Sir Peter Harding, who has died aged 87, was the RAF’s Chief of Air Staff (CAS) before becoming the Chief of Defence Staff in 1992 Eighteen months later he resigned following a tabloid expose of his affair with the wife of a former Conservative MP.
Harding joined the RAF as a national serviceman and trained as a pilot before beginning a full career. He flew Canberra bombers, became a flying instructor and later converted to Wessex helicopters before taking command of 18 Squadron in Germany. He commanded the large base at Bruggen with three Phantom squadrons. He flew regularly and claimed that the Phantom was his favourite aircraft. He served in MoD in numerous appointments on defence policy and later served at NATO in a key appointment. He commanded No 11 (Fighter) Group and was Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff before becoming the C-in-C of Strike Command. He was appointed CAS in November 1988. He was widely admired for his presence, charisma, intellect and social manner. Following reports of his affair in the News of the World, he resigned.
At Sunday’s Air Show at Duxford, publisher Grub Street launched my latest book, Buccaneer Boys 2, a follow up to Buccaneer Boys published in 2013. A warm, sunny day, with the sound of many Rolls Royce Merlins as a backdrop, this was an ideal occasion for the launch. The previous evening in Thetford, over 25 Buccaneer veterans were joined by a large crowd to promote the book in an event at the Guildhall arranged by Jane James of ‘Not Just Books Ltd’.
This second volume follows the same style as its predecessor with 26 chapters written by “The Boys”, which embrace the earliest days in Fleet Air Arm service, RAF operations in UK and Germany, the Gulf War and a breathtaking chapter by a South African Air Force pilot of his experience during an operation in the Bush Wars.
‘Benny’ Goodman, a pilot who flew on 617 (Dambuster) Squadron has died aged 100.He and his novice crew joined the special duties squadron in August 1944. On their fourth operation, they deployed to Lossiemouth with a force of Lancasters and onOctober 24 they took off to attack the Tirpitz with 12,000lb Tallboy bombs. Cloud and a smoke screen hindered the attack but Goodman dropped his bomb. Over the next few months he attacked targets with the Tallboy and these included U-boat and E-boat pens, the synthetic oil plant at Politz on the Baltic, and the viaduct at Bielefeld. On March 19 1945 he dropped a 22,000lb ‘Grand Slam’ bomb on the Arnsberg viaduct. His final war operation was to Hitler’s Eagle Nest at Berchtesgaden. He remained in the RAF post-war and flew Hastings and later the Canberra in the photo-reconnaissance role. He maintained a civil licence until he was 93 years old.
Air Marshal Sir Roderick Goodall, known throughout his RAF career as “Rocky”, was 74 years old when he died in June. He had a distinguished career as a fighter pilot flying Hunters in Bahrain before converting to the Harrier, serving two tours in Germany. He was twice awarded the AFC. He returned to Germany in command of 16 Squadron flying Tornados from Laarbruch before being appointed the station commander at Bruggen where he had four Tornado squadrons under command. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990 he was tasked to establish a base for Tornados and Jaguars on the old RAF airfield at Muharraq in Bahrein. He held senior appointments in MoD, at the Principle Joint Force HQ at Northwood and finally a NATO appointment as Chief of Staff of Component Command Air North at Ramstein in Germany.
Harold Walmsley was one of the last surviving Spitfire “Aces” with 11 confirmed victories. He began flying Spitfires with 611 Squadron in September 1942. During the final months of the war in Europe, he flew from airfields in Belgium and the Netherlands with 130 Squadron flying the superior Spitfire Mk XIV. During fierce dogfights with Focke Wulf 190s in the final weeks of the war, he shot down nine aircraft including seven in a two-week period in April. He was twice awarded the DFC. He served post war as a flying instructor before commanding 67 Squadron in Germany when it operated the Sabre. He later commanded RAF Boulmer and served in Singapore.
Sir John “Kip” Kemball began his flying career as a National Service pilot before accepting a permanent commission. He became a flying instructor before joining 8 Squadron in Aden flying the Hunter on operations in support of ground forces. He was the first RAF pilot to log 1,000 hours flight time on the Phantom when he was an instructor at Coningsby. He commanded 54 Squadron with Jaguars before becoming the station commander at Laarbruch in Germany where he flew the Buccaneer and the Jaguar. He was Commandant of the Central Flying School and served in the Defence Intelligence Staff where he became the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence. As the COS and Deputy Commander at HQ Strike Command, he became the COS at the British Primary War HQ during the Gulf War of 1991 where his calm, tolerant and tactful manner was tested, but attracted the admiration of his C-in-C and army and navy colleagues. In retirement he was Deputy Lieutenant of Suffolk and held numerous appointments in the county community.
Freddie Nicoll trained as a pilot in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) before converting to the Hurricane in the Middle East and going to 208 Squadron at an advanced landing ground in the Western Desert. After the Battle of Alamein, the squadron moved to Iraq and then Palestine before Nicoll joined 6 Squadron equipped with rocket-firing Hurricanes. Flying from airfields in Italy, he attacked supply shipping in the Adriatic and off the Yugoslavian coast. He flew from the airstrip on the island of Vis off the Croatian coast and his attacks and leadership were recognised by the award of the DFC. After 55 operations he was rested ands flew target-towing Spitfires and Vengeance aircraft before returning to civilian life as a quantity surveyor.
Polish pilot Jan Baxter (born Jan Zablocki) escaped from his native Poland in 1939, reached France and then travelled to England where he joined the RAF and trained as a pilot. He flew 12 operations on Wellingtons, the majority dropping sea mines in the entrances to Nazi-held ports. After converting to the Halifax, he left for Italy and completed 27 missions dropping supplies to the partisans in Yugoslavia, Greece and Poland, which he visited 11 times. He was twice awarded the Polish Cross of Valour. He remained in the RAF after the war and flew Dakota and Valetta transport aircraftIn Aden and Malaya.. He later worked for the MoD for 10 years as a linguist and translator.
Don Attlee commanded the Queen’s Flight and on a route checking flight prior to the Queen’s visit to Ghana in 1961, had an his crew were arrested with the aircraft in Mali, the first time such an occurrence had happened. The situation was eventually resolved and the Royal Visit passed without incident. Attlee had been a flying instructor during the final years of the war and later served on two Canberra bomber squadrons. As the senior RAF intelligence officer in Germany, he was on a routine visit to Berlin in April 1966 when a Soviet fighter aircraft crashed into a lake in the British sector of the city. He was involved in the dramatic recovery of its engine and top secret radar, which were rushed to England to be analysed. The engine was returned to the wreck, but not the radar, which the British claimed had been unrecoverable from the lake. In his final appointment he organised the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Review of the RAF.
A few editions ago, the magazine Coin Collector began a series featuring military campaign medals with a brief account of the circumstances and actions the led to the issue. For the summer edition of the magazine, I was invited to write a short article and chose the India General Service Medal with the clasp Afghanistan NWF 1919.