Article originally printed in the Lincolnshire Echo. Reproduced here with permission of Derek’s daughter Pauline Roose.

Robert Derek Butcher Ancient Aviator Extraordinaire

Born: 27.9.1924 Died: 28.10.2000

TRIBUTES to 40 years of meritorious service in the Royal Air Force and devotion to his country have been paid to Mr Derek Butcher who died in the Lincoln County Hospital.

Born in Ponteland, Newcastle-on- Tyne he was educated at local schools. In 1942 aged 17, Derek fulfilled a lifetime ambition and joined the RAF It opened the door to the world and involved him in many death defying exploits.

After initial training as a Flight Engineer he was posted to RAF Kirmington flying Lancasters with No166 Squadron. On August 31,1944, he was shot down over Abbeville, Belgium. One of his co-crew was the well known actor Donald Pleasance. They were captured and transported to a prisoner of war camp. But being the man he was, Derek Butcher decided to escape. However, he was recaptured and threatened with a firing squad if he tried to escape again.

But courage was the name of Derek’s game and he made another escape attempt. This time he was successful and made contact with the Maquis. He was sheltered in the attic of the home of a Belgian family in Brussels until liberation by British and Canadian forces.

For Derek Butcher this must have been one of the most trying times of his life. To be cooped up in an attic, not knowing if the next knock on the door I could be the enemy I which would mean certain death for him and his host family. In an amazing feat of survival they all stayed alive on a diet of cats and carrots.

Derek’s mother was sent a War Office telegram notifying her that her son was missing. It also stated that she was not to divulge any of this information to anyone.

At the end of the Second World War, Derek converted to Sunderlands and Firedogs and took part in 82 operations in the Korean and Malayan campaigns.

In recognition of his courage and devotion to duty, Derek Butcher was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for valuable service in the air. This award was published in the London Gazette on June 9,1955.

In his eulogy, Mr Reg Atkin spoke of his meeting with Master Engineer Derek Butcher.

“On October 10 1961 he was serving with Air Crash Rescue at Aden.

“A Hastings had come in to refuel and then crashed on take-off. We managed to rescue 23 of them but sadly 19 were killed. One of the survivors was Derek Butcher whose only injury was his wristwatch bedded into his hand. We never met again until I was posted to Scampton and I overheard two men talking about the crash. I recognised the story, and Derek, and we became friends. In his career he achieved almost 12,000 flying hours.”

Like all true heroes Derek Butcher was a modest man and would much rather talk about his wife and family than any of his exploits.

Derek returned to England and RAF Manby to fly Lincoln bombers with Sir Angus Walker. Whilst serving there he met his wife Shelagh.  On February 14, 1956 Valentine’s Day- Shelagh was helping out at a local pub darts match.

“Derek leaned over the bar and asked the barmaid my name,” said Shelagh.

“Tell her I’m going to marry her”” he said. And true to his word he did, five months later on July 14.”

JUST MARRIED: Flight Engineer Derek Butcher and his wife Shelagh after their wedding on July 14, 1956.

He became a devoted husband and father and together they travelled the world. They had two children a son John, who was tragically killed whilst on holiday 10 years ago, and a daughter Pauline.

Master Engineer Derek Butcher served at Dishforth. RAF Colerne. Cyprus, Boscombe Down and almost every other operational RAF station.

He also flew a Sunderland running stores to the British Greenland Expedition and struggled for 13 hours in freezing, blizzard conditions to repair the engines to get vital supplies through. They flew over 7,000ft high ice peaks but completed their mission and landed safely. It is typical of the man that in his letter home he merely wrote. “It’s hard work out here.”

But perhaps most of all Derek will be remembered for his service at RAF Scampton with the Batttle of Britain Memorial Flight. In another eulogy Squadron Leader Ken (Jacko) Jackson, who piloted the Lancaster in the Memorial flight said:

Derek had a wonderful, unblemished career. He was always immaculately turned out, always on time and never refused to do a job.”

PROUD MOMENT: Derek Butcher pictured with ‘The City of Lincoln’ Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

But perhaps most of all, the memory of this gentle-gentleman is recalled by his daughter who said:

“Not a day went by without my father making me feel special.

But what more would one expect from Derek Butcher whose first claim to  fame was being paid £100 for posing in one of the famous advertisments as a Pears Baby for the well known toilet soap manufacturers?

The service, held at St Chad’s Church, Dunholme was conducted by RAF Waddington padre the Rev Stuart Darlison and followed by interment.

The coffin was draped with the Union Flag and a trumpeter played the Last Post and Reveille, while a lone Red Arrow flew overhead.  His widow proudly wore 16 of his service decorations.

The arrangements were by the Lincoln Co-operative Funeral services and donations were for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Welton Health Centre and St Chads, Dunholme.

Mr Butcher is survived by his wife. one daughter, four grandchildren and three great grand sons.

RELAXING: Derek and Shelagh pictured relaxing at their home.

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