Flight Lieutenant Charles Corder

(from Daily Telegraph Filed: 23/06/2005)

"Flight Lieutenant Charles Corder, who has died aged 87, was the navigator

of a Beaufighter that managed to return to base against all the odds after

it had been severely damaged by a Luftwaffe fighter; both he and his pilot

were decorated, Corder receiving the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, one of

only 113 awarded to airmen.

Corder was the long-serving navigator of the Free French pilot Max Guedj,

DFC, who adopted the nom de guerre Lieutenant Maurice to safeguard his

Jewish family, who remained in France. On the morning of March 10 1943 they

took off for a patrol over the Bay of Biscay, their 71st operation together.

When they encountered a Junkers 88 long-range fighter, Guedj attacked, and

sent it crashing into the sea. Return fire from the German fighter's gunner

severely damaged the aircraft.

Guedj was wounded during the attack and the intercommunication in the

aircraft was put out of action. With the situation appearing hopeless,

Corder crawled forward to assist the pilot before returning to his seat,

where he obtained radio bearings and gave Guedj a course to steer for their

base in Cornwall, 180 miles away. One of the two engines failed, and Guedj

had difficulty keeping control, forcing him to fly a few feet above the sea.

Corder once more crawled forward to assist him, having managed to repair the

intercommunication system.

Just before they reached the English coast, the second engine caught fire,

which spread to the cockpit. Corder transmitted an SOS and fired distress

cartridges to attract the attention of those ashore. As they approached

Cornwall, it was clear that the aircraft had either to ditch in the heavy

seas or clear the cliffs.

As Corder guided Guedj to the cliffs' lowest point, observers on the ground

were convinced that the aircraft would crash; but Guedj managed to clear the

cliffs by a few feet before making an emergency landing as the second engine

finally failed. Corder's navigation had been so accurate that they managed

to crash-land on their own airfield at Predannack.

The incident attracted a great deal of press interest. Guedj told one

reporter: "It would have been impossible without my navigator; he was really

the key man on board the most hair-raising adventure we have lived through."

For their actions in recovering the aircraft, Guedj was the first French

airman to receive the DSO.

The long citation for Corder's CGM remarked on how he had "calmly continued

his duties, showing great navigational skill and teamwork and doing

everything within his power to assist his pilot". It concluded: "In the face

of an appalling situation, this airman displayed courage in keeping with the

highest traditions of the RAF." Both men were also awarded the Croix de

Guerre avec Palme.

Charles Clayton Corder was born on July 29 1917 at West Thurrock, Essex. He

was educated at Palmer's Grammar School before joining Lloyds Bank. In May

1940 he enlisted in the RAF, but poor eyesight prevented him from training

as a pilot. Instead he became a navigator and was posted to No 248 Squadron,

where he teamed up with Max Guedj, a partnership that would last for almost

two years.

Corder had flown many patrols off Norway and over the Bay of Biscay when No

248 was sent to Malta to provide escort for the supply convoys to the

beleaguered island. During this period, Corder and Guedj were sent to search

for a missing Canadian pilot. They located a dinghy and dropped survival

aids and rations. After circling for 30 minutes, they watched as an enemy

seaplane arrived on the scene.

Deciding to allow the aircraft to rescue the survivor, they repeatedly dived

over the dinghy to mark its position. The seaplane landed and completed the

rescue, with German fighters arriving on the scene to provide an escort. In

the event, there were two men in the dinghy, the crew of an Italian Air

Force bomber.

Twenty-nine years later, Corder received a letter from Generale Antonio

Cumbat thanking him for saving his life. In his letter he commented that,

when rescued, the seaplane pilot had said: "You should thank the Junkers 88

for saving your life" -the enemy seaplane and its escorting fighters had

mistaken the Beaufighter for a German aircraft. The two former enemies

became good friends.

After a rest tour, Corder was commissioned and joined No 404 Squadron,

completing many more anti-shipping patrols. He was deeply saddened to learn

that his pilot Guedj had been killed leading a Mosquito strike against

Norwegian shipping in January 1945.

After being discharged from the RAF the next year, Corder returned to Lloyds

Bank in London with responsibilities for the bank's premises, and qualified

as a chartered surveyor.

Corder was, until the last 15 years of his life, a dedicated pipe smoker;

and on his retirement from Lloyds, he was presented with a wastepaper basket

fitted with a tap, in recognition of the many small fires he had started

with his pipes and as a precaution for his retirement. On national

no-smoking days he would line up his many pipes and smoke from each one.

He was a staunch supporter of the Royal British Legion and Probus. He was

also an accomplished carpenter.

Charles Corder died on May 31. He married his childhood sweetheart, Irene

Feal, in 1941; she died in 2003, and he is survived by a son, Maurice (named

in memory of his French pilot), and a daughter."

I attended Charles Corder's funeral in Ingatestone, Essex last week as a

representative of the Gallantry Medallists' League. Proceedings were

completed by a fly-by from a Spitfire, that "beat-up" the field adjoining

the church, before completing its tribute with a low-level high-speed

"victory roll".

Bernard de Neumann


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