Obituary: Ron Holton, 91

Ron Holton became an air traffic controller after the war. Picture: contributed
Ron Holton became an air traffic controller after the war. Picture: contributed
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Ron Holton, wartime pilot, air traffic controller and community councillor, has died, aged 91.

Born a true Cockney in Bermondsey, London, on January 27, 1923, Ronald Nelson Holton grew up amid the poverty of the 1930s Depression.

He left school at 13 to bring some money into the family. At 14 he joined the Air Defence Cadets while attending night school to complete his education, gaining his glider pilot’s wings at the age of 16. Although his mother and sisters were evacuated, he and his father remained in London throughout the Blitz, witnessing many distressing sights.

He trained at the RAF College, Cranwell, graduating in the top six. His many wartime narrow escapes included surviving a sabotage attack on his Wellington bomber, resulting in three days stranded in the Sahara desert after a forced landing and miraculous rescue by a warship that was later sunk.

Forced into a lengthy diversion on a flight to India in 1942 due to the German occupation of North Africa, Holton felt both engines falter and lose power at 4000ft over the western Sahara, while fabric began peeling off the port wing. It later emerged the fuel had been contaminated, corrosive acid poured on the wing and radio damaged in a mystery act of sabotage. SOS signals were transmitted with no response.

He also helped sink a German U-boat that had wreaked havoc on Allied shipping, saving his stricken aircraft and the lives of his crew, while still suffering from the effects of his 21st birthday celebrations.

He served in India, Burma, Italy and Sicily, ending the war as an instructor but happy in the knowledge that he had used up all his nine lives on active service. He also met his wife Margaret, then serving as a land girl. After demob he became an air traffic controller, working at Heathrow, Prestwick and finally Edinburgh, where he was chief officer.

He was also instrumental in bringing about the new control tower there. The job was stressful, and he relished family holidays with his three children on the West Coast.

He found a cottage he could call home in Gifford, East Lothian, and immersed himself in local life, becoming a community councillor, helping set up the Gifford Society and, with his wife, becoming president and honorary lifetime president of Gifford Horticultural Society. The couple were guides at nearby Lennoxlove House for 20 years.

Holton, a proud and popular member of the Scottish Saltire Aircrew Association, was predeceased by his wife and is survived by his children Diana, Sue and Michael, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.