Harold Balfour, First Lord BALFOUR of Inchrye PC MC* (9 e/a)
Flight Lieutenant Commander as 43(F) Sqn was formed by 23yr old Major Sholto Douglas MC; flew Western Front Sopwith Strutters & Camels; Churchill’s 1938-44 USofS for Air
Representing the Royal Flying Corps & Royal Air Force
Harold Balfour, First Lord BALFOUR of Inchrye PC MC* (9 e/a)
British Army (Royal Flying Corps) & Royal Air Force
1 November, 1897 - 21 September, 1988
Royal Flying Corps ‘Selfie’, taken (without official approval) with a newly available Kodak Box Camera. Courtesy of The Retronaut
Nota Bene: Harold Balfour, First Lord BALFOUR of Inchrye PC MC* (9 e/a) is one of just four of our Signatories who also saw service in the First World War. His autograph, on each of the They Were There: Blood, Toil, Tears & Sweat prints, therefore represents both the Army’s Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force. His experience extends from flying as a Flight Lieutenant Commander in 43(F) Sqn, formed by the 23 year old Major Sholto Douglas MC, and fighting on the Western Front in Sopwith Strutters and Camels, to his role as Churchill’s 1938-44 Under Secretary of State for Air.
“Balfour made his mark on the aviation industry in Britain, both military and civilian, in a career that stretched from the biplanes of Word War One to the establishment of Heathrow Airport, which was to become one of the great airports of the world, carrying over 80 million passengers each year, employing 120,000 people, and contributing over £6 billion to the UK economy.
He was a fighter ace, with 9 kills to his name, in one war, and Under-Secretary of State for Air, in Winston Churchill’s wartime government, in another.
At the beginning of World War One, he served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps but soon transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (the predecessor organisation of the Royal Air Force). After initial training, he joined the newly-formed No.60 Squadron at Gosport, Hampshire.
Royal Flying Corps or Royal Air Force Sopwith 1½ Strutter in 1917-1918 period of the type Balfour was flying when he made his first two victories.
By 1917, he was serving with No.43 Squadron (nicknamed the Fighting Cocks) when he downed two German planes. It was at this time that he was awarded his first Military Cross. The citation read:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on many occasions. He has carried out many valuable reconnaissances under very adverse conditions. He has shot down two hostile machines.”
Injured shortly thereafter, he returned to Britain and to Gosport, where he was posted to the School of Special Flying, No.40 Squadron. This was a training course set up by Robert Smith-Barry, using new methods of instruction. It was later to be known as the “Gosport System” and would be adopted worldwide by the Royal Flying Corps and its successor the RAF.
“Smith-Barry’s training regime was based on dual-control flying using the relatively high-powered Avro 504 biplane. Pupils sat in the front cockpit, which was equipped with a full set of controls, while the instructors sat behind; communicating their prepared instructions, or ‘patter’, through a specially designed device called the ‘Gosport Tube‘. Even after students had gone solo, half their training was given on dual-control aircraft.
Smith-Barry taught his students to explore the aircraft’s capabilities and to learn the cause and effect of any movement in the air. Instead of avoiding dangerous manoeuvres, such as spins, they were taught how to get out of them safely and, by so doing, developed the skill and confidence to fly their aircraft to the limit.”
An Avro 504, as used by Smith-Barry on his legendary training courses.
“The great Smith-Barry! He was the man who taught the air forces of the world to fly.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Raymond Smith-Barry AFC (4 April 1886 – 23 April 1949). During the Second World War, Smith-Barry served as a ferry pilot and an instructor.
Syllabus for a Smith-Barry Special Flying training course for instructors (September, 1917)
And Smith-Barry’s instruction certainly seems to have paid immediate dividends as far as Balfour is concerned. Upon his return to a fighting role in France in early 1918 (this time in a Sopwith Camel), he proceeded to notch up hit after hit – seven enemy aircraft in total – within the space of one month. He was promoted to the rank of major and awarded a Bar to his Military Cross. The citation read:
“for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On three occasions during one month he has destroyed one hostile machine and driven down two others completely out of control. On one occasion, flying at very low altitude, under extreme adverse weather conditions, he carried out a reconnaissance, in which he bombed two guns and silenced them, bombed large bodies of troops in a market square, and fired into the hangars and huts in a hostile aerodrome, several casualties being observed. He has at all times shown himself to be a leader of exceptional dash and ability, and offensive patrols led by him have constantly attacked enemy formations with marked gallantry and determination”.
During the Second World War, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, H. H. Balfour, questions an Air Commodore about 250-lb GP bombs, which are about to be loaded into a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV of the Advanced Air Striking Force on a snow-covered airfield in France.
Balfour’s career after the war was no less distinguished. He served in the RAF until 1923 and then began a career in journalism. In 1929, he stood for Parliament and was elected Conservative member for the Isle of Thanet, which he held until the general election of 1945. During World War Two, he was Under-Secretary of State for Air under the premiership of Winston Churchill.
Harold Balfour (1937)
“Proof that he could still gun ‘em down!”
On a light-hearted note, his second wife, Mary Ainslie Profumo, was sister to the disgraced politician John Profumo of the infamous Profumo Affair, which badly damaged the government of Harold Macmillan. After the portly Lord Hailsham had attacked Profumo‘s morality, Balfour remarked on live television, “When a man has by self-indulgence acquired the shape of Lord Hailsham, sexual continence requires no more than a sense of the ridiculous”. Proof that he could still gun ‘em down!” (Michael J Hawkins)
Bapaume Seen from an Aeroplane at 10,000 Feet by Richard Carline (1896–1980) Imperial War Museum London
The River Scarpe (at 1 o’clock, above) is recalled fondly in the Canadian Canon Frederick George Scott’s The Great War As I Saw It: 100th Anniversary Edition (Illustrated) Kindle Edition, who also gives a droll account of his first flight over the Western Front:
Royal Flying Corps or Royal Air Force Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter in 1917-1918 period (Wiki)
The RAF Window and the altar. Henry VII’s Lady Chapel by Herry Lawford (Creative Commons, Flickr)
He was educated at Tonbridge School and Oxford and was mentioned in dispatches during the 1914-1918 war, receiving the Military Cross, D.F.C. and the French Croix de Guerre. During the Second World War, he was, in succession: Deputy Chief of Air Staff, Air Officer Commanding in Chief, first at Fighter Command, later at Middle East Command, and lastly at Coastal Command. He was thus involved in strategic decision making at the highest levels. He was noted for putting forward aggressive strategies to fight the Axis Powers. He was, for example, a notable supporter of the Big Wing strategy to fight the Battle of Britain, which also had support from, amongst others, Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and Acting Squadron Leader Douglas Bader.
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