AN HEROIC pilot who flew just 50ft over the Normandy beaches to lay down protecting smoke for the D-Day forces died yesterday, aged 95.
Leslie Valentine was believed to be the last surviving light bomber pilot from D-Day and passed away at the Fewcott House nursing home in Fewcott just before 2am.
Last night his son Dudley hailed his father, saying: “I have a million words running through my head, but the one thing to say is that I am just very, very proud to call him my father.”
Mr Valentine, who had lived in the village of Hethe neat Bicester for the past 27 years, was also described as an extraordinary man by David Cameron when the Prime Minister belatedly gave him his Defence Medal at Downing Street 16 months ago.
His war service included flying 60 operations back-to-back.
Mr Valentine was born in Glasgow and initially saw service during the Second World War with the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry in France. He then volunteered for the Royal Air Force, undergoing training first in Canada and then at RAF Bicester and RAF Finmere, ironically not far from where he spent the last three decades of his life.
He was posted to 88 Sqdn, 2nd Tactical Air Force, Bomber Command, which aimed to disrupt supply lines targeting road bridges, rail marshalling yards, road transport convoys, submarine pens and V1 rocket launching sites.
On D-Day he flew a Douglas Boston E Easy light bomber 50ft above the Normandy beaches amidst the barrage from both sides to lay down protecting smoke for Allied forces. Two planes were lost but Flt Officer Valentine returned safely to his base in Hampshire.
His 71-year-old son Dudley said his father only began to talk about his heroic war service after his wife Vera died two years ago. Mr Dudley took his father over to Normandy and in November 2012 the veteran was belatedly given his Defence Medal by Mr Cameron in Downing Street.
He originally missed out receiving the medal for his service with the Highland Light Infantry because of his volunteering for the RAF.
The Government acted after the oversight was highlighted during a radio interview.
Mr Valentine said: “He was a very proud but a very private man who did not show his emotions at all. The trip to Normandy hit him quite hard. He was feted while he was there.
“He always said: ‘I just did the job I was asked to do,’ and that was it.”
Mr Valentine said his father, who is also survived by his daughter Una, 74, had been ill for the past 10 months. No arrangements have been made for the funeral, but it is expected to be held next week.
After the Downing Street presentation, Mr Cameron said: “I was honoured to meet Mr Valentine and it was with great pleasure that I presented him with the Defence Medal.
“He is an extraordinary man. Mr Valentine’s bravery, flying 50ft above the beaches on D-Day to provide a smoke-screen to the invasion force, was extraordinary.”