Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris

Public face of Battle of Britain fighters
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The Independent Online

Christopher Neil Foxley-Norris, air-force officer: born Birkenhead, Cheshire 16 March 1917; DSO 1945; OBE 1956; CB 1966, KCB 1969, GCB 1973; Director-General, RAF Organisation, Ministry of Defence 1967-68, Chief of Personnel and Logistics 1971-74; Commander-in-Chief, RAF Germany and Commander, Nato 2nd Tactical Air Force 1968-70; Chairman, Cheshire Foundation (later Leonard Cheshire) 1974-82 (Emeritus), President 2001-03; Chairman, Battle of Britain Fighter Association 1978-2003; married 1948 Joan Hughes; died Northend Common, Oxfordshire 28 September 2003.

Christopher Foxley-Norris was one of the best-known personalities of the Royal Air Force, a man who in recent years came to be regarded as the public face of those who won the Battle of Britain. He himself was modest about his part in the battle, in which he flew Hurricanes "with no great distinction" - his own words - but thanks to the success of his later career he became ideally placed to represent "The Few" and remind the nation of what they achieved.

Intending to become a barrister, Foxley-Norris read Law at Trinity College, Oxford, but after he had learned to fly with the University Air Squadron his academic career was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War, and in early 1940 he was piloting Lysanders with 13 Squadron in France. Then, having participated in the critical battle at home, he trained as a flying instructor and applied his newly acquired skills in Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

Returning to Europe in 1943, he flew Beaufighters on anti-shipping operations over the North Sea and the Mediterranean and completed his war at Banff, leading a Mosquito squadron in the same role. He had served the entire war on flying duties, earning a reputation as pilot and leader that quickly ensured the readily accepted offer of a permanent commission.

His experience was now broadened with a variety of staff and command appointments, including a spell on the Directing Staff at Bracknell and command of the Oxford University Air Squadron and in 1953 his staff skills were recognised when he took over the air planning in Singapore at the height of the Malayan Emergency.

Back home in 1956, Foxley- Norris found himself commanding a fighter station, Stradishall, at the time of the Sandys cuts in Fighter Command and in 1963 he served in the recently formed Defence Staff under Earl Mountbatten of Burma, where he gained invaluable experience of Nato and Commonwealth affairs.

He was thus an excellent choice to return to Singapore to command 224 Group during the confrontation with Indonesia in 1964. There he commanded a miniature air force of some 300 aircraft in a joint-service campaign where air mobility was the key; this highly cost-effective exercise, as he called it, contributed much to the subsequent stability of South East Asia.

His ability to work with the Army and his feel for international affairs were again demonstrated in the later 1960s when he served as Commander-in-Chief RAF Germany and Commander 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force; this was a time when the RAF front line was being modernised and in 1968 the Czechoslovak crisis gave him and his staff a clear reminder of the need for constant readiness in face of the Soviet threat. Then in 1971, in the rank of Air Chief Marshal, he was appointed to the newly created Central Staffs post of Chief of Personnel and Logistics, with a seat on the Defence Council.

While his task was essentially to supervise and co-ordinate, he found the work of "unparalleled interest and remarkable variety"; agreements on the regular review of the military salary, on improvements in service pensions, and on equipment standardisation were among his achievements.

Foxley-Norris retired in 1954, aged 56, disappointed not to have been offered a further senior appointment but the number of such posts was steadily reducing. Under other circumstances, he might have become Chief of Air Staff, for which he possessed many of the essential qualities. He was a fine leader who recognised the importance of acknowledging the contribution of his subordinates and trusting them to do their jobs properly; an able pilot, he always insisted on flying every aircraft under his command; he was a highly regarded staff officer with an excellent command of both the written and the spoken word. He possessed too that all-important quality, a sense of humour; although his reluctance to take himself or others too seriously sometimes ruffled feathers in high places.

The engaging and light-hearted autobiography he wrote on retirement, A Lighter Shade of Blue (1978), exemplified these qualities, as did his subsequent activities in the world of business, in the cause of the disabled, in contributing to the public defence debate, and in arguing for the nation's smokers.

He will be particularly remembered, however, for the support he gave to his great friend Leonard Cheshire as Chairman of the Cheshire Foundation (now known as Leonard Cheshire), and for his tireless work as Chairman of the Battle of Britain Association.

Henry Probert