Tributes to Sunderland war veteran who helped build Spitfires

Second World War veteran Wallace Hepburn pictured as he received his Veterans' Badge from the then Mayor of Sunderland Coun Barry Curran.
Second World War veteran Wallace Hepburn pictured as he received his Veterans' Badge from the then Mayor of Sunderland Coun Barry Curran.

A Wearside war veteran who helped build Spitfires has died at the age of 97.

Wallace Hepburn had hopes of becoming a becoming a pilot at the start of the Second World War, but they were dashed when he was told he had a heart murmur.

It was very poignant that Wallace received his badge on the Battle of Britain Day.

Graham Hall

He went on to serve throughout the war with the RAF as a member of ground crew, wand as the oldest ex-servicemen in Sunderland to be presented with the veterans’ badge,

The ceremony, on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain Day in 2015, was one of a regular series organised by Sunderland Armed Forces Network (SAFN).

The Government introduced the badge in 2004 to acknowledge the sacrifice of ex-servicemen, and to recognise their service and contribution to the nation.

SAFN said Sunderland has the highest proportion of ex-servicemen of any city in the UK – an estimated 26,000.

At the time of the presentation, which also saw veterans still in their 20s recognised, Graham Hall, chairman of the network, said: “It was very poignant that Wallace received his badge on the Battle of Britain Day.

“That was part of the reason why we chose that date to make the presentations.

“That was a pivotal point in British history, alongside Waterloo and various other battles.”

Mr Hepburn, who lived in Barnes, saw service with the RAF across the Middle East and in Britain.

He said his failure to be accepted as a pilot probably saved his life, as so many were killed throughout the conflict.

His service included a posting to Mesopotamia where he was involved in building Spitfires from kits to be sent to the Soviet Union.

He said: “Conditions there were very tough.

“It was blisteringly hot, with temperatures of over 100F in the shade.

“The only trouble was, there was no shade!”

After the war, Mr Hepburn worked as a registrar of births, deaths and marriages in Sunderland, before becoming a religious education teacher at Bede Grammar School.

For many years he was secretary of Grange Congregational Church, now part of Stockton Road United Reformed Church.

He was a very keen walker, and even in his 90s went on regular holidays to the Lake District with his wife of 67 years, Betty, who survives him along with their three children and one granddaughter.

A proud moment for the couple was receiving a congratulatory card from the Queen on their Diamond Wedding anniversary.

In retirement he turned to gardening, and was a keen and highly successful fuschia grower with friends and relatives given specimens he grew from seed.

Arrangements for his funeral service are still to be confirmed.