Bernard O’Connor

Bernard O’Connor

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Bernardo O'Connor

Bernardo O'Connor y Ophaly, Spanish-Irish General, (Strasbourg, 1696 – 1780). First Count of Ofalia in 1776 by King Charles III of Spain in remembrance of the Baronetcy of Ophaly, County Kildare, Ireland, where his family came from. He was a military governor of Tortosa, Pamplona and Barcelona. He was also Captain General of Castilla la Vieja and Captain General of Granada. He had no family issue.

The title was inherited by Felix Maria de Salabert O'Brien-O'Connor Ophaly, born about 1775, the son of a grand niece of this Bernard O'Connor, daughter of an O'Brien, Spanish-Irish Colonel of Dragoons and an Isabel O'Connor Ophaly woman, related to Bernardo, perhaps a niece.

Felix Maria de Salabert was on his own right, 5th Marqués de la Torrecilla de Valmadrid, title by King Charles II of Spain awarded on 25 September 1688 in and 6th Marqués de Valdeolmos, title awarded also by King Charles II of Spain on 3 July 1687.

He came from an Aragonese family named Salabert and females from the Aguerri-Churruca Navarrese branch, majors of the town of Madrid, all of them, with very wealthy family backgrounds indeed.

Both Spanish General O'Connor and Spanish Dragoons Colonel O'Brien were the result of what is usually described in Irish history as the Flight of the Wild Geese at the end of the 17th century.


O'Connor was born in Stepney, East London, to Maude (née Bassett), a Jewish cleaner, and Harry O'Connor, an Irish dustman. He was raised in his mother’s faith and often joked that he was the first O’Connor to have a bar mitzvah. [3]

In his childhood, he had rickets and was later badly injured in a hit-and-run car accident which meant he had to be in an iron lung for six months. [4] He had a brother, William, and a sister, Patricia, one year his junior. He was evacuated to Northampton during the Second World War, where he worked in a shoe factory and was a schoolboy and reserves player with Northampton Town. [4] [5]

After completing his national service in the Royal Air Force, he worked as a Redcoat at Butlin's holiday camp in Filey, where he met his first wife Phyllis, and as a shoe salesman at Church's in Northampton, and for United Counties, both on the road and in the office, [6] before entering show business. Prior to his break on television, his first fully professional stage appearance in variety, was in a Newcastle theatre. Later, while he was in Leeds, he invited the Welsh singer Shirley Bassey out on two dates. [3] In 1958, when Buddy Holly toured the UK, O'Connor was the show's compère for which he was paid £100 per week. [2]

Stage Edit

O'Connor appeared at the Glasgow Empire, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, the Opera House, Sydney, and the O'Keefe Centre, Toronto, and made more than one thousand solo appearances at the London Palladium. [4]

In May 2012, O'Connor replaced Russell Grant in the West End musical, The Wizard of Oz, at the London Palladium, as Professor Marvel, Doorman at the Emerald City, Tour Guide, and The Wizard. [7]

In October 2015, O'Connor and Jimmy Tarbuck starred in their own one-off show at the London Palladium to raise money for the new Royal Variety Charity. Due to the success of this show, they toured the country in 2016 from April to October. The venues they visited were (in chronological order), the Southampton Mayflower Theatre, Leeds Grand Theatre, Southend Cliffs Pavilion, Bristol Hippodrome, Bournemouth International Centre, and Milton Keynes Theatre. [ citation needed ]

In 2017, O'Connor toured theatres around the UK with his one-man show. [ citation needed ]

Television Edit

O'Connor starred in mainstream television shows in almost every year from 1963 until the 2000s, a feat that only one other television personality has achieved worldwide (U.S. game show host Bob Barker, who hosted mainstream television shows from 1956 until 2007, with 1966–1972 being in syndication).

  • Between 1963 and 1971 O'Connor hosted The Des O'Connor Show, a British variety show, for eight series on ITV. This was followed by Des O'Connor Entertains, a show which ran for two series between 1974 and 1976 and featured singing, dancing, and comedy sketches. In 1969, thirteen editions of the show were sold to NBC in the United States, as a summer replacement for the network's Kraft Music Hall. The series was broadcast in more than forty countries. [citation needed]
  • Between 1977 and 2002, O'Connor presented his own chat show series entitled Des O'Connor Tonight which lasted for seven series on BBC Two and later seventeen on ITV.
  • From 1992 to 1998 O'Connor presented the game show Take Your Pick where he met fourth wife Jodie Wilson. In 1995 and 1997 O'Connor compèred the Royal Variety Performance.
  • In January 2001 ITV aired An Audience with Des O'Connor.
  • From 2002 to 2006 O'Connor co-hosted Today with Des and Mel opposite Melanie Sykes. The show was a lunchtime light entertainment programme aired on ITV. On 12 May 2006, the channel announced that the show would be one of a number to be axed in a "painful, but utterly necessary" move. [8]
  • In January 2007, O'Connor replaced Des Lynam as co-presenter of the Channel 4 game show Countdown with Carol Vorderman. He left the show in 2008 to spend more time on theatre and entertainment-based projects. [9] In 2009, O'Connor was replaced by sports presenter Jeff Stelling.
  • In April 2012, ITV aired The One and Only Des O'Connor, a one-off show that celebrated O'Connor's 80th birthday, with guests including Katherine Kelly, Olly Murs, Robert Lindsay, and Melanie Sykes. [10]

Guest appearances Edit

  • O'Connor appeared as a guest on The Morecambe and Wise Show a number of times. He was the butt of many a joke by Eric Morecambe, being referred to as "Des – short for 'desperate", and "Death O'Connor". [11] One line, sung to the tune of "Crazy Words – Crazy Tune" was, "Roses are red, violets are blue, Des can't sing, we know that's true!". (O'Connor was actually an old friend of the duo, and even participated in writing many of the "put-downs".)
  • In May 2012, O'Connor took part in the TV game show Would I Lie to You?.
  • In December 2012, O'Connor was invited to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Variety Performance with Bruce Forsyth, Ronnie Corbett, and Jimmy Tarbuck. [12]
  • In December 2012, O'Connor partnered Lee Mack in a celebrity edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
  • In December 2013, O'Connor appeared in a celebrity edition of The Chase.
  • In October 2014, O'Connor was a panellist on an episode of Through the Keyhole.
  • In April 2017, O'Connor was on the panel of Harry Hill's Alien Fun Capsule.

Singing Edit

O'Connor had a successful career as a singer, recording 36 albums, [13] five of which reached the Top 40 of the UK Albums Chart. O'Connor appeared with Morecambe and Wise on several of their Christmas Shows. [14] He worked with many pop stars, including Adam Faith, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, and Cilla Black. [ citation needed ] He toured with Buddy Holly (during Holly's 1958 stay in Britain) [15] and Jason Donovan. [ citation needed ]

He recorded four top 10 singles [16] – including "I Pretend", which topped the UK singles chart in 1968, and "The Skye Boat Song", a 1986 duet with Roger Whittaker.

His singing ability was often parodied on The Morecambe & Wise Show, with O'Connor taking part in the sketches. [2]

O'Connor was the first subject of the second incarnation of the long-running television programme This Is Your Life, when the show returned to screens after a five-year absence, produced by Thames Television. He was surprised live on the stage of the London Palladium by Eamonn Andrews in November 1969. [4]

In 2001, O'Connor was presented with the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards for his contribution to television.

In 2002, his autobiography, Bananas Can't Fly!, was published. [17]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours. [18]

A month after his death, ITV aired a tribute, titled Des O'Connor: The Ultimate Entertainer, on 13 December 2020.

O'Connor was married four times:

  1. Phyllis Gill (married 1953, divorced 1959 daughter Karen O'Connor)
  2. Gillian Vaughan (married 1960, divorced 1982 two daughters)
  3. Jay Rufer (married 1985, divorced 1990, one daughter)
  4. Jodie Brooke Wilson (married September 2007 one son)

On 14 November 2020, O'Connor died in his sleep in hospital, aged 88, following a fall at his home in Buckinghamshire a week earlier. [2] In a January 2021 interview, his widow Jodie revealed that in 2017, he had been privately diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, although he thought that he had suffered from effects of it for a few years previously. The episode of Countdown that aired on 16 November 2020 was dedicated to his memory.

O'Connor (No.2) family genealogy

Arms: Vert a lion ramp. double queued and crowned or. Crest: A gauntleted arm, with a hand holding a dart. Motto: Nec timeo, nec sperno.

IN the preceding (No. 1.) genealogy we give the "O'Connor" (Kerry) pedigree from its ancestor down to No. 122 John O'Connor "Kerry" (A.D. 1652), with whom the pedigree ceases for at that period took place the Cromwellian Confiscations, when Cromwell's soldiers surprised and surrounded the O'Connor Kerry's Castle, and in the most brutal manner murdered The O'Connor himself (see No. 122 on the preceeding genealogy.) Half wild with fear and anguish, the wife of The O'Connor escaped to Bandon, then a great Protestant stronghold, taking with her their infant son for, she was so utterly unnerved and horrorstricken by the dreadful crimes of the Cromwellian soldiers, that she thought the only chance of safety for herself and her child from the violence of the then dominant party, was to train up the boy as a Protestant, and call him Conner, instead of O'Connor. From that boy the Conner family in Munster is descended.. At that period no Catholic was allowed to live in Bandon. It was on that account that Dean Swift, who deeply deplored such want of Christian charity and forbearance, wrote upon the gate of the town of Bandon the following witty lines:

The Dean's Irish servant added to his master's the equally witty lines:

"Whoever wrote this did write it well

The same is written on the gates of hell."

Among the "Forfeiting Proprietors" of the "O'Connor" Kerry family, consequent on the Irish War of 1641-1652, appear the following names: In the barony of Iraghticonnor&mdashBryan (or Bernard) O'Connor, Donnogh O'Connor, Teig O'Connor, James Connor, Morogh Connor, Thomas Connor James Connor (2) and in the barony of Trughanacmy&mdashBryan Connor, Dermod O'Connor, Turlagh Connor, Thomas O'Connor ("A Protestant, since August, 1654"), Redmond O'Connor, Thomas Connor (son of Turlagh), and Thomas O'Connor (son of Tirlagh).

In Vol. I., p. 514, of The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians, of London (Three Volumes, London: 1878 Edited by William Munk, M.D., F.S.A.), we read:

"Bernard O'Connor, M.D., was descended from an ancient Irish family, and was born in the county of Kerry about the year 1666. He studied at the Universities of Montpelier and Paris, but took the degree of Doctor in Medicine at Rheims, 18th Sept., 1691. In Paris he met with the two sons of the High Chancellor of Poland, then on the point of returning to their own country. They were entrusted to O'Connor's care, and he travelled with them, first into Italy. At Venice he was called to attend William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, then seriously ill with fever, and, having recovered his patient, accompanied him to Padua. Thence he passed through Bavaria and Austria, down the Danube to Vienna, and, after some stay at the Court of the Emperor Leopold, passed through Moravia and Silicia to Cracow, and thence to Warsaw. He was well received by King John Sobieski, and, in the beginning of 1694, being then only twenty-eight years of age, was appointed physician to his Majesty. His reputation at the Polish Court was great, and it was deservedly raised by his accurate diagnosis in the case of the King's sister, the Duchess of Bedzeoil. This lady was treated by her physician for ague, but O'Connor insisted that she had an abscess of the liver, and that her case was desperate. His prediction made a great noise among the Court, more especially when it was justified by the event for, she died within a month, and upon examination of the body, his opinion of the malady was fully verified.

"O'Connor did not remain long at Warsaw but, having obtained the appointment of physician to Teresa Cunigunda, who had been espoused to the Elector of Bavaria by proxy in 1604, and was about to leave for Brussels, he accompanied the Princess on her journey. Arrived at that place, he took leave of the Princess, and, having passed through Holland, reached England in February, 1695. He stayed but a short time in London, and then went to Oxford, where he delivered a few lectures on Anatomy and Physiology. In his travels he had conversed with Malpighi, Bellini, Redi and other celebrated physicians and of their communications he made a proper use. In these lectures he explained the new discoveries in Anatomy, Chemistry, and Physic, in so clear a manner, that they added greatly to his reputation. This was still further increased by his publishing, during his sojourn at Oxford, Dissertations Medico-Physicae de Antris Lethiferas de Montis Vesuvii Incendio de stupendo Ossium de Immani Hypogastri Sarcomate. Many very curious questions are therein discussed, and several curious facts related, which prove the author to have been a man of much thought and observation, as well as of great learning and general knowledge.

"In the Summer of 1695 he returned to London, where he read lectures as he had done at Oxford was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and, on the 6th of April, 1696, was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians of London. In 1697 he published his Evangelium Medici, seu Medicina Mystica de Suspensis Naturae legibus sive de Miraculis. He subsequently published "The History of Poland," in two Volumes, containing much novel and interesting information. Doctor O'Connor died of fever, 30th October, 1698, when he was little more than 32 years of age and was buried at St. Giles'-in-the-Fields, London." (His Works may be consulted in the Library of the British Museum, London.)

In Cameron's History of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Dublin: Fanning & Co., 1886), we read that in his Evangelium Medici, Doctor O'Connor advanced an opinion that "generation" may be effected without actual contact of the sexes&mdashan opinion, it is said, which has been verified by recent experimental results!

At present we are unable to trace the genealogy of this family in the male line for more than three generations down to the present time but we can trace it in the female line back to Mortogh Sugrue (commonly called "The Sugrue"), of Dunloe Castle, who married Sheela, daughter of the Marquis of Thomond. Commencing with that Mortogh Sugrue, the genealogy is as follows:

1. Mortogh, the Sugrue m. Sheela, dau. of O'Brien, Marquis of Thomond, and had:

2. Charles (living in 1500), who m. a dau. of MacCarthy Mór, of Pallis Castle, and had four sons and five daughters: the sons were&mdash1. Charles, of whom presently 2. Mortogh, 3. Timothy, and 4. John.

3. Charles: eldest son of Charles m. dau. of the O'Sullivan Beare, and had:

4. Mortogh, who m. his cousin, a dau. of MacCarthy Mór, and had:

5. Charles, who m. Honoria O'Connell, and had two sons&mdash1. Mortogh,[1] 2. Timothy.

6. Timothy: second son of Charles m. the Honble. Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, dau. of Lord Thomas Fitzmaurice, son of Fitzmaurice, Earl of Kerry, and had:

7. Denis Sugrue, who married Elizabeth, dau. of Donogh MacGillicuddy (see the "MacGillicuddy" pedigree), and had a son Charles, and two daughters:

I. Charles, m. Eleanor Mahony, and had two sons and two daughters:

II. Elizabeth, who m. Redmond Roche, and had&mdash1. Charles, 2. Michael, 3. James, 4. Robert, and 5. Eleanor.

II. Winifred: the second daughter of Denis Sugrue, who married a Denis Sugrue (who did not belong to her family), and had a son Robert (who mar. Anne O'Riordan), and two daughters &mdash1. Catherine, 2. Joanna.

8. Anne Sugrue: the elder dau. of Denis m. Captain Stephen Walsh,[2] and had a son named Stephen, and two daughters named Mary, and Elizabeth.

I. Stephen Walsh, m. Arabella Hawkins, and had two sons and four daughters the sons were:

I. John, who was twice mar.: first to Viana Stock and, secondly, to Agne MacNamara. By the first wife he had:

1. Stephen 2. Mary, who m. C. Meagher 3. Lizzie, 4. John (deceased), and 5. Justin.

II. Frank, who married Jane Lombard.

The four daughters of Stephen were:

I. Anne, who m. John Murphy, and had four sons and three daughters. The four sons were:

And the three daughters were:

II. Elizabeth: second daughter of Stephen Walsh married T. Perry, and had three sons and four daughters. The sons were:

I. Stephen Perry, who m. M. Hegarty.

And Elizabeth's four daughters were:

I. Fanny, who married D. O'B. Corkery.

III. Maria: third daughter of Stephen Walsh married Th. Scanlan, and had one son and five daughters:

IV. Jane: fourth daughter of Stephen Walsh married T. Guisani, and had three sons and three daughters:

The three daughters of Jane were:

I. Mary Walsh: the elder daughter of Anne Sugrue, of whom presently.

II. Elizabeth Walsh: the younger daughter married John O'Sullivan, and had: I. John, Archdeacon of Kerry.

9. Mary Walsh: elder daughter of Anne Sugrue and Captain Stephen Walsh, m. Thomas O'Connor, of Dingle (of the O'Connors of Carrig-a-Foyle, West Kerry), and had three sons.

I. Maurice, of whom presently.

10. Maurice O'Connor: son of Thomas m. Honoria Barrett, and had nine sons and two daughters. The sons were:

II. Patrick, who married Miss de Pothonier, and had&mdash1. James,[3] 2. Annie, 3. Fanny.

VI. William, of whom presently.

VII. Maurice (d. 1885), who m. Anne Rawdon, and had:

The two daughters of Maurice O'Connor were:

11. William [4] O'Connor (b. 1817, d. 1880): the sixth son of Maurice married in 1843, Charlotte Frances O'Keeffe, (nee Day, born 1811, died 1886), and had five sons:

I. Arthur, of whom presently.

II. William Thomas Rees, born 1845, d. 1878.

III. Ignatius (b. 1847), who in 1878, m. Mary (d. 1882), dau. of Daniel Leahy, of Rosacon, co. Cork, and had:

I. Joseph Bernard, born 1880.

IV. Bernard,[5] M.D., London (b. 2nd Aug. 1849). Was twice mar.: first, in 1874, to Jane (d. 1879), another dau. of Daniel Leahy, of Rosacon, co. Cork, and by her had:

I. Jane-Mary-Frances. This Bernard was m., secondly, in 1883, to Mariquita Noyes (b. 1859), and has had:

I. Bernard-Hugh-Sarsfield, born 11th May, 1884.

II. D'Esmond-Joseph, b. 2nd August, 1885.

III. Denis Roderick Joseph, b. 16th January, 1887.

12. Arthur O'Connor, Barrister-at-Law, of London (b. 1844, and living in 1887), M.P. for East Donegal (was late M.P. for the Ossory Division of the Queen's County): eldest son of William was twice married: first in 1865, to Mary Jackson (d. 1873), and by her had two sons and one daughter:

I. Arthur-John (born 1867), of whom presently.

Arthur was in 1875, m. to his second wife, Ellen Connolly, and by her has had issue:

13. Arthur-John O'Connor, of London: son of Arthur O'Connor, M.P. b. 1867, and living in 1887.


[1] Mortogh On the death of Charles Sugrue, Honoria, his widow, m. the family Tutor, who was named Mahony, a Protestant, and a native of Cork. This Mortogh was found murdered in the grounds of Dunloe Castle, and Mahony, who then seized the property, was credited with the murder. Timothy Sugrue, the younger brother of Mortogh came to an agreement with Mahony, and kept thirty-six farms for his share, Mahony having the remainder of the estate.

[2] Walsh: Captain Stephen Walsh was previously married to E. Mahony, by whom he had five daughters, one of whom was Joanna, who married Charles MacCarthy and had a son named Justin, and a daughter, Mary-Anne Justin married Mary Meagher and Mary-Anne married D. Falvey.

[3] James: This James O'Connor in 1881 married Maggie, a younger daughter of John O'Connor (of the O'Connor Connaught family, New York, who, besides other daughters named Ellie, Sarah, Fanny, &c, had a son John F. K. O'Connor, who in 1886, married Constance Hamilton, daughter of J. Hamilton Jaffrey, of Yonkers-on-Hudson, United States, America,) and had&mdash1. John-Patrick, born 1881 2. Kathleen 3. James-Arthur-Michael, born 1886.

[4] William: Of this William O'Connor, M.D., etc., we read in the Lancet, of the 18th September, 1880, p. 479 (London):

"We have to record the death of Doctor William O'Connor, Senior Physician to the Royal Free Hospital (London), which took place on the 3rd instant at his residence, 30 Upper Montagu Street, Montagu Square, W. He had been in practice in this metropolis for close upon forty years, during twenty-five of which he was an active member of the institution above mentioned. He was known principally for his treatment of stomach and neuralgic affections, and for his success in the management of the diseases of children.

Doctor O'Connor was descended from an ancient Kerry family, remarkable for the great number of members whom it has afforded to our profession, including several of his brothers . . . The deceased was . of the same family as the celebrated-Bernard O'Connor, M.D. (above mentioned), who died in 1698, historically noted for his Treatise Evangelium Medici, and his accurate diagnosis in the case of the Duchess of Bedzeoil, sister of the King of Poland, to whom he was Physician. Of the three surviving sons of the deceased, Arthur O'Connor, Barrister-at-Law, is M.P. for Queen's County (he is now, in 1887, M.P. for East Donegal) another occupies an official position and the third son, Bernard O'Connor, M.D., M.R.C.P. London, (late) Physician to the Westminster General Dispensary, in Gerrard Street, Soho, is in consulting practice in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square. It is a curious fact that the only possessors of the name " O'Connor" who have figured on the Roll of the Royal College of Physicians (of London) during the last three hundred years should bear the same Christian name: the one, the last named son of William and the other, the Physician to the Polish King already referred to."

It may be here observed that Doctor William O'Connor, referred to in this Obituary, was the first Catholic since the Reformation who was appointed to any large public Hospital or similar Institution in England.

[5] Bernard: In The Medical Directory for 1887 (London: J. and A. Churchill), London List, p. 224, we read:&mdash

"O'Connor, Bernard, 17 St. James-place, S.W., A.B. Qu. Univ. Ireland, 1868 M.D. Master in Surgery and L.M., 1872 M.R.C.P. Lond. 1880 (studied at Queen's Coll. Cork Carmichael School and Whitworth, etc, Hosps. Dublin Univ. and Royal Infirmary, Edin. St. Mary's Hospital, London and Ecole de Medicine, Bordeaux) Fellow of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society: Member of the Pathological and Clinical Societies and British Medical Association Physician North London Hospital for Consumption Consulting Physician Convent of Refuge Lecturer to the National Health Society (late) Physician Westminster General Dispensary (late) Editor of Hibernia. Author of: "Antiseptic Treatment of Surgical Wounds, with special reference to Carbolic Acid" " The Medical and Allied Sciences in connection with Professional Education" ''Sur la Liqueur Etheree dans la Diarrhee, la Cholerine, le Mal de Mer, et quelques autres Affections," 1877 "A Simple View of the Essential Nature of Small-pox, and a consideration of some of the causes of Popular Objection to Compulsory Vaccination," 1883. Contributions: "Diphtheria, True and False, and the Abuse of the Term," in Lancet, 1878 "Unusual Sequel of Hoemoptysis," ibid., 1879 "Syphilitic Psoriasis," ibid. 1881 "Enuresis in Children," ibid. 1881 "Congenital Ichthyosis," Transactions of the Clinical Society, 1882: "Symmetrical Gangrene," Trans. Pathological Soc., 1884 Articles on Sanitary Science and Medical Reform and Education to the Medical Press.

The present Dr. Bernard O'Connor's first important case (1873) was an abcess of the liver in the diagnosis of which he was opposed by two other Practitioners. (So it was in 1694 in the case of Dr. O'Connor, above mentioned.) Each of the Doctors O'Connor was away on the Continent, etc., for some six years or so, from London and, on returning thereto, each was in April, admitted to the College of Physicians: the one, as a Licentiate, in 1696 the other, as a Member, in 1880. It is worthy of remark that Doctor O'Connor (d. 1698) was the first man to dissect an elephant!

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He did, however, hand over a copy of his neice’s history project on the base. And following further research, Bernard uncovered the truth about the airfield.

One of more than 1,000 RAF bases built during the Second World War, it was rejected by bomber command because of the boggy fields and heavy fog that would often fall.

An aerial view of RAF Tempsford in 1944. Picture: Supplied by Bernard O'Connor - Credit: Archant

It was instead taken over by the Special Operation Executive, or SOE – a secret organisation whose purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe, while supporting resistance movements on the continent.

The SOE agents would be flown out of RAF Tempsford before being dropped or even landed in Axis-held territory, and then picked up when or if they completed their dangerous mission.

Due to the secrective nature of the base, it was of utmost importance that it remained hidden from enemy eyes.

Bernard explained: “It is claimed that the airfield was designed by an illusionist.

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (HU 60540) The Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair (in civilian raincoat), accompanied by the Commanding Officer of No. 161 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF, Wing Commander P C Pickard, talking to Flying Officers Broadley and Cocker in front of their Lockheed Hudson during his visit to Tempsford, Bedfordshire. A noted Westland Lysander pilot of the Squadron, Fg Off J A McCairns, is standing extre. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: - Credit: Archant

“Because the work going on there was top secret, they didn’t want enemy pilots flying overhead to identify it as in use.

“The idea was to make it look inactive, so during the day there was no activity.

“Most of the buildings were camouflaged or designed to look like old farm buildings, and lines were painted across the runway so they looked like hedges.

“Activity started when the sun went down, with everything going on in the dark.”

Gibraltar Farm, part of RAF Tempsford, during the Second World War. The barn on the left still stands today. Picture: Supplied by Bernard O'Connor - Credit: Archant

While the work of renowned secret agents such as Violette Szabo and Wing Commander FFE Yeo-Thomas was incredibly dangerous, the pilots flying from Tempsford were also in great danger, as Bernard explained.

“The planes always took off and flew with no lights in complete darkness,” he said.

“They would fly across the channel or the North Sea to the likes of France, Belgium and Norway, complete their mission, then fly back before the sun came up.

“That was to give them the greatest chance of not being shot down.”

The base was home to two squadrons, with No 138 Squadron dropping supplies into Europe while No 161 Squadron – equipped with Westland Lysander and Lockheed Hudson transport planes – were tasked with landing in occupied territory to drop off and pick up agents.

These missions were undertaken by some of RAF’s best pilots, including Air-Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges and Group Captain Percy Charles Pickard – who led the famous Amiens Prison raid of February 1944.

The personnel based at the airfield did reap the rewards for their top-secret work.

“There were more than 1,000 personnel based there and it was very cosmopolitan,” said Bernard.

“It provided a big economic boost to the area as the pilots and crew had money to spend in the pubs, the cinemas, the dances. There was also a lot of romance.”

Very little remains of RAF Tempsford today.

After the war it was closed and returned to farmland, but small sections of the runway are still intact.

You can still walk around the perimeter track and visit an old barn that stands as a memorial to those who worked at one of Britain’s most secret airfields.

For more about Bernard O’Connor and his books, have a look online at

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Bernard O’Connor - History

Bernard O’Connor’s book tells the story of how the Air Ministry selected this isolated spot in the late 1930s but construction didn’t go ahead until after Dunkirk. It was designed by an illusionist specifically to look as if it was a disused airfield. Overflying enemy pilots had to believe it wasn’t being used. For all intents and purposes the locals considered it an ordinary airfield except that the flights were only the few days either side of the full moon.

It details many of the top secret SOE missions that 138 and 161 Special Duties Squadrons flew from here in Lysanders, Stirlings, Hudsons and other planes to drop supplies to the resistance groups across occupied Europe as well as to drop 'Joes, the slang for specially trained secret agents whose job it was to sabotage Germany’s war efforts and pick up ‘VIPs’. These may have been Joe boys and Joe girls but included downed pilots and crews, military, professional and political figures, their wives, girlfriends and families.

Americans, the Free French, Belgians, Czechoslovakians, Poles and crews from the Commonwealth air forces flew from here. Group Captain 'Mouse' Fielden was in charge and agents like Violette Szabo, Odette Churchill, Peter Churchill and Wing-Commander Yeo-Thomas flew out on some of their secret missions.

Vital operations like the bombing of Amiens Prison, the destruction of the heavy water plant in Norway and the assassination of Heydrich were flown from Tempsford. The book investigates what went on in requisitioned local country houses like Hazells Hall, Woodbury Hall, Tetworth Hall, Tempsford Hall and Gaynes Hall. It looks at what links it had with Bletchley Park. It includes extracts from books written by Joes, RAF pilots and crewmembers as well as maps, poems and personal memoirs. It details many of the air crashes around the airfield and includes reminiscences of local people, ground crew, FANY and WAAFs about the social life down on the airfield, in the NAAFI and local hostelries.

Bernard gives illustrated talks on the subject and, following his research into the lives of the women involved during the war has published a second book: The Women of RAF Tempsford. His novel ‘Courrier de L’Air ' is in the wings.

Early editions of all Bernard O’Connor’s books can be obtained at local libraries. The most recent editions can be obtained from [email protected] (A4 version @£13.00 excl. P&P) or downloaded from the website.

RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire’s Top Secret Airfield – Now the story can be told

Effects of First World War in St Neots

Life was never to return to the pre-war style. The social climate had changed forever.

Brittains Furniture Removals with a horse drawn cart in 1920 – mothballed during WW1 and repainted after the war after Frank was demobbed – St Neots Archive

The large numbers of men killed or injured during the 1914 – 1918 war left many widows, orphans and disabled.

Those who had previously worked in domestic service (‘below stairs’) had enjoyed much more interesting occupations during the war and were reluctant to return to the restricted work of service.

Those men who served in the war and had taken up roles of leadership and responsibility did not want employment in low-paid, labouring jobs. They felt they deserved better, well-paid jobs.

Farmers had to offer higher wages to get agricultural labourers. Their wages rose from 23s.6d. (£1.18) a week in 1913 to 40s. (£2.00) in 1920.

Overtime was paid with special rates (double) for Sunday working.

Although agricultural labourers welcomed the increases, they encouraged farmers to purchase more labour-saving machinery like the threshing machine, conveyor belts. etc. .

The wealthier landowners still wanted domestic servants and were prepared to increase wages from the pre-war average of £17 a year to £30.

Middle-class householders could not afford these wages so had to do without servants.

A traffic survey carried out for seven days in August 1922 on the Great North Road recorded 1,846 motor cars and over a thousand motor cycles and bikes. Together with other forms of transport like vans and lorries it amounted to 2,289 compared to 273 horse-drawn vehicles.

It was mostly long-distance traffic however and within St Neots it was mostly cars, bicycles and horse-drawn carts.

Remembering The Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Connor

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our friend and colleague, The Reverend Dr. Bernard Joseph O’Connor. Born March 13, 1951, Fr. Bernie was a native of Nova Scotia and ordained to the priesthood in 1977 for the Diocese of Antigonish. He was Fellow and John Henry Cardinal Newman Professor of Theology and Ecclesial Mediation at the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana, USA, where he served from 1996 to 2015. Fr. Bernie was named John Henry Cardinal Newman Professor Emeritus in the spring of 2015 prior to his passing. A renowned expert on papal diplomacy, he authored two books on the subject, Papal Diplomacy: John Paul II and the Culture of Peace (St. Augustine’s Press, 2005) and a forthcoming book from St. Augustine’s Press on Pope Benedict XVI (autumn 2015). He also taught on the Oxford Theology Summer School of the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford and the Summer Programme in Theology of the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge.

He received his B.A. in history/philosophy from St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia his M.A. (Spirituality) from Creighton University the M.Div/S.T.B. from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa the M.C.L./J.C.L. (Canon Law) from the University of Ottawa and S.T.L. and S.T.D. (Systematics) from the Gregorian University. In 1994 he received the J.D. from the University of Tennessee. His numerous certifications and awards over the past 20 years include an Advanced Negotiation Certificate from Harvard Law School and certificates in international diplomacy and conflict management from the U.S. State Department at the Foreign Service Institute and from the UN Institute for Training and Research. He was twice named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie/CASE Foundation. In 1998, he was the recipient of a Templeton Award for curriculum design in religion-science dialogue. Between 1994 and 2004, Fr. Bernie was Assistant Dean at Eastern Michigan University and Visiting Professor for the Straus Institute at Pepperdine Law School and for Ave Maria College and Law School. He was designated a “national expert in Constitutional philosophy” by the We The People Program in civic education, served on the State of Michigan Board of Ethics, and was appointed to the U.S. Army National Committee on ROTC Education.

Fr. Bernie (left) meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican

In 1999, Father Bernie received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa from the Graduate Theological Foundation for “exceptional accomplishment in conflict resolution education.” In 2004, Fr. Bernie was called to the Vatican to serve the Congregation of Eastern Churches. In 2011, Fr. Bernie was appointed Chancellor’s Visiting Professor of Law and Humanities at Indiana University (Kokomo). In the summer of 2011, he served as Scholar-in-Residence at the Graduate Theological Foundation for his book on Pope Benedict XVI, later joining the GTF’s administration in 2014 as Chief Counsel for Catholic Affairs to the President. In May of 2013, Fr. Bernie served as Runcie Lecturer in the Graduate Theological Foundation’s annual Lord Robert Runcie Convocation Lecture Series where he spoke on the topic of “The Papal Resignation of 2013: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Emmaus.” A video of his lecture is available here, and the text is available here.

Following an extended illness, Fr. Bernie passed away on Sunday, May 10, 2015, in Mishawaka, Indiana, with friends at his side.

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Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Churchill and Stalin secretly agreed that Britain would infiltrate Soviet agents into occupied Western Europe. Liaison began between the NKVD and the SOE, each country's secret service. Transported in convoys across the Arctic Ocean and often attacked by German U-Boats, thirty-four men and women arrived in Scotland.

To stop people finding out that Britain was helping the Communists, the agents were given false identities and provided with accommodation and training at remote country houses in southern England, including Beaulieu. Codenamed PICKAXES, they were sent for parachute practice at Ringway aerodrome, provided with documents, cover stories and wireless sets and sent on clandestine missions into France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Whilst most were sent from RAF Tempsford, Churchill's Most Secret airfield, one was sent by boat across the Channel and another by submarine into Northern Italy. Only a few survived the war as most were caught, interrogated and executed. Based on extensive research, Bernard O'Connor tells their human stories enmeshed in a web of political intrigue and diplomacy.

The Kindle edition includes 20 black and white photographs.

Research into the events that took place in the small Bedfordshire villages of Everton, Tempsford and nearby towns and villages during the Second World War has shed light onto an area of local history that, until recently, many people knew little about. They weren't meant to. This is an account of a deadly serious business, secret operations, intrigue and suspense. It is an account of drama, excitement and danger. Pilots were sent from what was called Tempsford Airfield into the battlegrounds of Europe, North Africa and the Far East on some of the most important, daring and historic missions of the war. Secret agents were sent from here on missions of the greatest importance including sabotage and assassination and many of them stayed in some of the large country mansions like Hasells Hall, Woodbury Hall, Old Woodbury, Tetworth Hall and Tempsford Hall. Drawing on records of those involved with the operations, their personal recollections as well as official deposits in the Public Record Offices at Kew and Bedford and the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum at Hendon, north London, Bernard O'Connor presents the intriguing story of an important chapter in Bedfordshire's local history and of an airfield with significant international importance.

Includes 52 black and white photographs.

RAF Tempsford, a remote Second World War airfield between Cambridge and Bedford, was designed by an illusionist to give over-flying enemy pilots the impression it was a disused airfield. Home to the RAF's Special Duties Squadrons, it was only used on the clear nights on either side of the full moon. Flying low and without lights, brave pilots and aircrews carried many hundreds of tons of arms and supplies to resistance groups north of the Arctic Circle, east to Czechoslovakia and Poland, southeast to the Balkans and south as far as the Pyrenees and Italy. 'The Tempsford Academy' tells the story of William Stephenson, the man sent by Roosevelt to assess Britain's potential to resist German invasion in 1940, his meeting the men running Britain's secret service and being shown round SOE's training facilities, weapons, R&D sites etc. He persuaded the President to send William Donovan, subsequent head of OSS (what became the CIA), to see how the Americans could establish an intelligence network in London. Offices were set up in London and establishments for the training and deployment of US secret agents into occupied Europe as well as assisting the SOE in supplying the resistance. Until an airfield was built for their clandestine operations, agents were flown out from RAF Tempsford: Churchill's Most Secret Airfield.

The Kindle edition of "Tempsford Academy: Churchill's and Roosevelt's Secret Airfield" includes 19 illustrations.

Churchill’s Angels: How Britain’s Women Secret Agents Changed the Course of the Second World War – Bernard O’Connor

It is hard to quantify the effectiveness of the Special Operations Executive in the overall military effort undertaken by Britain and her allies in the Second World War. The commanders of the regular services, particularly Bomber Harris, had little interest in this clandestine force and opposed the diversion of scarce resources to supporting SOE operations.

Such opposition came about through a misunderstanding of the role of SOE. The main objective of the SOE was to organise and arm the Resistance movements in occupied territory in anticipation of the Allied invasion of France and the Low Countries in the summer of 1944. Until D-Day no real appreciation of what the various Resistance groups could achieve was possible. After D-Day there was no doubt.

It was in the SOE’s early months, as it was slowly building up its contacts and its circuits, that most of the failures, the betrayals and the arrests of SOE officers took place. It is the stories around these failures that are usually seen in print, especially with regards to the female agents.

This is, to some degree, the case with Churchill’s Angels, though refreshingly there is also a chapter in the book which examines the operations to support D-Day and the liberation of France and the Low Countries. Bernard O’Conner does this by detailing the activities of individual agents. One of these is Elaine Madden.

Born in Poperinge near Ypres, Elaine dressed up as a soldier when the Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940 and was evacuated from Dunkirk to Britain. It was in March 1944 that she was recruited by SOE.

In August 1944 she was dropped by parachute into Belgium. She was provided with 5,000 Belgian francs to carry about her person, 50,000 francs for her mission and a further 10,000 Francs which was to be used in her escape back through France after she had carried out her three-month mission. This was to act as the go-between for the principal SOE organiser in Belgium and the various Resistance groups, to which she would communicate the instructions of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).

Elaine was also told to advise the Resistance groups that complicated or heavy installations which would require more than a week to repair should not be destroyed, but should be sabotaged by having their essential parts removed. These parts should then be carefully hidden and handed over to the Allied forces when they liberated that particular area. The groups were told that the repetition of small acts of sabotage would generally cause more disruption to German communications and transport systems.

To stop the Germans from sending reinforcements and equipment to the front by road, the Resistance groups were also instructed to block roads, remove traffic signs, set booby traps and place mines. Likewise, to prevent transportation by water, canal lock gates were to be destroyed and to cause difficulties to the Luftwaffe, enemy aircraft and installations, such as fuel dumps, should be sabotaged.

Another area which could seriously hinder and frustrate the Germans was telecommunications. The groups were told to cut telephone and telegraph wires and, again, to remove parts from radio and associated installations. All such actions, the groups were warned, should be conducted clandestinely. No risks should be undertaken which might involve them in pitched battles with the Germans. The only exception to direct action against Germans was in the case of Luftwaffe personnel. These men, stated SHAEF, could be “sniped at where occasion presents”.

Watch the video: Something Blue Muriel OConnor u0026 Fran Curry (May 2022).