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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. W J Harper


William John Harper was born in Calcutta on 22nd July 1916 and educated at North Point, India and Windsor, England. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in July 1937.

Posted at first to 6 FTS Netheravon on 18th September, he then went on to the staff at RAF Leuchars on 7th May 1938.

Harper was serving with 17 Squadron in early 1940 and over Dunkirk on 29th May he shared in probably destroying a Me110.

On 15th August Harper was flying one of six Hurricanes airborne to intercept 20+ German fighters. The six were reduced to three by Ground Control and in the event only Harper was able to make contact. After attacking and damaging a Me109 his Hurricane, P3891, was badly damaged and, with a dead engine, Harper made a crash-landing near Laurel Farm, Felixstowe.

He was admitted to Felixstowe Cottage Hospital with face and leg wounds.



On 23rd March 1941 he was posted to 57 OTU Hawarden to instruct. In October Harper was posted to the Far East and on 15th December 1941 took command of 453 (RAAF) Squadron at Ipoh. Its role was to defend ships of the Eastern Fleet and it was heavily engaged in battles. The pilots courageously fought until there were only five aircraft left and 453 moved back to Kuala Lumpur.

In spite of replacements, only three Buffalos were still serviceable on 22nd December.

21 and 453 Squadron were combined as 21/453 at Singapore on 24th December under Harper's command. It retired to Batavia in February 1942 and was disbanded on arrival at Adelaide on 15th March. Harper did not go to Australia but left the squadron at Colombo and was posted to India. He commanded 135 Squadron at Dum Dum in June/ July 1942 and 92 Squadron in North Africa from January to May 1943.

Harper retired from the RAF on 22nd April 1949 and emigrated to Rhodesia to begin farming. He later turned to mining and started an earth-moving business. In May 1958 he was elected to the Southern Rhodesian Parliament as Member for Gatooma.

Harper became President of the Dominion Party in 1959. He resigned on 2nd February 1962 to coordinate opposition to the United Federal Party Government. When the Rhodesian Front came to power on 17th December 1962, Harper became a Cabinet Minister.

On 13th April 1964, when Ian Smith was elected, Harper was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. He split with Smith on 4th July 1968, resigned as an MP and left the Rhodesian Front Party.

He was out of public life until February 1972, when he became one of the founders of the United Front Party. Harper was noted for his strong views on white supremacy.

He died on 27th July 2013.



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