DEREK NORMAN JAMES
IEng AMRAeS (Legion d’Honneur)
Derek joined the Gloster Aircraft Company at Hucclecote as an engineering apprentice, working on war-winning Hurricane fighters and Typhoon ground-attack aircraft. While there he joined the Royal Observer Corps, identifying enemy aircraft for our fighter aircraft and gunners. D-Day in June 1944 found him in the same role on a ship, The Empire Cutlass a mile off the landing beaches, where he would later go ashore. He was mentioned in dispatches for his work and only last year heard that he, along with other D-Day veterans, had been awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur. He was a member of the ROC for 42 years, retiring as Group Commandant of No 3 Group (Oxford) with the rank of Observer Commander, and held the ROC Medal with two clasps and the Queen’s Jubilee Medal.
After the War, he became a Flight Engineer in the RAF, and then rejoined Gloster Aircraft as a Service Engineer in the UK, Argentine, Belgium, Denmark & Holland. He became Chief Instructor and manager of the Meteor Technical Training School and was appointed Assistant Technical Sales Manager, then Public Affairs Manager. He joined the SBAC in London as Public Affairs Officer for a number of years before returning to Gloucestershire to join the Dowty Group in the late 1960s as Group Media Relations Manager, responsible for all relations with local, national and international news media.
On the break-up of the Dowty Group, he took early retirement and continued as full-time Editor of Wingspan magazine and also worked freelance for a number of companies as a Public Affairs Consultant.
As an aviation historian and author he had more than 20 books to his name, beginning with an album of Hawker aircraft published in 1972. The most distinguished of these were his histories of Gloster and Westland aircraft and of the Schneider Trophy contest for the definitive Putnam series. Derek also wrote countless newspaper and magazine articles until he was 90. He was a member of the RAeS for 63 years, and presented lectures to many Branches of the RAeS. He was also an air show commentator all around the UK for 25 years commentating at over 100 Displays.
A modest family man, Derek was indeed ‘A Complete Aviation Person’, a hands-on engineer and an aviation writer par excellence.
This personal glimpse shows how little one knows of people you already respect, in fact I didn’t even appreciate that the Royal Observer Corps had ever been placed in ‘Harms Way ’ in this fashion.
MBE CEng FRAeS