Obituary: Ted Bracken, 91

Ted  Bracken
Ted Bracken
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A WAR hero who had to use a school atlas to navigate his plane over the Himalayas has died at the age of 91.

RAF Flight Lieutenant Ted Bracken, from the Capital, began his hazardous flights over the world’s highest mountains only three years after the first successful flight took place.

As part of his missions to deliver essential supplies to soldiers fighting the Japanese in 1944-45, he made 34 passes over “The Hump”, as aircrews called the range, between India and China, facing constant threats from the enemy, low visibility around the peaks and extreme weather.

Despite him at one stage only having a school atlas to aid his navigation, his flights were so successful that after the war his expertise was used to plan the routes taken from Rangoon to Bangkok, Saigon and Hong Kong by British Airlines.

In an article for the Aircrew Association about his first solo flight over The Hump, he wrote: “The weather was not really encouraging as the aerodrome was closed with high winds and heavy rain.

“Not wishing to appear ‘chicken’ I decided to go for it, despite noting a line of unmoving American aircraft with the painted squadron crest stating: ‘We fly when the birds walk’.

“Shortly after take-off we flew into a heavy storm with hailstones the size of golf balls threatening to smash the windscreen.”

He said the journeys he took across the mountains contradicted all theories of flight and could lead to “utter disbelief”, and recalled once having “a rare, unforgettable view of the Everest block clearly seen over my left shoulder while listening to the American radio network”.

Mr Bracken was also awarded the Burma Star for his service during the conflict.

After the Second World War ended, he served as a reservist before continuing to serve the public by working for the health service, having worked his way up to director of supplies for NHS Lothian by the time of his retirement.

He still took an interest in flight in his later years and caused confusion a few years ago when quizzing a friend over a flight he had made over the Himalayas to Hong Kong by asking him what he had thought of the notorious “Hump”.

Mr Bracken reportedly said: “It then dawned on me that he had flown at 37,000 feet, while we had scrambled to get to 17,000 in our old Dakotas to avoid the bulk of the peak.”

He died on April 21 at Blenham House Care Home in Sighthill, with his funeral taking place last Wednesday at Mortonhall.

His wife, Jean, had already passed away. He is survived by children Ted, Steve and Bev, grandchildren Caroline, Andrew, Richard, Kate, Andrew and Murray, and great-grandchildren Lauren, Kate and Anna.

A collection was taken in support of the oncology department of the Western General Hospital and Diabetes UK Scotland.