WRITING in 1992, Sir Bernard Lovell, FRS, said that the passage of 50 years had not erased the grim memory of June 7, 1942.

“In the evening shadows of that Sunday I stood among the wreckage of a Halifax bomber that a few hours earlier had crashed in flames killing all on board and destroying our only working model of a blind bombing system. On board was AD Blumlein – a brilliant engineer leading a team in EMI who had the contract for manufacturing the device.

But Blumlein was only one of eleven men who perished in that crash and amongst them was flight demonstrator Geoffrey Hensby.

It was Hensby, in partnership with Dr Bernard O’Kane, who made the pioneering flights and contributed so substantially to the early development of the blind bombing H2S system.

Hensby’s death on that day tore apart my small group and removed from my side a young man of great charm. Undoubtedly H2S was the result of a progression of thought by many and a team effort but most of the centimetre Airborne Interception flight tests were done by Hensby.”

Amid fears of a German airborne raid on the coast, the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) was hurriedly moved from Dorset to Malvern College at the end of May 1942. Lovell, head of project H2S, recalled that conditions were initially difficult.

“On 26th May, we arrived in Malvern where we were to take over the College and use RAF Defford as our aerodrome.

H2S radar development was allocated one or two floors of the Preston laboratory.

The facilities for our airborne radar work did not exist, and we were billeted on a largely hostile local population who, for security reasons, could be given no enlightenment about the work of the establishment.”

“The long queues for food at the Winter Gardens (now Malvern Theatres) must live in the memory of many who were involved in that extraordinary move.

"On that first evening in Malvern, Geoffrey Hensby and I found a pub (probably the Wyche Inn on our walk), drank a pint and then climbed up Worcestershire Beacon. Because of the uninterrupted view eastwards, we felt it was an excellent place to experiment and Hensby declared, 'There’s no high ground between us and the Urals'."

“After Hensby’s death (12 days later), this remark was to have much significance during a further visit to the Beacon. The view from the top would lead to an idea which saved the lives of many bomber crews – if not that of Hensby himself.”

The context was that on 18th April 1943 Group Captain Saward, Chief Radar Officer, Bomber Command, spent the day with Lovell. In the evening they walked to the cairn on the Worcester Beacon and Saward confided in Lovell that he was concerned about bomber losses due to German night fighter attacks.

Remembering his previous visit and Hensby’s belief that there was no high ground before the Urals, Lovell came to the realisation that the empty space in H2S echoes could be used to detect fighters.

This led to the rapid development and use of Fishpond, a tail warning addition to H2S – which would significantly reduce bomber losses.

Samuel Curran, originally of the Cavendish Laboratory, was in charge of TRE/EMI liaison. Curran, indeed, was intending to fly himself on June 7, 1942, but gave up his place and flying gear to Blumlein. Knighted in 1970, he said “Hensby was at the time of his death proving remarkably talented as a researcher and had proved himself as a gifted scientific observer.

"I was only one of the many who felt deeply that a great young man had been taken from us. Sir Bernard Lovell’s account in “Echoes of War” shows the contributions made by Hensby were of much moment in the war”.

Geoffrey Spencer Hensby, 24, was buried in Ship Lane Cemetery, Farnborough, close to his parents’ home. His tombstone is engraved “The only son of Frederick and Gertrude Hensby who gave his life whilst flying in the cause of science.”

He is now also commemorated at the scene of his untimely demise on the riverbank at Welsh Bicknor.

  • A 4½-mile hilly, moderate ramble. Excellent terrain.
  • Park, road and open hill.
  • Map: OS 190, Malvern Hills.

The Route

1. Malvern Priory Road North car park (opposite Splash Pool.) Emerge and TL along Priory Road. At left bend, cross and go up walled footpath next to No. 4 Priors End. At end, TL past Lindsay Arts Centre and TL into College Road to

2. Malvern College. (Requisitioned by Telecommunication Research Establishment, where G S Hensby worked in the Preston Laboratory.) Continue. Bend R at Headmaster’s House, past Ashfield (where Roget of Thesaurus fame was frequently resident.) Swing up L along Abbey Road, short distance to Wells Road, cross and, at 1860 fountain, TR as if for Colwall.

3. Upper Wyche Road. Turn left along near pavement, past Chalet No. 24 and Earnslaw Quarry, with views across Severn Plain, for one mile, to (the pub Lovell and Hensby found)

4. The Wyche Inn. TR, into Herefordshire, to find toilets, bus stop and bench area. But turn right up Beacon Road, at Grundy’s Meadow. Follow obvious surfaced path, perhaps favouring Hensby’s right, eastern approach for gradual ascent – one mile – to

5. Worcestershire Beacon. (Celebrating the Queen’ s first sixty years, the topograph will tell you that (RAF Defford) at Croome Park was 7 miles due east but can you see the Ural Montains?) When ready, carry on due north quite steeply down over rougher ground, 550m, to an indicator stone.

6. Path junction. Look for the way to St Ann’s Well. Go forward five paces and TR, at the time of writing, through a wooden gate. (Not back on yourself.) After about 75 paces, fork left down the broader path. Curve right down narrowing path, through gorse, until you reach broad cross path. Turn sharp left . Go under trees, through gate towards clearing and viewing area, but TR to

7. St Ann’s Well. Continue down twisty surface to road. TR for town centre via 99 Steps (actually 95) and Rose Bank Gardens (Walenty Pytel’s Buzzards), to L of Mount Pleasant. TL then fork lower R, signed Malvern Theatres . After 50m, TL in Abbey Road. TR down Church Street. Pass Priory. TR for Theatres (old Winter Gardens.)

8. TL into Priory Park. Pass L of bandstand, across Swan Pool, by Splash to park.