AN ACE bomber pilot who carried out 30 missions during World War Two - and went on to become one of Sheffield’s best-known pub landlords - has died at the age of 88.
John Gagg, known to family and friends as Jack, put his life on the line for Britain when he flew Lancaster Bombers over Germany and France to help defeat Hitler during the Second World War.
His proud family said he was lucky to have survived, after being lined up to join a bombing raid on Nuremberg in March 1944 in which Britain suffered one of its biggest losses. A total of 94 planes were shot down and another 71 were damaged after coming under ferocious gunfire from the Nazis.
Jack lived to tell the tale only because the plane he was supposed to fly developed an engine fault, which meant he set off 30 minutes later than his fellow pilots. Many of his comrades never returned.
Jack’s widow Philomena, now 75, from Sothall, Sheffield, joked that her husband was always late for everything after that.
“He was always half an hour late - I think it was in his head that it was being late which saved his life all those years ago,” she said. “We used to joke and say he would be late for his own funeral.”
The decorated airforce man was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his wartime efforts.
But Philomena said the RAF pilot rarely spoke about his heroics - and instead confessed to feelings of guilt that the bombs he dropped claimed so many German lives.
“He never used to talk about what he did or saw, it was hard to get it out of him, but he did used to say he felt guilty that so many people were killed,” she said.
“We had to tell him they were going to kill us, so it was either ‘kill or be killed’ in those days.
“He found that side of it hard.”
Jack’s son Simon, 47, is so proud of his father’s contribution to the war that he has a copy of his dad’s Distinguished Flying Medal tattooed on his chest as a lifelong tribute.
“I am really proud of him and everything he did, and looking through all his log books - which I had never seen until a few weeks before he died - has had me mesmerised,” he told The Star.
“Everything he did is down there in his own perfect writing - something our family can treasure forever - and I have enjoyed researching each mission a little bit more on the internet. It is fascinating.
“His grandchildren are 18 and 16 now, and I have already said to my son that if his grandad has left him anything in his will he should use it for flying lessons and follow in his footsteps.
“My daughter has already said it is something she would like to do too - that would have made him so proud.” Among the bombing missions with which Jack was involved was a blitz on factories and railways in Lyon, France, in May 1944, followed by an attack on an ammunition dump in Aubigne, also in France, a few days later. The same month he flew to Hasselt in Belgium to target railway yards. He was also involved in airborne attacks on a number of major towns and cities including Aachen, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Essen and Versailles.
In civilian life the unsung hero was more well-known in Sheffield for running The Red Lion pub on Charles Street in the city centre, and The Devonshire Arms in Dore, as well as a number of betting shops across the city.
His son Simon now runs The Red Lion.
Jack’s funeral is to be held at City Road Crematorium this Friday at 2.45pm. Donations made in his memory will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Society, after Jack developed the condition in the last years of his life.