From hero fighter to inventor - tributes paid to Eddie Boulter
Michael Pollitt, obituaries editorFighter pilot, Norfolk inventor, and restorer of vintage planes, Eddie Boulter, who has died peacefully aged 86, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor
Fighter pilot, Norfolk inventor and restorer of vintage planes Eddie Boulter has died peacefully aged 86.
He flew 48 missions over enemy territory in Mosquitos was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Then, after the war, he invented a new boiler system and started his own company.
Eddie, known as 'Bertie the Boy' to his war-time squadron colleagues at RAF Wyton, near Huntingdon, co-wrote a book about his experiences as a pathfinder called Mosquito to Berlin.
In retirement, he restored in the garage of his South Norfolk home at Saxlingham Nethergate a Stearman biplane on which he had learned to fly in the United States.
Herbert Edward Boulter was born in Canada after his parents had emigrated in 1909. He was 13 years old when his father died, so his mother returned to her native Norwich.
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He went to work for Barnards as a wages clerk. Six months later, still only 17 and while studying engineer-ing at Norwich City College, he was promoted to the factory floor and put in charge of a team of mainly women. He had to renovate an anodizing plant.
Determined to serve in the air force, on his 18th birthday, April 15, 1941, he went to the RAF recruiting office in Colegate. By way of St John's Wood for basic training and after flying Tiger Moths, he was sent to Canada. After a gut-wrenching 10-day voyage to Nova Scotia, he was posted to New Brunswick and then Georgia in the United States, where he was introduced to the Stearman.
After further training on twin-engined aircraft, he became a staff pilot, flying an Avro Anson, then a Blackburn Botha, a one-time torpedo bomber. In October 1944, aged 21, he was posted to Wyton, where he completed 22 bombing missions over Germany with navigator Jim Churcher.
He had to bail out twice - once in France over Dunkirk and later near his home station, Wyton. When the engines failed over France, he parachuted from his burning plane into a field. His mother received a telegram saying that he was missing in an air operation, but later that day, another arrived at her home in Dereham Road, Norwich, saying that he was safe and uninjured.
After leaving the RAF, he rejoined Barnards, later marrying the chief engineer's daughter, Christine. He joined Ruymps and started a heating division, then left to form his own company, Boulton Boilers, having invented the first balanced flue boiler.
He also restored a 1934 Austin 10 but his spent two years rebuilding a Stearman. In July 1994, he was at the controls of his own plane over Swanton Morley. In the next eight years, he took to the air around 400 times, often flying with actor and aviator Martin Shaw in his Stearman.
He leaves a widow, Christine, two daughters, and four grandsons. A funeral service will be held at City of Norwich Crematorium, Earlham, on Tuesday, May 4, 2.15pm.
This feature was published in the EDP's Sunday in October 2009.
Eddie Boulter, a sprightly 86-year-old, spends much of his time these days restoring a 1934 Austin 10 for his granddaughter. The car has been in the family all its life and sits in Eddie's garage in a delightful spot at Saxlingham near Norwich.
It's not the first restoration job he's had in his garage. The other was an aircraft. And that because he has an undying affection for the Stearman, a biplane aircraft on which he learned to fly during the second world war. That was after he decided as a teenager to
leave his job at Barnards in Norwich and join the RAF.
In the second world war, he flew 48 missions over enemy territory in Mosquitos, had to bail out twice - once in France with the engines both sending out 40ft flames, and once in Cambridgeshire.
And by the way, after the war, during which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, he invented a boiler system which was unique in its day, and founded his own company.
A quite amazing life but the one thing you quickly learn about Eddie is his absolute modesty.
He co-wrote a book about his time in the RAF in the war but was careful about not appearing a Boys' Own hero. He was more concerned with factual accuracy than emphasising the scrapes he got into. He speaks about his bombing missions to Germany, being shot at, dumping the plane's load of bombs because there was 'a hitch', just as you or I would talk of a difficult trip to the local supermarket.
Eddie's parents went to Canada in 1909 from Norwich as they saw it as a land of opportunity but in 1937, when Eddie was 13, his father died and his mother decided to return to her Norwich roots.
In England for the first time, Eddie found himself a job at Barnards where he worked as a wages clerk, not easy when you've never heard a Norfolk accent before and have to work in pounds, shillings and pence when you've been used to decimal currency.
After six months he was promoted to a job on the factory floor working on an anodizing plant which he had to bring back into service and operate, managing a team of young women factory hands. Quite a challenge for a young boy of 17 still attending engineering courses in the evening at City College.
Then on his 18th birthday, the earliest age at which he could sign up, he took a half day off and went to the RAF recruiting office in
Colegate. From there, he was sent to St John's Wood in London for paperwork and basic training. The experience wasn't altogether a happy one. He recalls: 'The buggers who were our instructors were inhuman.'
Classes in law, navigation, Morse Code and the theories of flight followed. And still he hadn't been near a plane. Eventually, in 1941, it was off to Fairoaks for his first flying lessons - in Tiger Moths. 'We were told how to fly straight and level and then introduced to aerobatics. I was violently sick, and when we landed they made us clear up all the mess.'
And after this basic training the young recruits, or those who had survived so far, were put on a ship to sail to Canada for more flying training. 'It was very rough all the way,' he recalls. 'They sent destroyers to escort us but they kept disappearing under the waves and were sent back after a while so were on our own.'
The journey to Nova Scotia took 10 sickening days after which the would-be aircrew were sent to a base in New Brunswick and then on to Georgia in the United States, where he was introduced to the Stearman, an aircraft for which he developed a lifelong affection.
In fact it was one of these very aircraft which, years later, would be delivered in bits to his home for him to rebuild in his garage.
But back to Georgia. Eddie recalls the moment his instructor jumped out of the plane and said, 'right off you go, you can fly it on
your own now'.
'It was absolutely terrifying,' he says. Eventually, after more instructions, he had passed his primary, basic and advanced flying
courses and was sent back to England, to Harrogate, and then to Whitley Bay for a survival course. Then it was off to Desford for
more instruction in Tiger Moths. 'We thought the instructor an old man - he was 25,' he says. 'He told us he didn't agree with 'all this American stuff' we were taught in the States.'
Introductions to twin-engined aircraft followed and then he was asked what he wanted to do. 'I said a fighter pilot, but if not a bomber pilot.'
After a short period as a staff pilot flying an Avro Anson, 'a gentleman's carriage' he calls it, and a Blackburn Botha, a one-time torpedo bomber, it was off to Wyton in Cambridgeshire where, in October 1944 aged 21, he was introduced to the Mosquito.
By this time he had teamed up with Jim Churcher, who was to be his navigator for 22 bombing missions over Germany and in he had the greatest trust.
Eddie had by now been christened Bertie the Boy by his squadron commander, Ivor (later Sir Ivor) Broom.
In his book, Mosquito to Berlin, Eddie recalls how they copied the other aircrew as they walked round their planes before the flights.
'We pulled and pushed a few things, kicked the tyres, nodded to each other and clambered aboard.'
So with less than 30 hours of solo night flying they roared off down the runway, went to Wiesbaden, dropped their load and returned.
'It must have gone totally to plan because I remember so little of it,' he says. 'We were shot at and I remember a shell burst very close. I went into a hard dive to port before recovering height and heading.'
Mission followed mission, with Eddie now a fully-fledged member of the squadron, until one flight over Nuremberg when they were on a diversionary raid designed to fool the Luftwaffe as to the evening's main targets and were carrying huge amounts of aluminium strip to confuse the German radar.
They also had a 4,000lb bomb to deliver but things started to go wrong on the return trip to Wyton. The starboard engine was running too hot, so he shut that down and continued on the other engine. Then that began to overheat, so he shut it down and restarted the starboard engine which, by then, had cooled. For around 400 miles after leaving Nuremberg they tried flying on alternate engines and made it as far as Dunkirk, by which time both were heating up too quickly and Eddie and Jim agreed it was time to bail out.
Unfortunately, as he was leaving the plane, Jim accidentally pulled the D-ring which activated the parachute, leaving him jammed
in the hatch. Eddie delivered a sharp kick on his navigator's shoulder and he promptly popped out of the blazing plane.
Eddie followed and a short time later landed with a squelch in a French field. He wasn't certain on which side of the frontline he had
landed and thought he heard foreign voices.
Eventually he found a farmhouse where the farmer told him the location of the nearest British troops. By the time he had found an old mill where they were stationed it was first light. Eddie wandered in to find them making their first brew of the day and was soon sitting by a fire with a steaming mug of tea.
His navigator had been taken in by a Czech sentry and treated to superb hospitality, so that when Eddie caught up with him he was
slightly the worse for wear.
Unfortunately, back home, his mother had received a telegram saying that Eddie was missing as a result of an air operation. Later that day another arrived at her home off Dereham Road in Norwich to say: 'Very happy to inform you that you son, F/O Herbert
Edward Boulter is safe and uninjured in France.'
The relief she must have felt is the stuff of those flickering old black and white films. The other time he found himself floating
down to earth was after a mission to Berlin. They found themselves at 25,000ft in a jet stream and overshot Berlin, their intended
target. They returned and dropped their bomb but on returning to England the weather had closed in and they were running short of fuel.
They made two attempts to land at Wyton, never saw the runway and by this time their fuel tanks were virtually empty. One plane had already crashed because of this. Then the voice of their commanding officer barked over the airways 'This is not a request,
this is an order. Climb to a safe height and bail out. Acknowledge.'
Eddie and his navigator promptly did so and landed in a muddy field somewhere in Cambridgeshire. After a walk along a country lane Eddie came across a farmhouse, banged on the door and told the occupant that he was a British pilot who had just bailed out and asked if he could he use the telephone.
The voice barked back from the window that there was a phone box 200 yards down the road and then the window slammed shut!
Eventually, he was picked up by an American ambulance after a nearby base had heard his plane crash and went out looking for him.
After the war, Eddie carried on flying with various postings, one to Canada to deliver Mosquitos back across the Atlantic on nine-hour flights to Britain.
After leaving the RAF, he rejoined Barnards. And if you think that was all a bit tame, he fell in love with his boss's daughter, Christine, and married her.
Life in civvy street was still a challenge even after such an eventful war. He moved from Barnards to the city firm of Ruymps where he started a heating division. There, he designed heating systems and Christine was called in to work out the pipe runs and decide on radiator sizes.
Later he invented the first balanced flue boilers and formed his own company, Boulter Boilers, which for a while enjoyed some
But once the thrill of flying is in your blood it's not easily flushed out. He never lost his love of the Stearman and jumped at the chance to regain his pilot's licence after a few years and fly one of several which were to be found in and around Norfolk.
But then a friend told him of an old Stearman at the very early stages of reconstruction. Eddie couldn't resist it and soon a truck
was pulling up his drive with boxes of bits.
Virtually everything he saw was severely corroded and it took many weeks to free off the wheels, while the engine needed a total rebuild. As for the wings leaning against the garage wall, they were in an even worse state.
Eddie admits it was a total nightmare. But corroded wings and bearings locked solid weren't enough to deter an old lion of the air
In July 1994, two years after the its arrival at Saxlingham, Eddie was again airborne, this time at the controls of his own plane above
Over the course of the next eight years he took to the air around 400 times, but eventually reached the reluctant conclusion his plane was being used less and less and so, with some sadness, they parted company. It is now in the ownership of Luxembourg commercial pilot Wolfgang Liebler and continues to reach for the sky.
As for Eddie, he still has his pilot's licence, though he hasn't renewed his medical certificate for some years. But you'll never
keep Eddie out of the skies so, from time to time, he can be found above Norfolk in a Stearman owned by actor and fellow aviator
So that's it then? Well, not if you're Eddie Boulter. The family had an ancient Austin 10 in poor condition that hadn't been on the roads for years. So he's embarked on a new project. The upholstery's been fitted, engine rebuilt and an electrician has given him a hand with the wiring. Last week they turned the engine over for the first time. Soon he'll proudly hand it over to his granddaughter.
Then what? Well he's flown in dozens of different planes, invented ground-breaking boiler systems, restored a classic car and an
I wouldn't be surprised if one day boxes of bits arrived outside his garage with his wife Christine asking, 'what have you got now'.
'Oh nothing,' Eddie would reply. 'Someone told me they'd got an old Concorde, and asked if I could have a look.'
Mosquito to Berlin: The Story of 'Bertie' Boulter DFC One of Bennett's Pathfinders, by Peter Bodle and Bertie Boulter, is published by Pen & Sword, priced �19.99.