Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

 

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Air Chief Marshal The Earl of Bandon (16145)


Percy Ronald Gardner  

b: 30 Aug 1904                      r: 6 Feb 1964                        d: 8 Feb 1979

Earl:  18 May 1924, GBE - 1 Jan 1961 (KBE - 1 Jan 1957), CB - 5 Jul 1945, CVO - 16 Jul 1953, DSO - 30 Jul 1940, MiD - 1 Jan 1941, MiD - 1 Jan 1943, MiD – 1 Jan 1945, BSM: 15 Oct 1956, DFC (US) - 20 Dec 1946.  

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Plt Off:  17 Dec 1924, Fg Off: 17 Jun 1926, Flt Lt: 8 Jan 1930, Sqn Ldr: 1 Dec 1936, (T) Wg Cdr: 1 Jan 1940, (T) Gp Capt: 1 Dec 1941, Wg Cdr: 14 Apr 1942 [1 Jan 1940], Act A/Cdre: 19 Jul 1944, Gp Capt (WS): 19 Jan 1945, Act AVM: 14 Mar 1945 - 7 Oct 1945, (T) A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1946, Gp Capt: 1 Jan 1946, A/Cdre: 1 Jan 1948, Act AVM: 5 Jul 1951,  AVM: 1 Jan 1952, Act AM: 22 Jan 1956, AM: 1 Jul 1957, ACM: 1 Jul 1959.

xx xxx 1923:                 Flight Cadet, 'B' Sqn, RAF College. (Flt Cdt Sgt, Athletics/Rugby)  

17 Dec 1924:               Granted a Permanent Commission.

17 Dec 1924:               Pilot, No 4 Sqn.

19 Jul 1926:                 QFI, No 5 FTS.

 2 May 1930:               QFI, Central Flying School.

26 Dec 1930:               PA to AOC, RAF Middle East.

 7 Nov 1931:                Adjutant/Pilot, No 216 Sqn.

13 Jan 1936:                 Flight Commander, No 10 FTS - RAF Tern Hill

24 Jan 1938:                 Attended RAF Staff College Course.

31 Dec 1938:                Supernumerary, No 6 (Auxiliary) Group.

 2 Jan 1939:                  Plans 3, Directorate of Plans.

25 Aug 1939?:

1940:                            Staff Officer, HQ No 2 Group.

xx xxx 1940:                 Officer Commanding, No 82 Sqn.

xx xxx 1940:                 Officer Commanding, RAF Watton.

xx xxx 1941:                 Officer Commanding, RAF West Raynham.

xx xxx xxxx:                  Officer Commanding, RAF Horsham St Faith.

29 Dec 1942:               Air Staff, HQ Air Forces in India.

xx xxx xxxx:                  Air Staff, HQ SEAC

19 Jul 1944:                  AOC, No 224 Group.

 7 Oct 1945:                 Commandant, Royal Observer Corps.

xx Jan 1949:                 Attended Imperial Defence College.

16 Jan 1950:                 AOC, No 2 Group.

 5 Jul 1951:                   AOC, No 11 Group.

 1 Oct 1953:                 Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Training)

22 Jan 1956:                 C in C, 2nd Tactical Air Force

13 Jul 1957:                  C in C, Far East Air Force

 1 Mar 1961:                Commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe

The eldest of twins, his father, Ronald Percy Hamilton Bernard,  was the great-grandson of the 2 Earl of Bandon. Entering the RAF College as Flight Cadet Bernard in 1922, he became 5th Earl of Bandon on the death of his grandfather's cousin in 1924, whilst still undergoing his training.  Known throughout his RAF career as either 'Paddy' or 'The Abandoned Earl', his peerage was Irish and consequently did not carry a seat in House of Lords, but he did give the young service a Peer of the Realm amongst it's ranks, a common enough occurrence in the Army and Navy but not in the RAF.  In 1931 whilst serving with No 216 Squadron, he made the first non-stop flight from Khartoum to Cairo by re-filling his fuel tanks from cans inside the aircraft.

Early in 1939, he found himself posted as a staff officer to the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, although unable to speak French.  Fortunately, at the same time as he arrived to take up his new appointment, he met an old colleague, Roland Vintras, who had just been posted to the Directorate of Plans.  Knowing Vintras to be a fluent French speaker, he suggested they 'swap' posting which was agreeable to both and surprisingly sanctioned by the Air Ministry which obviously saw some logic in the arrangement.  However, he did not remain at the Air Ministry long, being posted to No 2 Group as a staff officer in early 1940 before returning to an operational command as CO of No 82 Squadron flying Blenheims, also in No 2 Group.  During his time in the Directorate of Plans he was a member of the committee that held talks in 1939 with delegates from Poland about the supply of Battles Hurricanes and Spitfires, but supplies failed to reach the country before the German victory.

On 17 May 1940, his squadron was detailed to carry out a raid against German columns around Gembloux.  When the expected fighter escort did not arrive, having already been intercepted by Bf109's, the twelve Blenhiems pressed on to the target and were themselves attacked by Bf109's.  All but one of the aircraft were shot down and that one collapsed when it landed back at base.  Faced with a squadron  consisting of himself, one flight commander, two Sergeant pilots and the ground crews, it was planned to disband the squadron but Paddy Bandon put forward the case on behalf of the ground crews that the squadron should be re-equipped and won the day.  That evening twelve new Blenhiems were delivered together with their crews.  The following day they carried out a practice flight and that night he led six of them on raid into Germany.  This quality of leadership earned him a well deserved DSO.

There is a rather humorous story regarding 'Paddy' Bandon  and although there are various versions of the it they are all based on an actual incident.  That is that during a rather riotous mess party , when he was a station commander, in which he was playing a leading role a somewhat disgusted Army Lt Col visiting the station attempted to pull rank and stop the proceeding.  Being asked by a Wing Commander who he was the Lt Col answered,

                "I am Lt Col Sir! xxxxxxxxx". 

To this the Wing Commander replied,

                "Well may I introduce Group Capt The Earl of Bandon,  so you're outranked on both counts".

As AOC, No 224 Group he continued to fly on operations, removing his usual rank badges and flying as a Fg Off.  He soon became heavily involved in the preparations for the invasion of Malaya but following a recce by Hurricane, the proposed landing beach on Akyab Island appeared to have been evacuated by the Japanese and the irrepressible Bandon suggested that it might be a good idea to meet the troops as they landed.  Therefore flying an Auster with AM Sir Alec Coryton as passenger and his SASO in another with General Christison they flew over the invasion fleet, landed inland and walked to the beach just in time to greet the invading troops.  Shortly afterwards he received a 'rocket' from the Supreme Commander himself, Lord Mountbatten.

In 1953 he was tasked with the quite formidable duty of planning the flypast for the Coronation Review of the RAF at Odiham which took place on 15 July.  This involved scheduling 640 aircraft to pass the reviewing point in 27 minutes.  On  completion of the flypast he proceeded to the saluting dais to pay his respects to the Queen who awarded him the CVO 'on the spot'.

Never one for officialdom he found himself  'in hot water' on a number of occasions, one such being in 1957 when he received a reprimand from George Ward, Secretary of State for Air, for stating to the press that tactical nuclear weapons would soon be issued to forces in Europe. Yet another reprimand arrived from Lord Mountbatten after his virtual high-jacking of the Indian Ocean island of Gann as a RAF staging post.  During his tenure as C in C, FEAF he took the opportunity of flying aboard Sunderland 'P-Peter' of 205/209 Sqn when it made the last flight by a RAF flying boat on 15 May 1959.  He then took the salute at the disbandment of the Squadron at Changi on the 31st of the month.  

"As  a lowly corporal at R A F Gutersloh in the early fifties " Paddy " Bandon came on a C-in-Cs inspection visit, part of his itinerary brought him to the ' Transmitters site ' where I was on duty. Naturally the place was Spic and Span, for said visit, with the transmitter hall floor gleaming. In my white coat ( for the occasion ) and skating around on folded blanket pads to maintain the high gloss on the floor, the C-in-C entered the transmitter hall, stopped and mumbled something through his large moustache, having decyphered what he said, I quickly skated my bumper pads across to him and he proceeded to slide up to me, he suddenly realised his team of followers were stamping across the polished floor.  He boomed out 

"why do you lot not realise why I am sliding on these pads"

 they all jumped en-mass to the sides of the hall. Turning to me he said 

" been here long ?" 

"no sir I replied" ,   

he said "do you smoke or drink ? ",

" no sir" 

Then turning to his followers he joking replied

"watch this one for black marketing NESCAFE".

 
The Earl and Lady Bandon in their residence at  Fontainbleau. The Earl of Bandon on his final parade at Fontainbleu Lady Bandon in their residence at Fontainbleu

All photos above are courtesy of Joe Connelly©

Another anecdote has been sent to me by Jock Devlin MBE: -

Ten years later while I was stationed at the HQ AAFCENT, The Earl as Supreme Commander was invited to a dining night in the Sgts Mess, after dinner and mingling with we members he came to me (don't know if he had a good spy organisation or something).   He said 

"I know you, your the young chap,  who didn't smoke or drink I met at Gutersloh some time ago"

He was a great individual and I met him numerous times while out shopping with my Wife and he never missed saying ' Hello Jock '"

Another anecdote has been sent to me by John Seccombe (ex Ch Tech RAF)

"In the middle of the secret war in the Omam "Paddy" the Earl of Bandon flew himself into RAF Salalah. He stayed with three officers in the officers mess until the evening and then came to the sergeants mess where he introduced himself as Paddy. All eight members of the RAF sergeants mess were enthralled with his company and his many stories he told that night. We did not get to bed until gone three in the morning.

I met him again in 1974 at RAF Staff College Bracknell, once again in the sergeants mess at that time he told me that he would lock up the mess if I wanted to retire.

The son of Air Commodore Eric Nelson supplied the following: -

"Paddy Bandon was fishing the River Bandon in Ireland and had hooked into a large salmon that was proving a challenge to control. A woman walking down the riverside path while he was trying to subdue his salmon started to berate him for being cruel to fish. She buzzed around him like an annoying bee waving her umbrella in his face and telling him what a cruel man he was. He eventually managed to land the salmon and, kneeling down, whacked it on the head in front of her with his deerhorn “priest”. He then stood up and said, “Madam, have you quite finished?" She growled a final insult and nodded. He asked, “Do you know why this fish died?” She grunted something inaudible. He said, “It’s because it opened its mouth too bloody wide.”"

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