Obituary: Emley RAF hero Bob Willis MBE

Former RAF pilot Bob Willis, who was 92, was honoured with both the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and later with the MBE

Former WWII pilot Bob Willis of Emley

An Emley man honoured for his war heroism has died.

Former RAF pilot Bob Willis, who was 92, was honoured with both the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and later with the MBE.

But he always insisted: “I’m no hero”.

He was brought up in Barnsley and started work in the family retail business Willis Discount.

He left the business to join the RAF in 1940 and was sent for training in Rhodesia and South Africa.

He then joined 47 Squadron and saw action in Libya, Burma and India. Dubbed the “Forgotten Army” these fliers were over-shadowed by the terrible sacrifices of Bomber Command but their contribution to the Allied victory of 1939-45 was no less important and their grip on life no less precarious.

Mr Willis flew 63 missions, many with navigator Tommy Thompson, and was hailed for his “coolness under fire” and his “courage and devotion to duty.”

He recorded his experiences in the self-published book ‘No Hero Just a Survivor’ and he escaped death several times.

His plane was repeatedly peppered by gunfire, he had a wing tip shot off and he survived crash landings and even a fire on board.

Mr Willis, described his wartime experiences as “character-forming” and said: “You were always in peril.

Bob Willis in 1943
Bob Willis in 1943
 

It was in 1945 that Mr Willis was honoured with the DFC – but the medal arrived in the post without fanfare and just a simple note from King George VI.

After the war the RAF wanted him to continue in a training capacity but his father Robert was ill and he was needed back at the family business.

Mr Willis later took over as managing director of Barnsley-based Willis Discount which, at its height, had 31 stores.

He eventually sold out to retail chain Kwik Save and retired aged 70 in 1991.

He then set up the Business Education Partnership in Barnsley aimed at raising aspirations among young people in the town.

He was presented with the MBE by the Queen for that work in 1996.

He leaves a wife Joan, children Catherine, Ian, Andrew and Howard, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A funeral services takes place at 2.30pm today at Emley church.

 
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