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The Sphere...

The Sphere, Wings Over Olympus, and Special Duties

Published RAF official photographs taken proudly from The Sphere (a long out of print illustrated weekly), from Wisdom’s Wings Over Olympus and from Lee’s Special Duties. These long out of copyright works had and still have some of the best 211 photographs of the Middle East period, although copying is now difficult.

I searched for 15 years for published pictures of my father. He recalled that a 211 Squadron story had appeared in The Illustrated London News during their time in Greece. Industrious trawling in the National Library of Australia through the 1940 and 1941 volumes found only a brief Valona raid entry and a little puzzle: a single weekly issue was missing from the 8 volumes, and from the March 1941 sequence at that.

Confronted with this, Dad remarked “Well, maybe it was the Tatler!”. Back to the trawling...no result. Eventually Bill Baird solved part of the mystery for me, so back once more to the NLA and there, in the bound volumes of The Sphere from 1941 lay what seemed to be the story, all too brief.

In the style of the time, these immensely popular illustrated weeklies relied heavily on official sources. Though profusely illustrated both by artist and by official photograph, they were carefully sparse on detail, both units and places remaining anonymous.

It is very hard to get good copies from such enormous volumes. By persistent searching, fair copies of war-time issues can still be found, making for the much better copies of the plates now shown here.

The Sphere
British Airmen Return From the Dead (4 January 1941)

    Blenheim I GF & Geary
    British Airmen “Return From The Dead” in Greece [The Sphere/RAF official]
    Gordon-Finlayson and Arthur Geary pose for the camera after their triumphant return. A pity Gerry Davies wasn’t close at hand to take part. The original caption reads:

    “An RAF bomber crew were reported “Missing feared killed” but they nevertheless made their way back to their base after a series of amazing experiences. Hits from anti-aircraft shells forced them to land on the beach of a tiny island. Later, they reached the Greek mainland in a fishing-boat. When their identity was discovered they were feted in the village and carried round in triumph. They were showered with bouquets, wine and other gifts, and the Squadron Leader (seen on the left above) made a speech from the Town Hall steps”.

The Men Who Fought For Greece 3 May 1941
This carefully worded story included these fine shots.

    After their safe landing at a British Air Station
    “After their safe landing at a British Air Station [The Sphere/RAF official]
    The rest of the caption read:

    “Two members of the crew of a Blenheim bomber who had just carried out a successful raid on the Italians in Greece”.

    Possibly WOp/AG Sgt Duffy, left, F/O Hugh Clutterbuck (pilot) right. The shot was cropped for publication, as explained on Clutterbuck’s page, where the original shot of the three-man crew is shown.

    211 aircrew debrief Greece
    211 Squadron aircrew debriefing [The Sphere/RAF official]
    Greek liaison officer (left) with 211 Squadron aircrew. Sgt
    Bill Baird stands third from the left, Sgt James Dunnet fifth from the left. Between them, partly obscured, may be the Operations Sergeant, “Peggy” O’Neill. Sgt “Tam” Hughes stands hands in pockets, immediately to the right of Dunnett. The figure nearest the camera on the right looks very like Sgt Bill Stack. Also obscured and third from the right, between Hughes and Stack, CFR “Nobby” Clark.

Several more years went by before Adrian Fryatt spotted odd copies of Parade Middle East Weekly at a local trash and treasure market in the summer of 2006, which prompted me to check once more in the NLA. There at last was the whole story—which now graces a page here, Return Trip Across the Styx.

Wings over Olympus

    Back from Corfu II: “The Bish” and Arthur
    Back from Corfu II: “The Bish” and Arthur

    211 Sqdn briefing Paramythia
    The Bish briefing his crews
    Head bowed, The Bishop leads morning prayers. 10 miles long the valley, they say. How wide? Well, wide enough to do a go-round in a Blenheim with one engine out.

    Bristol Blenheim I Paramythia
    Back from Bousi
    Left to right,
    O’Neill, TH Wisdom (author of Wings Over Olympus), Alan Godfrey, Jack Wainhouse. A cracking Blenheim shot. See Wisdom’s Return Trip Across the Styx.

Special Duties
AVM Lee’s account of his experience in BAFG HQ and after includes this gem.

    Dad, Jock and the boys  await a briefing
    Paramythia. Aircrews await briefing for operations
    Jock Marshall, far right, in short sleeves and sheepskin jerkin. Nobby Clark facing him centre, 6th from the right, head only visible. To Marshall’s left, Steve Geary stands back to camera, next to Geary and also turned away, Bill Stack. Seated in the foreground, Sgts Hughes, Tickner and Arscott. Sgts Sharratt and Martin standing at the left rear. Taken sometime between mid February and early April 1941, this shot also appeared in Return Trip Across the Styx and later in James Dunnet’s Blenheim Over the Balkans.

Illustrated Newspapers Ltd The Sphere: The Empire’s Illustrated Weekly Vol CLXV 4 Jan 1941, 3 May 1941
Lee ASG Special Duties (Sampson Low, no date)
Wisdom TH Wings Over Olympus (Allen and Unwin 1942)

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Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 12 Sep 2021. Page created 28 Oct 2001, last updated 26 Jan 2009
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