Former Second World War pilot who made many friends in Cumbria

Date: Monday 24th December 2018

A FORMER Second World War fighter pilot, Tony Ford, who lived at Beckfoot Hall, Kirkby Stephen, for more than 30 years, died on Armistice Day, aged 96.

Born Anthony Charles Baynton Ford on 10th October, 1922, he grew up in the south of England and was educated at Clifton School, Bristol. After finishing school he helped his aunt on their farm in Gloucestershire.

He also spent some time with his uncle in the family firm of Charles E. Ford, importers of grain and animal feeds.

In July, 1941, at the age of 19, he started training as a pilot at RAF Luton and made his first solo flight only a fortnight later after completing just 10 hours of flying time. At that point he was classified as “average”.

Four weeks later he completed 150 hours and was then classed as “above average”, having flown a number of different aircraft and helped train other pilots.

Six months later he transferred to the Fleet Air Arm and continued his training, along with Laurence Olivier, who he often referred to as “my friend Larry”. Tony then joined 760 Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton, flying Hurricanes. Later that year he was posted to 807 Squadron to fly Seafires, which were Spitfires modified for deck landings.

He remained with this squadron for much of his active flying career until the end of the war, taking part in the North African campaign, the Italian landing and the south of France invasion.

During the war he flew a total of 12 different aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Volunteer Reserve Decoration.

A modest man, Tony always stressed the importance of having had excellent ground crews for his success. He admitted that the most terrifying aspect of his flying career was landing on a moving aircraft carrier in the pitch dark with no lights, and only one relatively small arrester hook to stop you from ending up in the sea.

After being demobbed in 1945, he continued to fly with the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve, finally being made commanding officer of 1834 Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton, flying Vampire jets until 1956, when the government stopped all RNVR weekend flying training.

Nevertheless, Tony continued to fly light aircraft and gliders for pleasure for a further 20 years.

After the war, he completed his education at Cambridge University, obtaining a degree in agriculture, also playing rugby for the university.

He married Sheila Layton in 1950 and they had four children. They farmed in Wiltshire while Tony also continued to work in the family business. In 1965 he was elected president of the Corn Trade Guild, and was also president of the Wiltshire Bridleways Association for many years.

In the mid-1960s Tony and Sheila parted and, in 1976, Tony married Ruth MacDonald, nee Renshaw, originally a Cumbrian girl from Appleby who grew up at Burrells. Ruth had four children from a previous marriage.

They bought Beckfoot Hall and Tony moved the family business to Liverpool so he could commute to work. He landscaped the garden round Beckfoot, bought extra land and planted many trees.

Tony loved Cumbria from the outset and immersed himself in local activities and fundraising for local charities. He and Ruth were keen bridge and croquet players and made many friends throughout Cumbria.

They bought two horses and rode regularly. Tony was chief timekeeper at the Lowther driving trials for many years, which he enjoyed immensely, and was instrumental in forming Cumbria Bridleways Association, being on the committee and always helping with fundraising.

Tony and Ruth also supported and fundraised for the Sue Ryder Foundation at Acorn Bank, Temple Sowerby, and other local charities for the elderly and unwell. He supported Penrith and District Red Squirrel Trust with enthusiasm.

In 1986 one of Tony’s sons, Baynton, died from cancer, and he set up the Baynton Ford Charitable Trust, buying land near Lochgilphead, Argyll and Bute, and putting up two log cabins to enable disadvantaged children in Scotland to spend time there at minimal cost. Much of the work and tree planting was done by Tony himself.

After 33 years of living at Beckfoot, Tony moved in 2014 to a Somerset nursing home nearer his family. His memorial service was held last week at St Bartholomew’s Church, Yeovilton.

This church had become derelict in the 1980s. and was bought for £1 by the Fleet Air Arm as its memorial church. Tony and others took a large part in raising the £300,000 needed for its restoration and it was fitting that his service was held there, with tributes from members of his family.

Tony leaves three children, Sarah, Tess and Simon, four stepchildren, Malcolm, Ranald, Ian and Alison, and eight grandchildren.