Grantham war veteran and MBE dies at the age of 96

Frederick and Betty Mildinhall
Frederick and Betty Mildinhall
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A war veteran and MBE recipient died on Christmas Day, at the age of 96.

The family of Frederick Albert Mildinhall MBE have this week paid tribute to a beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, who died peacefully in his sleep at the home he shared with his wife Betty, 91, in Premier Court, Grantham.

He also leaves son Tony, daughter-in-law Dawn, grandsons Matthew and Ashley and great-granddaughter Gretchen.

Tony, 60, has shared some of the many stories which shaped his father’s life – including several lucky escapes during his long career in the armed forces.

Mr Mildinhall was born in Endsleigh Street in St Pancras, London, in August 1920. The middle child, he had two older brothers and two younger sisters.

On leaving school at the age of 13, he trained as a butcher, then at 17 he joined the Royal Air Force.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Mr Mildinhall went to France as part of the 4 Squadron Lysanders.

Tony, of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, said: “With the advance of the Germany army they had to retreat to Dunkirk and abandon their trucks, full of meals ready to serve up, miles outside the town, taking up positions on the back of their lorries and shooting at attacking Stuka bombers.

“He was lucky to escape back to Dover – half his squadron of men died when the ship next to his was blown up by attacking bombers.”

Two years were spent in the UK before he travelled by sea in March 1942 to Cape Town, South Africa, and then on to Cairo, Egypt, where he adapted the men’s rations by negotiating with the local people for fresh food in exchange for items such as blankets.

Tony said: “His luck continued when on a ship ready to go to Singapore the drive shaft broke so they couldn’t set sail, whereas the first and third ships did leave, only to be captured by the Japanese and imprisoned.”

Mr Mildinhall left the RAF towards the end of the war, but enlisted again in 1950.

He helped set up RAF Wildenrath in Germany, and while visiting Berlin he met Betty, who has working as NAAFI manager.

They married in March 1954 and went on to have Tony two years later, in Norwich. The family was stationed at bases in Norfolk, Gibraltar, Scotland and Yorkshire.

Not used to staying in one place too long, the family moved to Belgium in 1968 and it was Mr Mildinhall’s service here which led to him being made MBE. He was in charge of the Nato Supply Unit for the British Forces Post Office and went on to transform the facility.

Tony explained: “In his words, the unit was a shambles. He took it upon himself to reorganise it completely to make work and because of his outstanding work he was awarded the MBE in January 1971, presented by the Queen Mother, who was very interested to hear his story and kept others waiting in the queue.”

Mr Mildinhall’s final posting was at RAF Spitalgate, from where he retired in 1973, after 31 years’ service. Among his medals were the African Star, Italian Star and the Dunkirk Medal, which he “wore with pride having lost so many friends and collegues on that fateful day”.

Jobs for the Gas Board and in BMARC’s mail room, both in Grantham, followed.

His garden was his passion. He was also a life member of the Dunkirk Association, a Probus club member and football referee up to minor league level in Scotland and in Gibraltar.

Tony said: “Dad was a very strong, intelligent man, fair but honest, a man who could tell a great story from his past. My sons loved listening to him and he was a great husband and father.”