Group Captain Adrian Hill did me the honour by not only extending an invitation but also taking me to RAF High Wycombe to attend as a guest at the Bomber Command Dinner night on 10 June 2010. This was the RAF headquarters of Bomber Command when Sir Arthur Harris BT CCB OBE was Chief of Bomber Command and I served under him as a Flight Engineer on Avro Lancasters at RAF East Kirkby in Lincolnshire.
Adrian picked me up from home, his wife had kindly supplied us with sandwiches, home-made quiche and a drink which we enjoyed on the way during a stop on the Watford bypass.
We arrived at High Wycombe three hours later.
On arrival Adrian showed me my room, a pleasant comfortable room next to the Officer’s Mess, and said he would pick me up at 6-30 for drinks, then we would get dressed for dinner in the Officer’s Mess.
I took the opportunity to have a wander round.
At the entrance I found three busts: Sgt John Hannah VC, Acting Flight Lieutenant Roderick Alistair Learoyd VC and Acting Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC. By the side was a beautiful Grandfather Clock.
I looked into the Officer’s Mess which was being laid for dinner. Hanging from the ceiling magnificent chandeliers.
A lady stopped me. I assumed she was one of the waitresses.
To my surprise she said: You are Warrant Officer Harry Parkins, and I know all about your war record on Lancaster bombers.
Somewhat stunned, I asked her how did she know?
She shook my hand and introduced herself as Squadron Leader Natalie Beck, RAF Intelligence. Then putting her finger to her nose and laughing said that’s why I am in RAF Intelligence.
We had a brief chat about my war-time experience and she told me she was helping out to get ready for this evening’s dinner.
I then continued to wander around the building, admiring the paintings and silverware and taking pictures.
As promised, Adrian Hill collected me at 6-30 for drinks outside the Mess and introduced me to some of his fellow officers, many of whom were high ranking officers. All were very friendly and wanted to know all about me, although they already seemed to know something about me.
I told them of how I met my wife Mavis on VE Day, of our two children and of our youngest son who sadly died of encephalitis at a young age, a viral infection of he brain.
After several drinks, we went off to change for dinner. Once dressed, we were met at the entrance to the Mess by the Ensemble of the Central Band of the RAF with Adrian once again introducing me to high ranking officers.
The Mess was wonderful, the tables decorated with highly polished silver trophies. From the ceiling hung magnificent chandeliers.
I was seated with Adrian to my right, who kindly explained all the Mess traditions and procedures as the evening progressed. To my left was a delightful young lady, Flight Lieutenant Suzanne Atkins, who was excellent company.
The dinner, drinks and wines were based on a wartime menu, and all were excellent. In between each course, a high ranking officer gave a talk on three RAF VCs.
The band played God Save the Queen whilst we stood for a toast with a full glass of Cockburns Fine Ruby Port.
Camp coffee came with Bomber Command special mints with the Lancaster printed on the wrappers.
I kept my table napkin, in fact I did not use it. It was folded and decorated to look like an RAF jacket.
Air Vice Marshall Kurth then got up and announced we have an interesting guest here this evening. I looked around, thinking maybe a member of the Royal family had just arrived. He continued, the name is Warrant Officer retired Flight Engineer Harry Parkins. This was his introduction to a speech on my war record: 39 operations, mid-air collision in a Lancaster and a crash landing in a Sterling. He then went on to say that I held the record for the longest duration bombing raid in a Lancaster, flying from East Kirkby in Lincolnshire via Italy to fool the Germans, then up to Munich, then back to Lincolnshire, a bombing raid of 10 hours 25 minutes.
The room went quiet. Then 180 officers stood and gave me a standing ovation of around two minutes.
I did not know what to do or say as it was not expected and I was too moved to say anything. I simply said it was a fine tribute to my great British, New Zealand and Australian crew.
It was then time to retire to the bar. More drinks and many questions from the friendly high ranking officers.
By 2am in the early hours of the morning I was well and truly ready for bed but Adrian called me over and held up a glass of champagne from Flight Lieutenant Atkins, with a word of congratulations.
It was a fantastic night that Adrian had arranged for me. I felt like someone famous, just for doing what we had been trained to do for our country. I would like to give thanks to all the friendly officers I met, whose names I cannot remember, but here is a few:
Air Marshall S Bryant CBE MA BA
Wing Commander Steve Dharamraj
Squadron Leader Natalie Beck
Air Vice Marshal Kurth
Flight Lieutenant Suzanne Atkins (who gave me a card with a lovely letter)
Next morning, a full breakfast with Adrian and few of his fellow officers A wander around the gardens. Then at 1230 a good lunch ready for the drive home.
A very special thanks to Group Captain Adrian Hill for arranging everything and for such a wonderful two days.
– 1891679 W/O Harry Parkins retired