Probus Club of Thame Honour Centenarian at RAF Halton

The Probus Club of Thame honoured one of its founder members at a luncheon in Halton House, the Officers’ Mess at Royal Air Force Halton, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The late Raymond (Ray) Louis Roberts achieved his hundredth birthday on 12th September 2015 and regretfully passed away on the morning of the luncheon. Thanks to the resilience of the Mess staff, the luncheon was changed in the course of the morning from one of a birthday celebration to one of a celebration of Ray’s life.

The use of the Officers’ Mess for this luncheon had been approved by Halton because of Ray’s extensive wartime experience as a bomber pilot. A total of 65 attended the luncheon, with the President of the Club, Ralph Newell, presiding. The deputy Station Commander, Wing Commander Ray Morley, and the President of the Mess Committee, Squadron Leader Andy Crabtree, attended as guests of the Club as did Ray’s son and daughter in law, Professor Stephen Roberts and his wife Clare. The official sponsor of the function, Group Captain Derek (Min) Larkin RAF (Ret’d) and his wife Barbara, also attended as guests.

Ray completed his training as an architect in 1938 but always had a love of flying – indeed, a close friend of the family was Geoffrey de Havilland, the aviation pioneer and aircraft designer. Ray joined the Auxiliary Air Force in 1938 where, as he put it, “I was taught to fly properly”. This early professional training and air experience may have had a profound effect on his surviving the war years, as he had many hours under his belt before being pitched into the maelstrom that was the air war of 1939-45.

He commenced operational duties at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and was assigned to 53 Squadron which was equipped with twin engine Blenheim light bombers adapted to a night fighter role.

In 1939/40 he saw service in France, his main role being reconnaissance of German military formations as they advanced across Europe to the Channel coasts of Denmark, Belgium and France. After a very hurried return to England, during the Battle of Britain and beyond, he flew many sorties against the invasion barges and coastal airfields of Northern France.

In 1941 Ray was assigned as an instructor to No 42 Operational Training Unit based at RAF Andover.

After a year he was posted to XV Squadron and then, after only four operational bombing missions in Stirling bombers, converted to Lancaster. In addition to his previous operational missions, he completed a full tour of 30 operational missions on Lancaster bombers. After this, in August 1943, he was assigned to staff duties and by the end of the war he had attained the rank of Wing Commander.

At the end of the war he was seconded to the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation and flew converted Lancaster bombers and subsequently Lancastrian passenger aircraft on the Karachi route for about a year, before returning to the world of architecture. However, he transitioned from architecture to surveying and eventually became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

In the 1970s, in recognition of his wartime service, along with about 80 other RAF veterans, he received the freedom of the City of London. However, he did not consider himself a hero. He was quick to emphasise that he was just doing a regretfully necessary job.

With 14 other retired professional and business men, he founded the Probus Club of Thame in November 1989 and was President of the Club from 1992 to 1994.

A consummate gentleman, Ray always led by example. He will be missed by all who had the pleasure and privilege of meeting him.