Obituary: Flight Lieutenant Lyn Seabury

Flight Lieutenant Lyn Seabury. Hotelier and wartime airman. Picture: Contributed
Flight Lieutenant Lyn Seabury. Hotelier and wartime airman. Picture: Contributed
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Hotelier and wartime airman. 
Born: 27 April, 1923, in Westmoreland. Died: 4 April, 2014 in Largs, aged 91.

LYN Seabury survived a tour of 34 wartime RAF bombing missions then joined the electronic warfare squadron that wreaked nightly havoc on the Germans, on one occasion fooling them into switching on the floodlights at a top secret airfield which they duly bombed to destruction.

Seabury, who has died aged 91, later became a senior executive in the chemicals industry and a well-known hotelier, leading light in amateur dramatics, singer and Burns enthusiast, with an unshakeable Christian faith that enabled him to reconcile his traumatic experiences in Bomber Command for which he was only recently, and belatedly, awarded a medal clasp.

He joined No 102 Squadron as a bomb aimer after enlisting in the RAF straight from school, and flew Halifaxes at Pocklington in Yorkshire in 1943, when bomber crew losses were at their heaviest. He later recalled: “I remember one particular night when almost half the squadron failed to return.”

Having experienced heavy flak over the target during a raid on Kassel in the German Ruhr, their home airfield was in sight when the pilot had to alter the pitch on the port-inner engine propeller, resulting in one blade coming off and a vibration so bad that the entire engine broke free, damaging the adjacent propeller as it fell away.

Seabury normally sat beside the skipper, assisting in locking controls on take-off and cutting power on landing. “On this occasion,” he wrote, “the pilot was busy straining to keep the aircraft on an even keel and we seemed to scream over the fence at the end of the runway, coming to a halt in deathly silence.”

For his airmanship under duress, the Australian pilot Noel McPhail was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal personally by King George VI. He would later win the Distinguished Flying Cross.

A narrow escape also occurred in April 1944 when the crew were on a “gardening” trip, laying mines in Kiel Bay. On their way home, they encountered several Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters which they engaged in combat, taking a cannon shell aft of the door but managing to shoot down one enemy and damage a second just as it opened fire.

With both the intercom and gyro compass knocked out, Seabury took star shots from the engineer’s dome which were plotted by the navigator, resulting in their hitting landfall only slightly south of their intended position. The pilot and two air gunners were later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Having by now beaten the odds and survived 34 sorties, Seabury was “screened”, or tour-expired, and posted to Lossiemouth to train Free French aircrew in bombing and gunnery, flying Wellingtons. However, he noted: “I found this rather dangerous so I volunteered for a second operational tour.”

His work now took an entirely different turn with No 100 (Bomber Support) Group, engaged in electronic warfare and countermeasures and tasked specifically with “harassing, tormenting and confusing” the enemy; a pioneering form of psychological operations.

His Halifax loaded with special wireless equipment, scientists and German-speaking aircrew rather than bombs, he discovered special duties work required a subtle approach. Daily German call signs and radio procedures were supplied by unknown agents, and Seabury and his crew created mayhem with bogus messages.

“German aircraft were sent out, taking off in all directions by following our misinformation,” he recalled, adding that dropping bundles of tin foil, sometimes by parachute, to disrupt and distort enemy radar systems “gave many a headache to invasion-spotting Germans”.

Seabury and his friends at 171 Squadron changed the name of their Norfolk base from North Creake to Up the Creek, as that was the destination they appeared to be leading the Germans by circling enemy-occupied areas at high altitude to confuse the Luftwaffe, nicknamed “flying around the race course”.

Two weeks before the end of the war, in April 1945, seven Halifaxes took off, each carrying a full load of 500lb bombs. The operation was intended to disrupt the Luftwaffe’s squadron of Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters based at Ingolstadt, north of Munich. The Me 262 was the world’s first jet-powered fighter and, though introduced late in the war, still posed a deadly threat to Allied aircraft. Seabury’s plane had the “dubious honour”, as he described it, of leading the squadron and marking the target.

“All went surprisingly well and we arrived within ten miles of our target, he wrote. “The night was reasonably clear and we started a time and distance run. As bomb aimer I did the countdown. I was just about to say ‘bomb doors open’ when the aerodrome lights were switched on to reveal control tower, hangars and German aircraft in dispersal areas.

“We had a perfect drop – and were on our way home before they either switched off or we blew out their lights. After much discussion, we decided that some poor bod had thought we were one of theirs and switched on the Drem system (airfield night lighting). I suppose he won’t forget that night either.” This was his final mission, and, having completed 18 Special Duties operations in addition to his first tour, he was declared unfit for further flying and remustered as a physical fitness officer.

He was subjected to 12 weeks “torture” at the RAF School of Physical Training at Cosford and posted to Upper Heyford and the Isle of Man, before completing his service at Middle East Command in Aden in August 1946.

Lyn Prosser Seabury was born near Kendal in the Lake District, the younger son of Hilda and Harold Seabury, an explosives engineer working for ICI who was transferred to Ardeer, Ayrshire. He attended Ardrossan Academy where he preferred sports to academia, with rugby a lifelong passion. His brother Edgar served in the Royal Navy during the war.

Having cheated a Bomber Command death rate of almost 50 per cent, Seabury and his regular crew bonded for life, and he made several trips to Australia and the UK to meet them.

After the war, he worked for ICI in Glasgow and Ardeer, rising to a senior position in sales and making frequent trips abroad. In 1969, he was made redundant. He studied book keeping and bar management while his wife Netta went to catering college before beginning a new chapter in his life as a hotelier, opening the Stanley Hotel in Saltcoats in 1971. The business was a great success and the couple retired early in 1984.

With a great love of amateur dramatics, Seabury was a leading light in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players. He also enjoyed fly fishing, golf, choral and solo singing and supporting his local rugby team, Ardrossan Academicals. He was famous throughout Ayrshire for his renditions of Burns songs and was a regular on the supper circuit. He and Netta, daughter of a former provost of Ardrossan, also had a small concert party and entertained in old folks’ homes and social clubs around North Ayrshire.

A proud member of the Scottish Saltire Aircrew Association and a committed Christian all his life, he was an elder in the Church of Scotland for more than 50 years and a member for even longer.

In a chance meeting with a former Luftwaffe airman on a cruise, he was able to embrace the other man as a brother and not an enemy. His faith was vital to him and he always carried his tattered copy of William Barclay’s Book of Prayers.

His wife predeceased him. He is survived by his son Chris, his civil partner Dean, and his daughter Shirley and her civil partner Margaret.