Steve Stevens DFC is a 94 year old author who served with the South African Air Force from 1940 – 1950. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valour for his part in operations over the Balkans in World War II. He was a pioneer of air support to Christian work with the newly founded organisation Mission Aviation Fellowship and was their first operational pilot to remote areas of South Sudan. He later became UK CEO of MAF and a founder member of the Festival of Light. He now lives on the south coast and is still fighting on as a prolific writer despite being in chronic pain.

I’m now 94 and bedridden but my mind is still active and alert. I’ve been discouraged by the problem of enabling my books to be sent anywhere in the world and am delighted that it’s now being made possible by means of the internet.
I was born on the 27th August 1919 in Amesbury, Dorset a small town close to Salisbury Plain in the United Kingdom. My parents were George and Dora Stevens.
My father, George Alexander Stevens, was an officer in the West Yorkshire Regiment who  trained at Sandhurst Military College just before the start of World War I. He saw active service and was badly gassed in Salonica. He spent a brief period in Scotland  the special medical facility in Aberdeen for those suffering the results of the deadly Mustard Gas. He married Dora, one of the VAD staff. Although he was not expected to live much beyond the age of 40, he was fit enough to continue serving as a Regular Army officer and was stationed at Salisbury Plain after WWI ended. When I was six weeks old he was posted to York and was there for three years. He rejoined his regiment and my mother and I followed him to his new assignment in the Army of Occupation in Germany.
We were billeted in a huge house with stables for half a dozen horses and vast grounds with fields extending down to the river. As was the custom of those days my parents found a suitable very young German fraulein to look after me who I adored. She lived with us and never seemed to take a day off. It was from her that I learnt German and became more fluent in German than I was with my own native language of English.

My father’s health had improved so much that he was able to ride so he owned a team of polo ponies and when he saw a racehorse called Capitas that he fancied, he bought it for only £9, and rode it to victory in local army races. But it didn’t last long and after a couple of years his health deteriorated rapidly so his medical officer arranged for him to have a year’s sick leave. When I was six I had to leave my lovely German fraulein when we went to Switzerland. Because of my fluency in German, I was able to join ski classes with the Swiss-German boys in Davos. I soon became quite proficient in both skiing,jumping and skating, although I was only 7.
My father’s health improved in that warm summer but he dreaded the thought of another winter in Switzerland, so we moved to San Remo in Italy. We were not there very long, before he was recalled to his Regiment who were relocated to Northern Ireland  because of the troubles caused by Sinn Féin. We caught a ship to take us back home and then on to let father rejoin his regiment. Within a year or so the trouble died down and my father’s Second Battalion of his West Yorkshire Regiment was urgently required in India, to a very wet part of that country and my father’s army medical officer told my dad that he would never survive in India and ought to be invalided out of the army and go and live somewhere with a dry climate.

We left for South Africa in November 1929 and life on a farm when I was 10. By then I had been in five countries. In sunny South Africa my father began to feel better, but my mother who had always enjoyed good health unexpectedly became ill and died of a tumour on the brain when I was still only 14, the result of a horrific fall off one of those racehorses, maybe it was Capitas, in Germany a few years before.
At 16, I left College early to help my father resettle on another farm in a totally different part of South Africa. He soon married again and I was free to get some education. I went to the Bible Institute of South Africa which revolutionised my life. I will always be grateful to the College for how they built me up in my new-found Christian faith.
When World War II broke out I was at Bible College. We were all greatly moved by Winston Churchill’s speeches that we occasionally heard on  a primitive radio and  in discussion with our tutors it was decided that the College would be closed for the duration of WWII to allow us to do something to help. Some of us went to the military, others went into missionary service. I joined the South African Air Force and learned to fly. My father and my stepmother, Margaret, who were then running a Christian guest farm in the very dry Great Karoo prayed for my deliverance from death three times a day, claiming the promises of the “Deliverance Psalm” Psalm 91, part of which my father had inscribed in a Bible and gave to me. I am convinced that it was their prayers, claiming angels’ protection of my life that enabled me to survive all those sorties over enemy territory with Ack-Ack guns firing at us.

During the war, I was assisting in air strikes over Yugoslavia alongside the RAF under the command of the brilliant  Major Don Tilley, awarded the DFC & Bar on a previous Tour of Operations over North Africa when he was based at Malta. He went on to devise other daring raids that are documented in my book Beaufighter over the Balkans. I was part of the attack on the Nazi-held medieval walled town of Zuzenberk. That attack by eight of our 19 South African Air Force Beaufighter squadron resulted in the Yugoslav Partisans, who had been hiding in a nearby forest, recapturing their town. The brilliantly taken photograph of my rocket-firing Beaufighter attack on Zuzenberk is on the front cover of my book ‘Beaufighter over the Balkans’.

I photographed Major Tilley attacking the armed German warship SS  Kuckuck as Tilley’s number two.  It was a desperate sortie which we fully expected to be a suicide mission. Our leader’s rockets  holed the target under the waterline. We had been informed by the Partisans that we would face the fire from 140 anti-aircraft guns.  Remarkably all our four planes returned safely.

Mission Aviation Fellowship

In 1946 I was based for a month in Khartoum  as liaison officer between the SAAF and the RAF.  Knowing that I was a pilot, the Sudan Interior Mission leaders told me how badly they needed a plane and I felt impelled on my return to South Africa to attempt to form an organisation to make this possible. Miraculously, Mission Aviation Fellowship’s very first leaflet from London fell into my hands. Stuart King had a similar desire to start an air support service for missionaries living in remote areas and I consulted with him about what I was wanting to do. If MAF would take on the Sudan and other east African countries, I would not form another organisation. It was a New Zealand pilot flying World War II Wellingtons while patrolling the Atlantic to protect American shipping from being sunk by Nazi submarines who thought up the idea of forming an air support organisation for missions under the name of ‘Christian Airmen’s’ Missionary Fellowship’    When they heard about the British Missionary Aviation Fellowship they changed their name to ours. Rather than start my own organisation, I was happy to fit in with MAF and became the first operational pilot to be based in the Sudan.

Learning to write

A desire to write began burning within me when I was 26 years of age. At that time, in 1946, I was still serving with the South African Air Force flying old twin-engined Avro Ansons. I was sent to Mtubatuba in Zululand to spray DDT over the three game reserves at tree top level, it was very dangerous, largely because of the vultures who would panic, taking to the air in an attempt to get away from this huge bird coming straight at them. Had one of those massive vultures hit one of our propellers or a wing, that would have probably been the end of any pilot. I also narrowly escaped with my life on one occasion when I clipped a dead tree branch   that protruded above the green canopy of leaves, which I had not seen as I was flying into the rising sun.

There were many stories I could have written for the South African press and I should have taken a writers course by correspondence, but I failed to do so. I now greatly regret this missed opportunity. That desire to write continued and when I was heading up the Festival of Light at the end of the permissive sixties I needed to raise awareness of the issues. It was being thrown in at the deep end and one of my articles was published in three different papers. At the same time I began to jot down notes towards a book about my 20 years of full time work with Mission Aviation Fellowship.

I had got to know Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge during those hectic days of founding the Festival of Light. I greatly admired Malcolm for his achievements including being editor of  Punch magazine and author of many books including one about Mother Teresa. Malcolm was regularly called to speak on the BBC, both radio and television, even though he refused to do a recorded program and would only ever go on live. He would also be called to America to do speaking tours, often as a prestigious after dinner speaker.

My wife, Kay, and I were invited to visit the Muggeridge’s in their lovely old house near Robertsbridge in Kent. I had the audacity to take with me what I’d begun to write about Mission Aviation Fellowship. I asked him if he would be prepared to give it the once over. On our very next visit he made comment,
“I’ve read your proposed manuscript and I think you should get it published, because you have a good grasp of the English language”.
Coming from Malcolm that encouragement made me more determined than ever to get down to some serious writing.
At the end of the 1970’s Kay and I were asked to go to South Australia, for me to become the Executive Director of the Australian Festival of Light and Kay to be the Women’s Advisor. When we got there I met the founder and editor of a very well edited Christian paper. This led me to write articles which I would dictate to our secretary who would drop the drafts into Kay’s office at the FOL reception.
Kay would go through my articles and her corrections drove me up the wall. Not because they were irrelevant, but because I would find it took me twice as long to incorporate her corrections than it had for me to write the article in the first place. Actually it was Kay’s great ability to write that began to rub off on me and I owe the writing ability I now have to my beloved wife Kay who has now ‘gone to heaven’.
When Kay and I returned to England six years later, a friend of mine, Kenneth Hearn, surprised me by including me in a radio series of various prominent people. One day he said to me “you should write up your war stories and send them to the aviation magazines, which I’m convinced they  will accept”. I followed his promptings and all six of the illustrated articles I wrote were published. 

The first book I wrote I sent to the  British publishers Pen & Sword. The aviation editor responded saying that he would publish the book provided I would let him have a minimum of 40 relevant photographs. That was a great thrill to me, because I had almost 200 fully captioned and ready for him to   choose from.  To my delight he published 150 of them.

Many years later I am still writing and am working through a series of small booklets in my Fighting Action Series.