April 1, 2018
The first of April marks the centenary of the founding of the Royal Air Force by amalgamation of the army and navy air services. On this day I would like to pay a personal tribute to a minor participant in the historic development.
My father, Louis Harris, was born in 1888 to a humble family in Birmingham. In the First World War he joined up in the army. In 1917 he volunteered for training as a pilot and was immediately shipped out to Egypt with the forces sent to support Allenby’s campaign against the Turks. There was a flying school in Egypt and he was soon commissioned as a lieutenant in the newly formed RAF.
In my papers back in Canada there is a photo of him in his head-to-ankle leather flying suit clutching the velvet black cat his mother gave him as a mascot. There is also a photo of him standing beside the De Lesseps statue at Port Said.
He used to carry bombs in his cockpìt and release them by throwing them over the side of the aircraft. Unfortunately, despite the mascot, his plane crashed. He was in a coma for a week and barred from flying again. So they put him in charge of a refugee camp near Cairo until he was shipped home and demobilised. He enjoyed the experience and learnt some Arabic.
One consequence, many years later, was that he encouraged me to learn Arabic and arranged for me to go and study in the Egyptian capital. He also visited Barcelona in the 1920s, made friends there and later encouraged me to learn Spanish, for which purpose he passed on to me his dog-eared copy of Hugo’s ‘Teach Yourself Spanish in Three Months’.
For many years he used to take me and my brother to watch the annual RAF air displays at Hendon Aerodrome.
As I am now 88 myself and my mother and only sibling are dead. It may be that nobody else is left who remembers him. But I do.