Squadron Leader Jack Finnis DFC

This Wartime photo shows the crew in 1944.

Top row left to right: (all British)

Flight Sergeant John Johns WopAG - Flight Sergeant Dennis Wonfor mid upper gunner - Flight Sergeant John Beck Flight Engineer - Sergeant Joe Mallinson rear gunner.

Front row left to right:

Flight Lt. Robert V Allan (Rhodesian) - Squadron Leader Jack Finnis DFC (Rhodesian) - Flying Officer Leslie Edwards DFC (Rhodesian)

Bob Osborne of The Aircrew Association wrote on behalf of an ex RAF Flight Engineer, Sgt.John Beck, who flew with a well known Rhodesian pilot, Squadron Leader Jack Finnis DFC during the War on Lancasters. John Beck who is now in his 80s asks if anyone, old friends or family, might have more information on Jack Finnis.

John Beck met Squadron Leader Jack Finnis when they were at the LFS (Lancaster Finishing School) at RAF Syerston, John was asked by the Squadron Leader how many hours he had logged, John had to reply he had never flown before and had only been a Sergeant for two days. Jack Finnis borrowed a Short Stirling to give the crew some flying time and they logged about 8 hours in the next couple of days. In all John Beck got in about 20 hours before going on his first raid, not with Jack Finnis as there had been a mini riot in the Officers Mess after which Jack Finnis and two other officers were posted away, never to be heard of again. Possibly sent to Rhodesia.

From the book 'A Pride of Eagles' on page 28 Jack Finnis is mentioned as being a flying instructor operating out of Belvedere Airport in Salisbury, Rhodesia. This was in 1938, one of his fellow instructors being Charles Prince who later became Chief Air Traffic Controller and Airport manager at Mount Hampden, later named after Charles Prince when he died in the early 1970s. As it happens Charles Prince gave me my PPL flight test just a few months before his death.

Further mention of Jack Finnis is made in the book 'They Served Africa with Wings', on pages 89/90 he is recorded as being a 'magnificent flyer' by Mr Arthur Chatwin who flew from Belvedere Airport pre-War. Jack Finnis it seems started his flying career in South Africa, it is thought on the Cape to Cairo route before becoming a flying instructor with de Havilland in Rhodesia. Many of his pupils went on to form the nucleus of the famous 237 Rhodesia Squadron. When War broke out he was commissioned in the South African Air Force and in 1940 joined No.1 Squadron RAF flying Hurricanes, he flew in the Battle of Britain against the German Luftwaffe and was wounded in 1941. After recovering from his injuries he was then posted to bombers where John Beck must have met him. Later on in 1944 he was posted back to Southern Rhodesia and joined the SRAS (Southern Rhodesia Air Service) and later still post War the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) as an air traffic controller. A sad end is the report that he committed suicide in 1954 at Mount Hampden.

Having mentioned 237 Squadron, a family friend of my step-father was Harry Duncan who was a lawyer, one time judge in Gwelo during the 1960s; he too was with 237 Squadron and flew with Ian Smith amongst others. Harry's wife was Sheila and the last I knew of them was that they lived in Chispite, Salisbury. I have tried to find out more of Harry's flying career, like many men of his time he was a reluctant hero, as a boy all I was interested in was how many 'kills' he had got flying and fighting in North Africa and into Italy, Harry's reply was always he had no idea, as soon as the enemy aircraft started smoking he broke off the engagement to make sure he was not about to be shot down himself, a very sensible precaution to my mind.

If you wish to get in touch about Jack Finnis or Harry Duncan or wish to make contact again with John Beck please write to me or to Bob Osborne direct: bob.osborne@tiscali.co.uk March 2006.