Obituary: Commander Charles Eckersley-Maslin

Charles Eckersley-Maslin served in all three services from the First World War to the Korean War and flew over a hundred different aircraft.

He was born in 1901, and his military life started in 1917 while he was still at Bedford School. He lied about his age, enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and after a short training was sent to the Western Front. He was wounded in the face and lost most of his front teeth. While recovering in hospital, the army authorities found his true age to be 16 and sent him back to school, where he was feted as a hero.

After leaving school, he was offered a commission in both the Royal Navy and the Army but failed the medical for the Navy because he had flat feet and that for the Army because of lack of teeth. He spent a year studying medicine at St Thomas's Hospital in London, but yearned for a more active life. In 1919 he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary serving in County Clare. He drove an armoured Rolls-Royce and was twice blown up. Sixty years later, small pieces of shrapnel were still dropping out of his body.

On the disbandment of the RIC in 1922, his next stop was Southern Rhodesia, where he joined the British South African Mounted Police. He served in Mashonaland and Salisbury (today Harare). As a part-time job he was paid as a sparring partner for the welterweight champion of the country. As he was a member of a private police force, he was allowed to keep his amateur status. The welterweight, however, fell sick and Eckersley-Maslin was sent to fight the South African champion. In the first two rounds, he tore into the champion, leaving him slumped on his stool. Confident of victory, he sprang up for the final round, only to be hit three times and to wake up in the dressing room.

He caught blackwater fever twice, but, as the sole survivor of one particularly virulent epidemic, he was delighted to see his case mentioned in the Lancet. He was invalided out in 1925. Undismayed, he journeyed to Egypt on a Rhodesian passport and joined the Royal Air Force on a short service commission. After qualifying as a pilot and coming top of his class, he was posted to 28th Squadron, first at Ambala in India and then at Karachi.

While in Karachi, he was appointed RAF test pilot for all newly arrived aircraft, and resident member of the Guild of Air Pilots of the British Empire, which required all pilots, except of civil airlines, to report to him personally, for clearance to continue their journeys. In this capacity, he met most of the famous round-the-world aviators of the late 1920s, including Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison. Working under him as a Petrol Tally Clerk was Aircraftman Shaw, alias T.E. Lawrence, who Eckersley-Maslin thought was making a very deliberate attempt to lose his famous identity.

In 1932, although offered a permanent commission, he realised that, due to his age, his chances of much higher rank were slim, so he became a civil pilot, first at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, then at Ports-mouth, where he became Airport Manager and Chief Flying Instructor. His next move was to Jersey Airways as their superintendent; on Jersey aircraft used to land on the sands two hours either side of high tide. Finally he joined the American racing driver Whitney Straight, whose aircraft company made him manager of Ramsgate Aerodrome, where he test-flew the "Flying Flea", the first balsa-wood and papier-mache DIY aircraft. This proved to be a flying disaster.

In 1939, as a Squadron Leader on the RAF Reserve, Eckersley-Maslin was accepted into the Fleet Air Arm as a Lieutenant-Commander (Air Duties) and spent the early years of the Second World War in the Mediterranean in HMS Eagle as flight deck officer and "batman".

On promotion to command at the end of 1941 and leaving the ship shortly before it was sunk, he returned to the UK where his civil aviation experience was put to good use by commanding a number of new airfields that were being built or requisitioned for the Fleet Air Arm. Never happy at a desk, he flew anything he could get his hands on, including Spitfires, Hurricanes and, on one occasion, a Lancaster bomber.

In 1943, he was promoted Acting Captain and appointed Captain (Air) Mediterranean, in charge of all the naval airfields in that area. After the war, he served briefly at the Admiralty, before, as was the lot of all "air duties only" captains, he reverted to the rank of Commander.

His last appointments in the Royal Navy were as Commanding Officer of the Deck Landing School at Milltown in Scotland, and then of HMS Simbang in Singapore, where throughout the Korean War all Fleet Air Arm aircraft were repaired.

Eckersley-Maslin had a fierce loyalty to his men, a wry good-humour and certainly did not suffer fools, including many senior officers, gladly. In 1953, he retired to Tasmania, where among other things he was a hospital secretary, then inspector, and a JP.

Charles Edward Eckersley-Maslin, naval officer and aviator: born Long Eaton, Derbyshire 13 June 1901; OBE 1953; married 1927 Molly Singleton (two sons; marriage dissolved 1939), 1947 Claudine Moore; died Hobart, Tasmania 21 June 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea