Harry Penny

Harry Penny-Uxbridge, 1969

Harry Penny-Uxbridge, 1969

Both Harry and Gay (later to be Harry’s wife) were born in 1922 as London “cockneys” – they were both born within the sound of Bow Bells.

They were born into families with limited financial resources. Harry was fortunate as he qualified for a London County scholarship, which allowed him to join a school with a 400-year history. Gay finished secondary school and became an apprentice hairdresser. After Harry completed his education he became a trainee cadet with Shell-Mex. When war was declared in 1939, Harry enlisted as an aircrew trainee in the RAF. Harry started out working on twin-engined Whitley bombers and, later, on Halifax four-engined which had a crew of seven. He and his crew were then transferred to the elite Pathfinder Force which were specially equipped with target markers. Harry’s aircraft “J” for Johnny met its doom on 31st August, 1943 and was shot down over Holland in 1943. At the time, he and Gay had only been married for two months when she received a message on 1st September that Harry was “reported missing”. Harry successfully evaded capture for 10 weeks, and was awarded a military OBE, and became a war hero. Sadly, four crew members, who were all friends, did not survive the crash, whilst two other members were captured by the Germans, and were to remain POW’s until the end of the war. Harry became the founding member of the RAF Escaping Society.

But, much later in life, he ended up engaged in a battle with the British government – over his paltry state pension. And he died knowing that he hadn’t succeeded in winning that particular skirmish.

Harry’s outstanding career continued in the post war years including service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan, Iraq and in Singapore during the Indonesian confrontation period. His last posting was as Station Commander, RAF Uxbridge. 

Harry and Gay emigrated to Tasmania in 1972 and became Australian citizens.

Harry served his country with honour, but how did the UK government repay him? By freezing his basic state pension at the 1987 level of just £38.80 a week. He was effectively “punished” for emigrating to Australia, a Commonwealth country. Yet, if he had retired to Germany, the country we were at war with, and which he had bombed, he would have received up to £115.95 a week.

His 95-year-old widow Gay, who receives a basic state pension also frozen at £38.80 a week, is having to continue the fight without him.

It’s cases like this that highlight just how illogical and unfair the UK government’s “frozen pensions” policy is.

The case of Harry and Gay Penny (Harry died in February 2016 aged 94) is timely for two reasons: the Royal Air Force is celebrating its 100th birthday this month, and this was the week the UK hosted a major summit of Commonwealth leaders.

“My father and mother made contributions into the UK state pension even after emigrating to Australia in 1970,” Harry and Gay’s son Nick told us. “There was no correspondence to indicate the pension they received at retirement age would stay the same for life. Therefore, from 1987, the income has been ‘frozen’. It’s obviously a reasonable figure in 1987, but outrageous in 2018.”

Words: Rupert Jones, The Guardian, 21 April 2018, with additional material provided by The Domain

Photo: Jim Tilley, British Pensions in Australia (BPiA)