In 1943, E Colston Shepherd, the editor of The Aeroplane, interviewed Harris both at his office and at home, the latter being Springfields at Great Kingshill, close to High Wycombe’s Bomber Command HQ. In the subsequent article in the Picture Post, Colston Shepherd described Harris as:
broad-shouldered, bull-necked, of medium height, unsmiling and of a ruddy complexion, […] the sort of officer with whom no one takes liberties.
A caption to the photograph, above, of Harris with his wife and his daughter Jacqueline, aged 3 and a half, is captioned:
Air Chief Marshal Harris at Home: The Only Time When He Is Smiling
In 2017 Springfields was on the market for the first time since sold by the Ministry of Defence in 2002. Again, you can read this on the Daily Mail online, as long as you can ignore all the peripheral distractions. Bomber Harris Home for Sale
A couple of minor clarifications about yesterday’s post. ‘Bomber Harris is seldom equated with a sense of humour’ – we meant, of course, in the general public’s view, including that of people abroad.
The standard identikit image of Harris is of a mono-focused, stern and vengeful killer of civilians; this is not just a modern view, and Harris was well aware that many held this opinion of him during the war. The story about the sentry on the roof, as given yesterday, concluded with Harris saying that that was the one and only time, on one of the worst nights of the Blitz, that he felt vengeful against the Germans. We should have made it clearer that this comment was a direct riposte to wartime criticisms: ‘I have often been accused of being vengeful during our subsequent destruction of German cities’.
Not to go off on too much of a tangent about this, but the Blitz, not only in London but all over the country, was the catalyst for many young men and women in their decision to join the RAF. This may have been partly an impulse of revenge, but it was also the keen desire to take the war back to the Germans, a direct land assault on western Europe being out of the question until a late stage of the war.
Max Hastings’ 2010 account of the Daily Mail photographer who took the iconic picture of St Paul’s in an ocean of fire can be read (if you can stand all the adverts and general distracting junk) on the Daily Mail online: Max Hastings on Herbert Mason
Continuing our occasional series on the RAF and Bomber Command leadership, here is a priceless story told by Harris about the London Blitz in 1940. The sentry whom he describes surely has a direct lineage to Shakespeare’s clowns.
During the Blitz, Harris used to go up on the roof of the Air Ministry to watch the sight of London burning. On what was probably the night of 29/30 December 1940, he watched ‘the old city in flames […] with St Paul’s standing out in the midst of an ocean of fire – an incredible sight’. He was alone on the roof with a sentry, and in order to make conversation Harris said to the man that if his history was right, the last time London had burned had been 1666, and he told the sentry that he was looking at history.
This seemed not to make the slightest impression on him; he did not even answer beyond sucking his teeth. I asked him how long he had been there, and he said for the whole of the war, as he was over-age for active service. I asked him whether he wasn’t very bored on ordinary nights, and he said that he wasn’t because he was a student of natural history. That seemed to me a somewhat extraordinary pursuit to engage in on the roofs of Whitehall, and I asked him to explain what he meant. He said that there were some 40 to 50 cats from Government offices on the roofs at night, and that what with the fights and one thing and another there was plenty to see, especially as there was an “unexploded tom” amongst them.
Sir Arthur Harris, BOMBER OFFENSIVE (1949)
Harris wrote that watching London burn that night was the only time he ever felt vengeful against the Germans, and even then it only lasted for a moment.
Portrait of Dennis Walters (possibly of 635 Squadron)
This sketch is thought to be by a German prisoner of war, Kurt Kranz, who was conscripted for German Military service in 1940, and served in Norway and Finland. He died in 1997, aged 87.
Dennis Walters is believed to have served in 635 Squadron, but we have not yet managed to trace him in the records. If anyone can shed any light on Dennis’s RAF career, please contact us.
At the time the sketch was made, in 1946, Dennis would almost certainly have been serving with BAFO, the British Air Forces of Occupation, in Germany.
The sketch is now at Eden Camp Museum at Malton in North Yorkshire. It was donated by Bryan Marvin.
Peter Drane was a 97 Squadron Lancaster pilot who, in a most unusual move, transferred to a Mosquito squadron, 139 Squadron, after completing his tour in August 1944. His navigator did not want to transfer with him, and Peter crewed up with another 97 Squadron navigator, Kenneth Swale, who also transferred shortly after Peter. It seems highly likely that Peter and Ken had agreed to fly together before their transfers.
Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending, and both were killed early the following year due to that old adversary, the English weather. Peter Drane, from Lancaster to Mosquito
This year will be a busy one for the Archive. Following the acquisition of the Deverill Collection, we will be fund-raising this year in order to settle the interest-free loans from supporters which enabled us to buy the Collection at very short notice.
The Deverill Collection cost £42,000 (by way of comparison, Dambuster collections are selling for three times this, or more, in the current market). £28,050 has already been settled, having been funded by donations and Gift Aid. This leaves £13,950 to be fund-raised.
If you would like to make a contribution, please go to our DONATE page. Alternatively please CONTACT us if you would prefer an alternative method of payment such as cheque or postal order. All donations towards this most important collection will be very gratefully received.
We would also be very pleased to hear from anyone who would like to run a fund-raising project of their own for the Deverill Collection.
The Deverill Collection is now on display at RAF Wyton, and can be visited by appointment.
Early next month we will be adding the first details of our projected commemorations for the 75th anniversary of Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, which will centre around the Deverill Collection at RAF Wyton. We will be giving further details of our fund-raising for the Deverill Collection at the same time.
As part of our emphasis on the wider picture and on the wartime context in which the Pathfinders operated, we are giving details of how the RAF was organised in wartime and how it fitted into the structure of government.
This includes brief details of Charles Portal, the top man in the RAF, and also three pages of detailed description with organisational diagrams, as issued by the Directorate of Flying Training, the Air Ministry, in September 1942, the month after the Path Finder Force was formed. RAF Wartime Organisation
More on the extremely tattered scrapbook in the Archive. Whilst looking through it, we discovered this gem, which we regret not having found two weeks ago in time for the 100th birthday of the RAF. Once again the anonymous aircraft fan who constructed the scrapbook has employed his formidable skills of cut-and-paste. The tear through the headline is part of the general dilapitude of the scrapbook.
Further to our post this afternoon about TALES FROM THE ARCHIVE No.7, it seems a shame not to publish part of a page from the tattered old scrapbook in the Archive which is mentioned in No.7. The scrapbook page has newspaper clippings about the Pathfinders just after the news had been broken to the world of the existence of this new Force.
We have therefore set up a single page addition to TALES No.7 showing the scrapbook page exactly as it is: Tales from the Archive 7, plus – 17 April 2018
Further to our previous post, we are now publishing the seventh issue of TALES FROM THE ARCHIVE, which is on the RAF’s PR war, and how the Augsburg raid was covered in the Press. It also shows how the existence of the Pathfinders was revealed in November 1943, just prior to the start of what came to be known as the Battle of Berlin.
Tales from the Archive 7. 17 April 2018