Where does one begin to describe the life of a man who rubbed shoulders with legends and became a legend himself, in his own time?
He worked with the Australian born Wing Commander Sidney Cotton, founder of the WW2 photo reconnaissance units; worked with the son of the US president Lt. Colonel Elliott Roosevelt: was inspected by the then US president Roosevelt; witnessed the surrender of the Italian fleet, experienced a volcanic eruption and stepped in the ring with the world heavyweight champion, Joe Louis.
As an encore, he wrote an award winning book; helped to found a museum and dined with Lord Lichfield. So I hope you will bear with me for the next few minutes because that is too good a story to pass over.
Jack was born in Yorkshire on the 20th March 1920 and came into the RAF as a 16 year old boy entrant in 1936. In the days leading up to the outbreak of war, he served at the secret Photo Development Unit at Heston under the legendary and controversial Wing Commander Sidney Cotton, who created the new photo reconnaissance squadrons.
From here, he followed these units at St. Eval and then into France based at Seclin in support of the British Expeditionary Force. After the fall of France and the evacuation at Dunkirque, he joined up with No 4 Mobile Field Photographic Unit landing in North Africa at Algiers. This unit followed the advance of the front line to La Marsa where his CO was an American, Lt Col Elliott Roosevelt (son of the US president). It was during a rare parade here that Jack was inspected by President Roosevelt during his visit to the area.
By 1943 he arrived in Sicily with the advancing allies. During a short detachment from Sicily to the island of Malta, he witnessed the surrender of the Italian fleet as they sailed into Grand Harbour on September 10th 1943. When Italy capitulated after the successful landings at Anzio in 1944, Jack took the opportunity to visit Rome after it was freed by the allies. He went to the Vatican and (in his words) “was escorted by two charming young Irish nuns, an unforgettable experience” (his words not mine!). In the town of San Severo he worked from a large converted school building and used his many acquired skills for adapting the available facilities. The mobile units continued to follow the allied armies in pursuit of the enemy up through Italy. During this phase a remarkable liaison grew between the American, British and Free French photographers which earned a special commendation from General Eisenhower.
It was during this time they were entertained to a visit from the world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis. Jack actually entered the ring with others invited by Joe Louis, who demonstrated his shadow boxing skills. So Jack was able to legally claim he had been in the ring with the mighty Joe Louis!
During a visit to Naples, near the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano had one of its rare eruptions which covered the area like a grey snow storm. German forces in Italy surrendered in the spring of 1945, followed on May 8th by total surrender in Europe.
He was then moved to Austria and enjoyed the luxury of being billeted in a hotel in Velden on the Worthersee along with the use of his own speed boat and a captured German staff car. He even managed a horse ride on some captured Cossack horses. Sadly no photographs have come to light of Jack riding his wild Cossack horse!! Their task was to cover the river crossings and military features along the Drau river. Jack used his innovative skills to convert an F52 aerial camera as a long range horizontal camera, set in a cradle, covered from view in a deep hide with all the metal surfaces painted matt black. This area was close to the Russian armies occupying Hungary and Tito’s army in Jugoslavia so precautions were the watch word to avoid international incidents.
In 1954 Jack married Renee Hoye, an ex-RAF photographer. Their son Peter was born in 1957 but Renee died tragically early in 1967, so he brought Peter up by himself whilst still working full time at Cosford. His post war career in the RAF culminated in achieving the rank of Warrant Officer before he retired from the service in 1975, but his experience and value to the RAF was not to be lost and he began a second career as an Instructional Officer at the training school under the Ministry of Defence.
During this time his achievements included creating the most important training manual for the control of photo processing by sensitometry, a subject he taught at the Joint School for many years. It was heralded as the benchmark of photo reconnaissance processing, during which time the RAF became the envy of every military reconnaissance force. It won him international accolades in the world of scientific writings and stands as an eternal tribute to his diligence and professionalism.
After retirement he frequently advised on RAF historical photography matters, assisting the author Roy Nesbitt in writing the book “Eyes of the RAF” and participating in several TV documentaries made by American, Australian and British TV companies about wartime photo reconnaissance. He was curator and custodian of the unique photographic museum collection at the training school. He was also a founder member of the team which undertook the monumental task of transferring it to public display at the RAF Museum, Cosford as the
Military Photography Gallery. During this six month task, he was my personal mentor in ensuring accuracy of historical facts and diligently proof read all our text and missives to ensure everything put on display was true and correct. It was successfully opened on time by the late Lord Lichfield on June 16th 2000 where his grace kindly entertained us at lunch with his wonderful humour. In 2006 as a member of the RAF Boy Entrants Photographic Association, he was presented with a special lifetime award by the Chairman, Wing Commander John Barry. The annual award of the association is called the Jack Eggleston Trophy.
Jack lived a life filled with remarkable historic events, in a spectacularly changing world,. And he did it with the posture of a quietly polite gentleman, walking softly and with good humour. The impact and authority of his life, however has been tremendous on us all.
By kind permission of the RAF Photographers Association magazine ‘Flashback’