A FORMER RAF navigator whose career saw him play rugby with an African dictator has died at the age of 88.

Ian Ryott Spaven was born in Whitby in 1925, the son of Scarborough midwife Agnes, and corn merchant and agricultural engineer, Herbert.

He joined the RAF in 1943, and trained as a bomb aimer and navigator in Canada.

His son, Bruce, said: “He was lucky in a close encounter with a tree on the prairies in low-level flying and luckier to be too late for the hazards of the heavy bomber campaign.

“He benefited from a short course at Balliol College, Oxford, before retraining back at Oxford for the Colonial Service and at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London after the war.”

Following his course, Mr Spaven was posted to the Protectorate of Basutoland – now Lesotho – in southern Africa, and worked as a Cadet District Officer trekking the country on horseback and learning the local language of Sesuto.

He later joined a Government-sponsored movement starting up agricultural cooperatives in Uganda, where he encouraged farmers to grow cotton and coffee and share the profits.

Bruce said: “He spent the first eight years at Jinja above the source of the White Nile where hippopotami often ate the garden.

“While there, he enjoyed setting up and playing for the rugby team where one player being coached was a certain Sergeant Idi Amin who later became a military dictator and third President of Uganda.”

On his return to North Yorkshire, Mr Spaven moved to Dunnington and worked at the General Accident offices until his retirement.

He married Margaret Howard, daughter of Captain Robert Howard of Whitby, when she was 20, and they were together for more than 60 years until her death in 2010.

Mr Spaven died at his home on Boxing Day, following a long fight with cancer.

He is survived by his son Bruce, daughters Helen and Amanda, and three grandchildren, Edward, Emily and Amy.

A cremation will be held at Bishopthorpe on Monday, at 1pm. Donations in lieu of flowers to Macmillan Cancer Research or Marie Curie Cancer Care.