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Norfolk airfield to commemorate the extraordinary life of Wing Commander Ken Wallis

PUBLISHED: 13:34 05 September 2013 | UPDATED: 14:16 05 September 2013

Wing Commander Ken Wallis died aged 97. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Wing Commander Ken Wallis died aged 97. Picture; Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2012

The compelling life story of our region's unique "aviator orator and hero" will be celebrated at a Norfolk airfield later this month.

Ken Wallis getting an award from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in 2012.Ken Wallis getting an award from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in 2012.

Wing Commander Ken Wallis, the record-breaking autogyro pilot who flew as James Bond’s stunt double, died in Dereham on Sunday aged 97.

His status as a world-class inventor, peerless pilot, local hero and national treasure spans generations and geography.

Tales of cheating the RAF eye test weeks before war, dropping bombs on German-occupied soil for his country, flying high above his Reymerston home and, most famously, hovering above a Japanese volcano as 007, are renowned.

A tireless fight was won just two months before he died when he was awarded a Bomber Command medal, acknowledging his perilous time in the 103 Squadron 71 years overdue.

And later this month Old Buckenham Airfield, a place where he was a life member, will hold a celebratory day to pay homage to the much-admired man.

Matt Wilkins, airfield manager, said hosting the formal tributes and displays of aviation, engineering, film, classic cars, boats and bikes on Sunday September 29 was “the deepest honour”.

“It is remarkable what he achieved”, he said.

“He was charming and technically brilliant, and for us to be able to honour him at a place he loved so much is tremendous – the deepest of honours.

“It’s a celebration of his life – and at 97 that’s quite a life to celebrate.

“The man was a legend. The phrase has been over-used, but really it’s true.

“He’s a major national treasure –and they just don’t make them like that any more.”

Flying was an undeniable passion for the Wing Commander who, according to his daughter, Vicky Wallis, would go straight to his workshop when arriving home.

Aviation groups have paid homage to their high-flying comrade.

Barry Freeman, the chief coach at the Norfolk Hang-gliding and Paragliding Club, said: “I speak for all of us in saying we feel the loss of a true friend to our club.

“A prop from one of his aircraft was gifted to us by him and turned into a trophy to be awarded annually to our best pilot. This trophy will be fought for now even harder.

“Goodbye Ken Wallis, aviator, orator and hero to us. We salute a great man.”

Judge Tudor Wyn Owen, the Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators said: “Wing Cdr Wallis will be remembered for his ingenuity, energy and perseverance over a lifelong involvement in aviation, and for his charming personality.”

And Su Ingle, a member of the guild, says she had strong memories of Wing Cdr Wallis’s passion for aviation.

“I remember the way his eyes would light up when he was talking or showing people around his 
hangar – it was just totally electric,” she said.

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The “crown jewels” of Mr Wallis’s collection, his miniature working pistols, are expected to go on display at the Tower of London.

Ms Wallis said that it was her father’s pistols and his “serious side” which she will remember him for most – such as his record-breaking exploits in the autogyro which he designed.

“There was a seriousness to him – James Bond was a bit of a craze. But he liked the records and the development of things.

“And a lot of people said to me ‘you must have had an exciting life’, but we didn’t really know any different.”

Other special parts of his collection are expected to be loaned to museums around the country as and when the trustees of the Wallis Heritage Trust choose.

Organisers of the airfield event ask anyone wishing to attend to contact them with details of the aircraft or vehicle they will be bringing by emailing airfield@oldbuck.com. 
If you do not have access to email, then telephone 01953 860 806.

A private funeral will take place at a date to be arranged, and the Wallis family request privacy at this time.

Any donations for chosen charities Royal Air Force Association, RNLI and the East Anglian Air Ambulance can be sent to Gordon Barber Funeral Directors on Norwich Road in Dereham.

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