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That’s me and my dad out in our front garden 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 woollen shirt was scratchy. I don’t have many photos of us together.
He died in 1968 just before I turned 9. He was 46.
Growing up, I didn’t know much about my father’s war story other than he was a bomb aimer in an RAF Stirling bomber and, that having survived being shot down over Germany, he became a prisoner of war. What I did know, even at my young age, was that sometimes those war-time memories came back to haunt him.
Of the 125,000 airmen who served with Bomber Command during WW2, 55,573 were killed – The chances of just surviving were fearsome. Many of the raids were life and death battles with aircraft being attacked and going down in flames all around you. Fighter bullets tore through a thin fuselage then through flesh. 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 to ten hours in the air wasn’t unusual – and all flown at night.
Dad and his aircrew flew 19 raids during 1943, mostly during the Battle of the Ruhr and many of the big ones – Hamburg, Mannheim, the secret German V-rocket base at Peenemunde, the big one – Berlin and even long and dangerous trips to Italy.
The last mission ended for dad’s crew just after midnight over Germany on June 6 1943.
In 2012, my sister Janne and I travelled through Germany visiting his crash site, the remains of his POW camp and meeting a whole bunch of incredibly interesting people with so much to contribute to help us uncover our father’s war story.