Cigar between his teeth, controls in his hand; Churchill in the pilot’s seat of the ‘most daring flight of the whole war’.
By Telegraph Reporters
THE TELEGRAPH, 9 July 2012—A collection of photographs showing Winston Churchill on board a transatlantic flight that was hunted by the Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force have been discovered.
The archive has emerged from the family of the man who was detailed to take photos on the Prime Minister’s return journey from the United States in January 1942.
Flight Officer Ron Buck kept back his own pictures from the trip that was later described as the “Most Daring Flight of the Whole War.”
Churchill had crossed the Atlantic by ship in order to lobby President Roosevelt to fight in Europe, but decided to fly home from Bermuda.
With some of his most senior colleagues, the Prime Minister embarked on what was to become a perilous 18 hours flight on the Boeing Clipper flying boat RMA “Berwick”.
Flight Officer Buck was an amateur photographer and this collection has remained in his family for the 70 years since the flight.
The archive includes a signed dinner menu from the historic crossing and a cartoon mocking the Luftwaffe because of its failure to shoot down the plane.
The menu showed they ate a shrimp cocktail, cold buffet, chicken, ham, beetroot, Bartlett pears with cream followed by coffee.
The photos show Churchill, cigar in mouth, at the controls of the plane, and also at the dinner table, glass in hand. He was the first head of state to cross the Atlantic by plane.
The Berwick, a Royal Mail Aircraft, had to be lightened in order to have enough fuel for the journey that was still a daring distance at that time.
Among those alongside Churchill were the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sur Dudley Pound, Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Portal and Lord Beaverbrook, Minister for Aircraft production.
Flying the “Berwick” was celebrated pilot Captain John Kelly-Rogers and he had to have his wits about him when the plane went too near the French town of Brest.
It was a heavily defended German naval base and a Luftwaffe squadron was scrambled to intercept the plane, but fortunately it couldn’t find it.
The “Berwick” flew for the last two hours of the flight with radio silence and ultimately approached England from an unexpectedly southern direction.
Churchill later recorded: “Six Hurricanes from Fighter Command were ordered to shoot us down… but failed in their mission.”
The plane landed safely in Plymouth and when the nation heard what had happened there was much relief.
Churchill must have been relieved himself because he later wrote: “I thought perhaps I had done a rash thing that there were too many eggs in one basket.
“I had always regarded an Atlantic flight with awe. But the die was cast.
“Still, I must admit that if at breakfast, or even before luncheon, they had come to me to report that the weather had changed and we must go by sea, I should have easily reconciled myself to a voyage in the splendid ship which had come all this way to fetch us.”
The archive was taken to an antiques roadshow event by Flight Officer Buck’s nephew Miles Buck, who lives in the New Zealand, north island town of Tauranga.
It is now being sold by Art and Object in Auckland with an estimate of 23,750 New Zealand dollars – about 12,000 pounds.
Hamish Coney, who discovered the archive when it was taken to the roadshow, said: “This is an incredible archive of pictures that has been kept by the family of Flight Officer Buck.
“His nephew brought them to one of our roadshows and they records the return journey of Churchill in 1942 from his visit to America.
“Pear Harbour had just been bombed and Churchill wanted Roosevelt to focus on Hitler in Europe.
“In terms of the direction and prosecution of war it was a significant moment and during his visit Churchill made a famous speech.
“For his return he made a rash decision to fly, which would save him about a week’s travel.
“There were concerns about U-boats, but transatlantic flights were still in their infancy.
“There was a big chunk of his war machine on board in an unarmed aircraft. It’s crazy really.
“There was no radio for the flight and these were huge planes and would have looked like a flying elephant on the radar.
“It was a really risky thing to do and onboard was Flight Officer Buck who was detailed to photograph the journey.
“These are his copies that have been with the family ever since and have great provenance.
“There is also a signed menu card, which shows what they ate on this flight.
“Already there has been a great deal of interest.” The sale is on July 11.
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