A 2022 obituary. And a more personal admiration....
Lieutenant Ivor Faulconer, Fleet
Air Arm pilot who flew the
Walrus amphibian biplane during
the war – obituary
Later he survived two accidents when serving as a night fighter pilot and
after the war he was a founding member of the Royal Air Squadron
By 21 Telegraph Obituaries December 2022 • 1:05pm
Lieutenant Ivor Faulconer, who has died aged 101, was one of the last surviving pilots to have flown the Walrus amphibian biplane and a founding member of the Royal Air Squadron.
In December 1941, Faulconer was appointed senior pilot of two Walrus in the battleship King George V, flagship of the Home Fleet. He recalled: “On board KGV, there were two admirals, six captains, 19 commanders and 27 lieutenant-commanders. At times, although I was only a very junior sub-lieutenant, technically, I was a head of department and, as such, I had direct access to the captain. When we were going to fly, I had to go up to the bridge and he would ask me, ‘Where do you want me to steer the ship?’ and later, ‘How did I do?’  ”

The ungainly looking Supermarine Walrus was an amphibious biplane with a single pusher engine, reckoned to be one of the noisiest, coldest and most uncomfortable of aircraft, yet it came from the same stable as R J Mitchell’s better-known Spitfire. Manufactured at Woolston, Southampton, the Walrus first flew in 1933, and though thought inelegant it was a rugged aeroplane which saw postwar service as an air-sea-rescue plane until the advent of the helicopter in the 1950s.

The Walruses embarked in King George V in wartime for spotting, reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare and were the first front-line naval aircraft to be fitted with radar. When launched by catapult, Faulconer recalled, “you went from 0 to 50 mph in about 20 yards. You had to make friends with the gunnery officer who fired the rocket, because if the ship was rolling, you could be pointing downhill.” It was affectionately known as the “steam pigeon” from the steam produced by water striking the hot Pegasus engine.
Based in the Orkneys and in Iceland, Faulconer was on several hunts for German capital ships, on convoy escort in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and was in KGV when she ran down the destroyer Punjabi on May 1 1942. He also participated in the Battle of the Barents Sea on December 31 1942 when the Kriegsmarine’s failure to inflict significant losses on convoy JW 51B so infuriated Hitler that he gave the order that German naval strategy should concentrate on U-boat rather than surface warfare.
In early 1943, Faulconer volunteered to become a night fighter pilot, flying the two-seat Fairey Fulmar, which had been withdrawn from service as a day fighter. Deployed at sea to repel shadowers, but with too little experience of night-time deck-landing, Faulconer suffered two accidents. The first was on February 2 1944, when he hit the barrier onboard the escort carrier Ravager. The the second, more serious, was on March 3 1944, when he hit the round-down (at the after end of the flightdeck) of the escort carrier Nairana. Laconically he recorded: “The aircraft broke in half. Luckily, the half we were in stayed onboard.”
Ivor Christopher Faulconer was born on March 27 1921 at Munden House, Watford, the third son of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Cholmley Faulconer and his wife, the Hon Elsie Holland-Hibbert. He was educated at Scaitcliffe in Surrey before going to Eton in 1934, where George Lyttelton was his housemaster: Lyttelton, he remembered, had huge hands and was able to tear a telephone directory in half.
Ivor’s mother was a pioneer aviatrix and a friend of the “Flying Duchess” of Bedford, and as a boy he would help prepare for visits by his mother’s aviation friends to the family home, Nottlers, St Albans, by pegging out sheets to mark the landing ground. He recalled: “The great thing was not to get one’s head cut off by the propeller, and I always remember being waved away as pilots taxied in.”
To accommodate 15 aircraft at an air display at Nottlers in 1933, the fence between two fields had to be taken down, and young Faulconer witnessed wing-walkers and a wonderful aerobatic display by the circumnavigator Mrs Victor Bruce in her black-and-white chequered biplane. The event was spread over two days and several of the pilots stayed in the house, where their whisky consumption was prodigious.
Sometimes Faulconer was put in a speedboat on the Welsh Harp Reservoir in north London, where his mother used to practise bombing him with bags of flour. Once, young Ivor went to chapel with his riding clothes under his choir surplice, and as soon as the service was over he dashed out, threw off the surplice and headed for the playing fields, where his father was waiting in a hired Leopard Moth to take him hunting with the Fitzwilliam in Huntingdon.
“Overall,” he wrote, “I had a very privileged introduction to the early days flying and all it entailed, both the excitement and the understandable danger that was taken for granted back then.
After Eton, Faulconer read Geography at New College, Oxford but, with flying in his blood, he volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm in July 1940. He trained in Miles Magisters, Hawker Hinds and Hawker Harts at Luton and Netheravon, before learning to fly Supermarine Walruses at the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Sandbanks, Dorset. Advanced training took place at Milford Haven, where he practised landing in the slick created by a parent ship, which remained underway at about 14 knots, and took about two minutes.
Demobbed in January 1946, Faulconer became a jobbing stockbroker but continued flying with the RAF Reserve, and he bought a half-share of a Tiger Moth. When a friend converted one of these to a seaplane, he used to borrow it to commute to his weekend home at Fishbourne in the Isle of Wight.
In 1966, a chance meeting with Peter Vanneck, who had been a midshipman in KGV, led to the founding of the Air Squadron. Vanneck had transferred to the RAF and had retired as an air commodore before becoming Lord Mayor of London. Over dinner with Vanneck, Tony Cayzer, Hugh Astor (who Faulconer had known at Oxford), Douglas Bader and Faulconer, the idea was mooted of forming the Air Squadron, and each attendee was encouraged to invite another person into the squadron, which gained its royal title in 2016.
The Royal Air Squadron is now a vigorous charity which works with young people and supports the armed services and a wide range of aviation activity, including aviation meets.
Faulconer’s memoir, Take to the Air: Reminiscences of a WW2 FAA Pilot, was self-published in 2014. His flying logbook has not survived but he is thought to have completed more than 100 carrier launches with around 20 at night, flown some 1,500 hours during the war, and about the same number postwar, in 40 different aircraft types.
He married three times, first in 1947 to Anne Fleming (divorced in 1969), secondly, in 1969, to Daphne Breakwell (née Atkinson), who died in 1989, and thirdly, in 1992 to Anne Oliver OBE, who survives him, along with two daughters and a son of the first marriage, and by many stepchildren.
Faulconer was sustained by his Christian faith, and by meditation, which was not necessarily the best way for everyone, but it was the best way he had found.
Ivor Faulconer, born March 27 1921, died October 1 2022
It is not really possible to say very much as a tribute outside of I wish there were more people like him....
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