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The Airmen's Stories - F/O J R Bailey


James Richard Abe Bailey was born on 23rd October 1919. His father, Sir Abe Bailey, 1st Baronet, was born as long ago as 1864 and one of the few mining magnates who were South African by birth.

From modest beginnings Abe Bailey became a millionaire, chairman of 14 companies and a companion of Cecil Rhodes's (whose seat in the Cape legislature Bailey inherited). After the Boer War he worked with Louis Both as one of the creators of the Union of South Africa.





He was a friend of Winston Churchill's and a famous host at his houses near Cape Town and in Bryanston Square, London. It was at the latter that the meeting took place in December 1916 which led to Asquith's replacement as Prime Minister by Lloyd George.

By his second wife. Mary, daughter of the 5th Lord Rossmore, Sir Abe had two sons and three daughters. The elder of the sons is Sir Derrick Bailey, 3rd Bt; the younger was James.

Both Derrick and James were sent to Winchester. James Bailey went on to Christ Church College at Oxford and joined the University Air Squadron, from which he transferred to the RAFVR in June 1939.

Called up on 1st September 1939, he went to No. 1 ITW Cambridge in November and on 30th December he was posted to RAF College FTS Cranwell on No. 7 Course.

Bailey completed his flying training at 5 FTS Sealand and then went to No. 1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum. On 10th June 1940 he was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down and after he had converted to Defiants he joined 264 Squadron at Duxford on 19th June.

In late August Bailey took part in 264's last day-fighting engagements. On the 28th his Defiant was severely damaged in combat with Me109's of JG26. He made a forced-landing at Court Lodge Farm, Petham. Both he and his gunner, Sgt. OA Hardy, were unhurt. Before being shot down they damaged a He111.

On 22nd October Bailey joined 85 Squadron at Castle Camps, as it went over to night-fighting. He was with the squadron until July 1941, when he went to 1452 Flight, then forming at West Malling with Turbinlite Havocs. Soon afterwards, at his own request, he returned to 264 Squadron.

On 1st January 1942 Bailey moved to 125 Squadron at Fairwood Common, as a Flight Commander. Flying a Beaufighter on 20th September 1942, he damaged a Ju88 and on 10th November shot another down east of Montrose.

When his tour was completed Bailey was attached to the 415th Night Fighter Squadron USAF on 1st April 1943 as a Liaison Officer. In July he went to 54 OTU Charter Hall as an instructor. He later moved to RAF Honiley to help form 60 OTU for night-fighter pilots, and he was appointed CFI.

Bailey was posted to Italy in November 1943 and joined 600 Squadron at Monte Corvino on 3rd December. During the night of 29th February/1st March 1944 he shot down a Ju88 near Rome, on 2nd/3rd June a Ju87 and a Me110, on 6th/7th July another Ju88 and on the 10th/11th another Ju87.

Bailey completed his tour and was awarded the DFC (gazetted 8th September 1944). He returned to Britain and was given a staff job at the Air Ministry.

As light relief Bailey tried bee-keeping, taking his bees from one airbase to another during the Italian campaign. But this only 'confused the poor sods' he said and they never produced any honey.

At the end of the war Bailey returned to Oxford to complete his degree, rejoining the University Air Squadron. But the war had left him with a sense of loss, he recorded '...the RAF introduced me to a global village of men of all classes, races and backgrounds but it also killed most of my existing friends'.

Sir Abe had died in 1940 and James went back to South Africa after the war to take care of his father's estates. But he found himself estranged from his country by the continued repression, which became worse after the Nationalists took power in 1948.

He founded Drum, a magazine intended for, and largely to be written by, black Africans. In 1951 he was approached by a friend who thought there must be money to be made from millions of readers in South Africa and elsewhere in English-speaking Africa. But the first issue sold only 24,000 copies. After staff changes it was soon selling 350,000 copies.

By its heyday in the 1960s Drum was read by five million people throughout Africa. It chronicled life under apartheid with vividness and increasing bitterness. Drum was the only paper reporting at Sharpeville on the day of the shooting in 1960.


Above: Bailey in 1965.


The Pretoria government disliked Drum and suppressed it, in Nigeria it was nationalised by General Gowon's dictatorship; in Ghana it was threatened by another military regime and various governments in central and east Africa were hostile to an independent voice exposing corruption and brutality.

Bailey finally sold Drum in 1984.

He published several books of his own including The Sky Suspended , an account of his war.

Bailey died on 29th February 2000 aged 80.

(His brother Derrick also served in the RAF and was awarded the DFC. Their mother, Lady Bailey, who had flown a Gipsy Moth from London to Cape Town in 1932, served during the war as a ferry pilot delivering aircraft).


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