Group Captain Tufnell Barrett, who died during an air raid over Berlin in 1941, was a veteran of the First World War who pursued his career with the RAF through the 1920s and 1930s, rising through the ranks to that of Group Captain. In September 1941 he accompanied 61 Squadron on a bombing raid, but the Manchester bomber was brought down by anti-aircraft fire, killing all eight on board. His grave is in Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.
John Francis Tufnell-Barrett originally enlisted, aged 18, with the Royal Flying Corps on the 9th October, 1916. His surviving probationary service record confirms what was originally a temporary appointment as a 2nd-Lieutenant, which ended on the 26th February, 1917. He saw active service with the RFC for the remainder of the First World War (though we have almost no details of this period), and was granted a permanent commission in RAF with rank of Flying Officer, 16 September 1919.
The following is taken from the resume of his career posted in 2015 by Hugh A. Halliday, a Senior Member of ‘rafcommands.com’ website:
BARRETT, John Francis Tufnell, F/O – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 6 June 1924, “for distinguished service rendered during operations in Iraq in 1922”. Granted permanent commission in RAF with rank of Flying Officer, 16 September 1919.
Born 3 May 1898 at Pleasley, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. Entered Royal Flying Corps as a Cadet, 9 October 1916; commissioned as Second Lieutenant, February 1917, and served with No.64 Squadron in France, 1917-1918. Granted permanent commission in RAF with rank of Flying Officer, 16 September 1919.
Employed as a test pilot at Experimental Section, Royal Aeronautical Establishment. To Middle East and Iraq, 1920; awarded DFC, 6 June 1924 for services in 1922. Returned 12 January 1925 to Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Martlesham Heath. To Experimental Section, Royal Aeronautical Establishment, Farnborough, 10 April 1925. To Air Ministry, 26 November 1925. In 1925-1926 he was Private Secretary to the Chief of the Air Staff (Lord Trenchard). To Headquarters, Iraq, 24 April 1926, To No.84 Squadron, Iraq, 8 May 1926.
Posted 7 February 1929 to No.207 Squadron, Eastchurch; Served with that unit to 1931 when posted again to No.84 Squadron. To Headquarters, Wessex Bombing Area, 28 January 1933. As of 26 November 1933, posted to No.47 (Bomber) Squadron, Khartoum. Promoted Squadron Leader, 1 December 1934. Posted to Headquarters, Air Defence Great Britain, Uxbridge, 28 January 1935, for Personnel Staff Duties. To No.8 (Bomber) Squadron, Aden, to command, 11 March 1937. Promoted Wing Commander, 1 July 1938.
Promoted to Group Captain, 1 December 1940. Mentioned in Despatches, 24 September 1941 in rank of Group Captain. Killed in action, 3 September 1941 with No.61 Squadron (Manchester L7388). Also killed was W/C G.E. Valentine, DSO. Buried in Berlin.
Distinguished Flying Cross
His DFC was awarded as per London Gazette dated 6 June 1924, “for distinguished service rendered during operations in Iraq in 1922”, Public Record Office Air 30/72.
Distinguished Service Order
His DSO was awarded, as per the London Gazette of the 3rd April 1928, “for gallant and distinguished service in Iraq … He has carried out 47 bombing attacks and 40 reconnaissances during operations in Iraq over hostile country. By his daring example and determination he contriuted largely to the success of operations.
The account given here draws on records in Aeroplane, 11, April 1928; from Public Record Office Air 30/72; and from posts by members of rafcommands.com notably ‘Col Bruggy’ who quoted from the book RAF Operations 1918-1938 by Bowyer, Chaz (London: William Kimber, 1988, pp.99-100):
Flight Lieutenant J.F.T. Barrett, DFC, of No.84 (Bombing) Squadron was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry in operations against the Akhwan. A brother officer’s machine had been compelled to land near hostile tribesmen owing to engine failure. Flight Lieutenant Barrett, without a moment’s hesitation, although in danger himself of being killed or captured, swooped down, landed alongside, picked up his friend, and carried him to safety. When he took off with the rescued officer they were only 400 yards from the tribesmen, who had opened heavy fire on the machines.
A second account repeats much of this information, adding further details: During operations against Akhwan raiders on the 30th January 1928, this officer displayed conspicuous skill and gallantry in landing on very bad ground under enemy fire and rescuing the pilot of an aeroplane which had been forced to land amongst hostile tribesmen owing to a bullet having punctured the water system of the aircraft. Before taking off with the rescued pilot, Flight Lieutenant Barrett assisted him to salve the lock and ammunition from the damaged aircraft, then within 400 yards of the enemy.
The rescued pilot was 16177 Flight Officer Richard Kellett.
These are typical examples of the outstanding courage, determination and devotion to duty displayed by this officer and of the many unselfish acts by which he has won the admiration of all who have served with him. They are particularly noteworthy in view of the fact that they were performed after the strain of 750 hours’ flying over the desert in fifteen months, throughout which period Flight Lieutenant Barrett has carried out extremely valuable work on reconnaissances and operations against hostile tribesmen.
The PRO record Air 30/72 adds that almost a month later, on the 20th February, Flight-Lieutenant Barrett, on seeing an aeroplane in flames in the hostile area, immediately proceeded to investigate and opened fire on the raiders advancing towards its. He continued to “dive” on the enemy after he had used all his ammunition, and did not desist until other aircraft arrived and he had ascertained that the pilot of the aeroplane was dead. Later he landed beside the wrecked machine, picked up the body of the pilot and returned to base.
As a postscript, another of the ‘rafcommands’ correspondents, named ‘Sian’, added that his grandad wrote an obituary for JFT Barrett and referred to him (Group Captain Tufnell-Barrett) as “Fergy”. He adds, ‘The manner in which he gained his DSO in 1927 was typical. Richard Kellet was shot down among a host of hostile armed Akwans. Fergy didn’t hesitate. He landed his machine beside Kellet’s, and after a few hectic minutes, when anything might have happened, got away safely with Kellett in the back seat, with the rear gunner. Ralph Jackson was shot down in a similar manner but was unfortunately killed. It was Barrett who flew out that evening and brought his body back’.
The Airco DH.9A which was in use during these actions was a British single-engined biplane light bomber first used before the end of the First World War. Known also as the “Ninak”, it served on in large numbers for the Royal Air Force following the end of the war, both at home and overseas, and was used for colonial policing in the Middle East, finally being retired in 1931 (Wikipedia).
The King’s Cup, 1930
There were opportunities for moments of fun. When on home posting in 1930, he took the opportunity to enter the King’s Cup Race. This was an annual event in which private flyers would compete over a course which took them around the country. In 1930 it took place on the 5th June, starting at Hanworth following a course via Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Hull then back to Hanworth. There were eighty eight starters, the largest field ever field for the King’s Cup, and the first won by a woman pilot. She was Miss Winifred (“Winnie”) Sawley Brown, entrant number 55, who completed the 735 mile course flying an Avro 594 Avian III. Another of this aircraft was owned by Amelia Earhart, the American aviator who used it successfully in her first trans-America long distance flight.
Entrant no.50 was Flt-Lt JFT Barrett, flying a Robinson Redwing. Unfortunately, he had to retire at Manchester, due to “compass trouble”. His plane was one of only twelve ever made of this lightweight biplane, which was aimed at the club market, not perhaps very likely to challenge the Avro.
The website ‘afleetingpeace.org‘ , which is the source of this information, includes a photograph of Flight-Lieutenant Barrett, the only picture of him that we have located.
Bar to Distinguished Service Order
The Bar to the DSO was awarded, as per London Gazette dated 28th March 1939, “for gallant and distinguished services rendered in Aden”, as reported in Aeroplane, April 5th 1939, which gave the following account: He has commanded No.8 (Bomber) Squadron since February 1937 and has done magnificent work and shown outstanding leadership on each of the eight occasions on which his unit have been engaged. In many operations carried out at low altitudes his aircraft was hit by rifle fire from the ground, and the success attending the efforts of his squadron was largely due to the enthusiasm and courage of its commander.
Service in the Second World War – shot down over Berlin
The London Gazette of July 1st 1938 reported the promotion of Squadron Leader Barrett DFC DSO to Wing Commander, and on December 10th 1940 he was one of those promoted to Group Captain, the rank he held when he lost his life the following year. A record of his last flight is given by aviation-safety.net . On the 2nd September 1941 he opted to fly as a “passenger” on RAF Manchester L7388 of 61 Squadron, which took off from North Luffenham commanded by Squadron Leader G.E. Valentine. His plane was pilotted by Squadron-Leader Valentine and had a crew of five, one of whom was a New Zealander. They arrived over Berlin and, according to the official record, decided to make a morale-boosting low-level raid. The aircraft was coned by searchlights and was hit and brought down.
All those on board lost their lives:
Pilot: W/Cdr 05208 George Engebret Valentine DSO, RAF.
Pilot: Flt/Lt 39732 Alan Bruce Harrison DSO, RAF.
Pax: Gp/Cpt John Francis Tufnell-Barrett DSO & Bar, DFC, aged 43, RAF.
Wop/AG: Sgt 749418 Ernest Edward Dowse, aged 26, RAFVR.
Wop/AG: Sgt 942995 James Ernest Nicholson, RAFVR.
AG: Sgt 401806 Walter Duncan Hamer, aged 21, RNZAF.
AG: F/O 77116 Lawrence Duckworth, aged 27, RAFVR.
RAF North Luffenham, Rutland, was built in 1940 and opened in 1941. From autumn 1941 to May 1942, 61 Squadron was based there, flying Hampden and Manchester aircraft. The date of Group Captain Tufnell Barrett’s tragic flight was very early in its operational history. He was Station Commander. The account given in RAF North Luffenham Heritage states that 49 aircraft took part in the raid, of which 5 were lost, and 70 airmen were also lost (though some were taken alive and became prisoners of war).
Absent Voters Lists
Absent Voters Lists recorded the home address of service personnel absent on duty, with their service number, rank and unit. Apparently, there is no surviving central register of these lists, and many have not survived. We are fortunate in that the List for Bottesford and Muston is kept in the Leicestershire Record Office at Wigston Magna, and it was this that drew our attention to 2nd Lieutenant John Barrett, RAF, of The Rectory, Muston.
Since starting this project, Absentee Voters Lists of Bottesford and Muston for years later than 1918 have become available online. J.F. Tufnell Barrett (referred to as ‘TB’ below) was included in the Muston Absentee Voters List in 1918, which gave his home address as Muston Rectory, even though he does not appear in either the census of 1901 or that of 1911 for Muston and Bottesford. He continued to be an Absent Voter at Muston Rectory at least until 1934, even though his father, the Rector, had died in 1928. During this time, his service address was the RAF Officers’ Quarters at Farnborough even, it would seem, when he was on overseas duty. It is not clear how often he was actually at home in Muston. The Rectory was owned by the Church Commissioners, and one would expect that after Rev. Tufnell-Barrett died in 1928, it would have passed to the new Rector, but apparently this might not have happened. Was there was a period between 1928 and 1936 when there was no rector at Muston and the Rectory was vacant except when TB was there, or could there have been a clerical error by the Registrar failing to remove TB from the absent voters list? [More research is needed to resolve this point.]
Genealogical information relating to the Tufnell-Barrett family can be found in the censuses, especially those of 1891, 1901 and 1911, in the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMD), and in Kelly’s Directory of Leicestershire, 1916 (University of Leicester).
Reverend Samuel and Reverend Frederick Lambert Tufnell Barrett, father and son
John Francis Tufnell-Barrett’s grandfather was the Reverend Samuel Tufnell Barrett, who was born in 1833 at Shorne, Kent, son of Tufnell C. Barrett and Marianne Barrett. Samuel married Louisia Cowper at St George’s, Hanover Square, Westminster, on 24th February 1857, and died in 1903 on the Isle of Wight. The Nottinghamshire History website (nottshistory.org.uk) provides a resume of his career. He gained his MA at Christ Church, Oxford, was a curate in Hereford and then at Rusland in the Furness District of Lancashire, became Chaplain to Sir James Ramsden, High Sheriff of Lancashire, then was appointed Vicar of St.George’s, Barrow-in-Furness. Barrow was growing rapidly. Reverend Samuel Barrett was one of the founders of its hospital and also brought about the building of four new churches, so that when he left in 1879 there were five churches serving its burgeoning population. He went on to be Rector of Teversall, near Mansfield, for many years. His wife, Louisa, came from a distinguished Westmoreland gentry family, and they are reported to have had three sons in holy orders. They had five sons C.A., Rowland, Frederick Lambert, Wilfred and John Basil, and two daughters, Mary L. and Edith Theodosia Kathleen.
Frederick Lambert Tufnell Barrett was Rector of Muston from 1913 to 1928, and before that was a clergyman in Sneinton Vale, a suburb of Nottingham. In the 1911 census, he lived at Sneinton Dale, where he was a “curate, a Clerk in Holy Orders”: there were also his sister Edith Tufnell Barrett and their niece Margaret Helen Louisa Tufnell, plus governess Mary Baker.
Kelly’s Directory, 1916, states that at that date Reverend Frederick Lambert Tufnell Barrett had been Rector of Muston since 1913. He had been appointed following the resignation of Rev Francis Nugee in 1913, and remained as Rector until his death on the 29th June, 1928. During these years, the Tufnell Barretts resided in Muston Rectory. A plaque in the chancel of Muston parish church, St John the Baptist, commemorates Reverend Frederick and Edith his sister. The Rectory remained the home of Edith until her death in 1939, and also of her nephew John Francis, the airman.
John Basil Tufnell and his children, John Francis and Margaret Helen Louisa
John Francis, the subject of this account, was born in 1898 at Pleasley, Derbyshire. His father was John Basil Tufnell Barrett, third son of the Samuel Tufnell Barrett. His mother was Eleanor Hogarth Tufnell Barrett (nee Hill), who came from Westmoreland. He had a sister, Margaret Helen Louisa Tufnell Barrett born in 1897. Eleanor was born in 1866 at Mochrum, Wigtownshire in Scotland, daughter of farmer Francis Hill and his wife Margaret. In 1881 she, and her sister Norah, were at school in Clapton, East London, but by 1891 was back with her parents, who had retired to Temple Sowerby, Westmoreland. She and John Basil married in 1895 at East Ward, near Temple Sowerby. Sadly, she died in October 1899, aged 33.
In the 1891 census, before getting married larer in the year, John Basil was recorded as a student living with his parents in the Rectory at Teversall. In the 1901 census, he is down as a farmer and widower with two very young children, living with his father at Teversall Rectory. There were also his brother Francis and Sister Edith. In the ten years between the censuses he had married, seen the birth of his two children, and then the death of his wife, Eleanor.
John Basil married his second wife, Margaret Maud Preston, late in 1901. It seems clear that they decided to start afresh, and his children were taken in and brought up by his brother and sister at Teversall. John and Margaret moved away, and lived at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, then in Finchley and Ashford, Middlesex. He died at Staines in 1933. The date of Margaret’s death is uncertain, nor do we know whether there were more children.
In the 1911 census we find that 12 year old John Francis was a boarder at The Friary Preparatory School at Garlinge, near Margate in Kent, though he presumably spent vacations at Sneinton Vale. Margate Local History Society has posted (look for pictures added on Jan 27th 2019) a fascinating set of pictures of the Dent de Lion Preparatory School at Garlinge, dating from 1905, showing a beautiful Georgian or even Queen Anne building, ivy clad and with extensive grounds: this must have been the Friary School.
John Francis was 14 when his uncle moved to Muston and presumably had outgrown his prep school, but we do not know what school he attended during the years up to 1916. He enlisted in 1916, when he was 18 years old, his schooling complete. It is tempting to draw an anaology with Cecil Lewis, who described his wartime flying years in his autobiography “Sagittarius Rising”. Lewis enlisted with the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, aged only 17, straight from his school at Oundle, and by 1916 was flying over the battlefields of the Somme. Lewis was fortunate to survive the war, and went on to have a brief post-war flying career before becoming part of the fledgling BBC. John Francis Tufnell Barrett also survived the war and remained with the RAF until his sad death in 1941, aged 43.
His sister Margaret was at school at Stuffynwood, near Mansfield, in 1911. Stuffynwood Mansion was a Victorian country house at Pleasley, Mansfield, whose church was built in its grounds. This may well have been where she and John Francis were born. During the First World War she must have come to live at Muston Rectory. A plaque in Muston parish church records that she was the church organist and also decorated the screen of the chancel (inidcating that she was a good artist as well as a musician). There is a photograph of her probably taken during the First World War in uniform. We are uncertain what the uniform is, though it may be a Girl Guides uniform from that time. There is a prominent badge and cord attached at her left shoulder, and another large badge on her hat, though neither are in sharp enough focus to be read. The heavy gloves, belt, deep external jacket pocket and slouch hat might suggest a courier or engaged in other outdoor activity.
It appears that John Francis Tufnell Barrett was a batchelor when he was killed. He had become something of a lonely figure, in that his sister, Margaret, had died in 1924, aged only 27, his uncle Rev Francis Barrett passed on in 1928, his father John Basil died in 1933, and his aunt Edith died in 1939.
(‘b.’ = ‘born at’)
1891 census: The Rectory, Teversall, Nottinghamshire
- Tufnell S Barrett, head, aged 57, Rector of Teversall, b. Shorne, Kent
Louisa Barrett, wife, aged 63, b. Finsbury Square, London
Frederick L T Barrett, son, aged 30, Clerk in Holy Orders, b. Rusland, Lancashire
Edith J K Barrett, daughter, aged 26, b. Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire
Wilfred J Barrett, son, aged 25, student, b. Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire
John B T Barrett, son, aged 22, student, b. Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire
Olive J Burton, niece, aged 29, b. Cherry Burton, Yorks
Fanny E Burton, niece, aged 23, b. Cherry Burton, Yorks
Mary Baker, governess, aged 50, b. Bristol, St James
1901 census: The Rectory, Teversal, Nottinghamshire
- Tufnell S Barrett, head, aged 67, Priest Church of England, b. Shorne, Kent
Frederick L T Barrett, son, aged 41, single, Priest Church of England, b. Rusland, Lancashire
Edith T K T Barrett, daughter, aged 36, single, b. Barrow-in-Furness
John B T Barrett, son, aged 32, widower, farmer, b. Barrow-in-Furness
Margaret H L T Barrett, grand-daughter, aged 4, b. Derbyshire
John F T Barrett, grandson, aged 2, b. Derbyshire
Fanny E B Burton, niece, aged 33, b. Yorkshire
Mary Baker, servant, aged 60, governess, b. Bristol, Kings Square
Hannah Ward, servant, aged 22, cook, b. Tibshelf, Derbyshire
Selina J Mear, servant, aged 20, housemaid, b. Leicestershire
Tacey S M Belsfield, servant, aged 14, nursemaid, b. Nottinghamshire
1911 census: 4, Victoria Villas, Sneinton Dale, Nottingham
- Frederick Lambert Tufnell Barrett, head, aged 51, single Clerk in Holy Orders, b. Rusland, Lancashire
Edith Theodosia Kathleen Tufnell Barrett, sister, aged 46, single, b. Barrow-in-Furness
Margaret Helen Louisa Tufnell Barrett, niece, aged 14, b. Teversal, Mansfield
Mary Baker, single, aged 70, late governess, b. Bristol
Sarah Ellen Tennant, servant, aged 24, b. Sutton-in-Ashfield
Much of the information in this post has been taken from public domain webpages including:
RAF North Luffenham Heritage
University of Leicester special collections
Margate Local History