Obituary: Bill Stevenson FDS RCPS, orthodontist and fighter pilot

Bill Stevenson: Dentist and Spitfire pilot who was one of the first people to fly a jet fighter
Bill Stevenson: Dentist and Spitfire pilot who was one of the first people to fly a jet fighter
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Born: 25 June, 1919, in Grangemouth. Died: 29 October, 2013, in Falkirk, aged 94

Bill Stevenson only had a year of dental studies under his belt when he enlisted as an airman during the Second World War. When he finally qualified a decade later he was a veteran Spitfire pilot, member of an RAF Commando unit and one of the first to fly jet fighters.

He had also survived a horrific wartime plane crash – ironically as a non-combatant passenger – and recovered sufficiently to become a test pilot and wingman to his flight commander, squadron leader and wing commander.

His subsequent successful career in dentistry included many years as a consultant at Glasgow Dental Hospital where, in the early 1960s, its orthodontic department had the distinction of boasting fighter pilots from both world wars on it staff: Stevenson and Hamish Anderson who had served in the Great War.

Born and raised in Grangemouth, Stevenson started his working life as a farm labourer earning 16 shillings a week. In 1935 he began an apprenticeship as a dental technician in Falkirk, where he was encouraged to study dentistry at Glasgow.

He duly enrolled at Anderson College of Medicine in 1939, just as war was about to be declared with Germany. He was about to start his second year when he volunteered for the RAF, enlisting at Stirling the following summer.

After training in Rhodesia he received his first assignment delivering new aircraft. Then in October 1941 he joined 450 fighter squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force in Syria, flying Hurricanes. He served alongside French forces helping to maintain the security of the route to the Middle East oil fields.

After being posted to Khartoum he was badly injured when he took up the offer of a place as a passenger in a Blenheim bomber. The aircraft suffered a double engine failure and crashed during the night flight. It had been flying too low for him to bale out and Stevenson remained in the wreckage, suffering a fractured skull, jaw, leg and vertebrae.

He was found by a man with a donkey and endured an 80-mile journey to the nearest outpost, followed by a further four hours to the British Military Hospital back in Khartoum where he eventually arrived 30 hours after the crash.

After convalescing for three months he was declared fit for flying, though not on operations, and was dispatched to transport aircraft the length and breadth of Africa. Most were safely delivered but on one occasion he crash-landed while trying to leapfrog over another plane that suddenly crossed the landing strip in front of him.

In 1943 he went on to serve in campaigns in Sicily and mainland Italy, during which time he was seconded as a test pilot to No 3230 Servicing Commando unit whose role was to prepare advance airfields for the RAF.

The following year he found himself being sent back home as a result of blood poisoning from a septic finger that refused to heal.

A few weeks on leave helped to cure the problem and in March 1944 he reported to Fighter Command HQ in London. He joined 504 fighter squadron of Mark 9 Spitfires and among his missions were the dive-bombing of doodle bug sites in France and the protection of his leaders as their wing man.

After transferring to 245 squadron he served through Normandy, Arnhem and north-west Europe. He came off operations early in 1945 to convert to Meteor jet fighters and flew one of the earliest jet fighters ever made. Following victory in Europe he was sent to Lubeck in Germany, preparing for a future RAF base there, before being demobbed in June 1946. Four months later he was back at Anderson College where he qualified with a Licence in Dental Surgery from the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow in 1950.

He then worked in Newport Pagnall, where he was introduced to NHS dentistry, before returning north to practise in Denny and Grangemouth, followed by a period as a school dental officer with Stirling County Council.

He became registrar in the oral surgery department of Dundee Dental Hospital and, as his interest in orthodontics developed, he spent spells in the specialty in Bristol and Wiltshire, completing a course in orthodontics at Leeds before being appointed orthodontic registrar at Glasgow Dental Hospital in 1960.

Promoted to senior hospital dental officer in orthodontics in 1962, two years later he became a consultant – at one point he was consultant to four health boards simultaneously – and was responsible for setting up consultant clinics in Campbeltown, Lochgilphead, Islay and Oban, followed by others at Strathclyde, Monklands and Stobhill Hospitals. He taught under-graduate and post-graduate students, lectured on speech therapy and for many years organised and ran the orthodontist examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons. He was also secretary of the dental hospital’s cross-infection committee.

He retired early, in 1980, partly due to problems caused by his war injuries but enjoyed an active life in Falkirk, playing bridge and golf, a sport that saw him win various competitions and net six holes-in-one.

He is survived by his wife Lorna, his companion for more than 60 years.