Flight Lieutenant 'Blondie' Walker DFC
Flight Lieutenant “Blondie” Walker D.F.C.
Born: April 4th 1917, Halifax. Died: November 9th 2008 Age: 91
Flight Lieutenant ‘Blondie’ Walker , who has died aged 91, was a dashing and courageous fighter pilot who excelled at very low-level flying to attack ships with rockets. Many of his attacks were carried out at night in his single-engine Hurricane, and his exploits earned him two DFCs.
Walker was a flight commander on No 6 Squadron, a unit with an outstanding reputation during the North African campaign. In recognition of its tank-busting exploits in the desert, each aircraft was adorned with a flying can-opener. When Walker joined in September 1943, the squadron had turned its attention to attacking shipping and was soon transferred to support operations in Italy.
Based initially in Corsica, Walker flew at 20ft to attack enemy shipping, holding the fire of his four rockets until he was 200 yards from the target. Losses were high on both sides and, with coastal shipping avoiding daylight sailings, Walker pioneered night attacks, at which he became an acknowledged expert and leader.
In June 1944, off Elba, Walker attacked a destroyer in the harbour and scored hits before pulling up steeply over cliffs – when he landed his ground crew removed leaves and twigs from his aircraft’s radiator. In that month he was credited with destroying a number of patrol boats, schooners and barges, and was awarded an immediate DFC.
The squadron then transferred to the Balkan Air Force for operations in the Adriatic, and on July 10 Walker destroyed a ferry. A week later, as he attacked a small ship off the Yugoslav coast, his aircraft was hit and he ditched a mile off the enemy coast. He paddled his dinghy away from the coast as Spitfires circled overhead; after two hours an American flying boat picked him up, under enemy fire.
Two weeks later Walker was attacking a ship that was sheltering beneath a cliff when his Hurricane was badly damaged by flak, and he was forced to bail out over an island – he landed in the sea but was able to paddle ashore. For four days he lived off his survival rations of barley sweets and Horlicks tablets, and fresh water he found at a deserted cottage. He marked out an SOS on the beach using seaweed, and on the fifth day two Spitfires flew close by.
Walker fired his flares to attract their attention, and a few hours later he was rescued by a Catalina. The crewman exclaimed as he hauled Walker aboard: “Not you again!” It was the same crew as had come to his aid a fortnight earlier.
By this time Walker had flown 169 operational sorties, and it was decided to rest him. Over the course of the next month he “borrowed” Hurricanes to visit friends in Corsica, Yugoslavia and Italy, then returned to England, where he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
Arnold Edgar Walker (always known as “Blondie”) was born in Halifax on April 4 1917, the son of a stonemason and builder. He was educated at Heath Grammar School, but left early to join his father’s building firm. When he was 18 his father died, and the young man found himself in charge. This meant that he was in a reserved occupation, but he was passionate about flying; and on the outbreak of war he immediately volunteered for the RAF.
Having completed his pilot training in Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Walker was commissioned and converted to the Hurricane. He was sent to the Middle East, sailing to Freetown in Sierra Leone before flying across the desert to Khartoum and on to Port Said. The first part of the air journey was in a lumbering German-built Junkers 52 transport of the South African Air Force. As it approached to land at Fort Lamy, the gunners defending the airfield, believing they were under attack, opened fire on it but missed.
In August 1942 Walker joined No 94 Squadron, which soon afterwards received four Hurricanes donated by Lady MacRobert, whose three sons had died while serving in the RAF, one of them with No 94. Their names and coat of arms were painted on the nose of the aircraft, and Walker was allocated “Sir Roderic”, which he flew during the North African campaign.
On September 2 Walker was patrolling over Suez when he was vectored on to a Junkers 88 bomber. He hit it with his first shots and pursued it to low level, where another burst set one of the engines on fire. The bomber crash-landed in the desert.
By this time Walker had almost run out of fuel, only just managing to land at an RAF airfield: as he turned off the runway, the engine of his Hurricane died. Later in the day he took a light aircraft and landed alongside the German bomber to examine the effects of his shooting. He also met the pilot, who appeared to be pleased that his war was over.
Shortly afterwards Walker had the unfortunate experience of shooting down an American aircraft. He had been ordered to intercept a low-flying plane that was approaching a convoy. With no Allied activity reported in the area, he was given clearance to attack, and he sent the “enemy” spiralling into the sea. At the subsequent court martial Walker was completely exonerated as the American aircraft was 150 miles off course and had failed to display the mandatory identification codes.
In April 1943 engine failure in his Hurricane forced Walker to land in the desert, where he was marooned for two days before his mechanics arrived to carry out repairs. After scraping out a rough strip, he was able to take off.
At the end of his time with No 94, Walker did not want an instructor’s job, so he volunteered to transfer to No 6 Squadron, which was training with new rockets prior to joining the war in Italy.
On his return to England in October 1944 he became an instructor in the New Forest flying Typhoons. He was released from the RAF in 1946 and returned to re-establish his building company in Halifax, which had been shut down during the war. He wrote a short memoir of his wartime experiences with the dedication: “To my two ground crew – without your fabulous service of my aircraft I would not be alive today”.
In the early post-war years Walker built more than 2,000 council houses and 1,000 private houses, and he continued to construct houses in West Yorkshire for the next half century. He also had building interests in Perth, Western Australia. He was a Liberal councillor in Halifax during the early 1950s and was elected president of the Halifax Building Trades Council.
In whatever field of endeavour, Walker was a fierce competitor. His golf swing was not pretty, but he played off a handicap of four. He first skied at Kitzbühl in 1948, and thereafter returned almost every year until he was 80. He loved fast cars and beautiful women. He was known in the town as “Halifax”, some locals even assuming that he was the Earl of Halifax.
“Blondie” Walker, who died in Australia on November 9, was thrice married and had a daughter and three stepsons; a son predeceased him.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.