Douglas Coxell obituary

Other lives: Pilot who flew with the RAF during the second world war and then for a civil airline in the Channel Islands

My grandfather Douglas Coxell, who has died aged 100, spent most of his life flying – initially in the second world war before training RAF pilots in peacetime, and then for a civilian airline in the Channel Islands, where he was a pilot until retirement at 65. Even then he continued to fly as a training captain for the Channel Islands Air Search service until the age of 86, hanging up his goggles only when he could no longer find a company that would insure him.

Doug was born in Peterborough to Sybil (nee Cox) and Horace Coxell, an officer in the first world war who went on to be a railway clerk. After leaving school at 14, Doug worked at the London Brick Company, tried his hand as a policeman in the Huntingdonshire Constabulary – opening his eyes to village life behind closed doors – and then in 1942 joined the RAF.

He was sent to flying school, at first in Scotland and then in Texas, and on his return, having gained his wings, he was initially assigned to Fighter Command, then 38 Group, which eventually became part of the newly formed Transport Command. The squadron then moved to Stoney Cross in the New Forest in 1944 to begin training for what would become known as D-day.

Flt Lt Doug Coxell flying an Albemarle plane in 1944
Flt Lt Doug Coxell flying an Albemarle plane in 1944 Photograph: provided by family

Aged 22, Doug was one of the first pilots to drop paratroopers over Normandy at the start of D-day operations on 6 June 1944, flying a twin-engine Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle.

Night flights to drop supplies and the occasional agents to the resistance in France, the Netherlands and Norway were navigated by moonlight at low altitudes, using rivers and lakes for reference. This resulted in a number of close calls. Transferring to a four-engine Handley Page Halifax, Doug and crew also towed gliders in air operations over Arnhem and the Rhine. Their last wartime mission was during the liberation of Norway and all of those involved remained lifelong friends.

After the war Doug returned to the police force, but the lure of flying was too great. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and in 1954 was commissioned back into the RAF to train pilots on piston aircraft and jets. When a desk job beckoned, he joined Aurigny Air Services in the Channel Islands, where he was the inspiration for the character of Captain Keen, pilot of a little plane, G-Joey, in a series of six children’s books called The Little Yellow Plane Adventures that were published by the airline.

After retiring, he continued to fly as training captain for the Channel Islands Air Search for another 21 years. He was awarded the French Légion d’honneur in 2016, and the Norwegian Medal of Honour in 2021.

Resident in Guernsey, Doug was a keen sailor in the treacherous waters of the Channel Islands and northern France. He put his longevity down to a daily swim – which he maintained well into his 90s – as well as a tot of whisky, never to be missed. He had a warm personality and an unfailing sense of humour.

In 1944 – a month after D-day – he married Margaret Wright. After their divorce, in 1982 he married Jan White, a nurse. She survives him, as do two daughters from his first marriage, a stepson and stepdaughter from his second, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Chris Baker

The GuardianTramp

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