Obituary: Air Commodore Tommy Thompson

John Marlow Thompson, air force officer: born 16 August 1914; DFC 1940 (and Bar 1942); DSO 1943; AFC 1952; CBE 1954; commanded RAF Leeming 1956-57; Director of Air Defence, Air Ministry 1958-60; AOC, Military Air Traffic Ops 1962-65; General Manager, Airwork Services, Saudi Arabia 1966-68; married 1938 Margaret Rowlands (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Brighton 23 July 1994.

JOHN MARLOW THOMPSON received a short service commission in the Royal Air Force in 1934, and like all those with that surname in the Forces was thereafter nicknamed 'Tommy'. A man of considerable height and fine physique, Thompson was an all-round sportsman, and established a reputation for himself in the boxing ring and on the rugby field. His size, dignified manner and impressive moustache at first sight made him a rather intimidating figure, an impression soon dissipated by his warm smile and personality.

By the outbreak of the Second World War he was recognised not only as an accomplished fighter pilot but also as one with great leadership potential. After serving as flight commander with No 151 Squadron, at the beginning of the war he received command of the prestigious No 111 Squadron, equipped with the Hurricane.

The squadron was not actually stationed in France but, when the German attack finally developed in April/May 1940, was heavily engaged in the fighting over France, a campaign which was just as intensive as the subsequent Battle of Britain and where many of the initial lessons of that battle were first learnt. Thompson himself scored a number of confirmed victories over the Luftwaffe and several probables before himself being shot down over France.

On return he resumed command of No 111 Squadron mainly flying from Croydon airfield. He led with determination and courage and with considerable originality in the development of tactics, notably head-on attacks on bomber formations. After a further period of intense and successful action he was briefly rested with a staff appointment. But he re-entered the fight in 1941 and founded and commanded the first all-Belgian Royal Air Force fighter squadron. Shortly thereafter his late Battle of Britain AOC, Keith Park, who had taken command in Malta, had Thompson appointed as his Fighter Wing Leader there in 1942.

Once again he led the defence battle with great distinction and skill and continued to lead when the island's aircraft were at last able to go over to the offensive. For his outstanding performance in both roles he was awarded a Bar to his DFC and the DSO. He had actively participated in three of the most crucial and hard-fought battles of the war.

During the latter part of the war and during the first 20 years of the peace he continued to specialise in air defence duties, including all the problems and challenges of introducing and getting the best out of jet-propelled aircraft. He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1952. He was retired in 1966 but his expertise in air defence matters was acknowledged by consultancies with several developing air forces, including the Saudis. However his metier after retirement proved, perhaps surprisingly, the secretaryship of golf clubs. He was for three years at Moor Park in Hertfordshire and repeated that success for a longer period at the famous Monte Carlo course, where he initiated important improvements and made many friends.

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