On the nights of 23rd and 24th August 1943 a Halifax heavy British bomber set off from 78 Squadron RAF Breighton near York to bomb Berlin along with hundreds of other bombers from its own and other squadrons.
On the way one of the four engines malfunctioned but the crew decided as one to continue their mission with 3 engines.
On arrival at Berlin the whole city was ablaze and there was no hiding place from the German night fighters and the radar controlled AA guns especially at only 9000 feet.
Despite many aerial encounters the crew carried out their mission and started to return home.
Over the Dutch coast a night fighter bomber a Junker 88 attacked them but was shot down by the Halifax. The Halifax continued over the North Sea however with a second engine failure on the same side. The plane crashed into the sea 64 miles from Cromer. Only four of the crew were thrown clear and the rest went down into the depths with the plane. Sixteen hours later the four were rescued but only one, the mid-upper gunner, survived. My father was one of those who later died in the rescue boat – he was the oldest of the crew at 29 years of age.
This story was all too common and typical – almost 1 in 2 RAF personnel were killed.
Like most young men he didn’t think that he would be an unlucky one; and despite the Squadron padre’s exhortations my father did not inform my mother that he was on open active service. My mother had thought my father was still in training as a navigator but he didn’t want to worry her as I was only 11 months old.
Obviously, when she received the official ‘killed in action’ telegram from the RAF the shock was profound, and the effects remained with her all her life. She never remarried and raised me as a single parent.
My mother saved their wartime letters which were very romantic and touching. One such letter revealed that my father had played tennis for the squadron against Fred Perry, the Wimbledon champion, and won! He wrote of watching films that made him more home sick, of missing me and of her having to work with old fogies!
Many families experienced such losses at that time, but it would have been nice to at least have heard my father’s voice, just once.
By Michael Rowen