A FORMER pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic exploits during the Second World War has died aged 97.

Ben Parker Jackson, of Trimdon Station, near Sedgefield, County Durham, received the medal for a daring mission to drop sea mines in Lorient Harbour in Brittany, France, in June 1943.

As Flt Sgt Jackson and his crew approached the target area, they were caught in searchlights and damaged by anti-aircraft guns firing from the Ile de Groix, an island to the south-west of Lorient.

The rear gunner fired at the searchlights, putting two out of action, and Flt Sgt Jackson took evasive action to avoid the flak.

He then completed the mission as ordered, dropping sea mines from 500ft.

Despite his brave actions with the Royal Canadian Air Force 431 Squadron, Mr Jackson only recently opened up about his experiences at war.

While his wife of 69 years Lavinia knows her husband was a true hero, she will always remember him first as “quiet, unassuming and a true gentleman.”

The couple first met in the early 1940s when Mrs Jackson was working as a bus conductress.

Mr Jackson was stationed in Selby, near York, and used to travel back to his home village of West Cornforth with his Canadian crewmates while on leave.

“Some of the villagers used to put the Canadians up and they would all get the bus to the ice rink in Durham,” said Mrs Jackson, 94.

“We used to let them on for free. They all ended up marrying English girls.”

The couple married in 1944 and settled in Trimdon Colliery.

After the war, Mr Jackson returned to his job as an electrician at Thrislington Colliery.

In 1961, they moved to Nuneaton in Warwickshire, where they remained for almost 25 years before returning to the North-East to be closer to their large close-knit family.

They had one son, Stanley Parker Jackson, who sadly died of cancer at the age of 28.

Outside of work, Mr Jackson loved his garden and enjoyed jigsaws, crosswords and walking. The couple also liked to go holiday in the UK and Canada.

Mrs Jackson, a former auxiliary nurse, said: “Ben was a true gentleman, very gentle and always polite.

"He loved to walk and I think that is one of the reasons why so many people knew and liked him because they would always see him walking about.

“After he had a stroke he moved to Craigarran Nursing Home and they really took care of him. He always spoke of his lovely friends.”

Mr Jackson died peacefully in hospital on Wednesday, February 19.

His funeral service takes place at Trimdon Station Methodist Church on Monday, March 3, at 1.30pm, followed by Durham Crematorium.