Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings


A budding artist of growing reputation (his work was exhibited in the National Gallery when he was only 17) Denis Alfred Barnham’s (1920-1981) artistic ambitions were overshadowed only by his interest in flying. When he was 16, he had convinced his mother to let him take flying lessons in an old Cierva C30 autogiro. As the only son in a family which ran a market gardening business, he was expected to take over the company, but would have none of it, and at the outbreak of war, volunteered for the Royal Air Force. By 1941, following training in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he became a trained fighter pilot, but for all his passions against the enemy, he displayed little desire to get into battle, and certainly he was distracted. He had met Diana Frith, an attractive blonde in the Army Auxiliary, at a dance that June. Firth’s father was the tough, imposing commander of the 39th Anti-Aircraft Brigade in the area, but undeterred, Denis and Firth began a whirlwind romance. Barnham proposed to her the day after they had met. Firth told him to be sensible, but he persisted and they eventually married in January 1942. It didn’t hurt that Barnham was gifted, good-looking and utterly charming. But in March, he was posted to 601 Squadron at the request of the unit CO, John Bisdee, who needed an experienced flight leader for the Malta-bound squadron. He died in 1981 of a brain tumor.

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