My father, Anthony Bray, who has died aged 89, was a quiet and thoughtful man, with the warped sense of humour famous in the Bray family.
He was born in Gosport, Hampshire, the middle of three sons of Ernest Bray, a former Royal Navy torpedo gunner’s mate with the rank of chief petty officer, and Nellie Wicken-Wood. His parents had met during the first world war while Nellie was a Wren. At the outbreak of the second world war, Ernest was recalled for service as an instructor at the HMS Vernon naval training base housed in Roedean school, East Sussex.
Anthony lived with his brothers, parents, aunts and cousins nearby in Rottingdean, and later told stories of watching Spitfires chase Messerschmitts over the Sussex coast, and diverting V1 flying bombs with their wing tips. He got into trouble with his father when he was found collecting live ammunition to defuse and keep. He wrote an account of his childhood wartime experiences for the Imperial War Museum archive that has been drawn on by researchers.
In the late 1940s Tony undertook national service in Egypt and survived a near-miss under fire. After joyriding round the desert he spent three days in the cooler, resolving then to be a superb soldier for a quiet life – but when his national service was over, he turned down the offer to become a regular. He had a lifelong love of propeller planes, and wanted to be an aero engineer, but instead used his army training to become a mechanic and lorry driver. In his spare time he was always doing up old cars, starting with a BSA three-wheeler.
He married Adrienne Stone in 1956; their first home was on the yacht Wyvern, moored on the Hamble river in Hampshire. After his retirement at 65, Tony devoted his time to his considerable interests in the natural world, birds, plants and anything environmental. A passionate defender of the countryside, he was a supporter of the CPRE, RSPB and the Woodland Trust, and worried about the decline of the English countryside, particularly in his beloved Hampshire and Sussex. He offset this by managing an enormous back garden and producing enough vegetables to feed a crowd.
He led a local pensioners’ walking group, most of whose members were younger than he, and at 82 ceased this only because he felt that most people just wanted to march along rather than take an interest in their surroundings – although he could still walk faster than his sons and his athletic daughter-in-law.
He retained his interest in classic cars, being a lifelong fan of pre-1940s Rileys, and would still go misty at the sight of a Spitfire – the only time I ever saw him emotional. He championed a memorial to the women of the wartime Air Transport Auxiliary of Hamble Airfield, which was unveiled in 2010, on the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain.
He is survived by Adrienne, their sons, Nicholas and me, and granddaughter, Asha, and by his younger brother, Nick.