Jim Henry - A lifetime's odyssey

RAF Career

Jim joined the RAF as a Squadron Leader just after the war. He served in parts of Africa and several places in the Middle East. When he retired in the 1970s, he’d reached the rank of Group Captain.

RAF Career

Keeping in Touch with Family While Away

During the fifties and sixties Jim’s foreign postings included Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia (as it was then, Zimbabwe now), Aden, and Episkopi in Cyprus.

He also had to travel to many other places, like Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey, Addis Ababa, Asmara and Meshed in Iran. His children loved hearing stories about how even when luggage was well wrapped up, that travelling in the desert meant that everything was filled with sand.

He knew Tehran quite well and was able to point out later that when the Iranian authorities named what seemed like an out- of- the- way street “Bobby Sands Street” it was where staff drove their cars into the British Embassy.

He told of how remote Meshed in Turkey was and how exotic the women seemed in their national dress like something out of the Arabian Nights and how Mt Ararat was where Noah’s ark came to rest after the flood, by tradition.

One of the ways Jim stayed in touch with his children when he was far away was by sending postcards.

One card, obviously sent at the time of his daughter’s First Communion, mentions a  Missal which was cherished for many years.

Jim’s son, Edmund, remembers his father telling him a Zulu story about how the chameleon can change its colour and how the black man came to have white palms of the hand and soles of the feet. There was a lake containing all the colours in the world and all you had to do, to change colours, was bathe in the water. The chameleon took so long in the water that he absorbed all the colours and when the Zulu went to the lake, there was only enough water left for the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands.

May also kept in touch with the children by post card. Her interest in history was often evident eg, she mentions on a postcard of Aden’s Main Pass that Cain (brother of Abel) is said to be buried near this spot.

Some people might have found the demands of leaving family behind a real problem and indeed some children might have missed their parents too much but the arrangement suited the Henry family.

One of the few occasions on which May lost her temper in public was when an acquaintance suggested that she didn’t have a real marriage because of all the separations. But one advantage of separation is reunion. When Jim came home it was a bit like Christmas and made up for his absence. On one particular occasion his return really was like Christmas. He came back from Aden with presents galore for everyone; each family menber starting with the oldest (his mother-in-law) had to go into the dining room where he handed out surprises, from car coats to gold watches.

Victoria Falls
Menelik11 in Addis Ababa
Durban 53
Message to JA