundel Castle and sailed past Gibraltar to Liverpool and home, where Tom's father was waiting to greet him on the quayside.

After the war Tom went to Cambridge and did his Mechanical Sciences Tripos before working in design offices for AEI, Hotpoint, Pilkington and Ronson - later becoming a freelance consultant engineer. He did not leave aviation completely, becoming a leading member of the Cambridge University Gliding Club until 1951. He has been an active member of the 72 Squadron Association for many years. In April 1919 American Leslie Irvin hurled himself deliberately out of an aircraft. He was testing the world's first self-deployable parachute. He formed the Irvin Air Chute company (now Irvin Aerospace) Leslie decided that anyone who used an Irvin parachute to leave a stricken aircraft and therefore save their life should become a member of a club. His parachutes used a lot of silk and he decided that the caterpillar was an ideal emblem. In 1922, he decided to award a gold tie pie to club members - getting on for 100,000 have been issued. Leslie Irvin also gave the world the flying jacket that also carries his name

Tom met his future wife Joan at Cambridge and they married in 1948,  they lived at Old Station Court, Ponteland, Northumberland.

They were both aged 89 years and due to celebrate their diamond wedding. Sadly Tom took ill on New Years Eve 2010 and was taken into hospital, he died that same night.

A service of Thanksgiving for the life of Tom took place on Thursday 27th January 2011 at the Parish Church of St Mary The Virgin, Ponteland.

72(R) Squadron performed a flypast for Tom at 1.0pm by kind permission of the Station Commander RAF Linton-on-ouse

You can read more about Tom on our alternative website 'High Marley Hill Air Crash' : www.sunnisidelocalhistorysociety.co.uk

 

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