The Naming  

This story is based on fact. All the main characters are - or at least were - real.  

For a woman, possessing the surname “Haggard” was as trying in the late nineteenth century as it is today. Originating from French, the word first appears to have been used in falconry. Perhaps influenced by the derogatory word “hag”, haggard came to mean having an exhausted or ill look, or reflecting tiredness, worry or suffering. However, despite these negative connotations, there was one redeeming feature of the name at that time: it was fairly well known.  

This was thanks to the successful author H. Rider Haggard, whose “King Solomon’s Mines”, published in 1885, became an instant best-seller. His further works, particularly his swashbuckling adventures, were hugely popular and had a side effect of ensuring that anybody else unfortunate to be named Haggard could point to the success wrought by this English and colonialist novelist. Perhaps they also pretended he was a distant relation, thereby earning somewhat more respect than might otherwise have ordinarily been proffered!  

That said, in America, one young woman with the surname Haggard was delighted when, on marrying her fiancé Paul, she was able to take on a different name. Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, the red-haired Miss Haggard was a strong and confident woman but, through the years, she had - on stating her name - been subjected to a good degree of mirth and not a few strange looks. Always retaining her poise on such occasions, never had she given folk the satisfaction of seeing in her any kind of discomfort or displeasure with such reactions to her name. Nevertheless, when she married Paul and became Mrs Tibbets, the new wife spoke her new surname with a special pride and took the greatest of pleasure in being able to hand over official documentation in the name of Tibbets without receiving snide comments or glances of extra scrutiny.  

In 1915, her former namesake H. Rider Haggard published his book “ The Holy Flower” and it was in that same year, in the town of Quincy, Illinois, within sight of the mighty Mississippi, that Mrs Tibbets gave birth to a son, whom she named Paul, after her husband. 

A few years later the family moved to Iowa and this was to herald the start of many, many changes of location for the young Paul, first with his parents and later as a result of the work he undertook. It was perhaps because of these disruptive changes in Paul Junior’s early life that his Mother adopted a particularly comforting and supportive outlook towards her son.

The years immediately after the First World War saw growing prosperity in the United States and many who were accumulating wealth were attracted to the state of Florida, which was rapidly becoming a haven for the well known and well-to-do. Deciding that Florida was the up-and-coming place to be (and having the chance to turn their backs on the harsh Iowan winters), the Tibbets family made the 1,500 mile journey to live in warm, sunny, Miami. It was there, when he was twelve years old, that Paul Junior fell in love.  

It was not a girl which captured Paul’s young heart but, rather, aviation. Like many young boys, he had been interested in aircraft from an early age but one summer’s day in 1927, at the local carnival, this mild enthusiasm suddenly blossomed into a real love affair, one which was to last for the rest of Paul’s life.  

Flourishing in America in the “roaring twenties” was an activity known as barnstorming - pilots performing impressive aerial acrobatics and stunt flying. These spectacles put on for their audiences made for enthralling viewing, especially when flying circuses were involved. When Paul’s attention was drawn to an advertisement that the pioneer aviator and much admired barnstormer Douglas H. Davis was coming to town, he was determined not to miss she show. As it turned out, he received much more than he was expecting, courtesy of his Mother. 

Ever ready where possible to fulfil her son’s requests, she had no hesitation in extracting from her purse one dollar to allow the twelve year old Paul to step into Davis’s Waco 9 biplane and actually to fly with him that day. It was all part of a promotional stunt for the Curtiss Candy Company. Flying aloft into the clear air and after a few exhibition circuits, Davis and the young Master Tibbets dropped Baby Ruth chocolate bars, bearing tiny parachutes, to the delighted crowds gathered below at the recently opened Hialeah racetrack and to those sunning themselves on Miami beach. To a thrilled Paul, it conjured up images of those flying aces in the war, which he had read about and seen on grainy black and white films, dropping bombs by hand from their cockpit on the enemy! By the time the aircraft’s wheels touched again the green Florida turf, Paul had made up his mind. He would become a pilot.  

His Father had no time for such silly boyhood dreams but, as always, Paul’s Mother was sympathetic, although little could be done at the time to help Paul further his embryonic ambitions. Before long, the great Florida land boom had turned into Florida’s first real estate bubble and the Tibbets family uprooted once more as Illinois again became their home. Paul was fortunate in being sent to the prestigious Western Military Academy, where he was one of some 300 cadets learning the fundamentals of military life, receiving a solid grounding in discipline and unquestioning obedience. 

It was perhaps this enslavement to obedience which resulted in Paul’s acceptance of the wishes of his Father after that gentleman’s retirement and the family’s move back to Florida. His Father simply turned to Paul one day and said “You’re going to be a doctor”. Not “Have you thought about becoming a Doctor?” or “How does the idea of becoming a Doctor strike you?” or even any kind of discussion about what Paul himself might like to do. Paul knew, for all his other hopes and aspirations, that he was expected to adhere to his Father’s wishes. He desperately wanted to appeal to his Mother but, at the same time, he had no desire to show weakness in front of his Father. So he simply nodded his head in silent acquiescence.  

By then it was 1934 and Paul was studying at the University of Florida. There was no medical school at the University so he made a transfer to the University of Cincinnati. Paul, though, had not forgotten his first love. Indeed, a year or so earlier he had started taking flying lessons at Miami’s Opa-locka airport and, having reached the required standard, he had already flown solo. His Father never supported him in this venture; he hated aeroplanes and all they represented but for Paul nothing surpassed that glorious feeling of man and machine as one, free as a bird to explore the skies and look down on vast landscapes and the tiny mortals below. Before long, every time he flew, his true calling to take to the air seemed to be reinforced; strengthening deep within him, almost overpowering in its force. Even though he was now following the path expected of him by his Father, it was becoming increasingly clear to Paul that flying, not medicine, was where his future must lie.   

Eventually, after much anguish and tortured wrestling with his emotions, Paul decided to face his Father and tell him of his intentions: not to train to be a doctor but to become a military pilot. Paul anticipated a difficult conversation that day, preparing himself for a heated discussion, anticipating forceful resistance and determined to go to any lengths to prevent his Father gaining the upper hand. What actually happed was much to his surprise. His Father effectively washed his hands of Paul. He listen to his son without argument but the retort, when it came, was as stinging as it was unexpected: "Well, I've sent you through school, bought you automobiles, given you money to run around with girls but from here on, you're on your own. If you want to go kill yourself, go ahead, I don't give a damn".  

Reeling from this unforseen jolt and not quite sure whether to be heartened that his Father was showing no resistance against his ambitions or sad because he appeared to be cutting himself off from Paul, his Mother, always there with soothing words of support and encouragement, simply said in a quiet tone “Paul, if you want to go fly airplanes, you're going to be all right”.  

Thus the die was cast and the dream, encouraged by his Mother, gradually turned into reality. Paul joined the United States Army Air Corps and found the military training which he had undertaken at the Academy to be invaluable. He proved himself to be an above-average pilot, graduated first in his class and went on, stationed at Fort Benning as Second Lieutenant, to fly observation planes and B-10 bombers. There he met and served George Patton - then a Lieutenant Colonel - and they even went shooting together!  

It was there also that Paul encountered Lucy Wingate, a clerk at a Georgia department store. The two quietly married in June 1938. Thus his wife and the two sons who subsequently came along became the latest generation of the family Tibbets to shift from location to location as Paul moved to different air bases. Promoted to First Lieutenant, in 1941 he started flying A-20 attack bombers and it was whilst he was flying over Georgia in one of these that he first heard the news over his radio of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

By 1942, Paul was a Captain flying the enormous B-17 Flying Fortress and then, as Major Tibbets, he brought his squadron across the Atlantic Ocean to RAF Polebrook, near Oundle. From there, Paul flew in the first daylight bombing raid by an American squadron over German-occupied Europe. All returned safely from that historic sortie.  

Widely recognised as the best flier in the US Army Air Force, Paul was sent in the theatre of war on some of the most important missions including, on one occasion, ferrying to Gibraltar no less a person than General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces.  

In July 1943, having returned to the United States, Paul reported - in accordance with his instructions - to Boeing’s production plant in Wichita, Kansas. This was one of four plants devoted to production of the new B-29 Superfortress bomber. He came to know those aircraft intimately, to understand every detail of their workings and assembly. He soon accumulated more flying time on this type of aeroplane than any other pilot and in January 1945 was promoted, yet again, to Colonel.

Given Paul’s flying abilities, his wide and varied experience (recognised by his meteoric rise up the ranks), complete discretion and trustworthiness over his key missions, unwavering obedience yet a willingness to experiment and suggest improvements in operating efficiency, there was never going to be any other choice of pilot to command the latest top secret assignment. Work on this started in September 1944 and culminated, after all the planning, testing, rehearsing and overcoming of hurdles never before encountered, eleven months later.  

Shortly before the climactic mission which had been so long in the evolution, Colonel Tibbets decided it was time his aircraft should have a name. Up until then the massive, polished aluminium B-29 Superfortress, model number B-29-45-MO, Serial number 45-86292, had simply been assigned a Victor (or identification) number of 82. This particular one had been selected by Colonel Tibbetts himself a few months earlier whilst still on the assembly line. What was needed now, on the eve of the mission, was something to personalise this monster craft; to help stamp its character.  

There had been a precedent to name combat aircraft after American towns but this had proven to be somewhat controversial. Thus Paul sat at his desk and scratched his head. What name should he choose? All aircraft were referred to as “she” so, as Paul thought of something suitable, he felt it ought to have a feminine ring about it but yet something distinctive and unusual. He thought of his wife Lucy but a tiny flicker of pain crossed his face as he recalled the strain which his demanding military career had inevitably placed on their marriage. He thought of the girls he knew long ago at University and the servicewomen at the numerous bases where he had been stationed. It came as something of a surprise to realise that he couldn’t now actually remember all their names!  

What he needed was something unique, a name which somehow represented fortitude and trust. Suddenly, of course, he had it. Picking up his telephone he gave orders for the person overseeing the name painting to report to him. While he waited, he wrote briefly on a paper before him, then idly tidied the remaining sheets on his desk, moved the little wooden scrolling calendar, displaying 5 August 1945, further to one side, squared up his pens and pencils and neatly aligned his in and out trays with the edge of the desk. Shortly, a young Airman knocked, entered the room, saluted and stood smartly to attention before the great Colonel.  

“At ease Airman”, Paul ordered. “Take a seat”.  

“Thank you, sir”.  

“As you know, I’ve been trying to think of a name for you to paint on 82. It goes on its mission tomorrow and it needs a proper name”.

“Yes, sir”.  

“I have now decided on that name. I’m going to name it after my Mother”.


“I mean my Mother’s Christian and middle names”. The private sat silently but alert, awaiting elucidation. Paul stood up and started to pace slowly and thoughtfully around the room.  

“You see, my Mother has always been rather courageous and she has a sort of quiet yet loving confidence which has been a source of strength to me since boyhood. It was primarily thanks to her that I became a pilot in the first place”.  

The young serviceman shuffled embarrassingly in his chair. He had only seen the Colonel from a distance and had never heard it said that he was one for revealing his innermost thoughts like this. Unsure as to whether a response from him was expected, he continued to remain silent.  

The Colonel continued. “My Mother’s middle name is fairly commonplace but her Christian name is unusual. She was named after a character in a novel. Apparently my Grandfather had been reading it just before my Mother was born. I wonder if you happen to know it. The sub-title was “Her Fatal Mistake”.  

“No, sorry, sir. I’ve never read that one”.

“That’s OK Airman”, the Colonel replied. “I doubt whether many people have heard of it, or even the author, Mary Ridenbaugh. My Grandfather was clearly taken with the novel and named my Mother after the title character”. Tibbets paused again.  

“What is your Mother’s name, sir? What exactly would you like painted on the plane?”.

Paul reached for the paper on his desk and, returning to his usual precise military bearing replied “I’ve written it down for you on this. Take it with you and see that it’s done today”.  

The Airman came to his feet abruptly and received the paper form the Colonel’s own hand.  

“That’s all”, he was told.

“Yes, sir”.  

The salutes exchanged, the Airman departed and by four o’clock that afternoon, the giant silver machine, glinting in the afternoon sunshine, bore its name in bold, black letters on the left hand side of the fuselage towards the nose, below the level of the cockpit.  

As Colonel Paul Tibbets reached his aircraft early the following morning, his senses honed to the sharpest, geared to the maximum for the daunting mission ahead of him, he looked up proudly at the newly painted name, glinting resplendently in the artificial airbase lighting. Enola Gay.  


The Enola Gay, piloted by Tibbets, flew into history on 6 August 1945 as the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb. The target was Hiroshima, Japan. At 8.15 local time the Enola Gay jettisoned its bomb. Within a few minutes, 80,000 people were dead.  

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire March 2016