A hero RAF veteran and one of the last-surviving Lancaster bombers has died at 92.
Brave Charles Cawthorne, known as Charlie Boy, risked his life on 27 missions – many of them into Germany’s dreaded Ruhr Valley – to protect Britain during the Second World War .
The fearless wing commander joined the air force as an apprentice aged 15 and served for three decades.
He made an incredible escape during one mission when he hid in a HAYSTACK after his plane was shot down by the Nazis.
In 1944, when he was with the Bomber Commands 61 squadron, his plane was shot down and he leapt from the plunging aircraft in Nazi-controlled Deurne, Holland.
Charles ingeniously avoided capture by hiding in a haystack before burying his uniform underground and making his escape disguised as a peasant.
He was declared missing in action but made it back to Britain thanks to the Dutch resistance – and turned up at his surprised mum’s house asking what was for dinner.
He also survived the 1943 destruction of the Peenemunde V2 rocket factories.
His heroic exploits earning him a Distinguished Flying Medal, personally presented by King George.
Charles, of Swindon, Wiltshire, died peacefully in the town’s Great Western Hospital last month.
His son Stuart, who lives in Toronto, Canada, said he had never met a braver man than his father.
He said: “I am very proud of him and everything he did. It meant a lot to him to be able to serve and protect his country.
“He was very meticulous and because of his RAF career he always thought there were no excuses you had to put the effort in and try hard.”
His daughter-in-law Roslyn added: “He was mercurial. He could be the life of the party but was also strict. He was used to being in charge and he didn’t suffer fools lightly.”
Charles was born in Dalston, London and had a keen interest in football and boxing in his early years. He joined the RAF at Halton as an apprentice aged 15.
The RAF proved to be a family affair for him, as his older brother Eddie was a flying instructor with sisters Doreen and Valerie were also RAF veterans.
Despite his tender years, he cut his teeth with the Lancaster Bomber Squadron during dangerous missions in Germany.
He went on to serve with the Bomber Commands 61 squadron, when his plane was shot down and he parachuted to safety.
Roslyn said: “He disguised himself as a peasant as he had bury his uniform so no-one knew who he was.
“When he made contact with the Dutch resistance they doubted he was British, he started cursing and that’s when they knew he was telling the truth.”
In 1946, Charles married his sweetheart Hazel and the happy couple welcomed two children – Stuart and Cherie.
His high-flying career saw the family live on RAF bases around the world including Cyprus, Germany and Singapore.
Decades later his career would come full circle when he returned to RAF Halton – where he started as an apprentice – as a wing commander to train new recruits.
Stuart said he would forever treasure the memory of his father’s visit to Hamilton Canada and a surprise trip to one of the only surviving flying Lancaster bombers.
The trip saw the brave pilot return to the controls of the iconic war plane.
He said: “He was telling the pilots things they didn’t even know and he was absolutely thrilled to be back.”
Charles moved to Swindon in the 1970s before settling in Highworth in 1985
He had five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren including two named in his honour.
After he moved to Swindon he took up a management role with Allied-Lyons catering group. In later years he enjoyed golfing, gardening and travelling with Hazel.
His funeral will be on March 16 at St Michael’s Anglican Church, Highworth, Swindon.