Air Vice-Marshal Reggie Bullen


Air Vice-Marshal Reggie Bullen

who has died aged 87, enjoyed two distinguished careers; after retiring as the head of the RAF’s administrative branch, he was appointed as a Fellow and senior bursar of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

During the Second World War Bullen flew as a navigator. In April 1944 a detachment of his squadron moved to Malta to support operations in Italy.

On the night of April 19 Bullen’s Wellington bomber was returning to base when it suffered an engine failure, crashed on the airfield and burst into flames. The aircraft was totally destroyed and four members of the crew were killed. Bullen was thrown clear and sustained fractures to his back, an arm and a leg.

The heat was intense and ammunition was exploding. There was the additional risk of the eight depth-charges blowing up at any moment. Despite this, and his severe injuries, Bullen managed to make his way into the blazing aircraft to reach the injured wireless operator and drag him to a safe distance.

He was awarded the George Medal, the citation concluding that “his very brave and gallant action, performed when suffering such intense pain from his own injuries, undoubtedly saved the life of the wireless operator”.

Reginald Bullen was born in London on October 19 1920. He won a scholarship to the Grocers’ Company School and on leaving he started to work towards his articles as a solicitor.

The war interrupted his work and he joined the RAF in 1940, training as a navigator in the United States under a scheme negotiated with Pan American Airways.

After qualifying Bullen left for the Middle East to complete specialist training in torpedo dropping before he joined No 39 Squadron in Malta. Flying Beauforts, the task of the squadron was to attack Axis shipping sailing from Italy with supplies and reinforcements for North Africa.

The squadron suffered heavy losses before Bullen joined No 458 Squadron, flying anti-submarine sorties in Wellington aircraft operating from Egypt and forward bases in Libya and Tunisia.

Bullen spent a year recovering from his burns and injuries and was unable to return to flying duties. After four years in the Air Ministry working on new forms of testing and selection of future officers and aircrew, Bullen instructed at the RAF College Cranwell. In 1956 he left for Washington to serve with a US intelligence agency.

He had been warned that the temperature would be high and he would need tropical lightweight uniforms, which he had tailored.

On arrival the civilian director of the agency told him that on no account must he wear uniform or let it be known that he was a British officer serving on highly secret work.

He was involved in developing methods of obtaining intelligence on Russian military deployments and capabilities, and these included flying over the former Soviet Union.

On his return in 1958 Bullen served on the staff of the RAF Staff College before becoming the personal staff officer to the Chief of the Air Staff (ACM Sir Sam Elworthy).

After attending the Nato Defence College in Paris he became the adjutant general at the headquarters of Allied Air Forces Central Europe at Fontainebleau.

Bullen and his French-born wife were looking forward to a pleasant tour of duty on the outskirts of Paris when, shortly after his arrival in 1965, General de Gaulle ordered the Nato staffs to leave France.

Bullen co-ordinated the relocation of the air headquarters from the château at Fontainebleau to a disused coal mine in southern Holland and found new accommodation for the families.

After returning from Holland Bullen was the director of personnel, and then attended the Imperial Defence College. His last appointment in the RAF was served at the Headquarters Training Command as the Air Officer Administration, when he was also appointed head of the RAF’s administrative branch.

He retired from the service in 1975, when he was appointed CB. The day after retiring Bullen took up his Fellowship at Gonville and Caius College.

As senior bursar, he greatly strengthened the finances of the college by shrewd investment, good management and highly successful property transactions.

He will be particularly remembered for his conversion of Rose Crescent in the centre of Cambridge from a drab and lifeless passageway to a smart shopping street. He also played an increasingly influential role in the general management of the college’s affairs.

On his retirement in 1987 the Master of Caius, Sir William Wade, paid him a handsome tribute at the annual gathering, when he said Bullen “had been a paragon among bursars and if justice were to be done he ought to be entered on the roll of benefactors”.

He was appointed a Life Fellow and remained a property development consultant until his death. He was particularly proud when the college took the exceptional step of commissioning his portrait, which now hangs in the senior parlour of the college.

In 1981 John Major, a near neighbour and friend, had persuaded Bullen to become chairman of a newly formed Health Authority in Huntingdon, which had no general hospital and inherited from Cambridge a large financial deficit.

In the 10 years he held the part-time appointment Bullen was admired for his total commitment and conscientious approach. He restored the authority’s financial position and oversaw the building of a new general hospital, Hinchinbrooke, which opened in 1983.

Bullen had a great sense of humour and remained very active until late in his life, driving abroad until his late eighties.

Reggie Bullen died on January 27. He married Christiane Phillips in 1952 and she survives him with their son and daughter.


(Telegraph Obituary )