Obituary: Harry Tait, 91

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HARRY Tait, a Second World War pilot who later became a supporter of the National Museum of Flight, has died at the age of 91.

Born in Edinburgh, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force in March 1940. After a few months as a radar operator defending Scapa Flow he retrained as aircrew, hoping to become a navigator but was told he would be a pilot instead.

He was posted to Egypt before being sent to Rhodesia for his pilot training and then to a reconnaissance squadron, flying at low level around the Mediterranean looking for Italian and German ships to be attacked. It was highly dangerous work which Mr Tait – with his usual modesty – just shrugged off.

His last recce trip was to confirm the sinking of the liner Rex, which had once held the Blue Riband for crossing the Atlantic.

The ship had been spotted making its way up the Yugoslavian coast towards Trieste, and the intention had been to use it as a block ship, making the harbour useless for the Allies. Mr Tait, who experienced heavy flak, photographed the ship lying on its side in Capodistria Bay.

Later, he volunteered for anti-shipping strike work and was posted to RAF East Fortune for the training course. This was the start of a long-term relationship with the site. He was trained in Beaufighter low flying and had air-to-air inception practice over Fidra and the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth.

Following his training, he flew Bristol Beaufighters from the Moray coast until the end of the war – again, dangerous work attacking shipping off the strongly defended Norwegian coast.

Mr Tait became a big supporter of the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune.

Ian Brown, assistant curator of the museum, said: “The connection with East Fortune went back to his time training there but Harry remained a staunch supporter of the National Museum of Flight. He became a regular visitor and would often pop in for a chat over a coffee and got to know the staff well.

“He donated some items relating to his wartime service, some of which are displayed in the museum, and was interviewed for a film.

“This is screened in the Fortunes of War exhibition, which tells the story of RAF East Fortune. His last visit to the museum was in May when he was able to renew his acquaintance with the Beaufighter under restoration there.”

Mr Tait, who passed away peacefully at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh, was predeceased by his wife Phyllis Georgina (nee Gooding). He leaves son Harry, daughter-in-law June, and grandchildren Karen and Fraser.

A celebration of his life was held at Mortonhall Crematorium Main Chapel on Tuesday.