Pilot helped hundreds to improve swimming

Bob Apel
Bob Apel

Hundreds of people owe their swimming prowess to a former Spitfire pilot and shopkeeper, who has died after a long illness.

Former president of Kettering Amateur Swimming Club and Northamptonshire Swimming Association Bob Apel, who coached hundreds of swimmers in the 1950s and 60s, died of cancer aged 95 on February 11.

Mr Apel, who served in the Second World War as a pilot and air field controller, also opened wallpaper shop Gayhomes in Piccadilly Buildings, Kettering, which is now run as Creations by his son.

Bob Apel Jnr, 67, who swam for Great Britain 20 times thanks to his father’s coaching, said: “He taught many people to swim. Teaching people to swim is changing lives and swimming is a wonderful thing for people to do for the rest of their lives.”

Born in East London and brought up in Brighton, Mr Apel went to the Air Ministry on the day war broke out to sign up. He trained as a pilot but served as a controller after suffering a perforated ear drum.

Bob Jnr said: “He always said it saved his life because only 30 per cent of bombing teams survived multiple missions.”

The Air Force flew Mr Apel around the country to compete against the Army and Navy in swimming contests despite fuel restrictions.

Mr Apel moved to Kettering after meeting wife Christine at a dance at the George Hotel.

He is survived by Bob Jnr, two daughters, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Swimmers will compete for a county championship trophy named in his honour on March 17.