Obituary: Ian Gould DFC, Bomber Command veteran

Ian Gould, Second World War hero turned teacher, history book writer and publishing director. Picture: Contributed
Ian Gould, Second World War hero turned teacher, history book writer and publishing director. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 7 August, 1920, in Gloucester. Died: 5 June, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 94.

When Ian Gould wrote his memoirs he reflected how lucky he had been in life – and not just during the Second World War when he flew with Bomber Command.

His pilot on those dozens of daring missions, now aged 102, had a slightly different take on their service: “We were bonded together in fear and terror.”

Fright and good fortune, along with skill and sheer guts, were interwoven daily in the life of the young bomber crews, more than 55,500 of whom were lost fighting the Third Reich and who averaged a mere 22 years old – precisely the age at which Gould won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Of those who had begun flying at the start of the war, only 10 per cent survived, but Gould, a former Territorial Army soldier who volunteered for aircrew training and took part in more than 40 missions, seemingly had a decent dose of luck on his side then and in his later life in Civvy Street in which he became a teacher, author of educational history books and managing director of the Edinburgh publisher Chambers.

Born in Gloucester, he was the eldest child of Harold Miller Gould, MBE, general secretary of the YMCA, and his wife Ruby, his secretary, both of whom worked in France during the Great War. Moving where his father’s job took them, he attended numerous schools from Grimsby to Staffordshire to Norfolk and, after the family moved to Bridgwater, Somerset, he worked as a management trainee with British Cellophane.

In 1938 he went to the company’s London office and the following March enlisted with the Territorials in the London Irish Rifles. He was mobilised around the start of the Second World War and found himself sandbagging Westminster’s important buildings and then labouring on the east coast, rigging up coils of Dannert wire and digging dummy gun pits “armed” with telegraph poles to resemble guns, a ruse aimed at deterring invaders.

In early 1941 he volunteered for the RAF, a rather more exciting prospect, and was posted, for initial training, to Torquay. By coincidence his cousin, Ian Melvin, nine years his senior, was also there in nearby billets. As a result of sharing the same Christian name the cousins had been known since childhood as Big Ian (Melvin) and Little Ian.

By April 1942 Gould had trained as an observer, navigator and bomb aimer but, before taking part in operational training, he went off on home leave only to discover that his cousin Big Ian, by then a radio observer in a night fighter, had been killed in action. Two days later his cousin’s widow had given birth to a son, also named Ian.

After being posted to the Bomber Command Operational Training Unit at Harwell, for training on Wellington bombers, he banded together with Australian pilot William Wallace McRae, known as Mac, and four others to form a solid crew who, unusually, flew together with a few exceptions throughout their training and operations.

According to Mac, Gould had already impressed them as a “quiet, efficient navigator” scoring full marks when they dropped practice bombs in the Bristol Channel. The crew was disappointed not to be sent as part of the epic night-time 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne in May 1942 but at the time they had not quite finished their night flying training. However, they were soon recompensed with a brand new and, reportedly, highly secret Wellington aircraft and ordered out to Cairo via Gibraltar and Malta.

“We arrived at Malta in the middle of the night and there were half a dozen air raids before we left the next night,” recalled Mac in a reading for Gould’s funeral. “I remember we flew over a submarine which flashed a message to us in Morse code. We had visions of a vessel in distress but the message read ‘Good morning’!”

They flew 43 missions, including targeting the enemy’s main supply port at Tobruk and bombing runs in support of the Eighth Army at El Alamein, as well as raids on Italy, Sicily and Tunisia.

“Through all of this Ian, cooped up in his little office, guided us and dropped our bombs,” said Mac. “He was the most hard worked of the crew.”

Their last operational mission was a lone and difficult night flight to drop supplies to beleaguered Australian troops in a mountainous area of Crete. Low level navigation and precision timing were key as, in order to protect the soldiers, the drop area flares could only be lit for a short time. Gould’s skill helped to ensure the total success of the mission, aptly reflecting his 148 Squadron’s motto, “Trusty”. He was decorated with the DFC for his actions that night and the award was announced in the London Gazette in March 1943.

Returning to the UK he was posted as an instructor to the Operational Training Unit at Lossiemouth, a move that enabled him to visit relatives in the Melvin family in Edinburgh, including Jean, his cousin Ian’s widow. The two found friendship blossoming into romance and, in September 1944, when he was summoned to an investiture at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, they arranged to be married the following day.

After being demobbed in December 1945 he decided to train as a teacher and studied at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1950 and completing a Diploma in Education the following year. Meanwhile his family had expanded – Jean’s son Ian was joined by their daughters Frances and Gillian – and as his career progressed he became principal history teacher at Broxburn High School in West Lothian.

He had also begun writing and, after meeting a London publisher who was interested in producing a series of Scottish history books for schools, he and a friend wrote A Scottish History For Today, in three volumes. The undertaking sparked his interest in publishing and in 1958 he joined Chambers as educational editor, becoming the publisher’s managing director in 1970. After retiring in 1981 he, his daughter Gillian and nephew Eric Melvin co-authored a series of Scottish history books for primary schools.

Away from work, he and Jean were sociable hosts, entertaining family and friends at their Edinburgh home where children had the run of the house and immaculate garden. Family was always his priority and he suffered a dreadful series of blows with the deaths of his wife, in 1991, and daughters, Frances in 2008 and Gillian in 2013. Despite the heartache he remained an eternal optimist, strong both physically and mentally, and retained a great interest in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as politics.

He lunched weekly with brother Deryk and earlier this year held a lunch at his favourite restaurant, planning the menu, the guest list and giving a speech. Compassionate, kind and inspirational, he remained sharply intelligent to the end. He is survived by his brother, sister Barbara, son Ian Melvin, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.