Obituary: Harold Clyne DFC, WWII Spitfire pilot

• Harold Wallace Clyne DFC. Born: 11 February, 1915, in Edinburgh. Died: 19 May, 2011, in Sevenoaks, Kent, aged 96.

Harold Clyne flew more than 800 hours in an unarmed Spitfire in the Second World War, largely as a photo- reconnaissance pilot over enemy territory.

He was an Edinburgh man, born in 1915, the son of Janet Wallace and Daniel Clyne, headmaster first of Bristo school and then of Gorgie, but who was serving in the army ranks at the time of his son's birth. One of Harold's earliest memories was being taken by his father, home on leave from the First World War, up Arthur's Seat to witness a Zeppelin air raid on Edinburgh.

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At age seven, Harold entered George Watson's college, where he had a largely undistinguished career, marked most notably by the parents' revolt led by his father against the attempt by the headmaster, Dr Allison, to introduce cricket to the school. The parents' crucial argument which held off the unwanted innovation was that being taught batting would ruin the boys' golf stroke.

After Watson's, Harold studied industrial chemistry at Heriot-Watt and was employed as a chemist first at Metal Box and then at Lothian Chemical Co in what, after the outbreak of the Second World War, was regarded as a "reserved occupation" to which employees could be bound for the duration. Harold was sent by the government to St Helens for interview for an important post - and narrowly avoided a career in the manufacture of mustard gas.

Back in Edinburgh, he returned to work on a project involved in making incendiary sachets of sodium peroxide and hexamine to be dropped by bombers over crops in enemy territory. Notwithstanding the company's contribution to the war effort, he managed to bamboozle Lothian Chemicals' proprietor, John Romanes, into believing that "reserved occupation" did not apply to people who wanted to be RAF pilots. He volunteered and in 1941 was sent for training at the No 2 British Flying Training School - which turned out to be the Polaris Flight Academy, near Los Angeles, in the still neutral and unrationed United States.

The young RAF men were much feted at Hollywood parties and by the whole movie industry, except for the MGM studio, which tried to ban them in retaliation for the behaviour of the immediately prior intake - who had celebrated their final night-flying session screeching up and down Hollywood Boulevard at low level, throwing out toilet rolls. MGM had been attempting several sound sequences that night, each of them ruined at great expense to the studio.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and America's entry into the war took place before the end of Harold's training; he learned of the 7 December attack from the car radio while on his way to the Lockheed plant to see the new aircraft coming off the production line.

By now commissioned, and posted to the Advanced Flying Unit - a holding station at Peterborough - he volunteered for the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, which flew Spitfires over enemy territory for before-and-after pictures of bombing targets.

For the sake of extra speed and greater range, the planes were unarmed and without armour plating. The photographs were taken by large cameras pointing downward with timers set for every five seconds or so as the pilot flew straight and level over the target, often through heavy anti-aircraft fire, to produce stereo pairs of overlapping pictures for the photo-interpreters.

After training at Fraserburgh, his early missions included targets in the Netherlands and northern France before he was posted to Algiers - to which he flew by Spitfire, via Gibraltar, at the extreme limits of the aircraft's range.

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Flying operations were to cover the activities of the Germans and Italians in Tunisia as well as the heavily defended ports of the eastern Mediterranean. The unit worked closely with its US counterpart, under the command of Elliot Roosevelt, son of the president, which guaranteed a high level of political interest in its operations.

Flight-Lieutenant Clyne was soon awarded the US Air Medal, with which he was presented by General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz. A frequent visitor was General Eisenhower, then commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean theatre. In a privately circulated monograph on his part in the war, Harold later described the future US president as a knowledgeable enthusiast for photo-based military intelligence.

After a short spell as second pilot on American Flying Fortresses, Flt-Lt Clyne led a reconnaissance flight during the landings and advance up Italy to Naples, where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross - more difficult to win in the PRU than with Bomber or Fighter Command: there were no witnesses to pilots' courage. You just flew off alone into enemy territory, took pictures, and then came back; or not. It was assumed though, that far more pilots were lost to mechanical malfunction, bad weather, running out of fuel, errors in navigation or American anti-aircraft fire than by direct enemy action.

Bomber Command, and indeed the American photo-pilots, had a limit of 30 operations for a tour of duty, but there was no similar rule in the British PRU. After more than 50 operations, Flt-Lt Clyne found himself exhibiting imprudent behaviour. His logbook includes such entries as "Photo strip near Milan, chased German staff car". Unarmed, as ever, he pursued a German Fockewulf 190 fighter plane from Italy to Corsica, only realising afterwards that his foolhardy behaviour indicated the need for leave. After 98 operations, he was posted back home - just in time to add support to the Allied landings in Normandy.

He turned down the offer of promotion to Squadron Leader in charge of a flight of Wellington reconnaissance aircraft in favour of commanding the Meteorological Flight, which made daily Spitfire sorties over enemy territory. One of his first actions was to have the guns removed, as with the reconnaissance aircraft. It was his belief that the armament was useless as defence since to use the cannon the whole aircraft needed to be pointed towards the enemy instead of in the direction of home. The team of armourer- fitters he made redundant argued otherwise.

His base gradually moved forward with the troops, through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and finally Germany; he ended the war with more than 800 hours flying Spitfires - five of which were seriously damaged, but always as a result of mechanical malfunction rather than hostile action.

The final incident took place after VE day, when his engine iced up and he crash-landed in a field in the Soviet-occupied zone. Aircrew had been provided with a booklet of handy Russian phrases for such eventualities, including the vital "Don't shoot! I'm an Englishman". Even to save his life the proud Scot could not bring himself to utter the words, but the Russians appeared to understand his German well enough.

It was four days before he was returned to the British sector, after an exit interview in Berlin with the Soviet commander in Germany, General Kotikov.

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He married his childhood playmate Jean Ross in 1946, resuming his career as an industrial chemist and emigrating to Canada, where he became a quality controller for the remote Marathon Pulp & Paper mill. In 1950 he joined the American management consultancy Stevenson Jordan & Harrison, which sent him to help open a new branch in Glasgow.

In 1961 after a spell working in the organisation division of Unilever, in London, where he made no friends by ordering the end to middle managers' rights to a private secretary, he joined the venture capital corporation ICFC - now 3i - as industrial adviser. He retired in 1975 after helping to provide venture capital for a host of small and medium-sized companies throughout Britain.

His wife Jean, with whom he had two children, Roderick, now a journalist in Singapore, and Elaine, a schoolteacher in England, died in 1974. He later married Dorothy Aston (nee Walker), of Aberdeen, who survives him.

A golfer since the age of five - his first club being a baffy (a lofted wood) constructed for him by the clubmaker at Duddingston - retirement helped him put in the effort to reduce his handicap to seven at his club, Dulwich & Sydenham Hill, the golf course closest to central London.

He won the club's veterans' trophy six times over 20 years, but his proudest times were the two occasions when, aged 80 and 81, he managed a competition round with a score less than his age.

Golf alone was not enough to fill up his retirement time and he took to archaeology in a characteristically determined way, being involved in several digs as sites in central London were developed, revealing important mediaeval, Roman and Saxon remains. Alongside the physical work on, and under, the ground, he was studying the subject at the University of East London, from which he gained his BSc in archaeological science at the age of 75.

He died on Thursday, 19 May, at a nursing home in Sevenoaks, Kent. He is survived by his widow Dorothy, his two children and five grandchildren.