These two geographically distant constituencies have an interesting link - Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett. Bennett had a successful, but controversial, career in the RAF Pathfinder Force during the war, marking targets for bombing raids. Before the operation of the Pathfinders, only 25% of bombs had been on target. And in this case ‘on target’ had been defined as within 3 miles of the point of aim! An outsider, being Australian by birth and aloof in personality, Bennett fell out with his superiors and was the only bomber group commander not to be knighted after the war.
Bennett became one of the shortest-serving MPs of all time when he was elected unopposed as Liberal MP for Middlesbrough West in a by-election on 14 May 1945 (caused by the death of Harcourt Johnstone – see post for 14 October), only to lose the seat at the general election held on 5 July - just 73 days later.
Having been ousted in Middlesbrough, Bennett was keen to return to parliament and contested the 1948 Croydon North by-election as the Liberal candidate, only to come a poor third and lose his deposit.
Bennett continued to court controversy in his post-war career. He was sacked as head of British South American Airways when he refused to ground his planes after several crashes. He became embroiled in court cases involving commercial litigation and taxes and he was sued for libel by another former Air Vice-Marshal who objected to Bennett’s revealing in a book that he had worn shorts to a meeting!
Bennett eventually took flight from the Liberal Party and stood as a far-right candidate in a by-election in Nuneaton in 1967. He died on Battle of Britain Day in 1986.