Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

 

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Marshal of the RAF Lord Cameron of Balhousie (102585)


Neil                              b: 8 Jul 1920,              r:  1 Sep 1979,                                d: 29 Jan 1985

Baron - 31 Dec 1982 (Conferred 17 Mar 1983), KT – 2 Dec 1983, GCB – 12 Jun 1976 (KCB – 1 Jan 1975, CB – 1 Jan 1971), CBE – 10 Jun 1967, DSO – 2 Oct 1945, DFC – 21 Nov 1944, AE - 1968, MiD - 2 Jun 1943,  Fellow King's College - 1980, Hon LLD (King's College, London)  

(RAFVR): Plt Off: 31 Jul 1941, Fg Off: 4 Mar 1942,  Act Flt Lt: 4 Dec 1941, Flt Lt (WS):  4 Mar 1943, Act Sqn Ldr: 31 Mar 1943,

(RAF): Flt Lt: 1 Sep 1945, Act Sqn Ldr: 22 May 1949, Sqn Ldr: 1 Jan 1950, Act Wg Cdr: 8 Dec 1953, Wg Cdr: 1 Jan 1956,  Gp Capt:  1 Jul 1960, A/Cdre: 1 Jul 1964, Act  AVM: 1 Feb 1968, AVM: 1 Jul 1968, Act AM: 7 Dec 1973, AM: 1 Jul 1974, ACM: 1 Nov 1975, MRAF: 31 Jul 1977.

13 May 1939          U/T Sergeant Pilot, RAFVR. (748176)

 1 Oct 1939            Initial Training, No 3 Initial Training Wing - Hastings.

26 Mar 1940           Elementary pilot training, No 15 EFTS.

 8 Jun 1940             Advanced training, No 8 SFTS.

31 Aug 1940           Operational training, No 5 OTU, Aston Down (Hurricanes).

26 Sep 1940           Sergeant Pilot, No 1 Sqn, Wittering (Hurricanes).

15 Oct 1940           Sergeant Pilot, No 17 Sqn, Elgin/Leconfield (Hurricanes).

28 Jul 1941             Pilot/Flight Commander, No 134 Sqn, North Russia/Catterick (Hurricanes/Spitfire).

28 Aug 1942           Flight Commander, No 213 Sqn, Western Desert (Hurricanes).

 3 Apr 1943            Adviser, No 335 (Hellenic) Sqn, (Hurricanes).

 5 Oct 1943            Air Staff - Fighter Operations, HQ No 224 Group

 1 Feb 1944            Officer Commanding, No 258 Sqn, Far East (Hurricanes/Thunderbolts).

xx xxx xxxx:            Appointed to Permanent Commission in the rank of Flight Lieutenant (retaining rank current at the time) [wef 1 Sep 1945]

13 Oct 1945           Instructor, School of Air Support (Land/Air Warfare).

14 Apr 1948           RAF Liaison Officer, HQ Rhine Army.

25 Oct 1948           Attended RAF Staff College, Andover.

22 May 1949          Air Staff, Directorate of Organisation (04).

xx xxx 1950            Hospitalisation

31 Jan 1952            Aircrew Selection Duties, London.

 8 Dec 1953            Directing Staff, RAF Staff College - Bracknell.

26 Aug 1956           Officer Commanding, University of London Air  Squadron.

27 Nov 1958           PSO to the Chief of the Air Staff.

24 Oct 1960            Officer Commanding, RAF Abingdon.

 8 Jan 1963              Attended Imperial Defence College.

27 Dec 1963            Principal Staff Officer to Deputy Supreme Commander Europe .

15 Feb 1965            Staff, RAF College Cranwell.

 1 May 1965            Assistant Commandant (Dept of Cadets) - RAF College, Cranwell.

26 Sep 1966            RAF Member of Programme Evaluation Group.

1 Feb 1968             Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Policy).

 1 Sep 1970             SASO, HQ Air Support Command/Chief of Staff, HQ No 46 Group.

 9 Dec 1972             Deputy Commander, RAF Germany.

 7 Dec 1973             AOC, No 46 Group

 5 Oct 1974             Air Member for Personnel

 6 Aug 1976 - 31 Jul 1977:    Air ADC to the Queen.

 7 Aug 1976            Chief of the Air Staff

 31 Aug 1977             Chief of the Defence Staff

The son of a retired Company Sergeant Major in the Seaforth Highlanders and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, his father died three weeks after his birth, Neil was brought up in Perth and educated at the Northern District School.  In 1937 he gained a post with the Commercial Bank of Scotland in Newburgh, Fife.  He joined the RAFVR and started his training in May 1939.  Called up in September 1939, he completed his initial and flying training and was then selected to fly fighters.  Converting  to Hurricanes, he was  posted to No 1 Sqn but  soon moved to No 17.  Taking part in the final stages of the Battle of Britain, after which the squadron then moved to Elgin.  However his flight was detached to Leconfield where it provided the nucleus of a new squadron, No 134.  Earmarked for operations with No 151 Wing in North Russia, it set  in HMS Argus on 19 August 1941.  In Russia, the Wing took part in operations with the Soviet Naval Air Arm as well as converting Russian pilots to the Hurricanes which 134 left with the Russians on returning to Catterick, where it re-equipped with Spitfires, flying convoy patrols over the North Sea.

134 was soon  on the move again,  this time to the Middle East.  However on arrival they were informed that their aircraft had been lost in the Atlantic and instead they were sent to operate with No 213 Sqn in the Western Desert.  During this period of his career, he took part in one of the few, if not the only RAF operation from a base behind enemy lines.  Flying from a Landing Ground 200 miles south of the coast, they harassed German and Italian lines of communication in areas thought to be outside the range of single seat fighters. After two and a half years constant operations  he was recalled and posted to train No 335 (Hellenic) Sqn.

He was next posted to India to command a Spitfire squadron but on arrival  was informed that the squadron was still in transit and  had a CO, he therefore, found himself at HQ No 224 Group working in the Operations Cell.  It was not long before a squadron became available, No 258, initially flying Hurricanes and later Thunderbolts.  The squadron took part in operations along the Arakan coast of Burma.  As a result of his experiences, he became something of an Army Support specialist which led to his first post war posting to the School of Air Support at Old Sarum where he was offered and accepted a permanent commission.  Attendance at the RAF Staff College was followed by a posting to the Air Ministry.

In he was taken ill with sub-acute bacterial endocarditis, a condition which could have been fatal had it not been for the development of anti-biotics. It was nearly two years before he was sufficiently recovered to resume his service career.  Unfortunately, his illness resulted in the imposition of a restricted flying categorisation.  Initially  not allowed to fly as a passenger, he eventually regained his qualification as a co-pilot and then as a captain with an experienced co-pilot. Restricted to non jet aircraft types he was appointed CO of the University of London Air Squadron responsible for providing air experience and initial flying training to undergraduates. 

At the last minute, his  posting to Washington as a member of the NATO Standing Group, was changed to one at the Air Ministry as PSO to the CAS first ACM Sir Dermot Boyle and then ACM Sir Thomas Pike.  He was then appointed Station Commander at RAF Abingdon, where he was responsible for two Beverley squadrons, No's 47 and 53 as well as No 1 Parachute Training School.    Having completed a course at the Imperial Defence College  he was requested to join his old 'boss', ACM Sir Tom Pike, now Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe as his PSO.

Promoted to Air Commodore, he took up the newly created appointment of Assistant Commandant (Cadets) at the RAF College, Cranwell.  This post resulted from the upgrading of the Commandant to an AVM post following the amalgamation of the RAF College with the RAF Technical College from Henlow. Joining the Programme Evaluation Group, which was effectively a think tank for the then Minister of Defence, Mr Denis Healey, almost ended his RAF career prematurely.  This Group composed of military, civil service and scientific members was  tasked with looking at defence issues from all angles without any individual service bias.  Unfortunately this post and his next post as ACDS (Policy), which was created for him, led to him being almost outcast by the traditional RAF establishment,  resulting in him remaining in the rank of AVM for six years and sidelined into a number of posts with little likelihood of further advancement.

However, the appointment of ACM Sir Andrew Humphrey as CAS, ended his banishment to the wilderness and he was soon back on the promotion ladder moving through a number of posts in a reasonably short time until he was himself chosen as Sir Andrew’s successor as CAS when he was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff.  However, the untimely illness and death of Sir Andrew, after only four months in office resulted in his own appointment as CDS.   Sir Neil soon developed a reputation for speaking his mind as CDS and he raised the public image of the post considerably.  During his tenure of the post, he became the first CDS to pay an official visit to the People's Republic of China as well as fighting for a substantial pay award for servicemen and he was not adverse to the 'leaking' of official retirement figures to strengthen the forces' case. 

On  retirement  he accepted the post of Principle of King's College in London showing the same tenacity and dedication to this post as he had to his RAF/Defence Staff appointments.  He was created a Life Peer in the 1983  taking the title Lord Cameron of Balhousie, in the District of Perth and Kinross. Unfortunately before his final retirement, he was taken seriously ill and was admitted to hospital, where he died of cancer.

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