ALEX IMRIE – A Life in Aviation

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death of Alex Imrie, the well known, respected and noted WW1 aviation researcher and historian.

Alex was born on 29.April 1926 in Longyester, East Lothian, near the Lammermuir hills. It happens to be close to where the first German aircraft came down on British soil during the WW2. Alex and his father were soon at the crash site and were able to remove a small plaque before police and RAF authorities arrived. Alex was imbued with flying from an early age, as his father was a keen aero modeller and extremely competent model engineer.

Alex prayed that the War would continue until he was old enough to join up. Great disappointment ensued that on reaching conscription age that the RAF did not need any more aircrew. He found employment on a nearby country estate as a groundsman. In his spare time, he acquired a maths diploma and took flying lessons at Macmerry aerodrome just east of Edinburgh, where he successfully soloed in a Tiger Moth.

After being accepted for further pilot training in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1943 he made aviation his career. First in Scotland, Newcastle and then Blackpool, where he flew an assortment of aircraft for example the DH 84 Dragon and Dragon Rapide amongst others. In the early 1950s he settled in Berlin where he became a fluent German speaker and flew the Avro York, DC3, Argonaut C-4 and Vickers Viking amongst others. There he met Hungarian born Eriká and at their wedding, one of the guests was Willy Gabriel, the WW1 German flying Ace who was a regular visitor to their Berlin home. Alex and Eriká had two children Natalia and Alasdair. Alex also had another son, Michael from a previous marriage.

During the fifteen years he resided in Berlin, he had the unique opportunity to make personal acquaintance with over fifty ex-members of the German Flying Services of the 1914-18 conflict, that he had read about as a boy in aviation journals such as ‘Popular Flying’ and ‘Flying Aces’. He became firm personal friends with many of these pilots and it is upon this first hand knowledge that he was able to draw on in his writings. He also became an honary member of the Marine Flieger Verein ‘Alte Adler’. In addition, was able to meet noted early German researchers who were active in the 1920s and 30s, such as Melchers, Himmelstoss, Steasney and Novarra. He was also in touch with fellow researchers in the USA, namely Bill Puglisi, Ed Ferko and Peter Grosz. These were the people who laid the foundations of a serious body of research that has culminated in organisations such as ‘Cross and Cockade’ and ‘Over the Front’.

In 1968, the Imrie family came to England and settled in Harpenden, close to Luton Airport, where Alex continued to work as an airline Captain with Autair, later to become the ill fated Court Line (BAC 1-11).When the airline collapsed, Alex was fortunate in finding employment in the Inspectorate at the Civil Aviation Authority in London. He went back to active flying with Monarch Airlines (Boeing 737) until his retirement after having accumulated 18,000 hours of flying experience around the world. Whilst in London, he was able to attend regular meetings of Cross and Cockade. It was here that many aviation enthusiasts were able to meet for the first time, the man responsible for revealing so much about German WW1 aviation.

Alex wrote many articles on WW1 aviation themes in a number of aviation journals. He also had many books to his credit:

Pictorial History of the German Army Air Service 1914-18
German Fighter Units 1914-May 1917
German Fighter Units June 1917-1918
Fokker Fighters of WW1
German Air Aces of WW1
German Naval Air Service
German Bombers of WW1
The Fokker Triplane

The triplane was his favourite German aeroplane, the book being the fruits of many years of diligent research on the subject. His main interest was German WW1 colours and markings and he was considered a world authority in this field.

Alex put his knowledge to practical use in 1994 when a piece of fabric bearing a black cross from the fuselage of Manfred von Richthofen’s triplane came up for auction in London. He was approached by Phillips, the auctioneers, to authenticate the cross prior to auction.

For twenty years, he wrote a monthly piece entitled ‘Vintage Corner’ for ‘Aeromodeller’ magazine. He was a member of The Society of Antique Modellers (SAM) and was at one time President of the society. Concurrent with his full time flying career, historical research and writing, Alex and his son were enthusiastic free flight modellers in both rubber, diesel and petrol engine models. Alex was keen in recreating some of the classic designs of his youth. He had a large collection of vintage petrol engines and several original model aeroplane survivors from the 1930s. Alex and Alasdair attended flying meetings at Old Warden and regularly flew models at Kinsbourne Green, close to his Harpenden home. Close friends Ron Raddon and Barry Shaw also came on weekly visits to fly their own models. Soon, they all had many enthusiastic admirers including the WW2 fighter pilot John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham.

Alex was generous with his time and help to enthusiasts and researchers alike. Under the sometimes dour Scottish demeanour, there was a man of much wit and charm.

Shortly after his 80th birthday, Alex returned to Scotland. By 2011 it was clear that Alex was not in the best of health and he finally succumbed to his illness on 4. June 2011. After a private family funeral, he was laid to rest on 13.June 2011 in a place where several of his relatives are buried.

Hals und Beinbruch, Alex

The Imrie family and Barry Gray