November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

Sadly for my grandfather, eldest of three brothers, his war time was to end tragically. He was an expert navigator and bomber fighter, attached to the RAF and took part in most of the major bombing raids in Germany and France. In the Battle Of Brest - the first major daylight bombing raid - he was recommended for a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) but, because they were short one medal, circumstances on the day meant he was the one to miss out.

A letter he wrote home in 1941 was telling:

"I have been on quite a number of big bombing raids now and realise that the chances of survival are not as great as they might be. Nearly every trip we lose a percentage of our crews and already a great portion of my class have passed on to that happy hunting ground where we will all assemble at the sound of the great trumpet.

Personally I have no fear of these trips at all, and even much less fear death, particularly when I realise that should that be my fate, I will walk the same lanes and fields as the thousands of other young men who have so gladly and willingly died for this great cause.

Not only that, but we will be in the same realm as the great soldiers of England who have gone before us and blazed the way. I feel proud that I have been allowed to serve as an officer in the Royal Air Force and I want you to feel proud with me rather than sorry for me.

After all my sacrifice is very small. It is M (his wife, my grandmother) and JS (his son, my father) who are making the real sacrifice. Sometimes I feel very mean having left them like I have to fight the great battles of life....."

In 1942 his tour had ended and he wrote to his wife and son (my father) to prepare to shift to Canada as he had a position training air crews there and that is where they would live. Then experienced volunteers were called for a mission over Denmark - my grandfather volunteered for one last mission. Sixty aircraft took off on Sunday May 18th - the plane was hit twice by flak and crashed at 0210 at Galskling, 2km west of Middlefart.

My great grandmother received the "missing believed killed" telegram just hours before my great aunt was to be married. She kept that information to herself until after the wedding. Another great aunt remembers finding the telegram under the mattress as she made the bed for a guest, later that evening. It was to be months before there was finally confirmation of his death.

Of the 60 planes that set off on that final mission, six were lost and only one of the crew lived, was seriously injured and taken prisoner. There is a memorial to my grandfather and the crew of MacRobert's Reply at Middlefart, Denmark - the stone was taken from the crash site. My grandfather's grave is at Odense near a memorial to the fallen.

My father, who is an only child never had the chance to know his father.

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Here are a few excerpts from my great uncle's log book - he was an RAF Flight-Lieutenant Beaufighter pilot and night flyer. He was attached to the 29th Squadron, stationed at Brize Norton.

July 23: (his first sortie) enemy aircraft approached from the North East, scrambled after them, pitch dark night. Got to within one mile of them and they scooted for home.

July 25: Daylight scramble in bad weather. Jerry driven off - one crew missing.

August 5: Weather very bad. Dark, raining and bumpy as hell. Intercepted a JU88. It took violent evasive action and got away in the dark. It is believed I damaged him canon fire.

August 13: Tonight Jerry raided Canterbury in strength. Three of us went up to intercept. The flak was terrible. Dunne and Hay were shot down. For Jerry shot down.

September 10: (crashed at Bradwell Bay). Flaps damaged by flak and had to make a blind landing in nil visibility. Lucky to get down.

September 13: A JU88 got on my tail and I just saw it in time to peel off. Tried to dog fight with it but it was too dark so I buggered off before there was one less in the family.

November 13: Over Flushing my starboard engine was hit and started to emit sparks. Got an emergency homeing. Over base, the cloud base was just clear of hills and while on circuit the engine ceased. Maintained height on one engine but hit four trees on approach. Managed to crash land and plane went up in flames; got out by the skin of my teeth. Knocked about and not allowed to do any heavy flying for 3 months.

This marked the end of his first tour.

I will never forget those who have either lost their lives or been gravely wounded in any war.


Susan Champlin said...

What a beautiful tribute, and such a tragic story. I can't imagine the strength of your great-grandmother keeping the news of his death a secret until after your great-aunt's wedding. Agh—makes me choke up thinking about it. Thank you for sharing this.

carla_fern said...

My Grandfather was Scottish, my husband's English, my father was Canadian, my husband's also from Ontario, Canada... the common link, they all fought and served the Military Forces of their Countries. Today we thank them not only for their acts of courage but for their memories...Thank you all.

shayma said...

I felt so sad reading this. I think it is so amazing that he was thinking about his wife and his son- when it was he who was putting his life at risk. I am sorry your father grew up without his father. Your post was beautiful and evocative. A very difficult post to write, I can only imagine...Hugs to you, lovely. xx

mothership said...

lovely post, so sad to think of him thinking of his young wife and child unborn during that incredible time o bravery and risk. And of his mother, keeping that terrible secret during the wedding. I can hardly bear it thinking of my own little son.
It is hard to believe today's generation would have such courage.

So Lovely said...

Susan: Thank you so much. I didn't really know a lot of the back story. There was an article written in the newspaper about the 3 brothers.

Carla: I hope, all fought and survived. I really would have liked to know my grandfather. I have seen photos of him and my father looks so like him. Its so strange really. Thanks for dropping by.

Shayma: It breaks my heart that my father never knew his father. He didn't have a father figure growing up and no siblings.

MTFF: Oh yes, to think of O going off to war. It puts it all into perspective, doesn't it.

one of 365 said...

I was extremely touched by this for many reasons. It is always so amazing to read the words of the fallen, and your grandfather wrote so beautifully. He was a noble man who cared deeply for his country, for the men who were his peers and for his family. It always seems to happen this way---that ONE last dispatch and they get killed. I feel sorry for your father that he never knew HIS father. But how wonderful that he has his log book and that extraordinary letter proclaiming his love for his family and showing what a true hero he was. And what an honorable woman your grandmother was. To be that strong and unselfish by holding out with that letter until the wedding was over. Her heart must have been shattered. You come from brave, brave roots. Of course you will never forget all those whom have fallen. And nor should anyone, no matter what their views on war are. I am sickened by people who spat on Vietnam Vets and the Government who took our boys, made them men too quickly and then abandoned them when they used them up. I rant. This was a wonderful read. Thank you and may his memory live on through your storytelling and through many more generations as well. xoxoxoox