Navigator who won the DFC flying low over the jungle in the fight against communists in Malaya
He also served in the Malayan, Omani and Kenyan air forces, and was later a 'tower of strength' in RAF air traffic control
Telegraph Obituaries – 8 March 2023 (online) & Daily Telegraph – 14 March 2023 (print edition)
Flight Lieutenant Francis Souness, who has died aged 92, served as a navigator on transport aircraft during Operation Firedog, the campaign in Malaya against Communist terrorists. Souness was training to be a navigation instructor when he was summoned to see his commanding officer “immediately”. Anticipating that he had transgressed in some way, he braced himself for a reprimand. Instead, he was congratulated on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his “meticulous care and untiring energy” and for his “calm efficiency, courage and high sense of duty”, having completed 148 operational sorties in Malaya “while locating dropping zones deep in the jungle, often in foul and dangerous weather”.
Souness arrived in Malaya in late 1952 to join 110 Squadron flying the Valetta transport aircraft based at Kuala Lumpur, which was heavily engaged in supporting the campaign against the Communist terrorists (CT). Initially, the security forces were able to mount patrols lasting only a few days, so the CTs felt safe while they remained in the jungle. However, with regular re-supply from the air, the ground forces were able to penetrate much deeper and to remain there for up to three months.
In addition to supply drops, the RAF transport aircraft were able to insert special forces and broadcast surrender messages from a specially equipped Valetta (the “howler”), all completed at very low level. Inevitably, there were losses from extreme weather conditions over inhospitable territory, some of it uncharted. Yet Souness relished the challenge, conducting 10 “howler” missions in one eight-day period, each up to three hours in duration. Altogether, Souness amassed more than 1,500 hours in Valetta transport aircraft on his tour with 110 Squadron, including no fewer than 29 operational supply drops from Kuala Lumpur between September 11 and October 8 1954.
Francis Scott Souness – always known as Frank – was born in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders on August 31 1930, to a future mayor and mayoress of Carlisle. He was educated at Carlisle Grammar School, then in September 1946 joined the RAF as an apprentice. For three years he was at Cranwell as a “Trenchard Brat” training to be a radio fitter. After completing his training, he was posted initially to RAF St Athan, near Glamorgan, where he met his future wife, an RAF telephonist, before heading for Kinloss in north-east Scotland, where he serviced equipment in Lancaster aircraft. In December 1950 he began navigator training. After being commissioned, and awarded his flying brevet, he trained on the Valetta before joining 110 Squadron in Malaya.
Returning to Britain, he trained as a navigation instructor before spending two years at No 2 Air Navigation School at RAF Syerston in Nottinghamshire [actually Nos. 1 & briefly 2 FTS – JL]. He returned to the air transport role and flew in the Beverley transport plane of 47 Squadron ferrying troops to the Middle East. Unenthused by the role, he seized an opportunity to return to Kuala Lumpur on secondment to the newly formed Royal Malayan Air Force, created in 1958, a few months after independence.
Back in the UK after three years, he converted to the new Armstrong Whitworth Argosy, expecting a posting to 114 Squadron, only to be poached as an instructor for 242 Operational Conversion Unit at Thorney Island in West Sussex. But the fledgling Kenya Air Force, founded in 1964 after independence, needed professional help, both in training navigators, and supporting army and police contingents who were fighting ethnic Somali secessionists in the so-called “Shifta War” in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District. Between 1965 and 1968, Souness put in more than 800 hours, including flights with vice-president Daniel Arap Moi on diplomatic missions.
After a period as an air traffic control officer, he received an approach from a senior British contact in the Zambian Air Force, into which he was commissioned at the end of 1969, having taken early retirement from the RAF. He was attached to the Presidential Flight, recording many journeys with the “VVIP” on board. Next came a non-flying role in Uganda, under United Nations auspices, followed by attachment to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, primarily in an air traffic control role (with a SOAF rank as squadron leader), until family demands required a return to the United Kingdom.
In June 1980, Souness was reinstated in the RAF to follow a career in air traffic control, at which he excelled. One 1982 assessment praised his “exceptional temperament for ATC”. His last posting was as deputy senior air traffic controller at RAF Leuchars in Fife, where his station commander described him as, “a tower of strength in the ATC squadron and an excellent example to all as a controller and as an officer”. He retired to nearby Cupar in 1987 after 41 years in aviation and 5,600 flying hours.
Most of the following two decades centred on caring for his wife Pat, who lived with Parkinson’s disease until her death. Moving from Scotland to the New Forest to be near his daughter [Fiona] and her partner, a local MP, Souness enjoyed gardening, service commemorations and making close new friendships in retirement.
Francis Souness’s wife Pat died in 2008 and he is survived by their daughter.
Flight Lieutenant Francis Souness, born August 31 1930, died December 30 2022
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WATERSIDE HERALD (New Forest East)