A once in a lifetime event

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This summer saw an event that probably passed by a large part of the UK without being noticed. You had to be an aircraft fan to be aware of it – but if you were, it was momentous!

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) will be known to most people from its regular appearances at memorial events and airshows. It includes a number of Second World War aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Lancaster bomber – it is this last aircraft that was the source of my excitement this summer.

My Dad with his crew (third from left)
My Dad with his crew (second from left)

My late father never flew in anger in the Second World War, but he did learn to fly with the RAF (in Florida!), then on his return to the UK he transferred onto Lancaster bombers. He was training up on them when the war in Europe came to an end. Consequently I grew up with a man who was always moved when the Lancaster flew over. So he would have loved this summer when the only other airworthy Lancaster flew over from Canada (an amazing feat itself) and displayed all around the UK with the BBMF Lancaster!

A photo from Duxford
A photo from Duxford

To see them flying together was therefore to be somewhat of a personal pilgrimage for me. My task was not helped by the visit taking place during August when I was away for two weeks in Ibiza. However an early September display at Duxford was finally confirmed and despite large traffic jams a great day was had. It was fantastic to see in the region of 200,000 people stand and go silent as the two aircraft displayed, it was really quite moving.

A week later I visited RAF Coningsby to see both planes in their hanger and get up close to them, again an amazing once in a lifetime experience.

My Dad would have approved.

Too little too late?

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Yesterday saw the official ‘unveiling’ of the Bomber Command memorial in London. This is to remember the 55,000+ airmen who lost their lives serving their country. These were not the spitfire and hurricane pilots who were vaunted as our saviours after the war (the few who took on the might of the Luftwaffe). No these were the men who took the war to Europe in their Lancasters, Wellingtons and the like. The death and mayhem they caused is still a subject that causes controversy, however we were at war and I always find it somewhat bizarre when we grade acts and behaviour in war-time situations.

My Father is second on the left

The bottom line is that these men were doing what they were told – no more no less – so they should not have be judged and ‘hidden away’ for over 60 years. The memorial has come too late for the majority who fought to see. That is very sad.

I have always had a ‘soft spot’ for the aircraft of the second world war period, and in particular the Lancaster. My late father was trained to fly as part of the Imperial Program which trained pilots in America and Canada. He returned to the UK to be trained on Lancs as a flight engineer towards the end of the war (there was a shortage of Engineers). He was put with a crew just as hostilities in Europe finished – consequently he never saw action, but it always makes me think of what might have been (or not in my case!)

So I do hope that the memorial becomes a regular addition to the activities on remembrance day, they really do deserve it!

Lancaster bombers, the BBMF and Hoveringham

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This weekend there was supposed to be a fly past at Hoveringham by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). This was to remember two Lancaster bombers that crashed during the war while on training flights from Syerston airfield. Unfortunately the wind caused the flight to be cancelled (for the second year) – although a good walk was enjoyed along the river.

My Dad and his crew

I have always been a sucker for these aircraft – a love I gained from my late father who was trained up on the Lancaster but never actually saw action in one – lucky when you consider how many Lancasters were actually lost during the war! Of the 7,377 Lancasters built, 3,249 were lost in action. Only 35 Lancasters completed more than 100 successful operations.

We all take for granted the work that the BBMF do to keep these old ladies flying, they are without doubt the most evocative reminder of the lives lost in the second world war in the air. Over 55,000 air crew were lost from Bomber Command alone.

Only two airworthy Lancaster bombers still exist (the second one being in Canada), plus there is a third which can run up it’s engines and taxi (but not fly) in Lincolnshire.

This is one part of the RAF that the coalition cannot be allowed to cut!