Wartime airman and teacher;
JIM Aitken, who has died aged 87, was an RAF airman in Lancaster bombers who swapped the front line of the Second World War for the chalkface of teaching.
He took his first flight on his 19th birthday and trained on the de Havilland Dominie biplane, Avro Anson and Vickers Wellington before qualifying as a wireless operator in March 1944.
He was stationed at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire with 170 Squadron, on a well-equipped Bomber Command airfield which had been at the forefront of operations since the outbreak of war.
Mr Aitken "crewed-up" with six other raw young men – none was older than 20 – and they were assigned V-Victor, a four-engine Avro Lancaster bomber that would carry them over the heart of Nazi Germany but see them safely through the rest of the war. Throughout the Bomber Command offensive of winter 1944-45 he took part in day and night attacks on Dortmund, Bremen, Hamburg and Keil, surviving the mesmerising but deadly fireworks display of multi-coloured tracer shells, flak, and bombs dropped from comrades flying above.
His squadron's final offensive mission was one of the war's most symbolic; the attack on the SS barracks at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps on April 25, 1945. The target included Hitler's retreat, the Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle's Nest, and the chalets of Nazi leaders.
Four days later, Mr Aitken and his crew were on Operation Manna, flying at rooftop height over the racecourse at Rotterdam and dropping food instead of high explosives from V-Victor's bomb bay to starving Dutch civilians there and around The Hague.
Operation Exodus then saw them flying freed prisoners of war back to Britain from Germany via Brussels. Although Mr Aitken's experiences were harrowing he was happy to discuss them, believing firmly that bomber crews were there to do a deadly but essential job. He died shortly before the Queen unveiled the memorial to the 55,573 wartime airmen of Bomber Command who gave their lives.
The youngest of three brothers, James Alexander Aitken was born on November 24, 1924 in Eyre Place, in Edinburgh's Canonmills. He was schooled at Flora Stevenson's and George Heriot's School, where two of his classmates were Austrian Jewish refugees.
He left school at 15 for a clerical job, including fire warden duties, before joining the RAF. On the way back from one mission, he had a narrow escape when an unreleased bomb started rolling around V-Victor's fuselage. It was dropped at sea and they made it home with vapour in the fuel tanks.
Similar hair-raising incidents were recalled decades later at a reunion with one of his Canadian crew. They returned to the derelict, former RAF Hemswell and tore up and down the runway in Mr Aitken's car, to the terror of his young son who cowered in the back.
Mr Aitken returned to civilian life and work before studying English literature at Edinburgh University, then teacher training at Moray House. He taught English at Oakley in Fife followed by Dunfermline High School, Liberton and Gillespie's in Edinburgh and finally Leith Academy, retiring at 60.
Fresh opportunities presented themselves and he resumed his studies in German after a gap of 45 years, played curling, enjoyed walking and reading, and researched his family history on the internet. Travelling was another passion, his experiences honed by Continental trips in the family's trusty Morris Traveller with loaded roof-rack.
Caring for his wife Muriel through her illness took up his final years. He ensured that until the last possible moment, she stayed in familiar surroundings at their home in Comely Bank, Edinburgh. Mr Aitken was stoic as a man and confident in his Christian beliefs. He died just three months after Muriel.
He is survived by his sons, Andrew and Robert, and granddaughter Megan.
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