Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The Story Behind This Photo of a RAF Pilot:

by David Frum at The Daily Beast

Remember that photo of the RAF pilot getting his hair cut between missions?

His name was Francis Mellersh, and it turns out his daughter is a friend-of-a-friend. She sends more of the story:

We have the original of the photo, and the book (he was crazy about John Buchan) and that bloody pipe killed him in the end at 72. I'm afraid those who have been to war and daily diced with death are rather cavalier with their health. I'll tweet you a pic of him in his 60s . . . the red hair's faded to strawberry blonde but still recognisably the chap getting his hair cut.

Instead of resuming his Oxford studies at the end of the war he remained in the RAF for another 30 plus years and flew right until the end (often with the Red Arrows - stress!). He reached Air Vice Marshal and was Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff. He was a very modest man, very laid-back (that photo says it all) and spoke little of the war.

You'll like this bit. My grandfather, his father, was a WW1 ace and was on the sortie which downed the Red Baron. Forensic historians of course now say he was shot from the ground . . . my grandfather's eye witness account is often quoted. We have a little box made from Richthofen's propeller wood. He too made a career of the RAF, was in charge of operations in Burma etc in WW2 and, at one point, my father's boss . . . somewhat disastrously! He died in a bizarre accident shortly after retiring . . . ironic given he survived the RB.

My grandfather was AVM Sir Francis (FJW) Mellersh, nickname "Tog" and my father AVM Francis (FRL) Mellersh, known always as Togs (nanny's nickname ie. "of Tog"). Quite ridiculous. I have their obituaries and citations and some extracts from Aces High etc as well as my father's log book filled in somewhat irreverently. He flew Beaufighters, Mosquitoes and Spitfires.

Francis Mellersh was twice awarded Britain's Distinguished Flying Cross and was recommended for the Victoria Cross.


  1. How's that for family history ...

  2. Now THAT'S a story worth telling!

    My grandfather came back from WWI with a fondness for French cheeses and an ammo box of souvenirs...no propeller wood, though. He, too, didn't seem overly concerned about his health and ate whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to. He died shortly after his 91st birthday.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. What a great story! It's refreshing to know that such men of character aren't forgotten

  4. My Opa was Royal Dutch Artillery, never fired a shot in WW1 combat. Neutral and all that. The disarmament imbeciles (hello, 0blabla..)made it so that in 1940 close to our place, 400 guys were defending their line with muzzleloaders against nazi mechanized armor. 399 did not make it back. A relative of an older neighbour was that one. He did not speak a word for over a decade, he stayed around our yard a lot, and taught me how to walk. Von Clausewitz said no one starts a war expecting to lose it. 0blabla will gut our strength, and we will rue his reign when emboldened enemies perceive victory over us, the heathen decadent liberal west.
    Much as I appreciate the service of the Mellersh clan, and untold others, we can not muster the social cohesion to duplicate it today.
    History will repeat.