Posts Tagged ‘RAF East Kirkby’

‘After 36 operations and a mid-air collision, I made it to the end of the war’

November 11, 2014
Lancasters dropping food over Holland in Operation Manna

Lancasters dropping food over Holland in Operation Manna

Operation Manna

Operation Manna

Harry Parkins Bomber Command veteran of 39 ops

Harry Parkins Bomber Command veteran of 39 ops

Lancaster bomber flight engineer Warrant Officer Harry Parkins recalls his role in the world’s first humanitarian aid mission more than seven decades earlier with remarkable candour and detail.

On April 29, 1945, Bomber Command dropped tons of food over the west of Holland to alleviate the suffering of three million people. A million were officially classified as starving.

Over the next 10 days, Harry was involved in six special missions from RAF Fiskerton, east of Lincoln. It was part of Operation Manna, which saw US Air Forces and RAF aircraft parachute more than 12,000 tons of vital food supplies into the stricken area.

“After 36 operations with 630 Squadron out of East Kirkby with a New Zealand and Australian crew, I made it to the end of the war and even survived a mid-air collision with another Lancaster,” he said.

It was while he was training new flight engineers in early 1945 that Pilot Officer ‘Chips’ Fry begged him to go to RAF Fiskerton back on operations.

So he did three more with 576 Squadron before the first of six flights to Walkenburg, Delft and Rotterdam, dropping food.

He said: “Because the German troops were also starving, we could also see them and heard later that they’d also been taking up the bags of flour. Some had burst on the huge poles the distrusting Germans erected in the fields to stop us landing.”

Post-war, after meeting his future wife Mavis in her native Lincoln soon after, he chose to stay on in the county.

Now living on Trafalgar Court, Mr and Mrs Parkins – who have a son, daughter and two grand-daughters – had a shock last week when their phone rang.

“On Tuesday I got a phone call from Mrs Ella Howlett, who was in tears.

“She was thanking me and the crew for dropping the food which saved her life and many others. She was a girl in Holland and said many of her friends and family died. She was only 16-years-old at the time. And in 1948 she married her husband who was a soldier and came to live in England.

“It was a very emotional call because her family survived even though they had been eating tulip bulbs and making stew out of potato peelings.”

His 630 Squadron crew at East Kirkby held the record for the longest Lancaster mission – more than 2,000 miles over the Alps to Munich on April 24, 1944. The aircraft ran out of fuel on landing back at base 10 hours 25 minutes later.”

The final airlift on VE Day meant that Harry and his pals could pack up and go home – eventually.

But it was not before he was involved in repatriation flights for Allied prisoners-of-war held in camps in Brussels and Italy – during which he had a chance encounter with his uncle Len, whom he had not seen since boyhood.

Originally published Lincolnshire Echo, republished on Medium

Guest of honour at RAF Strike Command High Wycombe

January 10, 2012
Officer's Mess laid for Bomber Command Dinner

Officer's Mess laid for Bomber Command Dinner

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.

Match Made at Stonebow

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.

Flying Officer Leslie Manser VC
Acting Squadron Leader Ian Willoughby Bazalgette VC DFC
Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire, VC, OM, DSO and Two Bars, DFC

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.

Mid Air Survival
The Longest Lancaster Operation – 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


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