July 14 1924 - February 21 2020
Air Chief Marshal Sir David Evans flew fighter ground-attack missions in the latter stages of the Second World War and held senior operational commands during the Cold War. He was one of the first RAF officers to enter Belsen, he also piloted the GB bobsleigh team at the 1964 Olympics.
After flying Spitfires in the Middle East, Evans joined No 137 Squadron to fly Typhoons from an advanced airfield in Holland. In March and April 1945 he attacked railways and road transports with rockets.
Anti-aircraft fire was still intense and casualties were high. Shortly after his squadron arrived at Lüneburg he recorded in his logbook: “Bags of Panzer flak, got a railway engine and clobbered a strong point. Good show and Army very pleased.”
Soon afterwards he was one of the first RAF officers to enter the Belsen concentration camp – an experience that affected him profoundly.
As the war came to an end, his squadron was one of the first to arrive in newly liberated Copenhagen. On July 1 he took part in the victory air show in front of the Danish Royal Family and a crowd of 300,000 people. He also participated in a demonstration of a rocket attack, a sortie he described as “a wizard prang”.
David George Evans was born in Windsor, Ontario, on July 14 1924 and educated at Hodgson School, Toronto, and the North Toronto Collegiate. He joined the RAF in 1943, trained as a pilot in Canada and was commissioned in April 1944.
For two years after the war he flew Tempests in Germany, then in 1947 he became a tactics instructor at the RAF’s Central Fighter Establishment. In 1948 he was appointed staff officer to the RAF Inspector General. While serving in London he formed a very successful RAF ice hockey team which enjoyed three successful years competing against teams in Europe.
After completing a course at the Central Flying School, he became an instructor, and in 1951 he returned as a squadron commander training future instructors. At the end of his tour he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.
In 1955 he returned to Germany to take command of No 11 Squadron, flying the Venom in the ground-attack role. Subsequently he was appointed personal staff officer to the Commander-in-Chief RAF Germany, Air Marshal Sir Humphrey Edwardes-Jones, at Rheindahlen.
On promotion to wing commander in 1959 he commanded the Flying Wing at Coltishall, operating Hunters and Javelins, with the RAF’s first Lightning squadron, No 74, arriving in August 1960.
In 1962 he joined the Directorate of Air Plans in the MoD, where he was responsible for the RAF’s Nato operations. Two years later, promoted group captain, he became the station commander at Gütersloh, the home of two Hunter fighter reconnaissance squadrons and a helicopter squadron, with a Lightning squadron arriving during the latter stages of his tour.
Evans was a popular station commander who flew regularly. He recognised that his young pilots were skilful in the air – and high-spirited on the ground – but his firm and fair handling won him the respect of all his personnel. Equally refreshing was the latitude he gave his unit commanders. One retired air chief marshal said: “One thing I learnt from Sir David Evans was how to calmly and effectively administer a rocket – I had been on the receiving end of one.”
After attending the Imperial Defence College Evans was promoted to air commodore and given the task of forming the Central Trials & Tactics Organisation, responsible for reviewing and developing airborne tactics for the new generation of operational aircraft. This was followed by a tour as Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) in the MoD.
In 1973 he became the Air Officer Commanding No 1 (Bomber) Group, and in 1974 he led a team of four Vulcans to compete in the annual USAF Strategic Air Command Bombing competition in the US, winning three of the four major awards, the first time the RAF had beaten the USAF on its home ground.
He flew himself in a Vulcan on his annual inspections of his unit at Goose Bay in Labrador and his detachment at Offutt in Nebraska.
In 1976 he was appointed Vice Chief of the Air Staff in the MoD. A year later he became Air Officer Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command, with the additional Nato appointment of Commander-in-Chief UK Air Forces – the only airman among the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s major commanders.
During his time at Strike Command the UK air defence organisation was undergoing an extensive upgrade and his squadrons regularly encountered Soviet air incursions while his maritime forces tracked their powerful Northern Fleet.
During bilateral talks with his US counterpart General Dixon in 1976, Evans was invited to send RAF aircraft to participate in Exercise Red Flag in Nevada – a valuable “war fighting” exercise. A squadron of Buccaneers was selected as the first non-US squadron to participate. The event was a resounding success and RAF squadrons have participated every year since.
Evans’s final appointment was as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (Personnel and Logistics), He retired from the RAF in 1983.
Evans was appointed OBE in 1962, advanced to CBE in 1967. He was knighted KCB in 1977, advanced to GCB in 1979. In 1985 he was made King of Arms of the Order of the Bath, a post he relinquished in 1999.
For nine years he was a non-executive director of British Aerospace and director of several BAE subsidiaries. He was Chairman of BAE Canada for five years and Chairman of the Officer’s Pension Society where he fought tenaciously for improved pension rights for service personnel.
In his younger days he represented the RAF at rugby and winter sports. He was the pilot of the GB bobsleigh team for the Commonwealth Games, World Championships and the 1964 Olympic Games. On another occasion he represented Canada in the Commonwealth Winter Games and won two bronze medals. He was President of the RAF Winter Sports Association and the Combined Services Winter Sports Association.
Evans never lost his Canadian accent, retained his Canadian passport and made many visits to his native land. He was made an honorary citizen of four North American cities and a number of airport buildings were named in his honour.
David Evans married Denise Williamson-Noble in 1949. She died in 2009 and he is survived by their two daughters and two sons.