Finding out about my dad. Finding out about me.
That’s me and my father, Neil Gordon Roy Treacher, out in our front garden in Hastings, in the spring of 1964. I can still remember quite clearly standing with him while mum took the photo. The morning sun was warm and his thick woolen shirt was scratchy – he had a manly smell. I don’t have many photos of us together.
He died nine days before Christmas in 1968. He was forty six and I was nearly nine.
Growing up, I didn’t know much about my father’s war story other than that he flew in a British bomber, was shot down over Germany, then becoming a prisoner of war. What I did know, even at my young age, was that sometimes his war-time memories came back to trouble him.
Of the 125,000 airmen who volunteered to serve with Bomber Command during WW2, 55,573 were killed – The chances of completing your tour were slim – the chances of being killed were huge. Many of the raids were life and death battles, with aircraft being attacked and going down in flames all around you. Enemy aircraft bullets and flak could tear through a thin fuselage like tinfoil. Planes flew through exploding shrapnel from thick anti aircraft fire to reach their targets and then had to fight their way home, often badly damaged and with injured or dead crew. Eight hours in the air wasn’t unusual – and all ops were flown at night.
Dad and his crew flew 19 operations between May and September of 1943. It was the Battle of the Ruhr and their targets included Cologne, Nurenburg, Essen, Dussdeldorf, Hamburg, Munich, Mannheim, Wuppertal and Berlin. They attacked and bombed the secret German V-rocket base at Peenemunde, They layed mines in the North Sea and even flew long missions to bomb Turin in Italy – navigating through the moonlit Alps – Not flying over – flying through.
The crew’s final mission ended just after midnight over Southwest Germany on September 7, 1943.
In 2012, my sister Janne and I travelled to Germany to find the crash site and participate with the local villagers in building and blessing a memorial to the crew. We then travelled up to the Saxony region of former East Germany to find the remains of Stalag IVB, the camp where dad was held captive for 18 months.
During our adventure, we met and spoke with so many interesting and wonderful people – historians, local villagers, eyewitnesses, we even met Hans Rohner, the son of Alfons Rohner, the Luftwaffe pilot who rescued dad and saved his life that night.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed.