Lives Remembered: Ray Sturtivant

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The Independent Online

Ray Sturtivant, who died on 9 August aged 82, was a distinguished civil servant, but he will be best remembered for his prolific and meticulous work on RAF and Fleet Air Arm military aviation history. He published 27 books on the subject.

Ray was born in Nottingham, and his childhood, before and during the war, was spent developing his interest in military aircraft. He spent his National Service in the RAF, his poor eyesight preventing him fulfilling his dream of becoming a pilot. Instead he was given a desk job in India, which he hated. This was to lead to a long and distinguished career in the Civil Service.

He joined the Civil Service in 1948 at Nottingham County Court, and saw service at Sheffield, and Hull, before becoming chief clerk at Carlisle County Court. He later became chief clerk at Willesden and then Bow County Courts in London. During this time he wrote the Bailiffs Manual, (1980) which was, considered at the time to be an essential resource. He then took the senior role of Establishment Officer of the Principal Registry of the Family Division at Somerset House in 1984.

In 1986 he retired from the Civil Service and the next year was awarded an ISO (Companion of the Imperial Service Order), a prestigious award which is now no longer awarded. His ISO honour was presented to him by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

His lifelong interest and passion however, was always aircraft. Starting as an Air Cadet, and cycling around Nottinghamshire to visit pre-war and wartime airfields collecting aircraft serial numbers, he developed an ast-ounding skill for record-keeping and detail. He started writing for magazines such as Flight and Aviation News; 1978 he wrote his first aviation book, Royal Navy Instructional Airframes, followed by Fleet Air Arm at War in 1982, a compilation of reminiscences.

He followed these books with one every year or so, covering a variety of subjects, including The Camel File, The Swordfish Story, The Anson File. Perhaps his most important work was The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm; written with Theo Ballance, this book listed all the FAA Squadron histories in detail, and is regarded as the definitive book on the subject. In 1995, a specially bound copy of The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm', was presented to HRH Prince Philip at the FAA Museum Yeovilton, on the Prince's retirement as President of the Museum.

In later years he expanded his range of books to include The DH4/DH9 File, The SE5 File and Spitfire International. His last book, co-authored with the late Henry Boot, was Gifts of War – Spitfires and other Presentation Aircraft in Two World Wars, covering the previously ignored subject of the wartime aircraft which had been funded by donations (individuals and groups), private companies, towns, and even many countries. When government funds ran low, the appeal was raised for private funds, with an overwhelming response. In return, aircraft were named after towns, countries, or people (the most common were Spitfires, but there were many other types). To have an aircraft named, £5,000 was required (equivalent to £200,000 today), and money poured in, with £14m being raised in total.

The book provides a comprehensive record, and without Ray's work this important piece of history may never have been accurately recorded.

Ray is survived by his wife of 57 years, Doreen, and his daughter and son.