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Air Chief Marshal Sir David Lee (33004)

David John Pryer 

b: 4 Sep 1912                          r: 19 Mar 1971                       d: 13 Feb 2004

GBE – 1 Jan 1969 (KBE – 1 Jan 1965, CBE – 11 Feb 1947, OBE - 1 Jan 1943), CB – 1 Jun 1953.  

Plt Off: 23 Jul 1932, Fg Off: 23 Jan 1934, Flt Lt: 1 Oct 1936, Sqn Ldr: 1 Apr 1939,  (T) Wg Cdr: 1 Jun 1941, Act Gp Capt: 8 Jan 1944, Wg Cdr (WS): 8 Jul 1944, Wg Cdr: 1 Oct 1946, Gp Capt: 1 Jul 1950, A/Cdre: 1 Jul 1956, AVM: 1 Jan 1959, AM: 1 Jan 1965, ACM: 7 Oct 1967.                          

 4 Sep 1930:           Flight Cadet, 'C' Sqn, RAF College.

23 Jul 1932:            Granted Permanent Commission in the rank of Pilot Officer.

23 Jul 1935:           Pilot, No 35 Sqn.

 7 Feb 1933:          Pilot, Aircraft Depot, India

xx xxx xxxx:            Pilot, No 60 Sqn.

31 Mar 1935:          Pilot, No 39 Sqn.

 4 Jan - 20 Mar 1937:         Attended Instructors’ Course, CFS (graded B)

14 Aug 1937:          Flying Examining Officer, Superintendent of Reserves

 7 Nov 1938:          Flying Examining Officer, HQ No 26 (Training) Group.

xx xxx 1939:           Pilot, No 144 Sqn.

  8 Oct 1939:          Attached, No 185 Sqn

23 Oct 1939:          Flight Commander, No 61 Sqn (Hampdens).

30 Apr 1940:          Flight Commander, No 106 Sqn. (arrived 1 May 1940)

22 May 1940:        Air Staff, Directorate of War Tactics and Training, Air Ministry

xx xxx 1940:          Air Staff, AT (B), Deputy Directorate of Air Tactics.

 8 Jun 1941:           Air Staff, HQ No 21 (Training) Group.

xx xxx 1942:           Attended RAF Staff College

xx xxx 1943:            Air Staff, ASP 2, Directorate of Policy (General).

 8 Jan 1944:            Deputy Director (Joint Planning).

xx Jun 1945:           Officer Commanding, No 904 Wing - Netherlands East Indies.

16 Dec 1946:         Wing Commander - Admin Plans, HQ Air Command Far East

xx xxx 1948:           Directing Staff, RAF Staff College.

31 Aug 1950:          Deputy Director of Policy (Air Staff).

xx xxx 1953:           Officer Commanding, RAF Scampton.

xx xxx 1956:           Secretary, Chiefs of Staff Committee.

10 Aug 1959:          AOC, Air Forces Middle East/Air Force Arabian Peninsula.

xx xxx 1962:           Commandant, RAF Staff College.

22 Feb 1965:          Air Member for Personnel.

 1 Jun 1968:            UK Military Representative, NATO HQ Military Committee

David Lee was another of those having attended Bedford School prior to entering the RAF College at Cranwell in 1930.  He represented the College at Athletics and attained the rank of Flight Cadet Sergeant.  His first posting was to No 35 Squadron at Bircham Newton in Norfolk flying Fairey Gordons but he soon found himself heading east to India.  Here he was held at the Aircraft Depot , before joining No 60 Squadron flying Wapitis on the North West Frontier.  He later moved to No 39 Squadron, who were equipped with Hawker Harts and in December 1935, he took part in the annual reinforcement exercise to Singapore, which took the squadron six days to cover 4,000 miles with ten intermediate stops en-route.

Returning from India, he attended the Central Flying School and qualified as an instructor and was appointed an examiner within the department of the Superintendent of Reserves (later No 26 Group), tasked with checking the instructors at various Reserve and Elementary Flying Schools around the country.  With the outbreak of war he returned to operations with No 144 Squadron at Hemswell near Lincoln, flying Handley Page Hampdens.  However, he soon transferred to No 61 Squadron, which shared Hemswell.  With 61, he took part in the first raid  against a German land target, when the squadron attacked the seaplane base at Hornum on 19 March 1940.  A further move, this time to No 106 Squadron was then followed by a period at the Air Ministry.

In 1942, he attended the RAF Staff College and returned to the Air Ministry as Deputy Director of Plans, where he remained for nearly to years. Having spent nearly three years out of the operational arena he requested a return to operations in early 1945.  The result being that shortly after the end of the war in Europe, he was posted to India and given command of No 904 Wing, equipped with Thunderbolts.  The Wing had just returned from operations in Burma and David Lee's task was to prepare them for the forthcoming invasion of Malaya.  However, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan brought the war in South East Asia to an end and the need for his Wing to take part in an invasion of Malaya removed.  Operations in the Far East did not, however end, there was still a need to locate and recover the thousands of POW's and internees throughout the area.  It was in order to undertake this mission that 904 Wing was despatched to Java in what had been the Netherlands East Indies.  Although it retained two of it's Thunderbolt squadrons, the other two were disbanded and replaced by a Dakota squadron. 

For the next eighteen months he and his Wing carried out attacks against terrorists whilst assisting in the location and evacuation of POW's and internees from throughout Java.  This task required some very delicate diplomacy with both the Indonesians and his own men.  On the one hand the RAF had a job to do which required the co-operation of the local government whilst making it clear that they were not there to re-instate the pre-war colonial government.  The other side of the coin was that most of his troops desperately wanted to return home for demobilisation and he had to work hard to pacify them as best he could, one means of doing this was to set up a rest base for his men on a small offshore island.  The evacuation of the thousands of internees complete, he handed over control of the Wing and travelled home, courtesy of KLM for a month's leave before returning to the Far East as a Staff Officer in his substantive rank of Wing Commander.  He was awarded the CBE for is work in the Far East.

Returning from the Far East, he became a member of the Directing Staff at the RAF Staff College for three years before becoming Deputy Director of Policy.  He assumed command of RAF Scampton in 1953, which was then home to three Canberra bomber squadrons.  From Scampton, he returned to staff work as Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee but after three years he was appointed AOC, Air Forces Middle East.   During his two years as AOC, he was allocated an all-white Canberra, christened "Queen of the Arabian Skies" in which he flew over 100,000 miles visiting units under his command.  He was the Air Commander during the Kuwait operations of 1961, when he ordered two Hunter and two Shackleton squadrons to Bahrain in order to counter the threat to Kuwait from neighbouring Iraq.  he also commandeered civilian aircraft to supplement his limited resources in the area and transported troops to the area quickly and thereby made a major contribution in averting an invasion.

His final appointments, were at the highest levels of command, beginning as Commandant of the RAF Staff College, Air Member for Personnel and ultimately the UK Military Representative to the NATO HQ Military Committee.

Following retirement he has been quite successful as an author writing a number of books on the RAF in the Middle and Far East (see below).  He was also a Vice-President of the RAF Benevolent Fund from 1988 and was President of The Corps of Commissionaires for four years from 1984 to 1988.

Citation for the award of Officer of the Order of the British Empire

LEE, David John Pryer, W/C (33004, Royal Air Force) - Headquarters, No.21 Group, Flying Training Command

"This officer joined No 21 Group Headquarters after having completed a tour of operational duty in Bomber Command.  His experience of operations and intimate knowledge of air tactics have enabled him to speak with authority and tender acceptable and tactful advice.  He has been chairman of a committee inquiring into flying accidents and has been largely responsible for the marked improvement in the cadets trained and also for the reduction in the number of preventable accidents. This officer has successfully organized the Polish Flying Training Schools, displaying exceptional tact and understanding.  Wing Commander Lee has proved to be a remarkable able staff officer."

(Source - Air 2/8871)

Further Reading:

Flight from the Middle East (1978)

Eastward: a History of the RAF in the Far East (1984)

Wings in the Sun: a History of the RAF in the Mediterranean (1989). 

Never Stop the Engine When It is Hot (1983), 

And We Thought the War was Over (1990).

This page was last updated on 28/01/24©

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