WORLD WAR TWO navigator and former school teacher Frank Southern has died at the age of 98.

Born in 1918 in Dipton, a small mining community in County Durham, Frank joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 at the age of 21, learning to fly in Tiger Moths and going solo in just six hours. However, much to his dismay, he was moved to the other side of Prestwick Airfield to train as a Navigator and Observer.

Once qualified he joined the 272 Squadron flying Blenheim light bomber aircraft and his first mission was to escort a flight of Swordfish aircraft preparing to attack the battleship Bismarck hidden in the Norwegian fiord but the Bismarck managed to sail away unspotted.

Ironically, Frank’s only daughter Jane, was to marry 52 years later, one of the son’s of Kenneth Pattisson, the Swordfish pilot credited with firing the torpedo that crippled the Bismarck, resulting in her sinking.

Soon after his squadron was transferred to Egypt and now re-equipped with much more advanced Beaufort fighters, they prepared for frequent grounds attacks in North Africa, the attacking of Cartagena airfield in Sicily and many operational flights to Malta.

Frank volunteered to replace an injured Observer, flying with his pilot. Attacking an airfield at Benghazi in heavy flak, one engine caught fire and they were forced into crash landing on the runway.

“Frank saved his pilot trapped in the cockpit, dragging him out, but so badly burnt, he was eventually repatriated back to England, “ said his daughter Jane.

Frank was captured by the Germans and interrogated. He spent two years in an Italian POW camp before being transported to German Stalag camps after the Italians surrendered. When the Russians advanced near the end of the war he was mistaken as a German by soldiers because of his blond hair and was almost shot but he told them he was an American and was freed.

After the war and many months of recuperation, he went to Summerfield Park to learn carpentry and metal work, becoming a master craftsman and skilled cabinet maker, skills he had started in an Italian POW camp years earlier.

Soon after he met his wife Thelma, they married in 1948 and six years later Jane was born.

The family settled down in Poole and Frank became a teacher at Lytchett Minster Secondary School.

“Many of his pupils, even to this day, remember and loudly praise his qualities as a teacher. He personified kindness, generosity and humility to all who knew him”, said Jane.

Frank died at Forest Holme Hospice on February 9 after a short illness with cancer. His funeral is at the Harbour View Burial Ground, Lytchett Minster on March 3 at 2.30pm.