AIRCRAFT used during the Second World War will take to the skies in salute to a decorated County Durham serviceman who has died aged 95.

Flight Lieutenant DFC Dennis Parrish was born and brought up in Coundon Grange, near Bishop Auckland, but left the region to fight in the Royal Air Force.

As well as serving as a navigator and bomb aimer, the great-grandfather was a talented sportsman and earned a degree in science which enabled him to travel the world as an executive for Shell Chemicals.

Flt Lt Parrish’s daughter Fiona McLernon, 54, said: “My father was very gentle, kind, unassuming and a strong character.

“He had an amazing life and had an amazing impact on people’s lives. He was a very quiet, understated man and never shouted about what he did but he did a lot.”

Born on July 20, 1922, Flt Lt Parrish was one of five siblings, to different mothers, and attended Alderman Wraith Grammar School, in Spennymoor.

The son of a colliery foreman, his father took him down the pit as a teenager and made him promise he would never set foot underground again.

After school he secured a pharmacist apprenticeship at Boots but found himself unsuited to a life behind the counter and within months he was working as an apprentice chemist at ICI in Billingham.

Despite being in a reserved occupation, Flt Lt Parrish felt compelled to sign up to the RAF, with the blessing of the company, after hearing about school friends who were killed at the start of the Second World War.

He reported to Lord’s Cricket Ground, in London, before heading to Scarborough for initial training and then to South Africa where he had flying training.

During the war Flt Lt Parrish served as a navigator and bomb aimer with 98 Squadron, then for 140 Squadron and later for a wing support unit, a Germany-based miniature airline with fixed routes to a handful of European cities.

In 1942 the navigator was manning a machine gun on Troopship SS Oronsay when it was torpedoed by an Italian submarine.

The vessel sank 500 miles off the West Coast of Africa and Flt Lt Parrish was eventually rescued by HMS Brilliant after surviving a gruelling eight days on a lifeboat - on which the former Ferryhill juniors football club captain bumped into the familiar face of his Bishop Auckland equivalent.

Two years later and following a string of successful bombing raids, a large number of which he led, the serviceman was in 1944 awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was in that same year that he and his pilot on D-Day welcomed onboard their aircraft Air Commodore William Helmore, who reported the landings in Normandy in a live-recording which was later broadcast on the BBC.

At the end of the war Flt Lt Parrish returned home to be with his wife, Elizabeth Jane Parrish - whom he married four days after first meeting at a dance in South West Durham during the war. The pair were together for 69 years until her death four years ago.

The retired bomb aimer continued work for ICI and then studied science at Newcastle University.

From there he secured a job with Shell Chemicals which took him across the world to Venezuela, the Netherlands and Canada before finally returning to Woking.

A keen cricket and football player, he played for Ferryhill juniors and was selected to play for Sunderland FC as a young man but turned down the opportunity.

The great-grandfather, who still has family in the Coundon area, suffered macular degeneration and lost his sight in later life.

Flt Lt Parrish died on Christmas Eve surrounded by his family at home in Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire.

He is survived by his two adopted children, Mark and Fiona, five grand-children and two great-grandchildren.

A funeral will take place at the Nene Valley Crematorium, Wellingborough on Monday at 3pm followed by a celebration at the Stanwick Hotel, West Street, Stanwick.

Members of Sywell Aerodrome will do a flypast in three Tiger Moths to honour his life and service.