Flying Officer Geoffrey Osborn, pictured above during the mid point of World War Two, was already a veteran of many dangerous missions flying over occupied Europe.  *Photos supplied
Flying Officer Geoffrey Osborn, pictured above during the mid point of World War Two, was already a veteran of many dangerous missions flying over occupied Europe.  *Photos supplied

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22: Geoffrey Alan Osborn, who died at his home in North Carolina on June 16, was one of Bermuda’s most decorated World War Two airmen.

He was born on January 24, 1922 in Woolston, England, and his family moved to Bermuda in 1929, with the young Geoffrey Osborn attending Warwick Academy.

In 1938, when war clouds were gathering over Europe, Mr Osborn joined the Bermuda Volunteer Regiment (BVRC) and was mobilized in August 1939.

He was a member of a pioneer group of airmen who learned to fly at the Bermuda Flying School at Darrell’s Island in 1940, receiving the fourth Bermuda flight certificate issued.

Later that year he went by convoy to the UK, a perilous crossing as the North Atlantic route was patrolled by German U-boats who exacted a heavy toll on Allied shipping.

He received his wings as a bomber pilot in September 1941, and in December flew his first of many raids with the RAF Bomber Command. During the early years of the war he was assigned to 51 Squadron, Bomber Command, and flew Whitley and Halifax bombers on night missions over occupied Europe.

He was only 21 when he started flying these missions, which included dropping paratroopers into France and doing low-level flights by moonlight to drop off agents into occupied Europe. One of these agents, he later learned, was ‘Odette Sansom’, an Allied French-born heroine of World War Two who joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was sent to France to work with the resistance and was the subject of the 1950 film Odette.

He was involved in two air crashes and was awarded the George Medal in 1943 for his gallantry in rescuing his crewmen from both. The medal citation read: “Flying Officer Osborn has on two occasions displayed great gallantry in rescuing members of his crew from burning aircraft.”

George Medal

Mr Osborn, in his recollections of the war years for the National Archives in London, played down his role in these rescues, stating: “For this little episode I was awarded the George Medal”.

Nevertheless, he was badly burned during his rescue efforts during the first crash and suffered spinal injuries and severe burns in the second crash when he re-entered the aircraft to rescue four of his crew.

It was while he was wounded that he met his future wife, Beatrice ‘Bobbi’ Elaine Durham of the Royal Nursing Corps, and they were married in London in 1944.

These injuries caused him to eventually be taken off operational flight status and in 1944 he was transferred to the Atlantic theatre flying maritime patrols. He later returned to Bermuda where he spent the rest of the war in Transport Command at Darrell’s Island.

Following the war he initially worked at Kindley Field with Pan Am and then he left for the UK and became an air traffic controller, working in Dusseldorf, Germany, Lusaka in Northern Rhodesia, and also provided air traffic control training for local personnel at Standsted and Heathrow airports in the UK.

Kindley Field

Mr Osborn returned to Bermuda in 1966, joining the Department of Civil Aviation at Kindley Field Airport, becoming Director of Civil Aviation and subsequently Permanent Secretary for Transport.

On retiring in 1985, he and his wife moved to Dorset, England, and in 2009, they moved to Columbia, North Carolina, to live with their daughter Wendy and son-in-law Mark.

His son Mike Osborn, manager of terminals at L. F. Wade International Airport, spoke of his father’s passion for Bermuda’s postal history. “He was an internationally noted stamp collector and wrote books on the subject including Gibraltar: The Postal History and Naval Officers’ Letters: A Study of Letters Sent To And From British Naval Officers Serving Abroad in the Victorian Era”.

Dr Edward Harris, Director of the National Museum of Bermuda, spoke of his sadness at the passing of our World War II veterans. “Unfortunately, time is against us with these veterans, and with the passing of Geoffrey Osborn, Bermuda has lost one of its most decorated war heroes.”

Geoffrey Osborn is survived by his wife of 67 years, Beatrice ‘Bobbi’ Osborn; brother, John H. ‘Jack’ Osborn; daughter, Wendy Osborn Hollger; and son, Michael Geoffrey Osborn.