Group Captain Alfred 'Ken' Gatward - Beau Geste
A reporter before the war, Ken Gatward was a skilful pilot who had already achieved fame for his low angle attacks on Nazi Germans preparing for the invasion of Britain. In 1942, he was asked to volunteer for a daring flight into Nazi-occupied Paris.
He and his navigator, George Fern, agreed to fly low down the Champs-Elysees in their Beaufighter, strafe a Nazi parade, and drop a huge Tricolour over the Arc de Triomphe.
On June 12th Gatward and Fern took off from Thorney Island in pouring rain. As they reached the French coast the rain stopped and the sun came out, making them vulnerable to interception.
. . .A crow smashed into the Beaufighter's oil cooler radiator causing the oil gauge to read erratically and the temperature to increase.
Eventually Gatward saw the Eiffel Tower sticking up like a match-stick and at 12.27pm banked to port and headed towards the Champs-Elysees.
"I'll never forget the astonishment of the crowd in the Paris streets as we swept low at rooftop level. They had been taken completely by surprise," he was to recall later. Unfortunately the intelligence source had got the time of the parade wrong and he had arrived several minutes early. However, Fern, a schoolmaster before the war, released the Tricolour down the flare shute like a harpoon over the Arc de Triomphe.
Sighting the Ministere de la Marine in the Place de la Concorde, Gatward flew south over the Seine, and returned again to rake the building with 20mm cannon shells. The gun fire terrified the SS troops who, much to Gatward's delight, were seen running for their lives.
Just clearing the Gestapo building, Garward turned for home.
. . .With bleak news coming in from the Western Desert the excitement created by this spectacular raid raised the morale of France and Britain.
His two brothers were killed in the war. Gatward battled on.
With the loss of his commanding officer, he took over command in March 1944. In August he led a well- orchestrated raid with 24 Beaufighters against enemy shipping in Norwegian waters and, although under intense fire from ship and shore, succeeded in sinking four minesweepers and putting a destroyer out of action.
Gatward ended his 30 years with the RAF as a Group Captain at Air Cadet Headquarters at White Waltham. He was then commissioned into the training branch of the RAFVR as a Flight Lieutenant where he delighted in calling people "Sir" who had formerly called him "Sir".
After leaving the RAF he enjoyed his retirement with his wife Pamela and was much at home in his masthead sloop Flap at Walton-on-the-Naze, in Essex.
What a guy.
Thanks to John Hart of Britain's CV for passing this story to us.