“Fred Rosier won his DSO in the Second World War while commanding a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter wing in the Western Desert. His citation, which described him as an “outstanding pilot and leader,” made special reference to one incident in late 1941 after Rosier had scrambled his air crews on a mission to support another unit under attack from a force of Me-109s. On breaking off the engagement, Rosier saw that one of his aircraft, an Australian Tomahawk, had been forced to crash-land behind enemy lines. Bringing down his own Hurricane alongside, he recovered the pilot, squeezed him into his own single cockpit and sat on top of him before trying to take off again. His efforts were frustrated, however, when a tire burst on the over-loaded plane.

Regretfully abandoning his few personal possessions, including a prize silver tankard he always took with him, Rosier grimly set off with his companion at the beginning of a long trek through enemy territory. They had hardly started out when there appeared a force of Italian infantry in trucks. A mortified Rosier could only watch from his hiding place as the Italians found and confiscated his belongings, including the tankard.

“THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN THE LIBYAN DESERT, MAY 1943 () A Royal Air Force Bristol Beaufighter Aircraft (No 252 Squadron?) being serviced in the North West African Desert.” Copyright: © IWM TR 816

After waiting until nightfall they set off again, navigating their way by the stars. For four days they crossed the desert, dodging columns of German armor, until they heard the (for once) welcome crash of gunfire. Running towards it, they stumbled with relief into a British Guards unit.

The story, as told by Rosier, had a happy ending. While on leave in Cairo, he recounted the tale to a South African major he ran across in a bar. “Hold on,” said the South African. Fishing inside his bag he triumphantly brought out the tankard. His own men had found it in a captured German tank which had apparently procured it from the Italians in a “swap.” Fred Rosier hardly let it out of his sight for the rest of his life.

In one sense, he was lucky to be alive for the desert campaign. The most serious of a succession of narrow escapes had happened in 1940, when he was leading a detachment of  Hurricanes from 229 Squadron in support of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Rosier was shot down in flames at Vitry, near Arras. He bailed out badly burnt and was taken to a hospital, where he was informed by doctors that he would never fly again. After spending most of the summer under treatment he proved them wrong and was back in the air in time for the tail-end of the Battle of Britain. He also escaped serious disfigurement, although he always carried with him the barely discernible marks of his pilot’s goggles – which, while saving his eyes, had burnt into his face.

Despite his name – thought to reflect a Huguenot ancestry – Frederick Ernest Rosier was himself a Welshman. The son of an engineer with the old Great Western Railway, he was born in Wrexham and spent part of his childhood in nearby Corwen. He went to Grove Park School, Wrexham, where he distinguished himself by playing rugby for North Wales Schoolboys and performing as a talented violinist in a local youth orchestra.

He seriously considered a career in the police, before opting instead for the RAF and a short service commission – then a cheaper alternative to the grander means of entry through the RAF College, Cranwell. After training as a fighter pilot he applied for a permanent commission, only to be told that he would have to retrain as an engineer. Reluctantly, he moved to the RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering at Henlow. He was saved, however, a few weeks later by the outbreak of the war, which immediately posed a need for trained pilots.

After France and the desert, “Rosie” (as some of his contemporaries knew him) returned to this country in 1943 and took command of a succession of bases, including the fighter station at Northolt, where he formed a great admiration for his Polish aircrews. He ended the war back on the Continent as Group Captain (Operations) of 84 Fighter Group.

He went to the United States on an exchange in the late 1940’s and on his return began a steady ascent through the ranks. He chaired the Joint Planning Staff at the Ministry of Defense under Lord Mountbatten (then Chief of the Defense Staff) and went to Aden in the early 1960s as Air Officer Commanding the Middle East Air Forces.

Between 1966 and 1968 he was the last Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command before it was subsumed by the all-embracing Strike Command, then went to Ankara as Britain’s military representative at the Central Treaty Organization. He moved to his final post as NATO’s deputy Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces Central Europe, based in The Netherlands, in 1970 and retired three years later.

Clouds and Spitfires by Walter Monnington © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 3767

Clouds and Spitfires by Walter Monnington © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 3767

He then joined the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) as a director and military adviser and in 1977 left for Saudi Arabia to take charge of the multi-million pound contract under which BAC supplied Lightning Fighters and also ran much of the infrastructure of the Saudi Air Force. For Rosier, who had grown to love the desert, it was an ideal job.

He retired for the second time in 1980, returning to live in the Welsh hills outside Llangollen. A skilled carpenter, a gift he had inherited from his father, he spent much of his spare time in his workshop.

But Fred Rosier was still better known for his violin. He carried it with him wherever he went and played it as often as he could – not always, it has to be said, to an appreciative audience in the mess. He could literally play it standing on his head, and would sometimes do so as a party piece.

He also worked in retirement for the Polish Airmen’s Benevolent Fund and led the appeal to build a new Polish war memorial at RAF Northolt. Decorated by the Dutch and the Poles after the war, he was admitted earlier this year to the Polish Order of Merit.” (Adapted from The Times)

“FREDERICK ROSIER was one of the great fighter men of the Royal Air Force, whose career took him into almost every aspect of the fighter and ground attack world.

Born in Wrexham in 1915 and educated at the local Grove Park School, he took a short service commission in 1935, learnt to fly at Wittering and spent three years piloting the Hawker Fury and then the Hurricane with 43 Squadron at Tangmere.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, now on a permanent commission, he joined the newly formed 229 Squadron at Digby, flying Blenheim fighters and later Hurricanes on North Sea patrols, and on 23 May 1940, soon after joining a squadron detachment to fight in the Battle of France, he destroyed two Me 110s before being shot down near Arras, receiving facial burns and ending up in hospital. Three months later he was back with 229 at Northolt in time to fly in the final weeks of the Battle of Britain and in October to take command.

Then in 1941 Rosier’s squadron was loaded aboard HMS Furious, duly flew off the carrier in the Mediterranean (they had never done this before), landed in Malta, avoided being hijacked for the island’s defence, and arrived in the Western Desert in time to help support the Army’s operations to relieve Tobruk and capture Banghazi. A few weeks later he was promoted to command one of Sir Arthur Coningham’s new fighter wings; the other was in the hands of “Bing” Cross and they made a good team.

Cross, describing their activities in his 1993 book Straight and Level, mentions how Rosier nearly wrote himself off near Tobruk. This incident was picked out in the citation for the DSO he now received: lending a hand to one of the wings during an air battle, he spotted a pilot who had been forced down in enemy territory, landed in an attempt to rescue him, was unable to take off again because of the enemy forces nearby, and – with the other pilot – got back to base three days later after several times narrowly escaping capture. Overall he was recognised as an outstanding fighter pilot whose courage and leadership had been inspiring throughout. Then he spent a year as second-in-command of the newly formed 221 Group, where he helped direct all the fighter operations up to and including the Battle of El Alamein.

Fighter Affiliation : Halifax and Hurricane aircraft co-operating in actionby Walter Thomas Monnington (1943) © Art.IWM ART LD 3769

In early 1943 Rosier was home again and after spells in operational training and in command at Northolt he moved to 84 Group, one of the composite groups formed within the 2nd Tactical Air Force to support the Normandy invasion. Comprising 29 squadrons, mainly of Spitfires, Typhoons and Mustangs, the group was associated mainly with the First Canadian Army during the 1944/5 campaigns and Rosier – now a Group Captain – worked in the Group Control Centre, moving forward regularly as the armies advanced, and remained with the group in Germany until 1946 as part of the occupation forces.

Alamein (screenshot from World War II in HD Colour)

There followed the Staff College course and a year commanding the fighter station at Horsham St Faith before he was off to the United States to attend the Armed Forces College in Virginia and undertake an exchange posting with the USAF – again on air defence duties. Home again in 1951 the career emphasis on the fighter role continued with tours at the Central Fighter Establishment and then at Headquarters Fighter Command as Group Captain Plans in the final days before the Sandys Defence Review sounded the death knell for its traditional structure. In 1957, however, the broadening of his career was begun when he attended the Imperial Defence College; in 1958 he moved for the first time to the Air Ministry, becoming Director of Plans; and from there he took over as Chairman of the Joint Planning Staff in the new Ministry of Defence under Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

In August 1961 came his first high-level appointment when as an Air Vice- Marshal he took over in Aden as Air Officer Commanding Air Forces Middle East. With an air force ranging from Shackleton bombers, Beverley and Argosy transports to Hunters, Twin Pioneers and helicopters he worked closely with the other Services to protect British interests as far afield as Kenya and the Gulf and was fortunate to be there at a relatively quiet period in the troubled history of the area. Famine relief in Kenya and regular operations to control dissidents in the Aden Protectorates were his main operational concerns, and much work was done to improve the infrastructure in Aden itself.

Rosier next went to Transport Command as SASO, where transport support for the British forces operating in the Far East against Indonesia was a major preoccupation, and in 1966 he returned to the familiar ground of Fighter Command, this time as its last Commander-in-Chief before its absorption into Strike Command in 1968. His remaining time in the Service was spent in the international sphere, first in Ankara as the United Kingdom Permanent Military Deputy to the Central Treaty Organisation and finally for three years as Deputy Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Central Europe.

On retirement in 1973 Rosier became Military Adviser to the British Aircraft Corporation and his involvement with its Saudi Arabian contract led to his spending over three years there as Director-in-Charge before departing in 1980. Thereafter, remembering the wonderful fighting spirit of the Polish pilots during the war, he became chairman of their Benevolent Fund and in the 1990s led the appeal for the rebuilding of the Polish Memorial at Northolt; the work was finished in 1996 and he was subsequently appointed to the Polish Order of Merit. This apart, he devoted much of his time to “do-it-yourself”, a talent inherited from his father, and largely rebuilt a house he and his wife had bought near Llangollen.

If Freddie Rosier was never really a “political” animal, he was certainly one of the RAF’s most respected and admired leaders. We shall remember him as a modest, kindly, humorous man, possessed of the common touch, a man who above all inspired trust among all who knew him.

Frederick Ernest Rosier, air force officer: born Wrexham 13 October 1915; DSO 1942; OBE 1943, CBE 1955; ADC to the Queen 1956-58, Air ADC 1972-73; Director of Joint Plans, Air Ministry 1958; Chairman, Joint Planning Staff 1959-61; CB 1961, KCB 1966, GCB 1972; AOC Air Forces Middle East 1961- 63; Senior Air Staff Officer, HQ Transport Command 1964-66; UK Member, Permanent Military Deputies Group, Central Treaty Organisation, Ankara 1968-70; Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Central Europe 1970- 73; married 1939 Hettie Blackwell (three sons, one daughter); died Wrexham 10 September 1998.” (Independent Obituary by Henry Probert)

Sir Frederick and Lady Rosier outside St Clement Danes (April 1995)

From the Battle of Britain London Monument site:

“Frederick Ernest Rosier, the son of a railway engineer on the Great Western Railway, was born on 13th October 1915 at Wrexham and educated at Grove Park School there. He played for North Wales Schoolboys at rugby. He joined the RAF on a short service commission and began his initial flying course on 26th August 1935.

He was posted to 11 FTS Wittering on 2nd November and with his training completed he joined 43 Squadron at Tangmere on 11th May 1936. Rosier later became ‘B’ Flight Commander.

Rosier was posted away from 43 Squadron on 27th August 1939 to the RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering, Henlow. On 5th October 1939 he joined 229 Squadron at its formation at Digby as ‘B’ Flight Commander with the rank of Acting Flight Lieutenant.

‘Fellow fighter commanders in the Desert war: Rosier (right) and Kenneth ‘Bing’ Cross in 1942

On 16th May 1940 Rosier led a 229 Squadron detachment to France. On the 18th he destroyed a Me109 and damaged another. On another sortie later the same day, he was shot down in Hurricane L2142 and baled out, badly burned, near Vitry. Rosier was sent back to England on the 23rd, via Dieppe.

Above the Clouds by Vivian Pitchforth © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 2308

After recovering Rosier was at No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge, awaiting a posting. On 6th October 1940 he rejoined 229 Squadron, then at Northolt, as a supernumerary. When the CO, S/Ldr. AJ Banham, was shot down and wounded on 15th October Rosier took command on the 19th as an Acting Squadron Leader.

He embarked the squadron on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious on 10th May 1941, bound for the Middle East. The pilots flew their Hurricanes off to Malta on the 21st, refuelled there and then flew on to Mersa Matruh.

THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN THE LIBYAN DESERT, MAY 1943. Crew of No 252 Squadron, Royal Air Force at improvised washbasins, with water from a jerry can. The tent has a double canopy, the outer canvas was to absorb the sun’s heat. Copyright: © IWM TR 815

The 229 pilots were attached to 73 and 274 Squadrons in the Western Desert for operations. On 1st September 1941 229 began functioning again as a squadron, its ground personnel having at last arrived in Egypt. It began night defence operations.

Rosier was posted away in October 1941 to lead the newly-formed 262 Wing.

He was awarded the DSO (gazetted 13th February 1942).

The citation mentioned one occasion when Rosier saw a pilot forced to land in enemy territory. In an attempt to rescue him he landed to pick the man up but was unable to take off again because of the closeness of the enemy. Both pilots eventually got away and after some narrow escapes, regained their base after three days.

Rosier later went to a staff appointment with 211 Fighter Group. He returned to the UK in 1943 and was made an OBE (gazetted 2nd June 1943). He commanded 52 OTU and later became Station Commander at Northolt. At the end of the war he was Group Captain Operations at 84 Group. He was made a Commander, Order of Orange Nassau in 1947.

Rosier subsequently dealt with Group Captain Operations at the Central Flying Establishment, and then, under Lord Mountbatten, was the first director of the Joint Planning Staff. From 1956 to 1958 he was an ADC to the Queen.

In 1961 he was posted to Aden as Air Officer Commanding Air Forces, Middle East – an appointment for which his wartime desert experience suited him well. He arrived in the wake of the Kuwait crisis, and was confronted by tribal unrest in the Aden protectorates and hostile moves from Yemen.

In 1964 he returned home as Senior Air Staff Officer at Transport Command, moving over in 1966 to Fighter Command as Commander-in-Chief. He was its last C-in-C before it was amalgamated with Bomber Command to form Strike Command.

From 1968 Rosier served on the Permanent Military Deputies Group and then at Allied Forces, Central Europe, Ankara. He was promoted to Air Chief Marshal in 1970, and became Deputy Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Central Europe.

Rosier retired in 1973 and was appointed Military Adviser and Director of the British Aircraft Corporation at Preston. He later served on the board of BAC in Saudi Arabia, paving the way for the Al Yamamah arms deal.

He was made a CBE (gazetted 1st January 1955), a CB (gazetted 31st December 1960), a KCB (gazetted 11th June 1961) and a GCB (gazetted 3rd June 1972).

In May 2011 a plaque was unveiled in his memory at what is now the Grove Park campus of Yale College.

Wikipedia article on Fred Rosier

High Flight

by John Gillespie Magee Jr.  (9 June 1922 – 11 December 1941)

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John MaGee, who died aged 19, author of “The Pilots’ Poem”, ‘High Flight’