Tribute to pioneer

A war hero has died at Hinchingbrooke – the hospital he helped to set up. Air Vice-Marshall Reginald Bullen, who died on Sunday aged 87, was awarded the George Medal for his bravery during the war and was made a Commander of the Bath. Mr Bullen, of Heming

A war hero has died at Hinchingbrooke - the hospital he helped to set up.

Air Vice-Marshall Reginald Bullen, who died on Sunday aged 87, was awarded the George Medal for his bravery during the war and was made a Commander of the Bath.

Mr Bullen, of Hemingford Grey, had led an active life and was still driving abroad into his 80s.

It was while the family was on holiday in France that he received a call from Huntingdon's MP John Major, asking him to chair the group that developed the plan for Hinchingbrooke Hospital, which opened in 1983.


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His son Michael said: "I remember the villagers getting very excited. Not everyone was on the phone at that time - it was our next door neighbours who had a phone."

The Bullens and the Majors had become friends when the families were neighbours in De Vere Close, in Hemingford Grey.

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Mr Bullen was then chairman of Huntingdonshire Health Authority.

Born on October 19, 1920, in East London, he had an older brother, Len and won a scholarship to Merchant Taylors.

He joined the RAF after leaving school and served in North Africa flying in Wellington bombers. It is believed he was one of only two people in his squadron to survive the war.

In April 1944, the then Flight Lieutenant Bullen, aged 24, was navigator on a Wellington which crashed on landing in Malta and burst into flames. The aircraft was destroyed and four members of the crew were killed.

According to a report in The London Gazette, Flt Lft Bullen was thrown through the side of the aircraft as it burst open, fracturing his leg, his arm and his spine. The heat was intense and ammunition was exploding.

Despite this, Mr Bullen went back into the blazing aircraft to rescue the wireless operator, Wally Clarke, dragging him to safety.

Michael said his father had never talked about the incident. "I only found out about it by seeing a report in a local newspaper in the 1970s."

After retiring from the RAF in 1975, Mr Bullen became the bursar of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge.

Michael said: "He was invited to become chairman of the Huntingdon Health Authority at the same time, as a part-time job but his commitment was full-time.

"My father was hugely conscientious about his work for the health authority. He was quite an extraordinary man and he had a great sense of humour.

"Even when he was in hospital, lying in bed and knowing how ill he was, he was still being funny. He still had this great spark of humour."

Keith Heron, chief executive of the former Huntingdonshire Health Authority, said Mr Bullen set up a health authority responsible for a population of 140,000.

"He was always concerned that the authority heard the voice and concerns of local people and encouraged the provision of relevant and high-standard health services."

Mr Bullen also leaves a wife, Christiane, daughter, Danielle, and grandson Freddie, 11. There will be a private funeral in Hemingford Grey.

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