Gartrell Richard Ian 'Sailor' Parker DFC* AFC DSM 1918-1963
‘Sailor’ Parker was born on 26 November 1918 at Harberton, Devon, the son of a gamekeeper, being educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes and Cranwell. He joined the RAF as a boy in September 1934 and served at the School of Army Co-operation and 59 (AC) Squadron at Old Sarum 1936-38, becoming a Wireless Operator. From January to March 1938 he served with 3 AACU at Hal Far on Malta, then Gibraltar, returning to Malta in August. Early in this period he trained as an Air Gunner. He was due to return to the UK for Sergeant Pilot training in September 1939 but the outbreak of war prevented this. However, he gained some flying practice in Tutors and Magisters with P/O John Waters and was recommended twice for formal flying training.
In September 1940, after the outbreak of war with Italy, he joined 830 (TSR) Squadron, FAA, also at Hal Far, as a Sergeant WOP/AG in the unit’s Swordfish Torpedo-bombers, and later with 800X Flight, engaged in night interdiction sorties over Sicily in Fulmars. He was Mentioned in Despatches in July 1941 and January 1942, and awarded a DSM by the Admiralty in January 1942 for his work here. He was commissioned in October 1941 and returned to the UK in November, becoming Gunnery Instructor for short periods at 7 AGS prior to and following Gunnery Leaders’ Course No. 32 at CGS Chelveston. In April 1942, after much pressing for a pilots’ course, he was sent to Cambridge 22 EFTS, going solo after two hours having been taught to fly in Malta. He was posted to Caron 33 EFTS in September then to Calgary 37 SFTS on Harvards in November. Here he managed to talk his way out of being made an instructor but was selected for instructor training on returning to the UK in March 1943, being told that at 24 he was too old for day-fighters. Having trained on singles he thought it would be a good idea to instruct on twins and did a conversion at Shawbury and Condover where he managed to get himself selected for night-fighters, being fortunate in having exceptional night vision. He was posted to Grantham AFU on Blenheims in July 1943 and Cranfield OTU on Beauforts and Beaufighters in November. Training finally came to an end in March 1944 and he was lucky enough to be posted to 219 Squadron as a Flight Lieutenant, where he gained his nickname due to his earlier service with the FAA. He remained with this Squadron until September 1945 and was Squadron Gunnery Officer and, part of the time, Deputy Flight Commander and Flight Commander. With the Squadron he claimed nine aircraft and five V-1s shot down at night, flying with 1398201 Warrant Officer Donald Ling Godfrey as his radar operator. Parker was awarded a DFC in October 1944 and a Bar in February 1945, whilst Godfrey received a DFC and DFM. His assessment of ability as a Nightfighter Pilot was ‘Exceptional’.After the war he became a Test Pilot at RAE and was Flight Commander of Radio Flight from February 1946 to May 1948, being twice assessed ‘Exceptional’ as a Test Pilot. He received a King’s Commendation in June 1947 for ‘Valuable Service in the Air’ and an AFC in June 1948. He left the RAF to join General Aircraft Ltd as Deputy Chief Test Pilot to continue the research programme on tailless gliders after Robert Kronfeld was killed, and assist with the Mosquito TT39 test programme. After the merger of Blackburn Aircraft and General Aircraft in January 1949 and the glider work at Lasham was completed in November, he tested the GAL60, Beverley and GR17 at Brough, carried out the first flights of the HP88 at Carnaby in June 1951, then in 1958 tested the NA39 which became the Buccaneer. As Deputy Chief Test Pilot with Blackburn Aircraft, he was obliged to eject from the first prototype Buccaneer XK486 in October 1960. However, he and his observer Gordon Copeman were killed in February 1963 when Buccaneer XN952 crashed at Holme-on-Spalding Moor airfield during a test flight.Flying was also his hobby and he won 2nd place in the 1952 King’s Cup and Kemsley Air Races, 2nd in the 1953 Goodyear Trophy and 3rd in the Siddeley Trophy and Welsh Air Derby piloting a Percival Proctor 5, and entered the 1955 International Aerobatic Competition at Baginton in a B2. Parker flew around 200 types and off-duty won a reputation as an entertaining raconteur. His other interests included rough shooting and gardening.