A fitting memorial to lives lost

Words by:
Tara Hynan
Featured in:
May 2013

During World War II Lincolnshire became known as ‘Bomber County’. The county’s relatively flat, open countryside was home to many airfields from which secret operations were executed using the country’s most successful bomber, the Avro Lancaster.
Throughout the war over 25,000 airmen flew from bases across Lincolnshire, on missions that never returned. Those that survived the war failed to be awarded a campaign medal for their bravery, courage and contribution to victory. In Lincolnshire today, many of the Bomber Command stations have been closed and abandoned, some still displaying hints of their former past: tired runways, crumbling hangars and derelict control towers. To ensure that the heroes of our skies are remembered, several stations have been preserved and are now the home for aviation heritage centres or sites for squadron memorials.

To mark the sacrifice of aircrew from Bomber Command, a memorial and interpretation centre is to be erected in Lincoln by 2015, in place for the 70th anniversary of the ending of hostilities. The memorial will not only commemorate those that lost their lives, but will be a tribute to surviving aircrew, engineers, fitters, armourers, planners and designers and manufacturers of the aircraft and weapons. The project is being led by Tony Worth, Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, who had the idea for the project three years ago, before a Bomber Command Memorial was unveiled by the Queen in London’s Green Park in June 2012.

He said: “It is important that we build a memorial in Lincolnshire. I think it’s long overdue. It is appropriate to have one here because 46% of those who died came out of stations in Lincolnshire.”

The proposed site for the memorial is Canwick Hill, Lincoln, within sight of the Cathedral, a potent landmark for those leaving Lincolnshire and a point of reference for aircrew. Lincoln Cathedral was regarded by aircrew as a symbol of safety and a lifesaving beacon for those wounded airmen returning to their Lincolnshire airbases.

“The Cathedral was the iconic landmark that they came back to. It was the last thing seen by those who didn’t come back,” said Tony.

At present the Cathedral houses two memorial books containing the names of 25, 611 Bomber Command personnel who died on missions originating from county airfields and the Airmen’s Chapel of St Michael contains four impressive stained glass windows. In the floor of the North Transept of the Cathedral there is also a ledger stone dedicated to all men and woman who ‘gave their lives in defence of our liberty.’

Last month three unique designs for the memorial and interpretation centre were taken on a consultation tour across Lincolnshire. The designs have been put on public display in Barton-Upon-Humber, RAF Waddington, RAF Cranwell, Sleaford and two locations in Lincoln. At the core of the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial is the ethos of community involvement, therefore trustees encouraged the public to offer their opinion on which design best represents the sacrifice made by those who flew from the county never to return.

The shortlisted designs include a 50m-tall steel spire, with names engraved on it; three tall searchlights leading to a granite wall of names; and a huge engraved glass lens at the end of a runway. Each design also includes a main exhibition area, which will play host to exhibitions of Bomber Command artefacts from around the world, a lecture room and a café. A peace garden will also be created at the memorial, using soil from the twenty-six Bomber Command stations, and a tree will also be planted to recognise the contribution made by each of those RAF stations across the county. We will have news of the winning design next month.

The main aims of the memorial and interpretation centre are to encourage remembrance and to educate younger generations as to the acts of heroism and dedication shown by Bomber Command throughout the Second World War.

“The memorial will attract visitors from all over the world. In a Lancaster there were seven in each crew, so there would have been men of different nationalities flying out of bases in Lincolnshire,” said Tony.

The interpretation centre will also recognise the effect of the bombing campaign on the German side, along with the scale of devastation and suffering that occurred. At its height Bomber Command could put over 1,000 aircraft in the air over Germany, delivering a devastating barrage. During strategic bombing raids many German cities, including Hamburg and Dresden, were completely destroyed, resulting in horrendous causalities and thousands of deaths.

“It is important that we see the other side of the story. The German people experienced devastation and suffering on a much larger scale,” said Tony.

The Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial Appeal has had a huge amount of support from the community including the County Council, District Councils, City Council, Bomber Command Association, Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire Lancaster Association, active RAF stations in the county and elsewhere, Lincoln Cathedral, the University of Lincoln and numerous others.

“We are all getting very excited about the project and we are looking forward to the official launch. We have some excellent trustees on board,” said Tony.

In order to achieve the goal of building and preserving the memorial and interpretation centre for future generations, a variety of events are taking place across Lincolnshire in order to raise money. Some of the events taking place include an Art audition and exhibition, a 1940s Gala Dinner and Ball and a Charity Cycle ride around the twenty-six Bomber Command Stations in the county. The Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial Appeal will also have a display on the Lincolnshire Life Magazine Stand at the Lincolnshire Show on 19th and 20th June, where a variety of local bands will be playing music from the ’40s to help celebrate the Command.

At the Bomber Command Memorial online shop members of the public can purchase merchandise, including spectacular paintings and drawings, limited edition Bomber Command Memorial mugs, the DVD ‘Into the Wind’ and Christopher Jory’s novel ‘Lost in Flames’. All the supporters are offering at least a 20% donation on each item sold to help raise funds for the appeal. If you wish to donate, you can do so via the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial website: www.lincsbombercommandmemorial.com.

To secure funding for the memorial and interpretation centre the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial is also inviting participation from companies based, or with a presence, in the county. The project will be widely publicised throughout media covering the area, offering companies an excellent opportunity to ally themselves with the major project. If you require information regarding the bespoke packages, please contact Nicky Barr on 01778 421420 or email: nicky@essenceevents.co.uk.

In 1943, RAF Scampton provided a temporary home for 617 Squadron, otherwise known as the Dambusters. Airmen specially selected from across Bomber Command were brought to the base in Lincolnshire for a top secret mission called ‘Operation Chastise’ led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. The Squadron was predominantly British, but 617 Squadron also consisted of twenty-six Canadians, twelve Australians, two New Zealanders and one American.

After two months of intense low level flying training and navigation practice, the target and weapon was finally revealed to Squadron 617 one day before the mission. The attack on the Mohne, Eder, and Scorpe dams was set for 16th/17th May when good weather was forecast, the moon was full and the water level was high. The destruction of these dams would have a devastating effect on German armaments output.

On 17th May 147 young men climbed into nineteen Lancaster bombers in moonlight and set off from RAF Scampton, carrying ‘Bouncing Bombs’ developed and invented by Barnes Wallis. 617 Squadron was instructed by Wallis to fly as little as sixty feet above the water at more than 200mph, a near impossible task in daylight, let alone at night. It was described by many as a suicide mission.

‘The gunners had seen us coming. Now they opened up and tracers began swirling towards us. This was a horrible moment: we were being dragged along at four miles a minute, almost against our will, towards the things we were going to destroy. I think at that moment the boys did not want to go. I know I did not want to go.’ Wing Commander G Penrose Gibson VC DSO DFC.

617 Squadron paid a heavy price for their bravery. Eight Lancasters failed to return to RAF Scampton; of the fifty-six men aboard them only three survived. After the raid Guy Gibson became a national hero, receiving a Victoria Cross for his leadership and bravery, and no fewer than thirty-three other awards were presented to participants of the raid.

The airfield at Scampton is still used by the RAF today and is home to the RAF Aerobatics Team The Red Arrows.To celebrate Scampton’s rich history, a station museum has been housed in one of the original World War II hangars, containing over 400 artefacts.

Seventy years on, during the week beginning 13th May, Lincolnshire will pay tribute to 617 Squadron with various events, including a Dambusters Commemoration at Lincoln Cathedral, on Friday 17th May. Two surviving Dambusters, Jonny Johnson and Les Munrow, are expected to attend the service, along with Barnes Wallis’s daughter, Mary Stopes-Roe. After the service there will be a spectacular flypast by the Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a pair of Tornado aircraft from the 617 squadron. People from all over the country have applied for tickets to attend the service, and due to popular demand there are no more tickets available.

Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire is also holding a black tie gala showing of the original Dambusters film at the Kinema in the Woods, Woodhall Spa on Wednesday 15th May, following a flypast by the BBMF Lancaster, escorted by two 617 Squadron Tornado GR4s. After the film there will be a champagne reception and buffet at the Petwood Hotel, where guests will be entertained by a local Royal Air Force Band. This event is now sold out.

The Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa was the original Officer’s Mess for the Dambusters. The Squadron bar hosts a range of memorabilia and tributes to Guy Gibson VC, Leonard Cheshire VC and their Officers. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters a ’40s style memorial will take place between 15th–19th May at the Squadron Bar. Visitors to the bar can enjoy music and soak up the history, whilst enjoying local beer, served by staff in ’40s dress. On 18th May there will also be a screening of the Dambusters film at the Kinema in the Woods at 10.30am and 1pm, followed by a two-course lunch in the Restaurant at the Petwood Hotel. Contact the Petwood Hotel on: 01526 352411 for more details.

Owners of the Blue Bell Inn, situated in Tattershall Thorpe, will be turning the pub back to the 1940s from 11th May through to 19th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. RAF enthusiasts, Shirley and Sean Taylor, are enhancing its history by creating a museum within its walls using many original items from their own personal collection and donated artefacts, including parts of the original Dambusters aircraft.

The pub was built in 1257 of ‘mud and stud’ construction and has witnessed many momentous events through time, not least the expansion of the RAF in Lincolnshire during the Second World War. Four squadrons based at the nearby RAF Woodhall Spa used to frequent the pub, including the famous 617 Dambusters Squadron. Owner, Shirley Taylor said: “We love this pub and everything that it stands for. It’s not just its crooked oak beams, open fires and old world charm. The Blue Bell is a living memorial to those incredibly brave people that once passed through its doors never to return.”

The walls are filled with photographs and memories of airmen and women from the squadrons and the ceiling is covered in signatures of many of the former crews including VC winners and even HRH Prince William, Patron of the neighbouring Battle of Britain Memorial Flight based at RAF Coningsby. Whilst filming for a BBC Documentary, ‘Bomber Boys’, Ewan McGregor signed the ceiling, along with his 617 Squadron brother, Colin. For more information on the pub and forthcoming events visit their website at www.bluebell-inn.com.

One foggy morning in the Spring of 1943, my father set out to shepherd his beasts on Manor Farm, East Keal, where he had an interesting encounter. Hurrying, for he had to be on Home Guard training by 10 o’clock, he skirted the Carrs Wood and came upon three figures skulking behind the trees. Suspecting they were enemy airmen, for they wore full flying gear, he challenged them to “come on out” and he was surprised by their enquiry, “Where are we?”

After a lengthy explanation they convinced him that they were on our side, and he invited them back for breakfast. I imagine they were torn between mistrust and pangs of hunger, for my father had the air of an eccentric, well fed tramp that might well have spent the previous evening sleeping in a hedge bottom, as they certainly had! Hunger won them over and they followed him home to Brickyard House.

Meantime, my brother Fred was donning his Home Guard overcoat for his training session when my father opened the back door. His breakfast guests were taken aback by Fred’s uniform. For hadn’t they spent the last twenty-four hours trying to avoid this on an exercise of evading capture while trying to get back to base?

My teenage brother and I, being only fifteen years old, were so delighted at the chance to meet the aircrew of the Lancaster bombers that nightly filled the sky, setting out to raid enemy targets and returning (the lucky ones) in the early hours. My brother and I used to watch the planes leave and return. We used to count them back, but often they did not all return.

During breakfast my brother and I spoke to the two younger men. Fred pressed them with questions: “What are you training for?” The aircrew looked at each other and the younger one said: “We don’t know exactly what we are training for. We only know it involves low flying.” The older gentleman spoke only to my father; he was serious and seemed rather anxious. The crew wrote their names down on a piece of paper. It read: ‘Llewellyn, Temple and Gibson.’

Replenished, warmed and redirected, they were set on their way in the fog. Later on, the one named Temple cycled back seventeen miles to thank us for our help and to tell us that they were the first group to make it back to base.

It later turned out that they were members of 617 Squadron, training for the Dambusters raid and the older gentleman was Guy Gibson! I’ve recently learned that Llewellyn and Temple did not take part in the Dambusters raid, but Temple was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission with another squadron. I wish I kept that piece of paper! – Mrs Catherine Lawrie (the former Kit Shaw)

On 17th April 1942, a low level bombing raid was mounted by Bomber Command by Squadrons based at RAF Waddington and RAF Woodhall Spa. Aircrews were informed of their target, the MAN diesel factory in Augsburg, at a briefing at 1100 hours. Ernest Rodley was one of the six pilots from 97 Squadron to leave RAF Woodhall Spa in a MK 1 Lancaster bomber, to embark on one of the most daring raids of World War II.

When the curtain drew back at the briefing there was a roar of laughter instead of a gasp of horror. No one believed that the air force would be so senseless as to send twelve of its newest four-engine bombers all that distance inside Germany in daylight.

The route took us low, at about 100 feet, down to the south coast, across the Channel. We were to join Waddington’s 44 Squadron at the south coast, six aircraft from each squadron, and we were to go as a formation of twelve the rest of the way. I could see the sandbanks of France coming up ahead of us. We had no opposition at all crossing the defended coast. We proceeded south of Paris where I saw the second enemy aircraft I saw during the whole war. It approached and, recognising us, did a ninety-degree bank turn back towards Paris. Occasionally you would see some Frenchmen take a second look and wave their berets or their shovels.

Our route took us from the north end of Lake Constanz across another lake, where we turned north towards the target. I dropped the bombs along the side wall. We flashed across the target and down the other side to about fifty feet, because flak was quite heavy. As we went away I could see light flak shells overtaking us, green balls flowing away on our right and hitting the ground ahead of us. Leaving the target I looked down at our leader’s aircraft and saw that there was a little wisp of steam trailing back from it. The white steam turned to black smoke, with fire in the wing. I was slightly above him.

He dropped back and I asked our gunner to keep an eye on him. Suddenly he said, “Oh God, Skip, he’s gone. He looks like a chrysanthemum of fire.”

One other of our aircraft caught fire just short of the target, but kept on, dropped the bombs and then crashed. The raid was suicidal. Four from 97 Squadron got back, but only one from 44 Squadron. Five out of twelve. – Wing Commander Ernest Rodley DSO DAC AFC AE

Ernest Rodley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part of the raid on Augsburg. At the end of 1942 he joined RAF Scampton helping to convert to Lancaster Bombers, before joining 97 Squadron at Bourn as a Pathfinder. Rodley survived the war having completed 87 operations.

The formal launch for the appeal will take place on 30th and 31st May at the Lincolnshire Aviation Centre, RAF East Kirkby. The centre is home to the Avro Lancaster Bomber, ‘Just Jane’, in which visitors can pre-book a Taxy Ride and experience the vibrations, smells, sound and atmosphere of a real Lancaster Bomber operating on a real Bomber Command airfield.

Brothers Harold and Fred Panton set up the centre twenty-five years ago, as a living memorial to the 55,000 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during World War II, including their eldest brother Christopher, who was shot down and killed on a bombing raid over Nuremberg. At present Harold and Fred are trying to restore Just Jane to airworthy condition and they hope she will take her first flight in 2014. Just Jane would join only two remaining airworthy Lancasters, one in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Coningsby and the other at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Ontario.

On the evening of 30th May invited guests will attend a reception at East Kirkby, situated beside Just Jane in the museum’s main hangar. During the evening guests will enjoy live music, drinks and canapés. The following day there will be a buffet luncheon for 150–200 of the region’s top business people, accompanied by a presentation on how commercial enterprises could help with the fundraising appeal.

Presence at the Dambusters Gala Dinner: Petwood Hotel, 15th May 2013
Official Launch of appeal: RAF East Kirby, Aviation Centre, 30th–31st May 2013
Presence at Lincolnshire Show: Lincolnshire Life Magazine Stand, 19–20th June 2013
Stand at RAF Waddingon Airshow: 6th–7th July 2013
Stand at the Heckington Show: 27th–28th July 2013
1940s Gala Dinner and Ball: TBC – October 2013
Art exhibition and auction: TBC – Feb 2014 TBC
The Great Bouncing Egg Race: University of Lincoln, The Engine Shed – Grand Final, May 2014
Charity Cycle Ride: 26 Bomber Command Stations, September 2014

Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial is inviting members of the public to share stories or memories about Bomber Command on their website, whether as a member of the crew, Lincolnshire resident or family member. The stories will be put on show at the launch at East Kirkby and eventually displayed in the interpretation centre, where members of the public will be able to access them.
Within this article you can read recollections of wartime experiences which illustrate perfectly the impact Bomber Command had on just two lives in the county.

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