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Group Captain Hugh A Constantine

Later - Air Chief Marshal Sir H A Constantine KBE, CB, DSO

RAF Elsham Wolds Hugh Constantine

Hugh Alex Constantine, or “Connie” as he was affectionately known, was born on the 23rd May 1908 in Southsea, Hampshire, England  and was the son of a Fleet Paymaster in the Royal Navy. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital and the RAF College at Cranwell. and  was an excellent all round sportsman and excelled at boxing and rugby union playing for the RAF, the Eastern Counties and Leicester. In addition he was picked for an England trial at rugby union in 1934. A charming and modest man with a lively sense of humour he was noted for his untiring energy and exceptional qualities of leadership and efficiency.

Hugh Constantine was commissioned in the RAF in 1927 and began his career as a fighter pilot flying Siskin biplanes with 56 Squadron. He then became an instructor at Cranwell and at the Central Flying School and, in 1934, joined the No1 Armoured Car Company. This was part of a small motorised column employed by the RAF to protect its airfields in Iraq. These desert patrols appealed greatly to his enjoyment of adventure and he would recall them wistfully during his years in staff appointments. In 1936 he began his bomber career with 214 Squadron and married his wife Helen in 1937 . A year later he  received the first of his 3 mentioned in dispatches ( the others being in 1941 and 1942 ).

In 1939 he was Examining Officer at the Central Flying School and on the 21st June 1941, with the rank of Group Captain, he took over command of the new airfield at Elsham Wolds. At that time he was  one of the youngest station commanders in Bomber Command. On arrival he found the contractors were still hard at work on the airfield. There was no running water, no electricity and many of the buildings were still not complete. With the arrival of 103 Squadron and their Wellington bombers only days away he found it necessary to use his organisational skills and persuasive powers on the contractors so that the work was completed on time.

G/ C Constantine was highly satisfied with 103 Squadron and particularly pleased that it contained aircrew from the Dominions as well as the UK. He believed that this mixture of nationalities provided a good element of competition and was good for morale. Being a sociable man with a great sense of humour he was very popular with the personnel on the station and he continued playing rugby where his enthusiastic running with the ball was greatly admired, especially by the Australians. G/C Constantine was a great believer in physical fitness and on non-flying days the aircrews were often to be seen in the area of the airfield on regular 5 mile runs which were not very popular with some of the participants. It is reported that certain aircrew jokingly expressed the opinion that they would rather be flying operations than doing cross country runs.

Whilst at Elsham Wolds G/C Constantine flew on several operations even though it was highly unusual for someone of his seniority to do so. The first was on the night of the 3/4th March 1942 as co pilot to S/L David Holford who was one of the 103 Squadron flight commanders at the remarkably young age of 21 and  an outstanding pilot and leader. The target was the Renault works at Paris in France and bombing was done from very low level to try and minimise damage to surrounding property and civilian casualties.

Several weeks later he undertook a similar operation but this time as skipper of his own aircraft.

On the 30/31st May 1942, when one of the Flight Commanders went sick, G/C Constantine took his place and skippered his  aircraft  to Cologne as part of the first Thousand Bomber Raid. He also took part in the second Thousand Bomber Raid on Bremen on the 2/3rd July 1942, this time with another crew. During 1942 G/C Constantine was awarded the DSO and his citation commented that he had commanded Elsham Wolds with great distinction.

On leaving Elsham Wolds Hugh Constantine was appointed SASO 1 Group between 1943 and 1944 and was then selected by ACM Arthur Harris to become Deputy SASO at Bomber Command HQ before finally becoming AOC

5 Group taking over from AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane in 1945. At this time he worked closely with Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the Bouncing Bomb and the 22,000lb Grand Slam and 12000lb Tallboy Bombs. 5 Group used Grand Slams and Tallboys to attack precision targets in Germany with great effect towards the end of the war. Under his leadership 5 Group’s own Pathfinders  retained what they regarded as equality with AVM Don Bennett’s official Pathfinders and also consolidated their reputation for target finding. 5 Group also developed their talent for long range bombing operations, in particular against targets in Poland and Czechoslovakia. In March 1945 Constantine and his Group were highly congratulated by General Montgomery for the excellent and accurate bombing  in support of the Allied crossing of the Rhine. 5 Group bombers had greatly assisted in this operation by accurately bombing German positions at night to within 1500 yards of the advancing Allied troops.

After the war Hugh Constantine held a series of senior and important appointments in the RAF. These were Senior Staff Officer with 205 Group in the Canal Zone, Chief Intelligence Officer at British Air Forces of Occupation HQ, Germany, Deputy Director of Organisation ( Forecast and Planning) at the Air Ministry and  C in C of the Flying Training Command. When he retired in 1964 he was Commandant of the Imperial Defence College and held  the rank of Air Chief Marshal Sir H A Constantine KBE, CB, DSO.

For the next 13 years Hugh Constantine continued to work part-time for the Ministry of Defence as co-ordinator of  Anglo-American community relations and was a governor and almoner of Christ’s Hospital. In addition he served on the council of the RAF Malcolm Clubs and the RAF Benevolent Association and took an active interest in the RAF Elsham Wolds Association.

Hugh Constantine passed away on the 16th April 1992 at the age of 83. He was survived by his wife, Helen, and a daughter. When asked his religion “Connie” would reply “ Helen is my religion. “ 

The item was written by David Fell from information from a variety of sources including an obituary which was I think was from the Daily Telegraph in the early 90s

214 Squadron

Above - Pre war (1938) photo of 214 Sqdn. The then Sqdn Ldr Hugh Constantine OC 214 Sqdn is the tall figure in the middle with the moustache. Also in this photo are Charles Pickard, Hal Bufton and Boyd Sellick who all had distinguished war time careers.

Elsham, Wolds Water Treatment Works Plaque Ceremony

Above - The unveiling of the RAF Elsham Wolds commemorative plaque at Anglia Water Treatment Works at Elsham Wolds in the 1970s. Sir Hugh Constantine is second from the left.

Elsham Wolds Memorial Service 91

Above - The dedication of the Memorial at Elsham Wolds in 1991. Sir Hugh Constantine is middle of the line of 5 distinguished guests

George Cross

On the 10th Dec 1928 Pilot Officer H.A. Constantine, while flying an aeroplane off Leysdown, crashed into the sea about 200 yards from the shore. Corporal Thomas McTeague and Flying Officer Walter Anderson immediately entered the sea from the shore and swam to his assistance. The weather was bitterly cold, an onshore wind was blowing and the sea was fairly rough.

Constantine, fully clothed and suffering from injuries and shock, commenced to swim ashore, but was in a state of collapse when the first swimmer (McTeague) reached him. McTeague, though exhausted himself, supported him until the arrival of Anderson, and Constantine was then brought to safety ( this involving swimming for a distance of about 100 yards ) by their combined efforts.

The extremely prompt and timely action by Anderson and McTeague, and the gallantry and persistence they displayed, undoubtedly saved the life of Constantine. (Later Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Constantine KBE CB DSO., station commander at Elsham Wolds).

McTeague and Anderson were both awarded Empire Gallantry Medal which later was exchanged for the George Cross when this was introduced.

McTeague, from Belfast, was also a holder of the Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the face of the enemy whilst serving in the Royal Irish Rifles in WW1.

 

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