Enfidaville War Cemetery Enfidaville, Sousse, Tunisi
Wing Commander Ian Richard Gleed DSO, DFC (3 July 1916 – 16 April 1943), nicknamed "Widge," was a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot and flying ace credited with the destruction of 13 enemy aircraft during the Second World War. He served in the Battle of France and Battle of Britain before being shot down and killed over Tunisia. Gleed published a fictionalized memoir, Arise to Conquer, in 1942. Gleed Avenue in Bushey is named in his honour, one of a number of streets in the area named after Battle of Britain pilots.
Gleed was born in Finchley, north London on 3 July 1916 to Seymour Richard and Florence Hair Gleed. His father, a doctor, had served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, and his sister Daphne was also involved in medicine.
Educated at Epsom College, he was, remembered Ronald Gethen, a fellow pupil, ‘a rather scruffy little individual, not overliked and he was usually thumped (or kicked) by some of the boys just because because he was there’. He learned to fly privately before he joined the RAF at the age of 20, completing his ‘wings’ course on Christmas Day 1936. Ian proved to be an exceptional pilot, and it did not take long for him to be promoted to flying officer, on 9 October 1938. Away from the RAF, Ian’s pastime pursuits included sailing and writing.
He was an avid sailor. Gleed told friends that after the war, he planned to buy a sailboat and sail to the South Seas. Holidaying in the south of France in 1938, Ian met and befriended the homosexual novelist W. Somerset Maugham, who invited the young man to stay at his villa. He loaned him the use of his yacht, which Ian happily sailed on the blue Mediterranean. In 1942 Maugham published Strictly Personal, in which he related his thoughts and experiences of wartime France and Britain during the early months of the war. Maugham described some of the young airmen he met, including Ian, whom he did not name. Ian was later identified as the man by Hector Bolitho in A Penguin in the Eyrie (1955).
In 1942 the heroic Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot Ian Gleed published a memoir called Arise to Conquer. Twice he bailed out of blazing Spitfires. Twice King George VI decorated him. Ian loved the RAF, and for his bravery he received the DFC and DSO, but he made the ultimate sacrifice in 1943 when his Spitfire was shot down over Tunisia. When Ian’s ‘confirmed bachelor’ status caused concern for Victor Gollancz, the publisher of his memoir, he agreed to create a fictional girlfriend called ‘Pam’. She was a surprise to his family and friends because they had never heard of ‘Pam’, but Ian explained to them that she did not exist and that he had put her in because ‘readers like a touch of romance’. He was homosexual, but in those days he could not be open about this. He had to keep his sexuality private or risk being court-martialled and thrown out of the RAF.
Posted to the Middle East on 1 January 1943, Ian was attached to 145 Squadron in North Africa to gain experience of desert operations before becoming wing leader of 244 Wing on 31 January. On an afternoon patrol over the Cap Bon, a peninsula in far north-eastern Tunisia, on 16 April 1943, Ian was shot down. He headed for the Tunisian coast but his Spitfire was found on sand dunes near the sea on the western coastline of Cap Bon. His body was not found there but it is known that he was buried at Tazoghrane. He was reburied in the Military Cemetery at Enfidaville, a town in north-eastern Tunisia, on 25 April 1944. The inscription on his grave reads: ONE WHO HELD WE FALL TO RISE, ARE BAFFLED TO FIGHT BETTER, SLEEP TO WAKE. Bunny Currant described Gleed as "[a] pocket-sized man with care for others and courage beyond compare." A wartime history of the Tunisia Campaign described him as "one of [the Desert Air Force's] greatest leaders" and a "great little pocket Hercules." In addition to his DFC and DSO, Belgium awarded Ian their Croix de Guerre in 1943, and France its Croix de Guerre in 1946.
A 1978 biography of Gleed, Fighter Leader, by aviation historian Norman Franks struck one reviewer as leaving "many questions unanswered" especially regarding his personal life: "Neville Duke and Roland Beamont do not, as quoted, provide us with much of a clue to the kind of man Ian Gleed was (other than an exceptionally successful, gallant and determined fighter pilot). Norman Franks tells us of only one close friend—a boy who used to go sailing with Gleed and whose company he seems to have gone to considerable lengths to enjoy, even at the risk of court martial for 'the employment of aircraft for unauthorised purposes in wartime.'" In 1997, RAF pilot Christopher Gotch gave an interview on a BBC documentary on LGBT history, "It's Not Unusual." He said that he had had a homosexual relationship with Gleed while they were stationed at RAF Middle Wallop in 1942. Gotch recalled that Gleed had approached him and initiated a sexual relationship, at considerable risk as gross indecency was not only a court-martial offence but a crime punishable by jail time. The relationship ended when Gleed was posted to RAF Bentley Priory and then the Middle East. They were never caught, although Gotch describes a close call in which he hid in Gleed's closet.
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