EULOGY–By Group Captain Michael Cunningham.
‘I have been asked by the family to say a few words about Vaughan – Despite
the fact that Jill knows very well that I have never had only a few words to
say about anything and that – being the biggest softy around – I am the most
likely to make an idiot of myself. Needless to say, having received the
request from Jill – I tried to discuss it with Vaughan but I just can’t seem
to get through – so no changes there then!
I am deeply honoured that the family trust me to try to put a beloved son,
brother, husband, father and grandfather into perspective and very sensible
of the fact that I will never really be able to do justice to a man who was
unique – an absolute one-off.
I have known Vaughan Radford for many years and I have been proud to be a
friend and co-conspirator to this gentle, witty, kind, and unbelievably
talented man. Through days and weeks of sitting together in Saudi Villas or
Western Hotels – standing by to stand by – as Vaughan would say-awaiting the
call to duty- I was privileged to begin to understand what made Vaughan tick
and I was always enriched by the experience – albeit in some cases we both
became financially impoverished in the process!! Our improbable sense of
humour and our infallible ability to locate alcohol and fried egg sandwiches
in the driest of deserts always carried us through to fight another day or
to sit cross-legged through another 4 hours of Bedouin poetry.
Vaughan had so many talents and so many facets to his nature that we could
all be excused for being confused. Was he the new Lawrence of Arabia, the
next great English painter in the school of Turner, another Gerald Scarfe, a
PG Wodehouse; was he Van Morrison or simply Biggles?!! The fact is that
Vaughan was not a man you could put into pigeon-holes – for some of our more
conservative brethren that could be difficult to deal with – to those of us
who loved him it merely added to the fascination and the fun. Whatever
aspect of Vaughan’s character we might want to recall today to try and do
justice to the man – I know how Vaughan measured himself and his life and
how he would want to be remembered and that is in terms of his family. As
Jill’s husband and the loving Dad of Chris, Sophie, Faisa and Suzanna and of
course – at the very end – as the grandfather of Barnaby Bump!
Enough! I have never spoken with or about Vaughan for so long without being
rude or irreverent and I know that both he and Jill would hate me to start
now. Let us look then at the various aspects of this wonderfully complex
Vaughan the flier: Trained at the College of Cranwell when that really meant
something, Vaughan was selected for the first Squadron to be equipped with
the Lightning – the earliest versions of which he described as five minutes,
two engines and me! Vaughan was destined by his ability to achieve great
things but was by his nature always destined to rub up against authority.
His early days on the Squadron and the simulator were a mixture of “Joy and
Jankers.” He was a natural and consummate pilot and his talent and generous
nature affected everyone he met. A founder member of the Lightning
aerobatics team his talent made him impossible to ignore. I can do no
better than to quote one of his younger contemporaries from those days – the
now venerable and respected Henry Lether and Jill, these are Henrys words
“So this was the Vaughan that I first met when I was an impressionable
19 year old budding fighter pilot. He was multi talented (music, art,
stories, jokes and way of life) and my first impression was to be rather
awe-struck by this larger than life character who everyone adored
To young abo ( sorry ab initio)
Lightning pilots he was a god like character who represented all our
ideals of the dashing devil may care but sensitive style of being a
fighter pilot. The fact that he could paint, play music, sing and
always seemed to be living on the edge added to the mystique of Vaughan.
I could expand much further on this, but some of the stories and my
experiences are for a more intimate gathering!
Perhaps it is more fitting to say that overall Vaughan was one of life’s
true characters, a breed that is rapidly being extinguished, and
unusually he didn’t change as the years went by. He lived life to the
full, was vibrant and talented and adored by many. Vaughan enriched
those he came across and always gave more than he received.”
Words from Henry and, obviously, from the heart.
Vaughan’s love of flying and of the Lightning introduced him to an experience
that was to dominate his life and his interest for the next 35 years – Saudi
Arabia. His years flying in Saudi led him to a deep and abiding affection
for Saudi and its people – a feeling that has always been shared by Jill and
the family and has been reciprocated by Saudis from all walks of life. Ever
since I have known Vaughan he has worked to help and improve the safety and
the operational capability of the Royal Saudi Air Force. Just one week
before he died he was still making plans to meet with myself and Phil Duncan
to discuss a new programme for the RSAF. He worked particularly closely
with HRH Turki Bin Nasser in Dhahran and Riyadh, shepherding him and
supporting him as he rose from junior rank to Deputy Commander of the RSAF .
Turki would rely on Vaughan to present complex questions in a simple and
direct fashion and made many of his decisions based on Vaughan’s clarity of
thought. Typically Vaughan’s own modest version of this was ” I put things
simply because I am simple – if I can understand it anyone can.”
Vaughan introduced many Saudis to the joys of flying and particularly to the
Lightning. His students have included some of the most senior people in the
Kingdom. Last year I was lucky enough to accompany Vaughan (very much on his
coat tails I might add) to the Governor’s Palace in Medina where Prince
Muqrin was holding a Regional Majlis. The Prince ( or Mugsy – as he was
irreverently known to Vaughan) stood up in front of the whole Majhlis to
honour Vaughan. He regaled the whole company of somewhat bewildered civilian
guests with the details of a particular simulator sortie. Forgive me if I
bewilder another group of civilians but the story needs to be told.
Apparently the Prince was determined that Vaughan would not catch him out
and came to the mission highly bunched and ready for engine failures, fire
or any other disaster that came along. Vaughan strapped him in, set him
running and went outside for a coffee and a smoke. When he came back half an
hour later The Prince had shut down one engine, was in emergency hydraulics
and electrics and was trying hard not to crash- all in a perfectly
Prince Muqrin has been in touch with Jill and has asked me to say today how
much he has been deeply saddened by the passing of a true friend.
Vaughan had a massive rapport with the Saudis – he loved them and they liked
and trusted him absolutely. He worked for many years as PSO to HRH Prince
Bandar and a great friendship developed between the two families. In these
recent dark days that friendship has never been more obvious or more needed.
I know that Jill has valued the constant contact and support given to her by
Bandar over the past difficult days and that she and the family greatly
appreciate the presence of Prince Khalid here today.
Vaughan loved the desert, its changing moods and its people – hence the
references to a latter day Lawrence. Many of his paintings are of Bedouin
and their habitat and are obviously painted with genuine love and affection.
What then of Vaughan the artist. Most of us have lost count of the times
that we tried to persuade Vaughan to exhibit or sell his paintings. He had a
genuine talent in oils and acrylics that seemed to us amateurs to be the
equal of anything on show in shops or galleries. This was particularly true
of his work in Saudi Arabia where many of us were convinced that he could
have earned a fortune selling paintings of desert scenes, dhows and Bedou to
less talented ex-pats or dumb Americans.
It was the same story with his cartoons. When I broke the sad news about
Vaughan to Tony Winship, Tony said; “you know – I will never understand why
this country is not today mourning the passing of its most celebrated and
Throughout the Gulf War we were entertained with a daily cartoon entitled
“thoughts from under the kitchen table” – which was where Vaughan chose to
shelter from the dreaded Scud missiles (It being closer to the fried egg
sandwiches and the fridge) The cartoons were wonderful, funny, original and
beautifully drawn. After the war we tried to persuade him to collect the
cartoons for publication – but to no avail. The fact is that Vaughan didn’t
care about money. He valued life, experience, people, friendship, family –
and money never seemed to have a place in his priorities. He would help any
one who asked him or any Company large or small, giving of his ability, his
contacts and his reputation without asking for financial reward. There were
those who took advantage of that – Vaughan knew and just didn’t care.
Vaughan’s love of words and his use of language were legendary. A man who
would read the dictionary for relaxation was a master with the spoken word
and a man of great wit and humour. Not everyone understood his humour
There was the occasion on QRA at Khamis Mushayit where Vaughan and his
fellow pilots lay on camp beds in the shade of a metal shelter beside their
aircraft. Vaughan suddenly drove everyone out of their beds in blistering
heat to collect all the large sand beetles and to paint them bright yellow
with numbers on their backs. Saudi and Brit aircrew became quite animated in
anticipation of a beetle race meeting and the chance to run a book on the
outcome. Given the stultifying boredom of QRA this promised to be a rare
treat. When all the beetles had been numbered Vaughan was back in bed and
asleep. The team woke him up and demanded to know what they were supposed to
do with the beetles. “Nothing”, Vaughan said, ” It would just be nice to
look around and be able to say – hallo there is number seven, I haven’t seen
him for two days!”
Vaughan’s humour and his courage were never more apparent than in the last
two or three months. The fact is that none of us really knew how much pain
he was in and misdiagnosis of his condition meant that Jill and the family
were kept from full understanding until it was too late. One of the last
times I spoke to him he was very weak and in obvious pain. He told me that
they were going to subject him to a complete internal examination from both
ends with a camera probe down his throat and up his bottom. There was a
pause and that famous chuckle came over the line – “don’t worry mate – I
insisted that they put it down my throat first.”
So many memories.
Vaughan who could sleep for England. A man with a built in inertia switch
that switched off all bodily functions once he went 30 degrees out of the
vertical. In the Gulf War we once had to fly in a Royal aircraft from Riyadh
to Washington -stopping in Paris for fuel. Vaughan slept the entire journey.
I woke him up in Paris for a pee and he was not particularly grateful
although later he had the grace to admit that I may have averted an unseemly
incident over Nova Scotia.
Vaughan briefing his chef in the Riyadh Villa that because Lady Jill was
coming it was OK to make something other than cottage pie and fried egg
sandwiches. In fact it was essential that James did not refer in any way to
the usual diet otherwise Mem Sahib will murder Sahib!
Vaughan rescuing our Dhahran houseboy semi-conscious from the swimming pool
where he had been testing his gas mask!!!!!! and literally crying with
laughter as he tried to explain to me what had happened.
Vaughan coming into the bunker in the Gulf War in a yellow canary suit and
confronting the Commander. “I’ve given up trying to make you guys take
chemical drills seriously. So from now on I will sit on the window sill – if
I fall over put your bloody gas mask on!”
Vaughan sitting in an empty swimming pool at the end of the Gulf War, with
whatever hooch we could scrounge and a selection of Saudi instruments trying
to improvise and harmonise our way through the Irish songbook.
We could go on – but as Jill Knew I would – I’ve gone on far too long anyway
– Its just that the stories are legion and the man was legendary.
Let us then remember Vaughan as we each knew him. A man who gave more than
he received and who would always praise others and disparage his own
contributions. A man who will be remembered in affectionate anecdote and
warm reflection throughout Saudi and wherever flyers meet to exchange tall
stories and short drinks.
But really now its time to remember Vaughan as he would wish to be
remembered – in terms of his family. His Mum, Dad and Sister who loved and
supported him through his early years as a flier – and then of course – his
team. His Jill, who he met and married in one whirlwind week in 1966 and
loved ever after, throughout a wonderful rollercoaster marriage that, as he
promised, was never dull. Vaughan’s team, Jill, Chris, Sophie, Fiz and
Suzanna and of course David and Barnaby Bump. He would be so proud of how
you are all coping and supporting each other and how the extended family is
We all of us – us husbands and Dads and even granddads (as Vaughan and I
have recently become), and particularly us ex Air Force guys, are used to
going where the work is and think we best serve our families by providing
for them financially. We all of us think that there will be time to make up
later for any lack of time together. Vaughan wanted so much now to spend
time with his family in the house of his dreams and to make up for time
spent in service overseas – it was cruel that he was denied that opportunity
but Kids – never doubt how much he was looking forward to it
Jill, Kids and Barnaby (new kid), we are all here to remember your Vaughan –
thank you for sharing him with us – may you be comforted and continue to
comfort each other and may he rest in peace.
Perhaps I should leave the last word with Phil Duncan, a friend of Vaughan
who last night in reflective mood, put into words what we are all feeling.
” God we are going to miss that man – I know I shouldn’t say this at a
funeral but I so hope the bugger haunts us!”
Vaughan – God Bless.
The following two pictures are scanned images of further memoriam documents.