Obituary - Charles Wingfield

Obituary of Charles Wingfield Musical Master of Fox Hounds who glided across Australia, collected rare plants in the Himalayas and fished in Tierra del Fuego

(The Daily Telegraph)

CHARLES WINGFIELD, who has died aged 80, was an engaging and intrepid eccentric who broke several gliding records just after the Second World War.

In July 1946 Wingfield achieved what was then by far the longest flight in Britain in a "low-performance" glider. His Slingsby sailplane Gracias (usually rendered as "Grassy Arse") took off from the Long Mynd, in Shropshire, and was helped into the air by a horse towing a rope. Soon Wingfield was within a line of black storm clouds which wafted him upwards at 500 ft a minute in heavy rain - "an eerie business" , he recalled. Some three hours into the flight, however, the air had become lifeless and he had already picked his landing field near Stourport. But suddenly "the air was like champagne" and Gracias shot up to 4,000 ft. Over Oxford he rose further, but began to lose height again over Eton. Remembering a flat meadow next to a friend's house at Redhill, he coaxed the glider on for a few miles and made a perfect landing. Tired, cold and aching, he had been in the air for six hours and covered 147 miles. Gracias later returned to his drawing-room for repairs.

As a direct result of his feat, Wingfield was chosen to fly an Olympia glider in the US National Gliding Contest at Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1947. He broke the British Distance Record of 215 miles and the Out and Return Record.

He later glided in South America, and at the age of 68 earned his long-distance diamond badge in Australia, before gliding the length of New Zealand and back again.

Charles John Wingfield was born in North Wales on May 9 1917, and grew up at Onslow, near Shrewsbury, a large Grecian-style house on an estate which had been in his family since 1753. Earlier, several Wingfields held offices of state during the reign of King Henry VIII and were named in the King's Suite at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

In Victorian times, the family owned a fishing lodge in Norway and helped to teach the Swiss to ski. Charles's great-uncle, Walter Clopton Wingfield, was the "father of lawn tennis".

Young Charles, whose father died when he was five, was not a ball-games player, but became a good skier after being sent to the Alps to recover from tuberculosis. He went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences, though concentrating more on flying.

In July 1938, Wingfield was commissioned in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry supplementary reserve. Fourteen months later he was sent with the 1st Battalion KSLI to France, as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Despite a strict ban on non-operational shooting, Wingfield and a fellow officer borrowed a shotgun and three cartridges from a French farmer shortly after landing and bagged a hare, a pigeon and a pheasant. His commanding officer proceeded to choke on the pheasant's wishbone, almost becoming the first casualty of the war.

Later, Wingfield was on the ill-fated Maginot Line where Corporal Priday, 1 KSLI, became what was thought to be the first British soldier of the war to be killed. Wingfield was also present at Cysoing, where the regimental bugles were hastily buried on the night of May 10 1940 following news of the major German offensive against the Low Countries; the bugles were never recovered.

In the course of the evacuation from Dunkirk, he was blown off his feet by artillery fire, but later modestly recalled that his only serious injury was sunburn to the soles of his feet after snoozing barefoot aboard the fishing boat which took him across the Channel.

Back in England, Wingfield applied to become a glider pilot in the Airborne Landing Division, but discovered that he had already been assigned to the African Colonial Forces. In view of the heavy casualties later suffered by glider pilots, he described himself as having been "saved by bureacracy".

He spent six months in 1941 as ADC to General Sir Alan Cunningham, GOC East Africa Force, and later saw action in the Abyssinian Campaign while soldiering with the Somaliland Scouts. After a further six months with the King's African Rifles, he returned to Shropshire to rejoin the KSLI in 1945.

Demobilised in 1946, Wingfield farmed for a time at Onslow, while dedicating much of his energy to gliding and skiing. In 1948 he was chosen for the British team at the World Gliding Championships in Switzerland, but had to pull out due to sinusitis. Several of the competitors later flew into logging cables and were killed. His sinuses caused him to give up gliding in 1952, but he took it up again in his sixties.

Casting around for another pursuit, he learned to ride again, and almost immediately became a joint master of the South Shropshire Hunt. But he gave this up, too, in 1957, after a bad fall.

Onslow, meanwhile, which was used to house a Swiss finishing school during the war, had been attacked by dry rot. It was demolished in 1955 and replaced some years later by a modern house. Wingfield was in any case more passionate about Onslow's garden, which, with the help of his dedicated gamekeeper, he greatly improved. He was a member of the International Dendrology Society, and his interest in trees and shrubs lay behind many of his expeditions to the Himalayas, China, Russia and South America.

In 1984, while trekking in Nepal, he collected seeds of the deciduous holly Ilex fragilis, which he germinated and planted at Onslow, the first time the species had been cultivated in Europe.

He felt deeply about country sports, and aged 65 resumed hunting and the mastership of the South Shropshire, continuing to hunt into his seventies. Last year he marched for two days to the Hyde Park rally. He was looking forward to attending the next rally on March 1.

Wingfield was also passionate about music, and his fine baritone was heard in several local choirs and amateur operatics. He might attend concerts in Birmingham several times a week.

A bold motorist, he did the Brighton Run several times in an open Argyll which his father had driven down from Glasgow in 1903.

He became increasingly addicted to fishing as he grew older. His tall, lean figure, slightly stooped in concentration, seen through the early morning mist appeared not unlike a heron. The only time he ever went in his swimming pool at home was to test out a new pair of waders. The remoteness of the location was as important to him as the fishing. He favoured such places as the Kola peninsula and Kamchatka, in Russia. He died in Tierra del Fuego, two days after catching a 20 lb sea trout.

Wingfield was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1953 and served for many years as a JP, becoming chairman of the Mid-Shropshire Bench. A perfect gentleman, his language often appeared to come from another century.

Charles Wingfield married, in 1956, Maxine Meighar-Lovett. They had a son and two daughters.

1998 © Telegraph Group Limited

Author not available, Obituary of Charles Wingfield Musical Master of Fox Hounds who glided across Australia, collected rare plants in the Himalayas and fished in Tierra del Fuego. , The Daily Telegraph, 02-14-1998, pp 34.

CHARLES WINGFIELD who died at the end of 1997.

Charles Wingfield, who has died at the age of 80, was an engaging and intrepid eccentric.

In July 1946, he achieved what was the longest distance flight ever in a Kite 1. He was bungeed off the Long Mynd by a horse as his bungee crew. Soon Wingfield was within a line of storm clouds which wafted him upwards at 500 ft/ minute in heavy rain.- "an eerie business" he recalled. Some three hours into the flight, however, the air had become lifeless and he had already picked his landing field near Stourport. But suddenly "the air was like champagne" and "Gracias" (the name of his Kite 1) shot up to 4,000 ft.

Over Oxford, he rose further, but began to lose height again over Eton. Remembering a flat meadow next to Ann Welch's house at Redhill, he coaxed the glider on for a few miles and made a perfect landing.

Tired, cold and aching, he had been in the air for almost six hours and had covered 147 miles. "Hark the Herald Angels sing, "Gracias" is coming in..." was the cry of those tremendous times. "Staplehurst farm looked deserted, so I shouted down to ask if I could come in, as I was not in a position to ring the doorbell yet..Ann was indoors, and heard her name being called from the heavens, ran to the window and saw me fly past at 400 ft which explained it!! I never believed that it was possible to feel so tired, to have so many aches, or to be given such a welcome..!!"

As a direct result of this feat, Wingfield was chosen to fly an EoN Olympia in the US National Gliding Contest at Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1947. He broke the British Distance Record by flying 215 miles, and the British Out & Return Record by flying out and back 147 miles on the 16th July. He later glided in South America and then in Australia.

He arrived at Waikerie by taxi from Adelaide ( about 140 miles ). This made a great impression among the Australians. Then, during the week he flew his 500 kms Diamond distance around a triangle. While returning along the Murrie river, he was following the Australian, Max Riley. In Australia, eagles are sometimes aggressive when they see gliders. Suddenly, Max was heard to cry over the radio "here comes my b...y eagle" . With a great thump, the eagle hit the glider somewhere aft of the cockpit. This was followed by Charles's very English voice very loudly over the radio... "Bad Luck.... but he's alright" referring, of course to the eagle,

This has become an Australian gliding legend. Max Riley was so shattered that he landed at once... and Charles went on to finish the triangle and his 500 !!! The Australians had among them an Englishman such as they had been taught to believe was typical. Charles was 68 at that time. Later, he flew gliders in New Zealand. Charles was heard to say that he had to get a move on as he did not think he had much time left.

Charles John Wingfield was born in North Wales on May 9th 1917 and grew up at Onslow, near Shrewsbury, a large Grecian style house on an estate, which had been in his family since 1753. Earlier, several Wingfields had held offices of state during the reign of King Henry V111 and were named in the King's Suite at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In Victorian times, the family owned a fishing lodge in Norway and helped to teach the Swiss to ski. Charles's great uncle, Walter Copton Wingfield, was the "father of lawn tennis". Young Charles, whose father died when he was five, was not a ball-games player, but became a good skier after being sent to the Alps to recover from tuberculosis. He went to Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences, though concentrating more on flying. In July 1938, Wingfield was commissioned in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry supplimentary reserve. Fourteen months later, he was sent with the 1st Battalion KSLI to France, as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Despite a strict ban on non-operational shooting, Wingfield and a fellow officer borrowed a shotgun and three cartridges from a French farmer shortly after landing and bagged a hare, a pigeon and a pheasant. His commanding officer proceeded to choke on the pheasant's wishbone, almost becoming the first casualty of the war. Later, Wingfield was on the ill-fated Maginot Line where Corporal Priday, 1st KSLI, became what was thought to be the first British soldier of the war to be killed. Wingfield was also present at Cysoing where the regimental bugles were hastily buried on the night of May 10th 1940 following news of the major German offensive against the Low Countries. The bugles were never recovered.

In the course of the evacuation from Dunkirk, he was blown off his feet by artillery fire, but later modestly recalled that his only serious injury was sunburn to the soles of his feet due to sleeping barefoot aboard the fishing boat which took him across the Channel.

Back in England, Wingfield applied to become a glider pilot in the Airborne Landing Division, but discovered that he had already been assigned to the Colonial Forces. In view of the heavy casualties later suffered by glider pilots, he described himself as having been "saved by bureaucracy". He spent six months in 1941 as ADC to General Sir Alan Cunningham, GOC East Africa Force, and later saw action in the Abyssinian Campaign while soldiering with the Somaliland Scouts. After a further six months with the King's African Rifles, he returned to Shropshire to rejoin the KSLI in 1945. Demobilized in 1946, Wingfield farmed for a time at Onslow, while dedicating much of his energy to gliding and skiing. In 1948, he was chosen for the British Team at the World Gliding Championships at Samaden, Switzerland, but had to pull out due to sinusitis. As two of the British competitors were killed, he felt that he was well out of it. His sinuses caused him to give up gliding in 1952, but he took it up again in his sixties. Casting around for another pursuit, he learned to ride again, and almost immediately became Joint Master of the South Shropshire Hunt, but he gave this up too in 1957, after a bad fall. Onslow, meanwhile, which was used as a Swiss finishing school during the war, had been attacked by dry rot. It was demolished in 1955 and replaced some years later by a modern house.

Wingfield was, in any case, more passionate about Onslow's garden, which, with the help of his dedicated gamekeeper, he greatly improved. He was a member of the International Dendrology Society and his interest in trees and shrubs lay behind many of his expeditions to the Himalayas, China, Russia and South America.

In 1984, while trekking in Nepal, he collected seeds of the deciduous holly Ilex fragilis, which he germinated and planted at Onslow, the first time the species had been cultivated in Europe.

He felt deeply about country sports and, aged 65, he resumed mastership of the South Shropshire, continuing to hunt into his seventies. Last year, he marched for two days to the Hyde Park Countryman's rally. He was looking forward to attending the next Rally on March the 1st 1998.

Wingfield was also passionate about music, and his fine baritone voice was heard in several local choirs and amateur operatics. He might attend concerts in Birmingham several times a week..

A bold motorist, he did the Brighton run several times in an open Argyll, which his father had driven down from Glasgow in 1903.

He became increasingly addicted to fishing as he grew older. His tall, lean figure, slightly stooping in concentration, seen through the early morning mist, appeared not unlike a heron. The remoteness of the location was as important to him as the fishing. He favoured such places as the Kola peninsular and Kamchatka in Russia. He died in Tierra del Fuego, two days after catching a 20 lb sea trout.

Wingfield was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1953 and served for many years as a JP, becoming Chairman of the mid Shropshire Bench. A perfect gentleman, his language often appeared to come from another century.

Chris Wills last met him on the Long Mynd in 1990 when he owned a fiberglass sailplane. He had just attended, during one week, the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk and the 800th anniversary of his old school, Eton. He mentioned how he had been part of the BGA's delegation to Czechoslovakia during September 1946, and how he had flown the "Rheinland", which he thought was a very fine sailplane,

In every way.British Gliding has lost a fantastic character, in Charles Wingfield.

Charles married in 1956, Maxine Meighar-Lovett. We send all our sympathies to her, their son and two daughters, to his family and to all his friends. C.Wills

[courtesy of C. Wills]