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