Herbie Edgar was an official photographer with the Royal Air Force. As a member of 502 Squadron, he trained in photography but it was unknown just how much of his time at war he recorded.
Some of his work featured in footage discovered in an attic in Northern Ireland. The scenes show the life of a serviceman at RAF Aldergrove during the opening months of the conflict. This period of stalemate between belligerents was often known as “The Phoney War”.
The 18-minute film centres on the Royal Air Force’s Aldergrove base in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. The video contains excerpts of training exercises and rare coloured snapshots. Particularly revealing are the shots of 502 Squadron relaxing during their downtime.
It’s believed squadron member Sean McNeill made the movie using stills taken by Herbie Edgar. Historians have described the find as a “window into the past”.
Herbie Edgar’s Lost Film
After the death of Herbie Edgar in 2008. his son-in-law discovered the rare film. Without access to an old projector, the family had no idea what was on the film reel. A cameraman from BBC Northern Ireland later digitised the footage. The family passed it on to Guy Warner of the Ulster Aviation Society who could identify its significance.
The rarity of the film lies in its informal nature as well as the fact the footage is in full colour. It’s a unique glimpse into life in the RAF during the early years of World War Two.
You see the comradeship of everyone and the bit of larking around, but also the training and the preparation for war – the painting of the cars, the drills – that is 502 at its peak.
Wing Commander James Armstrong, Royal Air Force, April 2014
As well as the cine film, there were photograph albums from the 1930s and 1940s, magazines and other memorabilia.
The 502 Squadron at RAF Aldergrove
RAF 502 Squadron were part of Coastal Command based at Aldergrove. Their roles included escorting convoys, carrying out shipping strikes and anti-submarine duties.
Some of the men featured in the recently discovered film would not have survived the war. Most Coastal Command squadrons including 502 suffered considerable losses. These were particularly heavy during the Battle of the Atlantic, which raged for most of the war. We should never underestimate the pressure these young men were under.
Although the photos of Herbie Edgar show them swimming, playing cards, pool and having a beer, this was not the norm for them.
Herbie Edgar remained a photographer with the RAF until the war’s end. He served in France, Belgium and Holland before returning to Northern Ireland. On his return to civilian life he took a job as chief photographer for aviation firm Short Brothers. He would remain there until his retirement in 1981.
Edgar was awarded the British Empire Medal for his role in rescuing a pilot from his burning aircraft.