Archive for the 'war' Category


The Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Dudley Vernon Steynor

Service conducted by  The Revd Canon Cavell Cavell-Northam


Dudley was born on 16 October 1909 in Malvern where he grew up with his two brothers and sister in a large family home enjoying the freedom of the Malvern Hills.  Kite flying, model aeroplanes, motor cycles and motor cars were just some of the hobbies pursued by the family.

His interest in music developed at an early age as the family were very close to Vernon Warner the young protégé pianist.

Dudley was in one of the first intakes at Stowe school and a contemporary of David Niven, Sir Nicholas Winton and Geoffrey de Haviland .  In later years he bumped into David Niven at Heathrow Airport. David recognised him immediately, which says a great deal about the Steynor profile.

On leaving Stowe he studied the piano in London at the Academy of Music   living in Kew with his brother Martyn.  Together they joined the Hounslow Flying club and learned to fly.

Following his studies at the London Academy of Music he was advised to continue studying in Europe and chose Berlin where he studied at the Edwin Fischer School, only returning due to the imminent possibility of War.

His wish to assist the war effort as a pilot was initially thwarted by poor eyesight.  Having spent some months on the ground as a Link Trainer Instructor, and following a weekend party at the house of Jumbo Edwards his Commanding Officer and pre war Olympic Gold Medal Rower, a further medical in London was arranged. This medical was with the Chief Medical officer of the RAF.  He proceeded to test his eyesight by initially requesting him to read the chart with his good eye and then, without changing the chart and while looking the other way, asked him to read it again!  Dudley passed.

Some months later Dudley bumped into the Chief Medical Officer, thanked him, and asked if he realised that in fact his eyesight in one eye was really quite poor.  He replied that he knew people who could see perfectly and were quite lethal in the air and some people, like  Dudley, who might not have perfect eyesight but were  excellent pilots. As one who spent his time on the ground he would prefer people like Dudley above him!

The outcome of this was a posting to Booker Airfield as an Instructor in charge of B Flight where he spent the rest of the war. Here he met Ann who was assisting the war effort by helping with the tea wagon along with two of the sisters of King Zog of Albania who was living in exile at Parmoor here in Frieth.  Dudley and Ann were married in 1943.

On being de-mobbed Dudley decided that a career as a concert pianist was no longer an option and proceeded to devote his energies to designing and developing various ideas.  The first of these was the Verdik Petrol Economiser which made significant improvements to the petrol consumption of the cars of the day, and was widely acclaimed by the motoring press.

There followed  a humane rat trap which he designed at the request of his uncle in Birmingham who owned a hardware shop and it was the mesh of this trap that led to his next significant development.

A famous burns’ surgeon was staying with the Hon Mrs James in Lane End and on seeing one of the traps announced this was just the mesh needed to make guards to protect children from the horrendous burns suffered as a result of accidents with electric fires.  Dudley came up with a suitable design and as a result was kept busy for a few years supplying the electricity companies and then gas companies with guards to fit to all their various models. It was not long however before the manufacturers started incorporating guards at the manufacturing stage bringing this market to a close.   Guards for open fires were a further development and these carried on selling for a number of years.

Dudley and Ann started their married life at The Cottage, Lane End next to the old Chapel on Moor Common.  William was born here in 1948.

In 1951 they moved to Colliers Corner on the day of the birth of their daughter Linden who Dudley delivered in the absence of the midwife who had not yet arrived.  Dudley always said he was not phased by this as he had been in the Boy Scouts!!!

The family was completed by the arrival of James in 1956.

Although continuing throughout his working life with his inventions he decided that with a growing family to support he needed a more stable income. This led to his ownership of Goodchild’s Garage in Lane End and then a Daf Dealership.  Soon Dafs could be seen wherever you looked!

Among his many and varied interests steam always held a fascination. The purchase of an Avelling & Porter Steamroller gave the local community a much loved landmark as he kept it next to the road outside his house.

In 1964 he was tempted back to flying when William started gliding at Booker, now Wycombe Air Park. Dudley was soon recognised as an excellent pilot and instructor and he continued enjoying his gliding in retirement up to the age of 84.

In early 1981 disaster struck. There were extensive power cuts across the area as a result of a heavy snow fall. Dudley had taken Ann out to get a hot meal when the power was restored. The resultant surge caused a fire in Colliers Corner and they returned to find five fire crews doing their best to get it under control. They had lost nearly everything they owned.

Undaunted, a mobile home was bought and placed at the bottom of the garden for them to live in. The initial clearing of the site was carried out by two young men who were keen to earn some money between their training sessions at Marlow Rowing Club. A number of local tradesmen were engaged to rebuild the house and by the spring of 1982 they were able to return. As a thank you for all the hard work Dudley took the two rowers gliding. In the years that followed he watched with great interest the developing career of one of those rowers, Sir Steve Redgrave.

Following the death of his wife Ann in 1996 he returned to his music and at the grand age of 87 produced two CDs of his favourite piano pieces.

Latterly he kept himself fit by doing at least 10 minutes a day on his exercise bike and completing fiendish Soduko puzzles until only a few months before his death.

His 100th birthday was a milestone he wanted to achieve. He thoroughly enjoyed his day which many here I am sure will remember as it brought Lane End to a standstill!

Escape from France

I am writing this at the end of the first week of the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The chaos there is considerable and we have first-hand experience of it because my daughter-in-law, Jane, used it on the way to visit her daughters, Harriet and Louise, in Switzerland. “It is amazing the authorities could make such a mess after having plenty of time to sort out any problems. Will they never learn?” were William, my son’s, words. With the benefit of my longer memory the answer to this question is “No”. It is part of our British ness – our sense of humour and our never-absent optimism.

Early in September 1939 two of my Banks cousins, Honor and Margaret, asked me if I would take them to France for their holiday. I could use their Austin 10 car and as they had never been out of England they were much looking forward to the adventure. It was to turn out to be rather more of an adventure than they had expected!

I was not too sure that this was a good idea with the political situation at that moment, but finally decided to ‘give it a go’. We went from Dover and enjoyed a leisurely trip to Cannes as is appropriate in an Austin 10 with its maximum speed of 50/60 mph. We stopped frequently and enjoyed the French food and when we reached Cannes – which didn’t impress us very much – we decided to explore the coast. Menton looked lovely and we decided to make it our HQ for a week before setting out on the journey home. It was while we were there that Hitler marched into Poland………….
I was extremely worried as I felt responsible for my cousins and told them that we must return to England at once. We decided to start at daybreak the following day with the hope that we would not be too late to get a boat back home. With my knowledge to the German mind after my two recent years in Berlin, I knew we had landed ourselves in avery sticky spot.
Our journey back was frustrating. You can’t hurry in an Austin 10 and the situation was, I think, rather over my cousins’ understanding. We kept going throughout the day, not stopping for meals, only to refuel. It was well after dark when we reached Calais some twelve hours after we started to be told we were too late, there would be no more sailings. They had cancelled all boats to England. However, they believed Dunkirk was still operating – but with no certainty that we would find a boat with space there.
We hurried on and with much arguing, and the fact that we had fully paid return tickets for the car and ourselves that finally secured us got us on a boat. This was blacked out and sailed zigzag in case there were submarines about.
I don’t remember what time we reached Dover, but life seemed so calm after the previous 24 hours and we had an unhurried journey to Great Witley to deliver the car and my cousins back home. A few days later we heard Chamberlain announce on the radio that “A state of war now exists between ourselves and Germany” after giving Hitler the chance to back down.

The subject of this addition to my website seems to have wandered a little. It started when, my daughter Linden described the journey she and her husband, Adrian, had just completed in a single day returning from the Scottish Isles, after their holiday there. I suggested it would be interesting to compare their journey, 400 miles, in a modern car with two drivers, motorways but far more traffic, with mine in 1939, 600 miles, in a car with a maximum speed of 60 mph and only one driver. Of course I had more urge!

Flying at Booker – landing out

The country between Princes Risborough and Aylesbury was our low flying area and when a pupil had soloed we would send him there to practise his flying and so prevent the circuit becoming over crowded. There was a useful landmark in this area – the Chinnor cement works with its smoking chimney – and pupils were told to fly south when they wanted to return to Booker. If they failed to spot the airfield in poor weather they would soon see the river Thames. Then all they had to do was find Marlow and follow the road to the airfield. I remember when two of our pupils on the same day didn’t make it home. One of them turned left when he saw the river and followed it for miles and miles, finally landing at Hornchurch. The other one turned right and flew on and on until, as he said “I ran out of river and landed in a field”. The barrage balloons were up and the first one had flown through the lot. When asked if he had seen them he replied “Oh yes, but I kept well below them”!

If a pupil lost his way and ‘landed out’ he was instructed to phone Booker with as much information as possible and we would send two instructors in a single Tiger Moth to retrieve him My flight Commander Michael Harraway and I formed a rescue team and we had some interesting moments. A pupil had landed in a field at Pinner and the police had put him in the local Goal. My sister-in-law Betty lived in Pinner and I phone her and we met at the field. She was thus able to see our rescue team in operation. On another occasion a pupil had landed in a field next to the local vicar’s house. The vicar insisted we had tea with him before we left. The vicar had an attractive daughter and Michael told me to take the pupil back in the pupil’s Tiger Moth and he would follow later. This worried me a bit because Michael was very susceptible to young ladies and it was already late in the day and we had a forty mile journey ahead of us. I was met on the airfield by the CFI, Jackie Hicks, with “What’s happened to Michael?”. He arrived half-an-hour later as our CFI was about to get the Chance-light going. Before coming to Booker Michael had been adjutant to Group Captain Malan at Biggin Hill. He suggested to me that we could use our compulsory blind-flying time by flying to Biggin Hill. We went there in a Magister and arrived as their Spitfires were returning from a successful strike over France. A moment for celebration followed, and Michael was quickly drawn into the Officers’ Mess. I went to the Sergeants’ Mess and had some difficulty refusing most of the drinks offered me. But I had the journey home and I had doubts about Michael’s ability to fly when the time came to go. My doubts were justified and his friends had to lift him into the Magister. I needed a little help too I regret to say and I have no memory of the actual take-off. The first thing I can remember was that we were at 2000ft and my brain was clearing. I think Michael was then asleep. I was now faced with the task of locating the half-mile gap over the river which marked the only safe crossing if we were to avoid being shot down by the Army anti-aircraft guns. In my present state I knew this would be impossible. The alternative was to fly South until clear of balloons. It was a longer flight, but I was becoming more sober every minute and made a good landing back at Booker. Looking back at this episode I remember feeling confident that I would be able to manage. I put this down to the competence one achieves from a thousand hours of instructing. As Cecil Lewis says in his last book, All My Yesterdays, “In the First World War I had been accounted a first-class fighter pilot, expert in aerobatics; but there is nothing like instructing to teach you accurate flying. By the time I had been at it three months, I was flying far more skilfully than I had ever flown before.”

After the war Michael Harraway became our solicitor. Ann and I were fond of him and he often stayed with us. He lost his life at a fireworks party given by Diana Dors when some fireworks exploded inside the house and set fire to it.

Flying at Booker

Early in 1942 an American, Finlay, came as pupil to B flight. America had not yet decided to help us. Finlay had soloed in America and he just felt the urge to help us in the war. We all wanted to do our best for him and his training was taken in personal hand by our flight commander, F/Lt Davey who had been a pilot in the 14-18 war and, like Cecil Lewis, had re-enlisted. But Davey failed to get Finaly up to solo in a Tiger Moth, and he asked me to see what I could do. I see from my log Book I took Finlay up seven times covering 2 hours before sending him solo on March 10th 1942. I remember Davey’s words when I gave him this news. “I think our troubles have just begun.” How true this was to prove! Finlay could fly safely enough, but his navigation skill was nil. I gather that in America there are straight lines everywhere. Like our own pupils Finlay was required to do several solo cross country flights. Even if he landed at another aerodrome he was supposed to phone Booker to get someone to guide him back home. After a few such flights Finlay decided to do it his way “I have caused enough trouble already”. I think he arrived at his last destination, but the return to Booker beat him. We receive a call from Pershore airfield “ We have just sent off your LAC Finlay having pointed him in the right direction.” Now Pershore is about an hour away but he only made it back after some three hours. Next morning I marched Finlay before Davey in our flight hut. “Why did you take so long to get here from Pershore?” Davey asked him. “Well Sir, I had to stop to re-fuel”. I saw Davey drop his head and cover his face with his left hand whilst indicating ‘get out of my sight’ with his right. I marched Finlay out of the hut and found Davey crying with laughter, tears running down his cheeks. America was now in the war with us and Finlay joined them.


During my two years in Berlin (1935/6) I went to most of Edwin Fischer’s concerts, some of them with his Chamber music Orchestra. During one of these a dozen storm troopers burst onto the stage with the words “There are some Jews in this Orchestra: Throw them out; we want to hear German music.” In the end of ten minutes of discussion the Nazis withdrew with “We’re sorry, we were sent to the wrong hall.” It was good to see that the entire audience was against them.

At another concert with the same Orchestra we noticed the piano was barely audible and at the end, when the usual acclaim was at its height, Fischer walked up to the piano to give his customary encore and the first thing he did was to lower the lid of the open Steinway and then sit down on the piano stool to gasps of “Good. I thought he was telling us to go home.” He then played Schubert’s A flat Impromptu to softly and beautifully he had the entire audience completely in his grip. Some were openly weeping and there were many handkerchiefs visible. It was an amazing occasion. In the artist’s room afterwards we, his students, saw him dancing about saying “I knew that would get them” and then to us “Didn’t you notice how soft that Steinway was. I chose it specially with a view to the Schubert at the end after the very loud Bach”. I can applaud such showmanship!

World War II

Start of World War II

My two years in Berlin convinced me that Germany was preparing for war. I was billeted with a pleasant family who were very pro-Hitler and I saw a lot of the man at rallies. The general attitude was summed up for me by the words of a Pub owner I met “We would like, with England, to rule the World.” There was a certainly no animosity towards the English, but the feeling of “we are the master race” prevailed everywhere. I tried to convey this to my parents in letters, but to no avail.

When I finally came back home, the first thing I did was to learn to fly. My brother, Martyn who was just over a year younger than me, had already started to learn and was already flying solo. I learnt rapidly and at no stage had any problems. My years playing with model aircraft were paying off and I soloed after some five hours dual on a Gipsy Moth. Flying, for me, held fewer problems that playing the piano! Martyn and I joined the Civil Air Guard and obtained our flying at two and sixpence an hour. We flew from Hanworth aerodrome until we had to move due to so many complaints of the noise. We then moved to a small field with a shed in it called Gatwick and we were about to be kicked out of this one when Hitler solved the problem by declaring war (actually we did the declaring).

During these three years before war I earned a bit by teaching music, and I especially remember three young girls I taught at a house in Regents Park owned by an Admiral Blake. The girls were about 8/10 years old and one of them used to enjoy her music lessons from the top of the upright piano onto which she would crawl. These girls would now be around 80 and may well be alive. There was a lot of road works going on outside and I was told that Mrs Simpson lived in one of the nearby flats and they were installing a private telephone line to Buckingham Palace. So you see I was starting to move into the highest circles. Many of Vernon Warner’s pupils were from titled families and as fast as he was cutting down his teaching I was, as fast, gaining pupils, finally becoming music teacher at Stocks in his place – but that was after the war.

In 1939 both Martyn and I joined the RAFVR and because we had both soloed we were made Sergeants at once but told we were not yet needed in view of our age. When we were finally called up we were posted to Cardington to learn all about discipline, saluting, marching, fire-arms drill and how to write a report of any unusual activity. “Sir, I have the honour to report etc etc.” Little did I expect that, but for fate stepping in I might had had to write “Sir, I have the honour to report I have shot the Adjutant”. This was during the next stage in our RAF life. We had moved on to Cambridge were we were trained as Link Trainer (visual) Instructors (they still only wanted younger pilots) and we were operating from the engineering Labs (opposite Leys School) There were five entrances to these Labs and as we had to provide our own guard we were given an extra Corporal and an army rifle with two rounds of ammunition. We were obviously not going to get much sleep as the Germans were dropping spies all over East Anglia. As the Senior chap in charge I decided to do something about this. So I ransacked the Labs and came up with five trip switches operated by a length of black cotton across each entrance and connected to one of those panels with coloured lights and a buzzer. We could now snooze in peace. As I am a hopeless shot and my brother a good one. I arranged for him to have the gun and I would have the powerful torch with I would point at the intruders and shout “Halt or I fire”. My brother, now with the loaded gun to fire at the intruders feet at my command, and shoot to kill with the second shot should they fail to halt. We got the call at 3.30am and all went as arranged until I have the order to fire as the four or so men continued to advance. Then came my brother’s anguished cry “The bloody gun’s jammed”. This was not uncommon. I had kept my torch on the approaching men until they arrived at the guardroom door to reveal our adjutant in a state of semi-intoxication. He was out on an inspection of all the guard posts. He was not amused and our rifle and rounds were immediately called in and we never got replacements.

I applied again to become a pilot, but was turned down on the eyesight test (I have always had a weak left eye) so accepted a posting to the Oxford University Air Squadron as a visual Link Instructor. Our CO was WCdr Edwards, a difficult man to get to know but kind to me when I contracted double-pneumonia. He took me back to his own house during my recovery and later on asked me to fly him in his own Avian to Swindon where he had an appointment. On landing back at Abingdon he asked me “Why aren’t you flying?” I told him about my eyesight problem and he said “leave it to me”. I then received a summons to appear at the Radcliffe hospital for a medical. For the usual eye test I read the smallest line easily with my good eye and the doctor then turned his back walked away saying “now with the other eye”. So I read it again with my good eye. “Good, that’s all right” was his verdict and I passed. A few days later I received a posting to Cambridge for a flying course. I passed this easily and was recommended for an Instructors’ Course – also held at Cambridge Aerodrome. Here I met the best pilot I have ever flown with – Peter May the aerodrome’s CO. He could do with a Tiger Moth what was considered to be impossible – continuous rolls without losing height and dual too. He showed me the trick and after I’d managed two of them successfully he said “Now go and practise it”. Remember the Tiger Moth has no inverted fuel system so the petrol must be kept flowing when you are upside down. A barrel roll is useless because a lot of height is lost on each revolution. After considerable practice I once managed three rolls solo – never one dual! But I loved aerobatics! My next posting was to Booker as a fully qualified flying instructor and there I met my wife and life changed. I remembered JF’s words on leaving Stowe “The best years of your life are always ahead”. Here my brother Martyn and I had temporally lost track of each other because he decided to take up the option, which we had both been offered, of leaving the Air Force and he was now with the Air Transport Auxiliary and was soon to be flying Spitfires, Mosquitos and may other from factory to squadrons. He was based at White Waltham, so we met frequently. I had been recommended for a commission while I was at Cambridge which I managed to avoid because this would have meant another medical exam. I would have failed this on eyesight and probably taken off flying – a thought I could not bare. Better to get a good many hours in as an instructor plus a good report at the end of them before venturing down this hazardous lane again. And so it was after a thousand hours of successful instructing I was again recommended for a Commission. But there was a difference. My CO W/Cdr George O’Donnell insisted in over-riding my objection. So I faced another medical – and, of course – I failed it. This apparently worried everyone and I was sent to a guru in the Eyesight world – a W/Cdr Livingsone, one of Morefields top surgeons. He looked at my eyes and said “you have always had this poor eye and have adapted completely to it you can see perfectly well – I pass you!.” Back to Booker now with a new uniform and a weight off my shoulders. The rest of the war was mainly uneventful. On Sept 26 1942 I struck a drifting balloon cable a little north of Aylesbury. I was on a cross-country exercise in a Magister N3971 with a pupil Corporal Gladman. A fairly exciting few minutes followed. The cable cut into the left wing close to the fuselage. The balloon was not visible being in cloud 500 feet above us. It soon appeared behind us and quite close. The cable was streaming forwards over the wing a few inches from me. Presently it reversed and started moving backwards and finally ran out and we were free. From start to finish we had lost 1500 ft in height and were now at 1000 ft above ground. I climbed up to cloud base and tested the flaps which are invisible from the cockpit and all seemed well. I told Gladman to take over and complete the exercise – we were on the way to Sywell. “Please Sir, do you think we could go back to Booker – I want to go to the lavatory” was his answer. I agreed and told him to work out the reciprocal and go ahead. A few moments later “Sir it is nothing to do with the accident”. A good fellow!”

Later on we lost the Lane End Telephone exchange to a V1 flying bomb and I remember the night my wife and I were in bed and we heard the familiar pop-pop-pop of an approaching V1. The pops became fewer and then ceased followed by the swish of air as the wretched thing passed directly over our house. And then merciful silence! It had not exploded and was later recovered.

World War II

An interesting story here.

Here is the comment to the story:
Dear Douglas Smithson ,
I have been reading your most interesting and well writen articals, which as a glider pilot I am well able to understand. I think you could well write a book with all those experiences and get it published.
When you trained at Booker, do you recall an RAFVR instructor by the name of Dudley Steynor there?
After the war he became a part time gliding instructor with Booker Gliding Club, where he taught me to fly, and only finished doing this at the age of 84, in 1994, which must be something of a record. He only finished doing this then, because he felt unable to conform to newly introduced instructional methods. Namely,a change from holding off the the stall with rudder which he had always taught and most effective too, I might add.
He was awarded the AFC in 1944,and the BGA Diploma in1988.
He is also an accomplished pianist ,and studied under Vernon Warner,possibly the finest Chopin player of the day.
He has given me a CD of his favourite pieces produced by Aerosonic Ltd in 1997, with thanks to Ablex Audio Vidio Ltd Telford.
Kind Regards,
Dennis Barnes.

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