Sunday, 11 November 2012

The next instalment of my amazing journey with my Dad

Today, being Remembrance Sunday, seemed a fitting time to update you on my Blog.

Having watched Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance this morning, I was in floods of tears, a wonderful and extremely moving tribute to all our heroes, past and present, but the bit that really moved me was the piece 41 minutes in, when Bomber Command finally got  the recognition they deserved. When those heroes of a Lancaster Squadron crew stood on a projection of their beloved aircraft in their relative positions, I was in bits. 

Some of you may have seen my Twitter and Facebook posts over the last few weeks about the soon to be published book by Chris Keltie, the true life story of his neighbour and very good friend, Bill North, a Lancaster Bomber Pilot from 61 Squadron. Sadly Bill died last year but he was able to encourage and help Chris with it in the early stages. It is called “Riding in the Shadow of Death” and it is an amazing and touching story of courage and comradeship. Extracts from the book can be found here. Extracts from Riding in the Shadow of Death  I was in tears when I read it and every time since. 

I first “met” Chris Keltie on Twitter as I had seen this tweet in my Twitter stream of the Daily Telegraph article “Lost Lancaster crew identified after 68 years by wireless operator's wedding ring”. Daily Telegraph article

I tweeted Chris that I had read this incredible story and checked my Dad’s log book to find that Dad actually flew in that aircraft ND 739 just 3 weeks before ND 739 was shot down on 6th June 1944, D-Day.  

It was one of the most highly decorated crew to be lost. The crew members who died were led by Wing Cmdr Carter, DFC, with Sqdn Ldr Martin Bryan-Smith, DFC, Flt Lieut Albert Chambers, DFC, Flt Lieut Henry Jeffery, DFM, Acting Flt Sgt Guy Dunning, DFM, Acting Flt Sgt Frank Watson, DFM, Australian Flt Lieut Ronald Conley, DFC, and Canadian Flt Lieut Herbert Rieger.

As you will see from this page from Dad’s log book Wing Commander Carter was his pilot on a couple of occasions. Dad also knew Squadron Leader Martin Bryan-Smith.

After a few chats with Chris on Twitter he asked me if Dad would mind meeting up with him as he would love to have a chat with him about his Bomber Command experiences. We arranged it the following week and I was there too and had a wonderful time listening to Dad chatting to Chris. One thing that Chris wanted to do was to cross-check Dad and Bill’s log books and we quickly realised they had actually flown together on a few missions. This was incredible to see as Dad and his crew, being the Pathfinder Force were marking Bill’s targets for him, adding colour and depth to Chris’s book. How amazing is that! There were a few times that we all got tears in our eyes.

Dad was answering Chris’s questions about the role of the Pathfinders and how they marked the targets and even set him some homework!

Not changed much has he!

Me, Dad and Chris Keltie

When Chris was ready to leave, I was helping him get all his papers and books together. One of the books, "Bomber Command Losses", fell open on a page as if it was *willing* us to read it …. it showed two losses from Dad’s 97 Squadron on the same day, 23rd June 1944 (my birthday but not in 1944 I hasten to add!!) It was a formation training exercise where two aircraft tragically collided mid-air. Dad was in that very same formation and he immediately recalled the names of the two pilots involved, Perkins and Van Raalte - see later on in this blog for details of what happened.  

Chris K and I are still trying to get over the shock of why that page should have flopped open eerily like that! Chris said he has had some surreal experiences whilst writing his book, and is very sure that Bill is looking over his shoulder, guiding him.

The following weekend we took Mum and Dad to the annual reunion of 97 Squadron in Horncastle. Chris K asked if I could possibly do some “networking” and chat to some of the veterans to see if there were any stories he could use in his book, so that was my homework … not that I minded at all - I love meeting those wonderful veterans, all heroes, every single one of them and some of them quite cheeky too!

It was a wonderful evening and we ended up being sat on the “naughty table”. Funny how that always happens!!  Kevin Bending and his other half, Bev were on our table and we all hit it off immediately and had such a lovely time. I think we laughed all night! Kevin met Dad a few years ago whilst researching his book, Achieve your Aim (97 Squadron’s Motto) Achieve Your Aim

The Naughty Table

                                               Having a giggle with the Veterans

Whist at the reunion I met Bob Lasham, DFC and Bar. He flew 53 ops, so between him and Dad they did 100. Incredible!  Dad and he have met on a couple of occasions before. 

Bob was a pilot and his crew used to call him Dad as he was the oldest, at 23!!! I asked Dad if he remembers Bob being at Coningsby with him. He said he knew of him but didn't know him that well although on checking Dad's log book, Bob is down in Dad's log book as his pilot on three occasions during training ops (20.4.44, 4.7.44 and 10.7.44) Dad asked Bob if he remembered his pilot, Bill Reid .... he said he remembered him very well. 

They spoke about the tragic accident which took place whilst training on 23rd June 1944 as mentioned above. Van Raalt's Lancaster was caught in the slipstream of another aircraft with the result that Van Raalt's Lancaster side-slipped over Perkins' Lancaster, then as everyone in the formation watched in utter horror (can't believe Dad and Bob witnessed this!), Van Raalte's Lancaster then dropped suddenly and collided with Perkins' Lancaster, removing the entire tail section from Perkins' plane and smashing the nose section of Van Raalte's plane. Both aircraft disintegrated and plunged into the fields below (near Crowland, Peterborough). Dad said the aircraft missed them by inches! There was just one survivor from the two crews, a wireless operator who managed to parachute out, suffering burns, very nearly landing on the burning wreckage. He never flew again. Dad said the station hushed it up and the surviving crew member was posted as LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre). So sad. 

On checking Dad's log book I see he was up again later that evening on a mission to Limoges…. so just HOURS after witnessing that horrific accident, they all went up again! It just goes to prove that these brave young men suffered so much heartbreak and saw so much tragedy but they still managed to carry on with their duties. Absolute heroes, all of them. I am so unbelievably proud of them all.

A moment of reflection

Dad's plane bottom right - Pilot "Bill Gee DFC" is incorrect. It should in fact be "Bill Reid DFC"

Remains of the two aircraft can be found at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. The picture above is taken from there.

Then the Deelen op came up in conversation. Bob and Dad were both on this op. Dad remembers this one very well as it was his last op of his second tour, 15th August 1944. It was a daylight trip. Bob said one of his gunners saw a bomb from above fall past and hit the aircraft below, completely severing the rear turret and remembers vividly the aircraft fall apart and the turret tumbling down, with the rear gunner still inside it. Dad said two bombs falling from aircraft above them passed within about 5 feet of their tailplane. Their plane was damaged from the explosion of aircraft behind and the perspex in the rear turret shattered. A memorable experience for Dad's last mission!

Bob also mentioned another op to Munich in April 1944 (dad was on this one also). He said that they had just completed their marking run when they were coned by searchlights. He put the Lancaster into a dive and applied full power, they then heard loud thumps and bangs, not knowing what had hit them but knew they'd lost an engine. He managed to keep control of the plane flying on three engines. On landing they realised that they had been struck by incendiaries falling from one of their own aircraft..... it could even have been Dad's plane!  Makes me go cold listening to these stories.

Last weekend we visited East Kirkby for their annual Fireworks Display and Night Taxy Run where you can really get the feel of a WW2 airfield at night. It was such a shame that there was a technical hitch with the searchlights as that really would have added to the atmosphere.

We had an incredible time and were extremely privileged to actually get on Board Just Jane! Sean, who I also “met” on Twitter is the safety officer and historical guide and aircrew for AVRO Lancaster NX611 “Just Jane”. A huge heartfelt thanks to Sean and everyone at Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby

Just Jane firing up her Merlin engines getting ready for 3pm taxy run
 (Pic courtesy of Stephen of Laburnum House)

Video courtesy of Chris Keltie

Immediately after the taxy run Sean whisked Dad and I away for a static tour of Just Jane. He said it was his way of showing everyone’s gratitude of what Dad did for the country and treated him like an absolute hero. Chris K also came up with us to take pics. I had only just stepped on to her and could see Dad way in the distance easily negotiating the main spar! At 89 he puts everyone to shame with his agility!

I found that clambering over the main spar and through the narrow aircraft really gave you a feeling of what those young men did and it went through my head as I got my leg stuck on the main spar, how on earth could those young men, in full kit, manage to get out in an emergency. Incredible!!  As I said to the boys, I had never had my leg over as much as I did that afternoon!

We finally made it to the cockpit with Sean giving us fascinating facts and information the whole time. He asked if I would like to sit in the hot seat which I jumped at!  Sean is so passionate about Bomber Command and so knowledgeable. He is a fantastic guide and I could have listened to him all day … there were indeed a few tears.

Sean and Dad reflecting

Sean, me and Dad - that smile on Dad's face says it all

Sun glinting through Just Jane's cockpit as Dad languishes in the pilot's seat!!

Whilst clambering down from the pilot’s seat, I managed to get stuck or rather “something” seemed to have got stuck between my legs ….I looked down and looked up questioningly at Sean to ask him what it was. He said it was a trim to which I replied “oh good, I needed a good trim!” …. It just came out .... then Dad quipped  “oh did your bush need a trim?” Oh my, I could have died with embarrassment if I hadn’t been laughing so much!!

I then proceeded to get down in the bomb aimer’s position and Sean was telling us about all the bombs, the knobs and switches, absolutely fascinating stuff! I think Dad learned some things too! He certainly is a mine of information!

Sadly our tour was then at an end as Sean had to go and do his Kit Talk which was interesting too! He's so knowledgeable and doesn't come up for air!

Sean doing his Kit Talk

Sean, me and Dad

Sean, Dad and Chris K

After a delicious hog roast, the raffle was drawn. First prize was a 7pm taxy ride. Mum, Dad and Chris were all warming up in the car so I said I would listen out for the raffle armed with all our tickets.

Can you believe that the first number drawn was blue 271 .... the 3 blue tickets I had were on the top of the bunch of tickets I was holding and all I could see was 270 ... my hands were so bloomin' cold I couldn't separate them quickly .... I was shaking so much as I really thought Dad had won! Chris K rang me as he was convinced we had a winning ticket between us, but sadly no. Unbelievably close!!

It was then time for the 7pm taxy run, the highlight of the evening, which we all shared with Chris K and his lovely wife, Wendy. As Just Jane fired up her engines we were totally mesmorised. You can never fail to be moved by such an awesome sound. We all had tears in our eyes as she taxied towards us. What an incredibly moving sight on a cold and frosty night, the airfield lit by moonlight - truly breathtaking and totally overwhelming, tears coursed down our cheeks. Dad was moved too, but Dad being Dad, took it all in his stride! 

Sean with Dad and I in the cockpit - video courtesy of Chris Keltie

The following fantastic photos of Just Jane are by kind permission of Stephen from Laburnum House B&B


The evening ended with an amazing firework display, a perfect end to a perfect day.

Watch this space for news on Chris's book launch.

Whilst I still have your attention I thought you might like to hear about my younger sister, Sharon. She and her partner, Martin, have a small film company called Ermine Street Project .They are  working to produce a documentary entitled "Finding the Pathfinders" where they are attempting to trace any surviving members of Dad's crews, telling their stories and tracing the current family members. They are currently researching and applying for funding and hope to make this documentary early next year. The screening will be at Kinema in the Woods Woodhall Spa which is central to several of the Lincolnshire Bomber airbases.

Watch this space for news!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Dad revisits the Lancaster 68 years on ...

First of all, I must say a huge thank you to the staff at The Battle of Britain Memorial Museum at Coningsby BBMF  for our VIP tour of the Museum last month, and especially Yvonne (whom I met on Twitter) who organised it and Matt, our wonderful and knowledgeable guide.  Yvonne just happened to see me tweeting with my friend, J, one evening as I had sent a BBMF Youtube link to J saying I bet Dad had seen a Lancaster from that angle a few times ....Yvonne saw the tweet and asked if Dad was ex-crew, and said we really must bring Dad along for a special VIP visit and that I could bring J along too!  I blooming love Twitter I do! For more about Dad please read my earlier Blog I'm So Proud of My Dad

There just aren’t enough words to express the feelings of the day we visited BBMF Museum. Entering the hanger is a breathtaking experience, your eyes dart around taking in the wonderful sights of the World War II aircraft whilst you breathe in the heavy aroma of aviation fuel. Matt took us on the tour telling us about the Hurricane, Spitfires and Dakota, and wherever we walked, the awesome sight of the Lancaster was never far away, she totally dominates the hanger. When we got up close to her, we all admired her lovely new nose art “Thumper Mk III”.

Pic courtesy of J

The RAF BBMF Lancaster PA474 has taken on a new ‘identity’ as 617 Squadron Lancaster B1, DV385, “Thumper Mk III”. Read here for the story. Thumper Mk III

When Matt took Dad on board I thought my heart would burst with pride. So many emotions flooded through me as to how Dad felt stepping on her after 68 years and thoughts of those thousands of brave young men who never returned home but will never be forgotten.

At 89, Dad is extremely agile and couldn’t wait to get on board. When he and my brother’s heads appeared in the cockpit, I lost it totally as tears coursed down my cheeks, I just couldn't hold it together any longer .... a truly poignant moment seeing father and son.

Then the moment came for Dad to get up into his old Mid-Upper Gunner turret position. Matt and one of the ground crew very kindly helped him. My friend, J, who was with us, took some fantastic pictures as she was also in there with Dad and my brother. She has kindly given her permission to use them in this Blog. Apparently, Dad was like a “ferret up a drainpipe”. 

J snapped this amazing shot of Dad inside the Lancaster. It was so dark, she didn’t even know where the camera was pointing.

The biggest smile ever!
(Pic courtesy of J)

Something tickled Matt here .... not me I hasten to add! 
(Pic courtesy of J)

Dad being helped up into Mid Upper Turret
(pic courtesy of J)

Looking up into Mid Upper Turret
(Pic courtesy of J)
Here’s dad in his old position. Having seen for myself how extremely cramped it was, its unbelievable how he managed to get up there in full flying kit and to sometimes be up there for hours at a time, his longest mission was to Munich, when his crew were up for nearly 10 hours. Up at 2058 and down at 0645. Incredible. Hard to believe how difficult it would have been to bail out in an emergency, first, you're in the pitch dark, then you've got to find the parachute, clip it on, find an exit and then pray! If the aircraft is upside down at the time ... unbelievable!!

So cramped up there ...
(Pic courtesy of J)

After a few minutes of wondering around, Dad exited the Lancaster with my brother and J. I then asked Matt if it would be at all possible for my sister, Sharon, to get inside her as she missed out at Pathfinder Sunday Wyton. Matt said it was fine and both she and I had a quick walk up to the cockpit and back again. Amazing! We both got so emotional as our thoughts went to Dad and all the other brave young men who went up night after night, not knowing if they would ever be safely back on the ground again.

Dad with Matt
(Pic courtesy of J)

Pic courtesy of J

Pic courtesy of J

Me with Matt
(Pic courtesy of J)

After thanking Matt and leaving a message for Yvonne thanking her for our wonderful visit we made our way to see Stephen and Susan at Laburnum House B&B just up the road from Coningsby. 

I had “met” Stephen on Twitter and he told me that whenever we were in the area to pop in for a cup of tea. J and her Dad had been staying there and she tweeted him to say Sandy said "get the kettle on" which he did and we were all welcomed by Stephen and his lovely wife, Susan. They are wonderful hosts and Stephen, being an aviation and WWII enthusiast, was interested in chatting to Dad and when he found out Dad used to be in 100 Squadron, his eyes lit up! He then asked Dad to sign a framed picture of the Lancaster, having already got 3 signatures from 100 Squadron veterans, including Ron Clarke, who released the poppies over Green Park on the day of the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial.  Ron Clarke's story

We had a most enjoyable afternoon drinking tea and coffee, chatting and laughing.

Laburnum House  comes highly recommended as J and her Dad have now stayed there on two occasions. They even have a Lancaster Room!

Dad with Stephen

Pic courtesy of J

I saw this incredible article a few days ago  Lost Lancaster Crew identified after 68 years and as always when I read similar articles I always check Dad's log book. He didn't fly that night but actually flew on that very same aircraft  ND739 a couple of weeks beforehand with Wing Commander Jim Carter who sadly died along with his crew on D-Day. So very sad. Those brave young men. We will never forget what they did. I salute every single one of them.

Next time I hear the sound of the distinctive Merlin engines of PA474 BBMF Lancaster flying over my house I will look up with more pride than ever and think to myself how very lucky we were to get aboard her.

Thanks for reading. You may also like to visit BBMF's Facebook page where you will find some fabulous photos!/BBMF.Official

For more fantastic pics by J visit her Flickr photostream 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Pathfinder Sunday RAF Wyton 19th August 2012

How do I put into words a weekend that was so memorable in every way and one I will treasure in my heart always, the highlight being Pathfinder Sunday at RAF Wyton which we shared with our wonderful guest, Dirk.

The weekend started perfectly with a BBQ held on a gorgeous sunny day at our house in honour of Dirk, our good friend from Belgium. If you read my earlier blog post, it will explain how we met him I'm so Proud of my Dad

Dirk is a very hungry historian (retired history teacher) with a huge passion for knowledge of the Pathfinders and Bomber Command. Knowing this, Dad invited him to be his special guest at Pathfinder Sunday held every year at RAF Wyton, home of the Pathfinders. Tickets were very limited this year, due mainly I think to it being the 70th anniversary year, so sadly my sister, Sharon and her fiancĂ©, Martin couldn’t attend. I did offer my ticket to them but they wouldn’t hear of it as they were hoping to get a licence to film the day, which sadly they never obtained as £200 is a hell of a lot of money for them. I was absolutely gutted for them, but with kind permission of Helen Baxter from the media department of RAF Wyton they were able to film from the gate for the flypast of RAF BBMF Lancaster, City of Lincoln.

Here is a taster of what they could have filmed on the day. This was filmed by them at RAF Coningsby when the Lancaster returned home after dropping poppies over the Green Park Bomber Command Memorial on 28th June. Ermine Street Project Video  A truly wonderful piece of filming. Sharon and Martin also missed out on getting tickets to see the unveiling at Green Park so I was thrilled they got to see the City of Lincoln return back home after doing such an important job.

We arrived at RAF Wyton and first stop was the “church” service.  It wasn't actually held in the Church as numbers were too great but every effort was made to make it a very special service in honour of the heroes of the Pathfinders. When we arrived in the church we “lost” dad as they wanted the Pathfinders to sit at the front as there was some kind of presentation taking place. This was a presentation to all the Pathfinders who attended the service to be handed an Armed Forces Veterans Badge. All their names were read out and on hearing their name, seeing the veterans struggling to their feet and being helped up by fellow veterans really moved me and when I looked around, several people had tears in their eyes too. Very moving.  The RAF Wyton Area Voluntary Band were wonderful as they played the hymns we sang. There were also some emotional readings. I had to stop off in the ladies to re-do my make-up!

After the service we stopped for tea and coffee where we had chance to talk to other veterans and their families. Dirk was in his absolute element meeting them all and asking them to sign his book and various other things he had brought with him. He was like a kiddie in a sweetshop .... so eager to meet, chat and hear their amazing stories.

We then had a wonderful lunch in the Officers’ Mess. It was extremely warm in there and all the guests were taking off their jackets but sadly the RAF hosts, one to each table, were not allowed. I felt rather smug sitting there in my summer dress!

During the speeches, we were told that the Lancaster was due to do her flypast at 14:40 hours and as a special surprise, she was actually LANDING at Wyton and there may be an opportunity to get on her. Everyone was ecstatic. I will never forget the look on the veterans’ faces as my eyes scanned the room. Wonderful.

It was quite a way to the airfield and we were taken there by coach but as you can imagine, it takes quite a while getting the veterans and their families off the coach as many are unsteady on their feet and needed help. Chris and Dirk ended up walking as the coach was full anyway and just got there in time to see her land but sadly missed the display she gave us. I only just stepped off the coach in time to capture this last bit of her display. Lancaster Flypast

Anticipation was building in the airfield amongst the veterans and their guests. Seats were arranged for all to watch the landing. What an amazing incredible sight when she finally dropped her undercarriage, landed and taxied up to within a few yards from us all. There's something so very special about the noise of those Merlin engines, an unforgettable sound.

After her engines had been switched off and we had all got over the overwhelming excitement of her landing, the Pathfinders gathered for a group photo in front of their beloved Lancaster.

We had to join in on the act too. What a wonderful backdrop!

and then Mum and Dad joined in!

There was a ladder leading up to the Lancaster and the veterans were invited to climb the ladder to look inside from the ladder so Dad patiently waited in the queue for his turn, legged it up the ladder, had a look and got back down again, by which time Chris and I were in the ever-growing queue. By the time our turn came it became apparent that they were actually letting people get inside her and I couldn't find Dad to tell him to get back in the queue.

When my turn came, I nervously climbed the ladder in my dress and high heels, trying desperately to remain ladylike but ended up in a heap inside the aircraft, pulling a thigh muscle in the process whilst hastily pulling my dress down. I was so excited!! 

The moment when I pulled my thigh muscle

It was so hot inside her. I got up to the mid upper gunner position where Dad's spent his time in the aircraft, and took this pic.

Mid Upper Position

Me after having had "my moment" under Mid Upper Position

I must confess that I "had a moment" tears streaming down my face imagining what it must have been like for them. I fought back the huge lump in my throat and made my way back to the ladder, aware there were many others awaiting their special, unique experience. I think I must have exited the aircraft in THE most unladylike manner ever!! Chris asked the men to kindly avert their eyes as I made my descent and bless them, they all shielded their eyes as I clambered down the ladder in my dress and heels trying not to flash anyone too much and failed badly!!  A couple of the veterans kindly offered their arms for support.

Once I was on the ground I managed to find Dad to tell him to get back in the queue as they were actually letting people on her to which he replied that he'd have his turn when we visit Coningsby shortly and that there were others who wanted to have the chance to get on her. But then that's my Dad, totally unselfish and always putting others first.

I watched with bated breath as the veterans excitedly clambered aboard, some forgetting their bodies were now 70 years older and having to be helped up by their loved ones, their legs had to be actually lifted and placed onto each rung of the desperate they were to clamber aboard her. It was a sight that will remain with me always. Their faces when they exited I will never forget. Wonderful.

Whilst I was waiting for Chris to come down, can you imagine my surprise when his head suddenly appeared! It was hilarious!

What a huge privilege and I would like convey my sincere thanks to all at Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for allowing this to happen, the flypast, the landing and the huge privilege of being able to climb aboard PA474.

Dad and I beside Lancaster PA474

We all had a truly enjoyable and memorable day and thanks to all at RAF Wyton also for organising Pathfinder Sunday and for allowing us to visit the wonderful Pathfinder Museum there.

Veterans and families waving bye bye 

So pleased with this short clip of video as I actually managed to get her this time!! 

Whilst sharing photos of the Lancaster recently, one of my very good friends came across this piece of YouTube footage which is a recording taken during a mission over Stettin on 20th April 1943. Lancaster bombing raid banter - Stettin 20 April 1943

I checked Dad's log book as I do every time a date is mentioned for a bombing mission and found that Dad was indeed on that very same mission when he was with 100 Squadron. I found his ops records as you will see below. Bomber Command sent 457 aircraft that night. 100 Squadron sent up 9 aircraft, only 7 returned, one of the ones that didn't return was the Squadron Commander. Of the 7 who returned they reported having seen 18 aircraft shot down. Seeing my dad's name in the third crew down on this ops record sends shivers down my spine. It somehow makes it even more real, if that is possible.

When you listen to the recording in conjunction with the transcript  you hear the Bomb Aimer say  "and there go the incendiaries .... there goes my bottle". When Dad listened to it, he thinks the bottle he may have been referring to was a bottle of wee which would have been put in the bomb bay!

Pilot: Right oh...

BBC Sound Engineer: Right, we're on now.

Pilot: OK.

Bomb Aimer: Well, there's the target straight ahead, Skip.

Pilot: OK, now we're over the lake now...

Bomb Aimer: OK, now....

Pilot: ...just coming up.

Navigator: OK.

Pilot: What was the heading again?

Navigator: 146.

Pilot: OK, on 146...

Navigator: OK.

Pilot: ...and the airspeed?


Pilot: Yes, I've got it. Bang on.

Pilot: OK.

Navigator: Ten seconds. Two minutes, ten seconds, Bomb Aimer.

Bomb Aimer: OK, ??, two minutes ten seconds.

Navigator: Twenty seconds...

Bomb Aimer: You can weave a bit, Skip.

Pilot: OK, bomb aimer.

Navigator: Thirty seconds...

Bomb Aimer: There's...flares...just to the left.

Pilot: OK.

Bomb Aimer: OK, you can keep weaving for a while.

Navigator: Forty seconds...

Pilot: Check the position of the flares by your time run.

Bomb Aimer: Yes, I can see some ground detail in the flash of the flak bursts.

Navigator: Fifty seconds...

Navigator: One minute...

Bomb Aimer: Keep on weaving skipper.

Navigator: Ten seconds. One minute to go now.

Navigator: F-i-v-e

Pilot: All right now, you'll want some last minute corrections, bomb aimer...

Bomb Aimer: Yes...

Pilot: ...I'll fly her straight ahead

Bomb Aimer: Steer her nice, straight and level

Navigator: Ten...

Pilot: Bomb doors open.

Bomb Aimer: Bomb doors open.

Pilot: Give her a bit of extra time if anything.

Bomb Aimer: Yes...

Navigator: Fifteen...

Bomb Aimer: ...left, left

Navigator: Twenty...

Bomb Aimer: Steady...steady...

Navigator: Twenty five...

Bomb Aimer: Steady...

Bomb Aimer: Bombs away!

Navigator: Thirty.

Bomb Aimer: There goes the cookie...

Navigator: Lookie...lookie...lookie.

Unknown: Oh, we got lucky going over there!

Bomb Aimer: ...and there go the incendiaries....there goes my bottle.

Pilot: Umm, take jettison action.

Bomb Aimer: Jettison action now.

Pilot: OK. I think they're firing at us.

Unknown: Yeh!

Pilot: Bomb doors closed.

Bomb Aimer: Bomb doors closed.

Pilot: By jove!

Pilot: New course now ??.

Navigator: New course....

Bomb Aimer: Look at those fires boys...oh what a....

Navigator: ...185.

Pilot: OK, Turning on...185.

Mid-Upper Gunner: There's a Lanc up on your starboard beam.

Pilot: I see him, yes.

Mid-Upper Gunner: He's turning down. move...

Pilot: Yes, I can see him...starboard bow now.

Mid-Upper Gunner: Yes, he's right ahead...

Pilot: OK...

Mid-Upper Gunner: ...cross over...

Pilot: Right, give me that course again ??, well north of us.

Navigator: 185.

Pilot: 185, OK.

Pilot: That was direct hit over the target by the look of it!

Crew: yes...yeah...

Pilot: OK.

Unknown: Keep going, Skip, they're all turning off this way.

Pilot: OK.

Mid-Upper Gunner: There's a Lanc coming up on your starboard beam underneath our... wing...

Unknown: He's turned off...just moving off...

Pilot: OK.

Rear Gunner: There's a Lanc on our port beam.

Pilot: Yes, I can see him...ah...rear gunner.

Mid-Upper Gunner: There's a bloke still on our starboard beam, just down a bit.

Pilot: I know!

Pilot: right, Now, keep your eyes peeled for fighters, gunners. They're obviously milling around the target now flies.

Mid-Upper Gunner: OK, Skip.

Rear Gunner: Searchlight underneath our starboard wing, Skip.

Pilot: OK.

It really makes you think doesn't it.

Thanks for reading. Will blog again soon xx

Monday, 2 July 2012

Bomber Command Memorial Dedication & Unveiling Ceremony

On the hottest day of the year so far we took Mum and Dad, a veteran of The Pathfinders to London's Green Park for the long awaited Unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial to commemorate the tragic loss of 55,573 young Bomber Command airmen in the Second World War who sacrificed their lives.

In what has been the wettest June in living memory we were blessed to have a lovely hot summer's day for this very special event.

On our arrival at Kings Cross we were delighted to find that a number of black cab drivers were offering to ferry veterans and their families to the event free of charge. Kev, the cabbie who chauffeured us was chatting to Dad the whole journey and said how honoured he felt to have him in his cab. He couldn't believe that Dad had survived 47 missions. When we offered him a tip he was having none of it. In fact, he wanted to have a picture taken with Dad when we got to Green Park but due to security there and traffic, this wasn't possible. So I'd like to thank all the London cabbies for their support to Bomber Command.

This was our view as we arrived at the Memorial. 

There were two areas allocated for the Ceremony. The first area was the smaller Memorial Area right in front of the Memorial. We had been allocated tickets in the much larger Salute Area. You would have been forgiven for thinking from the TV coverage that there were only a few hundred people at the event but we were amongst a crowd of around 7000 watching the live event on a huge screen. We arrived to the sound of Jane McDonald belting out Impossible Dream. Quite a fitting tribute to the occasion. The entertainment leading up to the unveiling at 12 Noon was fabulous.

Our view and as many again behind us

I looked around the crowd and had a massive lump in my throat at how many veterans had managed to attend this very special day. Dad was one of the youngest to join Bomber Command and at 88 he is still very fit and active, unlike some of the other older veterans who were in wheelchairs but proudly displaying their medals and I'm sure wouldn't have missed this day for anything.... each and every one of them with their own story to tell. You could see how proud they were etched in all their faces. All had lost comrades from Bomber Command so this day was to proudly remember them.

The Ceremony itself was a truly emotional event and when the Queen unveiled the incredible 9 foot bronze statue of the seven Bomber Command Airmen there were gasps of admiration from the crowd. It is a remarkable work of art. Philip Jackson, the sculptor, took great care to ensure an extremely high level of detail and was able to depict both facial expression and body language to show the story of this crew searching for their comrades who have not yet returned. Five of the group looking to the sky searching, one of which shielding his eyes and two of them looking down evoking a true sense of sadness and grief. An absolutely incredible work of art. 

The height of the plinth and the scale of the sculpture means that visitors will always see the profiles of the figures against the sky above them, day and night. The roof structure is made from steel and supports a ceiling constructed from aluminium from a Halifax Bomber shot down over Belgium in 1944 in which 8 crew were killed.

After dabbing my eyes seeing this wonderful sculpture, the Last Post was played which always stirs up many emotions. Then we heard the sound of the five Tornados approaching which flew over us in perfect formation. I didn't have time to get my camera out to capture them unfortunately. Everyone was on their feet, cameras at the ready, as we all knew what was coming next. A moment later there was the unmistakable sound of the Merlin engines of the beautiful Lancaster. As she soared above us, she dropped her precious cargo of poppies. They looked like red smoke billowing out of her bomb bay until the poppies separated and floated towards Green Park. Unfortunately, the wind got hold of them and they didn't actually land near us. Maybe we should have asked Dad to do his "Pathfinder" bit and mark out the target with a flare!

I had visions of office people sunbathing during their lunch hour in the un-cordoned off area of Green Park being literally showered with thousands of poppies  ....  how wonderful! There wasn't a dry eye in sight. That is a memory that will last with me forever. There is something truly magical and so very emotional when you see the Lancaster. When she dropped her load of poppies, it was a poignant moment and I'm sure we all thought of the 55,573 airmen who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

Here are a couple of YouTube links with the poppies dropping on Green Park (outside of the ceremony area). Amazing!!

Poppy drop

Poppies dropping over Green Park "Take cover!!"

At the end of the Ceremony, Dad, Chris and I couldn't wait to get hold of some of the poppies as a memento of the occasion. We left mum looking after our stuff as she's not too good on her feet and we rushed over to where the poppies had landed. 

We then made our way to the Memorial to look at it in more detail and jumped the queues because being with a Veteran gave you preferential treatment! Dad missed meeting Prince Charles, which was a shame, as he had expressed his wish to shake hands with all the Veterans.

Dad and I

Whilst wandering round the Memorial I spotted this lady holding up her wedding photo and snapped the shot which a professional photographer was lining her up for. I had tears in my eyes taking this picture as I know she must have lost her beloved husband. Absolutely heartbreaking.

I saw many veterans admiring the sculpture, all lost in their own thoughts, some in wheelchairs, some on walking sticks, it really did bring a lump to my throat seeing them and chatting with them, all of them remarkable. So many stories to tell and such brave men. Dad once said he didn't think he was brave, he just "went along for the ride"

I've looked at some of Dad's missions when he was in 97 Squadron and night after night after night they would go up in their Lanc with their bomb bay full, not knowing if they would all get down again safely. How can that not be brave? Then, on their return many hours later, they find out some of their comrades didn't make it, seeing the empty beds ... one just cannot imagine it.......

After a breathtakingly emotional and wonderful day, we hailed another cab to take us back to Kings Cross. This cab driver also didn't want to take anything for the journey saying that it was his absolute pleasure and that the journey was "on him". How wonderful.

After collapsing at home and watching the event again on BBC2 I collated my tickets, programme and poppies collected from Green Park. My brother-in-law, who is opening his own picture framing business in Lincoln in September, is going to frame these for me.  A wonderful memento of the day!

With thanks to The RAF Benevolent Association and Bomber Command Memorial Appeal for organising this magnificent event and huge thanks to all the benefactors who made it happen. So sad that Robin Gibb who had campaigned vigorously and was President of The Heritage Foundation wasn't able to see it unveiled, but I'm sure he would have been there in spirit.

Also, thanks to Carol Vorderman MBE for all her support and to all the RAF men and women who helped out on the day, especially with handing out a plentiful supply of water on an extremely hot day!

The RAF Benevolent Fund are now the guardians of the Bomber Command Memorial and rely on the public to preserve the Memorial for future generations. You can Donate to RAFBF here 

Poppy drop (take cover!!)