Flight Lieutenant Owen Valentine Burns An Appreciation

Owen Burns (OB) passed away on 30th June 2015, just 5 months short of his centenary, a party which he would certainly have enjoyed.

The funeral at Mortlake Crematorium on 24th July was a full house with representatives from all the various strands of Owens long and eventful life, which had included service with the Royal Air Force and later as a Gentleman of the Road with the John Haig & Sons Whisky.

Born in Birkenhead in 1915, at the age of 23 he joined the RAF exactly one month after the beginning of World War Two, and in became one of “The Few” of whom Sir Winston Churchill said “ Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Owen was very proud to belong to this select and diminishing group and remained a part of it until the end. Indeed as recently as June of this year he attended a garden party organised on behalf of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association where he met once again The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

A favourite story that Owen loved to tell was how on February 14th 1941,

St. Valentines Day, the plane in which he was a gunner crashed killing the navigator and hospitalising the pilot for a year while he escaped with a broken collar bone, a lucky fact he attributed to his middle name.

Leaving the RAF in 1948, he joined the firm of Lea & Perrins as a sales representative in the North West of England where he remained until joining John Haig as their representative in the North West based in Manchester which brought him into contact with the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild for the first time, joining as an associate member in 1961. In addition to his involvement with the UKBG Owen was also a supporter of all the other Licensed Victuallers Societies in his area and a great supporter of Trade Charities.

Despite the long hours of a sales rep on the road he also managed to maintain a very happy family life and he must have loved arriving home to be greeted by his female fan club of six daughters and a well organised wife. After six daughters some help arrived when his son Joe was born and evened up the score. Sadly he was widowed leaving a huge void in his life.

Having become a member of the Guild Owen involved himself with the golf society

and through this he came to know many members of the London Area Golf Society which played such an important part in his retirement.

I first met Owen in 1967 when I was a participant in the Guild Education Scheme, held at Blackpool College under Mr John Whyte. The students were fortunate that on the first evening of our stay in Blackpool, the North West Area were having their Annual Ball at Norbreck Hydro with over 400 guests and we 14 were honoured guests with our own table. Dinner over, the band warming up, a man with the most friendly, twinkling smile and a voice that sounded like warm chocolate sauce approached, placed two bottles of Haig Gold Label and a bottle of Haig Dimple on the table and said “for the boys”, and so began a friendship which lasted until 30th June 2015. Owen had a gift that few people have, the gift that you might not meet for quite some time but when you did meet up you could take up where you left off, just as though you had gone out for some fresh air, a few minutes earlier.

Hanging up his selling boots in 1982 Owen took off for South Africa where he spent 3 months staying with his son Joe who was working in the country and upon his return to U.K decided to relocate to London to be closer to Deborah who was working in the capital, eventually marrying in 1995.

Having moved to London the UKBG beckoned and before too long he was involved with the Golf Society ‘helping out’ as he put it, eventually becoming Secretary & Treasurer where his great talent in remembering names and faces came to the fore. Even more remarkable was that he also remembered the same for the Portuguese golfers when the two countries met each year in the Algarve. Remembered facts included their handicaps.

Before too long his organising skills were utilised by the London Area Committee and he was recruited to the Dance Committee, responsible for organising social events for several hundred guests in places such as the Mayfair Hotel and The Savoy. Perhaps his final posting in the RAF as PA to Air Officer Commanding, C.B.S Spackman may have contributed to this skill.

Having continued our friendship over the years, I had no hesitation when as President of the Guild I put his name forward when a vacancy occurred for a Guild Trustee, a proposal which was accepted without discussion. His presence at meetings of the Council was quiet but effective, often the calming voice when required, but always that smile.

All past Presidents of the Guild become Honorary Members when they demit office but few members have been accorded this award. Once again OB was ‘one of the few’.

Sadly as he approached his nineties he started to slow down but still attended meetings when he was able and still enjoyed a G&T afterwards.

His main interest remained Battle of Britain events and the past two or three years have seen many commemorative events being held and Flight Lieutenant Owen Valentine Burns was there. It was significant that at the funeral service HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall were represented by Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton and Lady Dalton.

The reception after the committal, really was a celebration of a life, old colleagues from the licensed trade swopped stories with cricket umpires, spoke to young and old RAF personnel, lots of laughter and family members moving through the crowd hearing tales about their Dad and all the while The Salon Orchestra of the Central Band of the RAF played a medley of tunes but the one which received the loudest applause was “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”. Of Course !

Owen had always delighted in the company of ladies so perhaps it was no surprise that as we left the room the song being played was ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison.

Jim Slavin,

Past President U.K.B.G.

National Administrator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *