Jason Clarke Antiques

Ross Pocket Barometer Owned by Captain Cecil Bebb - General Franco's Pilot


For sale, an historic cased pocket barometer & altimeter by Ross of London owned by Captain Cecil Henry Bebb famed for flying General Franco from The Canary Islands to Spanish Morroco, the event which triggerd The Spanish Civil War.

A super example of a pocket barometer / altimeter retaining all of its original lacquer and with a large scale measuring 21 to 31 inches of barometric pressure presented on a two sectioned silvered dial of one and three quarter inches with inset curved thermometer. The surrounding brass bezel has an indicator hand attached to the inside. The dial is marked engraved, compensated (for temperature) and has the maker’s name, Ross of London to the centre.

The red morocco leather hinged case is also in super condition and unlike many, retains its working catch lock to the side. The base of the interior is lined with purple velvet and the lid has white silk with gold lettering stating the maker’s name again and its address of 26 Condiut Street London with the Royal Appointment arms above.

The exterior of the case has a presentation in gold lettering stating, CHB from CW to the front. The recipient was of course Cecil Henry Bebb and the CW is The Honourable Charles John Frederick Winn of Nostell Priory.

Except for the extraordinary event that took place in July 1936, Captain Cecil Bebb may have been only a name that would have raised any attention within aviation circles or if you believe some accounts, The British Intelligence Agencies.

Nevertheless, Bebb was working as a commercial pilot during 1936 and was approached by his friend Major Hugh Pollard, a British Intelligence Officer to undertake a flight to the Canary Islands for him and two female companions posing as tourists. One of the females was Pollard’s daughter (later Diana Smythies) who in 1983 provided a recorded verbal account of the journey.

Smythies, Diana (Oral history) | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)

In the documentary “The Spanish Civil War – Prelude to Tragedy 1931-1936” Bebb provided an alternative story suggesting that he was approached by an unknown Spanish gentleman requesting a flight to The Canary Islands, however on the 11th July 1936, Bebb took off with both the Pollard entourage and Spanish conspirators.

Smythies provides a very interesting prelude and describes an eventful journey to The Canary Islands which included an emergency landing on a beach at Oporto and Spanish indecision and nervousness at continuing with the operation. With the Spaniards refusing to continue from Portugal, the British passengers agreed to proceed to Casablanca and then flew to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria with papers for Franco.

With General Franco staying on Tenerife, there was a tense atmosphere upon arrival with sporadic outbreaks of violence. Pollard succeeded in smuggling the papers to Franco from Gran Canria after his arrival and a plan was devised to remove Franco from the islands to Morroco to link with troops stationed there.

On the 19th of July, it was agreed that Pollard, his daughter and her friend would travel back to the UK by sea but Bebb would continue back to Morroco carrying General Franco with him. Bebb landed at Tetuan the same day and very quickly the Spanish Morrocan troops were recruited to participate in the now famous coup.

Shortly after Franco, with the assistance of both Germany and Italy moved his troops to Spain and the Spanish Civil War commenced.

It remains unclear whether Bebb was motivated by politics or by adventure but his and Pollard’s actions proved to be a huge catalyst to the sad and historic events that proceeded. Whether his involvement would have changed history’s outcome is perhaps debatable but in providing Franco a means of escaping the Canary Islands, he must be considered as an important contributing party. Franco clearly thought so, Bebb was decorated three times during Franco’s reign both in 1939 and much later again in 1970.

Bebb seems not to have suffered any negative backlash for his actions throughout his life and he sank back into relative obscurity. He flew as a stunt pilot for Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Display (a signed photograph from this period is also included in the sale) and he later became the chief test pilot at Cunliffe Owen Aircraft. He worked for Olley Air Service after the War and eventually retired as an Operations Manager for British United Ariways which was finally consumed by British Caledonian in 1970.

This historic pocket barometer is accompanied by a signed photograph of Bebb during his time with Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Display and is also provided with a signed letter of provenance from Bebb’s son Phillip Richard Montford Bebb confirming the sale of the barometer in 2012, tens years after his Fathers death in 2002.

A superb quality barometer in lovely condition with a very interesting and historic story to match.

Circa 1930

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