Shoemaker and airman;
Born: February 20, 1921; Died: April 8, 2012.
John Younie, who has died in Florence aged 91, was a courageous young Scottish airman whose daring missions during the Second World War twice earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As a Hurricane, Spitfire and Mustang pilot, he displayed exemplary devotion to duty in the face of fierce enemy fire and dreadful flying conditions.
Having survived many and varied perilous sorties, in peacetime he became head of one of the UK's best-known shoe manufacturers before taking his expertise to Italy where he lived in the Renaissance splendour of Florence and mentored designers including Emma Hope and Jane Brown.
However his roots were deep in the Scottish countryside, where he grew up in Kippen Manse, the eldest of three sons of Huntly-born minister John Younie.
He began his education in the village school at Kippen, moving on to Stirling High School and later Fettes in Edinburgh where he was a member of the 1st XV rugby team and the fives and shooting teams. He also won four Governors' prizes and an open classical scholarship to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
In 1941 he enlisted in the RAF, training as a pilot in the United States and returning to the UK where, in 1942, he joined 241 Squadron which was flying Hurricanes out of North Africa, conducting tactical reconnaissance and ground attack missions.
The following year, still only 22, he was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross, having brought back crucial details of the enemy's preparations and dive-bombed numerous targets in bad weather, both in the face of intense fighting. According to his citation, he had shown courage and quiet determination, never failing to locate his targets, despite the difficult conditions.
When he won the Bar to the DFC, in 1945, he was with 249 Squadron as a flight commander operating over Yugoslavia. Flight Lieutenant Younie led a section of aircraft in an attack on an island observation post, accurately dropping his bombs, despite poor visibility, and remaining over the target to help other pilots.
"On numerous occasions he has led his squadron in attacks against enemy mechanical transport and locomotives, inflicting much damage despite intense opposition," read his citation. "Flight Lieutenant Younie has consistently displayed a high standard of keenness and courage and has set a fine example of devotion to duty."
After the war he graduated 1st Tripos Part 1 in 1947 and BA the following year from Cambridge, before joining Kendal-based K Shoes as one of their first graduate trainees, a job which suited his interest in how things were made. There he was instrumental in creating some of the company's most successful brands, including the waterproof K Skip, and was made a director of the company, known as Somervell Brothers Limited, in March 1956. He later became a director of K Shoes Limited, the holding company, and was chairman of K Shoes for 10 years from March 1965.
In June 1975 he resigned as chairman of the group in order to concentrate on his duties as managing director of Somervell Brothers. He made the move to Italy almost four years later, to join the United States Shoe Corporation, working in particular for importers Marx & Newman, based in Florence.
He was based in a palazzo overlooking the River Arno, overseeing designers and technicians whose shoes were made by the specialist factories in Tuscany and sold to stores including Nieman Marcus. Their output, though not large, was high quality and made up 15% of the value of Italy's shoe exports.
He remained a non-executive director of K Shoes Ltd until 1981 and retired from Marx & Newman in 1986 but for many subsequent years he was a mentor and consultant to top British shoe designers, helping them to find factories to produce their designs.
Charming and modest – he had no ego and took little credit for his considerable achievements within the industry – he was regarded as a genius by his fellow craftsmen. He had fitted in seamlessly with the Italians, who held him in great esteem, and that relationship proved hugely beneficial for those he mentored, giving them an invaluable insight into how the trade operated in Italy.
He spoke Italian and French fluently, and had latterly been teaching himself Turkish. He also enjoyed skiing and golfed at Ugolino Golf Club in Tuscany.
Though he was hampered throughout his adult life by deafness, thought to be a legacy of flying wartime sorties with his cockpit open, he retained a dry Scottish wit and whimsical sense of humour.
Greatly respected and fondly regarded by Florentines around the square where he lived in the parish of San Niccolo, he is survived by his first wife and their two children Peter and Amanda, two grandsons and his second wife.
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