Obituary: George Henry Shepherd Jones, WWII farmer and pilot

One of the last surviving WWII Fleet Air Arm pilots and long-time North Norfolk farmer has died aged 97.

Never a man in debt, at the funeral of George Henry Shepherd Jones, his attendees were surprised to learn of a rare occasion when he appealed to a friend for a loan.

When asked how much he needed, he stated the large sum of 10p to be put on the doorstep for the newspaper delivery man. A week later, the debt was cleared.

Described by those close to him as a “charming and strong-willed character”, Mr. Jones will be remembered as a self-effacing man with an indomitable spirit.

Born December 19, 1923, Mr. Jones lived in Melton Constable and was educated at Gresham’s School in nearby Holt.

His wartime pilot career began when he left school, which at the time had been evacuated to Newquay in Cornwall after the outbreak of the war.

George Henry Shepherd Jones receives his flying wings in September 1944 at the RCAF Aylmer, Ontario, Canada
– Credit: SUPPLIED

From there he returned home and informed his father that he wanted to join the Royal Navy to fly in the Fleet Air Arm. Coming from a farming family, he was reminded that their trade was a reserved trade, which meant he would not be called up for compulsory military service. Mr. Jones nevertheless volunteered for the service and enlisted as a naval aviator, before being selected in 1943 as a petty officer for pilot training in Canada.

George Henry Shepherd Jones' 1st RNAS Squadron flew Swordfish Torpedo Bomber biplanes in 1944

George Henry Shepherd Jones’ 1st RNAS Squadron flew Swordfish Torpedo Bomber biplanes in 1944
– Credit: SUPPLIED

After training on a World War I Tiger Moth biplane and an American trainer at Harvard, he received his Fleet Air Arm wings and was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve with the rank of Second Lieutenant .

Upon his return to the UK, his first operational aircraft was the Swordfish torpedo bomber, an open cockpit biplane he flew in the Battle of the Atlantic. He then flew Barracuda and Fireflies with odd rotations in a Supermarine Seafire, from bases in Scotland, Isle of Man and Northern Ireland, from a number of aircraft carriers. It recorded around 125 operational landings.

George Henry Shepherd Jones at the controls of a Fairey Firefly with RNAS Squadron East Haven, Scotland

George Henry Shepherd Jones at the controls of a Fairey Firefly with RNAS Squadron East Haven, Scotland
– Credit: SUPPLIED

It was his only regret that he couldn’t continue flying with the Fleet Air Arm for a few more years, but he had to return to the family farm.

Upon demobilization in 1946, he returned and first helped his father. He would later succeed him while his older brother, Peter, ran their farm in Briston.

In 1949 he married Hazel and together they had two children, Andrew and Sue. The family lived in High Kelling, where Mr. Jones remained until his last days.

When he began his farming career, the Shire horses were still used for harvesting. They were gradually replaced by tractors during the post-war period. By the time he retired, the harvest had become fully mechanized. A mainly arable farmer, he had a dairy herd. This saw him make a daily milk round delivering 250 gallons to the Holt area each morning. Later he kept a herd of oxen.

A WWII aircraft carrier

A WWII aircraft carrier
– Credit: SUPPLIED

In 2004, after 38 years working as a farmer, he handed the farm over to Andrew. In 2006, Mr. Jones suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. Out of sheer determination, he managed to regain a reasonable level of mobility and even resumed driving. He was credited with doing regular laps in his Honda taped together, well into his 90s.

Mr. Jones was Governor of Gresham’s School for 27 years and spent an extended period as Vice-President. During this time he was invited to become a member and liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, founded in 1272. He was also appointed Freeman of the City of London.

He was a great sportsman and played hockey at the club level. He has represented Norfolk in 75 matches as a goaltender, wearing none of the protective gear required today. He was also an accomplished golfer, captain of the Sheringham Golf Club in 1976 and a member of the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club at Brancaster until he was 90. He was also a staunch supporter of Norwich City.

Passionate about bridge, he enjoyed a weekly glass of whiskey with friends, followed by an episode of Dad’s Army.

In 2013, he suffered the loss of his wife, Hazel. The couple had been married for over 63 years.

George Henry Shepherd Jones later in life as a Norfolk farmer

George Henry Shepherd Jones later in life as a Norfolk farmer
– Credit: SUPPLIED

One of the highlights of his later years included a visit to an RAF Marham hangar in September 2019. He was the official guest of the commanding officer of 617 Squadron – the Dambusters. There, he saw one of the first Lightning 2 Joint Strike Fighter to arrive in the UK, an aircraft dubbed one of the most advanced military aircraft in the world.

A friend of Mr Jones for over 40 years, Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Houston CBE, read a eulogy during the funeral, which was held at All Saints Church in Beeston Regis, near West Runton, on Thursday August 12.

A resident of Colkirk, near Fakenham, said: “[He was] a strong-willed character, a charming but self-effacing man with an indomitable spirit, a strong Christian faith, a constant sense of duty and a genuine interest in people.

“He really went through a period of extraordinary change.

“He wasn’t going back to the good old days, unless asked about them, and he remained interested in current affairs until the end. ”

Mr Jones passed away on July 22, 2021 and is survived by his son and daughter, grandchildren Rebecca, Hannah, Nathalie and Hillary, and great-granddaughter Bonnie.