Lionel Charles Ewens 1918-2009 : Taunton fighter pilot, glove manufacturer and sportsman

Lionel Ewens

Lionel Ewens

First published in Obituaries by

LIONEL Ewens, who died aged 91, was an old boy of Huish’s Grammar School who became a fighter pilot in the World War 2 afterwards becoming the fourth generation of his family engaged in glove making.

He was also a keen sportsman and sport administrator.

Lionel was in the Metropolitan Police at the outbreak of war in 1939 and was frustrated at being in a reserved occupation. He was finally released for aircrew in 1941 and trained as a pilot in Alabama in the USA under the Arnold Scheme.

He was awarded his Wings at Craig Field, Selma in July 1942. He continued his training in England on a variety of aircraft including the Spitfire before joining No 276 (Air Sea Rescue) Squadron in Devon.

After D-day the squadron was briefly based near Bruges in Belgium. Here he met the love of his life Lea Segers. In 1945 he returned for a few months to England for training on the Typhoon and Tempest while exchanging almost daily numbered letters with his fiancée in Belgium.

He joined No. 3 (Fighter) Squadron in February 1945 at Vokel in Holland flying Tempests. He would sometimes in later years be persuaded to tell the story of inadvertently flying through trees while strafing barges on the Rhine. His log book reads “3 Locos. 2 Barges Damaged.1 Tree Damaged. 1 Tempest Confirmed!” He sent a letter to Hawkers enclosing a photograph of the damaged Tempest congratulating them on building a plane that would continue to fly in such a condition.

As the Allies advanced the squadron was based at Fassburg in Germany and then at Kastrup in Denmark. Lionel was granted a short leave in June allowing him to marry Lea in Bruges and to have a brief honeymoon in Brussels. He was demobbed in August 1945 when he rejoined the Metropolitan Police.

In 1947 Lionel left the police and returned to Taunton where he joined the family glove manufacturing business as a partner. His grandfather had founded Ewens & Co Glove Manufacturers in Yeovil in the 1880s.

His great grandfather was himself a leather glove cutter and the son of a leather currier. Lionel’s father and his uncle opened a Taunton branch of the firm in Thomas Street during World War 1 and for four decades the firm traded as Ewens & Co Glove Manufacturers of Yeovil & Taunton.

The Taunton branch of the firm moved in 1919 to premises in Bridge Street (above what is now St Margaret’s Hospice charity shop). At one time there were as many as 50 full time workers employed at Taunton as well as about 30 part time outworkers. Fashion changes and competition from the Far East forced Lionel to close the business in 1974.

Lionel was born in Kilkenny Avenue Taunton on 31 May 1918.

He was proud throughout his life to have been named after his uncle Lionel Richard Ewens who was killed in action at Passchendaele in Belgium in October 1917. His father was CP (Sonny) Ewens a glove manufacturer and popular local sportsman. His mother Edith Mary (nee Pitcher) was the daughter of the proprietor of the Mermaid Hotel in Yeovil and the granddaughter of the proprietor of The Plume of Feathers Hotel in Minehead.

Lionel was educated at Huish’s Grammar School in the era of Arthur C Clarke and Michael Somes. He featured in the record of the celebrated Bikeshed Building at the Old School in 1932: “Linel-eewins, hefty strong-man,” and “Linel-eewins,mighty heaver.” On leaving school in 1934 he worked at County Hall firstly in the Education Department and then in the Health Department. A testimonial by the Chief Education Officer described him as “a very promising young man, of good address, alert and courteous.”

He was a keen footballer playing for the school and later for Taunton AFC.

He was Taunton Team Secretary in the 1950s. The Somerset County Herald reported “Someone tells us this story of pluck…dedication…call it what you will…Lionel Ewens, who cracked a cheek-bone in a match on Wednesday, had an operation in hospital on Thursday, was released on Friday- and on Monday (a fellow –donor tells us) he gave a blood transfusion.”(He was a regular blood donor for at least 40 years). When his soccer playing days ended he continued his support of local soccer as a referee.

Lionel was also a keen cricketer playing for among other teams The Old Crocks, Taunton and for many years for Staplegrove. The Herbert Baker Cup was an important part of his sporting life.

This local knock out competition was first competed for in 1938. Lionel’s father was a founder of The Baker Cup and both he and Lionel played in that first competition. Lionel was for many years Secretary of the competition and for a few years President. He was an excellent Secretary but was too self-effacing to be a willing President for long.

Lionel often said that it was a sign of a misspent youth to be skilled at Billiards and Snooker. Clearly his youth was somewhat misspent.

He was Treasurer of the Taunton & District Billiards & Snooker League and played for St Andrew’s Men’s Club.

After closing the glove factory he worked at the MOD Regimental Pay Office at Jellalabad Barracks until 1983. In retirement he supported Somerset County Cricket, corresponded avidly with ex-air force colleagues and others who shared his interest, researched his family history and continued his lifelong interest in stamp collecting.

He and Lea lived in Greenway Avenue from 1947 until Lea died three months ago. They leave two sons and a daughter, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

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