Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Knight of the Skies

April 23, 2017

Last year, cows started appearing all over Guildford. In Brighton it was snow dogs. In Lincoln it is Knights.

Bomber Command Memorial is rarely open, as work is still ongoing. Today was one of those special days when open.

Today a very special visitor, Knight of The Skies, kitted out as aircrew in WWII Bomber Command.

Designer of Knight of the Skies Rosie Ablewhite could not be present. Had she been, I would have complimented her on her interpretation.

I will not describe, other than to mention the sword, look carefully and will see it is the Spire, look again, and will see it is the same as the wingspan of an Avro Lancaster.

The sword is covered in corten steel, same material as the Spire and the concentric Memorial Walls.

Knight of the Skies is signed by the sole surviving member of the Dambusters Raid.

Knight of the Skies will move. He will be found at the top of Steep Hill, in Castle Hill, outside Lincoln Castle where he will be part of the Knights Trail.

Lincoln Knights’ Trail – 36 knights across Lincoln city centre – to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln and the sealing of the Charter of the Forest.

According to Professor David Carpenter:

The Battle of Lincoln, one of the most decisive in English history, meant that England would be ruled by the Angevin, not the Capetian dynasty.

The Knights in Lincoln, cows in Guildford, snow dogs in Brighton, are part of a much larger project, Wild in Art.

St George’s Day at Bomber Command Memorial Spire

April 23, 2017

When I last visited Bomber Command Memorial Spire, it was an unpleasant cold March afternoon. Today, by pleasant contrast, although a chill in the air in the morning, a pleasant warm sunny afternoon, especially if got out of the wind.

Daffodils were still in flower. The variety I learnt, a very pale yellow, almost white, is Lady of Lincolnshire.

There are areas of grass intended to be regularly cut, others are of rough grass. I would strongly recommend, the rough areas, sow wild flower seeds and manage as a traditional hay meadow. Allow the grass to grow tall, wait until seeded then mow some time late June. It may even be possible to find a farmer who will be interested in the hay. Then once the hay cut and removed, mow regular, but not short. Ideally once cut for hay, graze animals, rare breeds

There needs to be access to the South Common. If not open access, then a fence or a wall, with a gate, that leads direct down from the Spire, where a path runs along and a path or steps leading down into the common, all it would require are steps leading down to the path.

Today we were honoured with Knight of the Skies, one of a series of Knights dotted around Lincoln. He will then, I was told, move to Castle Hill, top of Steep Hill, outside Lincoln Castle, where he will form part of the Knights Trail.

Bomber Command Memorial was due to officially open in September. That date has now been put back to next year, when it will coincide with 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force.

Bomber Command Memorial

March 19, 2017

Bomber Command Memorial, at the top of Canwick Hill, overlooks South Common, with stunning views across the Witham Valley, over Lincoln, and on a  clear day, as today, over the Trent Valley.

The site is quite eerie, consisting of a central spire, which represents two wings of a Lancaster Bomber, and concentric walls.

The spire and the walls are made of rusting iron, or maybe steel, I assume to represent Lincoln once the city of heavy industry, with foundries, sadly long gone, skilled jobs replaced by low paid temporary McShit jobs.

The spire, not apparent until close up, is hollow.

The walls, are covered in names, cut into the walls both sides, the names of airman who died during World War Two. I was told 56,000, though I did not count.

Not yet open to the public. Today was an Open Day. I was an invited guest.

Also on site and as yet unfinished International Bomber Command Centre and a wooden shed.

Inside the shed, a long table half way down one side, with half a dozen veterans signing books and limited edition prints and answering questions.

One end serving tea and coffee, the other end a few books for sale.

Signed limited edition prints of paintings by one of the veterans.

I was surprised by the number of people there.

Everything run by volunteers, all pleasant and helpful, with two exceptions.

A man thrust a bucket in my face and more or less demanded I put in some money. I had no money, I expected an empty site.

Whilst looking at one of the books, I was told they are for sale not for looking at. He then bragged to an associate that he worked in a charity shop where he tells customers that books are for sale not for looking at.

One thing is needed, and hopefully there will be, when the site is officially open, a way up from South Common, otherwise a long trek round.

There needs to be path and steps leading up from South Common to the Memorial. Then if on the Common, can walk up, or, if at the Memorial and a pleasant day can combine with a walk on the Common.

Children’s experience of the Bombing War

January 25, 2017

In the interwar years, the theory was, all out war, total war. Destroy the cities, destroy the factories, destroy the workers, kill the means of production, destroy morale and the will to go on.

Aerial bombing may have had impact on Arab tribes, possibly because the experience was alien to them

Off the scale was kill millions, wipe out the cities.

Whilst this may be possible today, with the exception of Guernica, which even horrifies today, and Dresden, it was not possible.

Analysis of aerial footage, showed only about five percent of the targets were hit, and from British experience, it was known it was possible to recover very quickly, even when factories were damaged.

Each bomber produced had on average a lifetime of fourteen operational sorties. How best to make use of limited resources?

It was decided to change tack, destroy the housing, an easier target to hit. If the workers had nowhere to live, they would be demoralised.

But again, what basis was there for this?

It was decided to carry out a survey of children, what was their experience of bombing, the 1942 British bombing survey.

Two cities were chosen, Birmingham and Hull. The children were asked to write essays, the essays were then analysed to see what understanding could be drawn from those essays.

The children aged 10 to 12 years old, were asked to write an essay What Happened to Me and What I Did in the Air Raids.

Mrs Ingram got an incendiary bomb in her back bedroom and my father and brother put it out.

…there was a little bang and my brother said that he would have to go out as it was a firebomb and he would have to put it out. While he was putting it out a bomb dropped and blew him inside the shelter again.

When we got into the house there wasn’t half a mess. I started to tidy up and then I lighted [sic] the fire and made my mother and the two other children a nice hot cup of tea.

I was glad that I could do something to help, for there was a lady who came into our shelter who was very frightened. She had a little child of one and a half years. The lady was trembling, I took the little baby, and every time a bomb came down I threw a pillow over myself and the little girl, who was called Sheila. She kept crying but at last I hushed her to sleep.

What these essays showed was the children were coping, the families were coping. They show  the normality, life went on, a bomb may have dropped, put it right with a nice cup of tea.

Dad may be working during the day, on fire watch at night. If injured, he came home, was patched up by Mum and went straight back out again.

Brother helped put out the fires.

Mum looked after the household possessions, tidied and cleaned up the house after a bombing raid.

Sister helped Mum keep order, looked after the little ones, made a nice hot cup of tea.

They coped.

They saw after the initial horror of the bombing raids, the city was not destroyed, they could cope, life went, you kept on smiling. You may be afraid, but that was normal to be afraid.

If the intention was to reduce productivity capacity, or destroy morale, it failed.

This then questioned the effectiveness of bombing German cities.

It also raises question of why the policy of evacuating children from the cities to the countryside.  No only were they able to cope, they actually provided a support mechanism for the family.

And we know, when children were evacuated, they very quickly returned home.

A fatalistic attitude, if we are going to die, we may as well all die together.

We see this today in Syria. Assad does not control the countryside. The only way he controls the cities is by reducing to rubble.

And Assad does not cow the people. When they are finally forced to leave, they are still defiant, the children are defiant. The children even go on-line and record their experiences to let the world know.

The only main difference between Syria and WWII, is that WWII, very clearly defined roles between men and women, whereas in the north of Syria there are very effective Kurdish all-women fighting units.

A future research project, ask the children from  Aleppo to write an essay  What Happened to Me and What I Did in the Bombing Raids.

An excellent talk by Dr James Greenhalgh, senior lecturer, at University of Lincoln Riseholme Campus.

Dr James Greenhalgh is author of a forthcoming book on this topic.

Filming of documentary on bombing raid

December 30, 2016

Filming of a documentary of a World War Two Bomber Command bombing raid from the viewpoint of a Lancaster crew.

Interviews with veterans, film footage of raid.

The film, title not yet known, may be crowdfunded, possible available as DVD and streamed on vimeo.

A taster will be posted on vimeo and youtube.

Filmmaker Andrew Panton.

Christmas Party for Lincoln University archive volunteers and veterans

December 16, 2016

At the Riseholme Campus, Lincoln University held a Christmas Party to say a big thank you to all their volunteers and WWII veterans.

The centre, IBCC Digital Archive,  maintains a record, mainly digital, of first hand accounts of the Second World War, not only from a British perspective, but also from Europe.

The centre will go live on-line hopefully sometime next year. It will be an important source of original material for historians.

A good selection of eats and drinks.

Two veterans of Bomber Command attended, and thanks to the volunteer drivers who brought them.

A third veteran was unable to attend, too busy in his new found hobby of painting, but he did kindly send three of his paintings, which he had donated to the centre.

Harry Parkins was presented with Honour d’Legion, the highest award from the French President, with a letter of commendation from the French Ambassador to the Court of St James

A brief mention of the archive and its work, with a special mention of one of the recent acquisitions, a beautifully  illustrated  diary of an English Prisoner of War held in a German Stalag.

Within the diary, a recipe for a Christmas cake, made one assumed with the Red Cross rations.

It was not at all clear what some of the ingredents were, for example fruit and biscuits. Hazard a guess, and a little experimentation, assume dates something like digestive biscuits.

The lady who baked all the eats, also kindly baked the Prisoner of War Christmas Cake.

What was it like? PoW rations, it cannot be good.

It was nothing like a modern day Christmas cake, but then maybe during WWII, Christmas cakes were different.

To everyone’s pleasant surprise, the Stalag Christmas cake was excellent.

Thanks to the lady who baked the Stalag Christmas cake, and all our delicious eats.

I suggested, publish the recipe  and maybe have  a chat with Curtis, an excellent local independent baker and butcher, and ask them would they like to bake and put on sale with a small donation for each cake sold.

Finally, a big thank you to all the volunteers, who were each presented with a  certificate to thank them for their work.

‘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

D-Day 70th Anniversary

June 5, 2014
marking D-Day in  Aldershot

marking D-Day in Aldershot

D-Day was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany when the allies landed on a beach in Normandy.

The scale of the operation is hard to comprehend.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

September 2, 2013

I was very displeased to see that a bar in Agia Efimia has abandoned its perfectly good Greek name and renamed itself Captain Corelli’s, and I dread the idea that sooner or later there might be Captain Corelli Tours, or Pelagia Apartments. — Louise de Bernières

Love is what is left when the passion has gone. — Dr Iannis, father of Pelagia

I have always found something in life worth singing about and for that I cannot apologize. — Captain Corelli

I have not read the book, therefore I was able to approach the film without any preconceptions.

Dr Iannis, giving advice to his daughter Pelagia on love:

When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No… don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!

A very moving film.

Would I feel the same had I read the book? I do not know. I did once try reading the book, and gave up as I found it to be badly written and boring. Maybe time to try again.

Filmed on the Greek island of Kefalonia. The events it alludes to did take place, the characters being fictional. Set during the Italian occupation of Kefalonia during the Second World War. For Mussolini, capturing the islands was important as once Venetian.

The view from the jetty at the beginning of the film is of Ithaca. The ships used by on that famed journey were made of Cephallonian pine.

Beautiful pines on the island. The same pines I found in the wooded parks in the centre of Athens near the Acropolis and on the hill I climbed Lycabettus Hill.

An island I would like to visit, though I fear spoilt now book and film.

Interesting that Louis de Bernières disowned the film.

Lunch at Dambusters Inn

January 5, 2013
Dambusters Inn

Dambusters Inn

Dambusters Inn in the Lincolnshire village of Scampton is not a pub for its food, it is a pub for WWII memorabilia relating to the RAF and in particular Dambusters 617 Squadron.

From Lincoln, take the A15, then A1500, then B1398 into Scampton.

Usually B roads are little winding country lanes. B1398 into Scampton is not, it is a wide road as though a major trunk road. Odd as Scampton is a little tiny village. I can only think it is so wide, as it skirts the back of RAF Scampton, and maybe it is to give rapid access to the base in an emergency.

As you come off the escarpment and wind your way down to Scampton, fantastic views across the Trent Valley. Also visible are lakes that look like flooded quarries or gravel pits, but aerial pictures reveal to be resevoirs.

Dambusters Inn is on the right as you come into the village.

The pub is not old, but as you step over the threshold you step back in time. It is as though you have entered a very old pub during the Second World War.

In the entrance porch, WWII relics either side. Walk in, and an airman’s jacket and scarf hanging up.

In one bar, a Lancaster bomber instrument panel (not a Lancaster cockpit as has been reported elsewhere). Original maps of the Dambuster raid, photos of dams before and after, logbook for Guy Gibson (replica not original), flying gear behind a glass, framed old newspapers, on a wall display of medals and who awarded to (a pity no guide to what the medals were or what awarded for), an open fire.

The pub is very much a small museum with a very enthusiastic landlord maintaining it. Clearly a labour of love.

Behind the pub what looked like a vegetable garden gone to rack and ruin. Strange no garden with seating, beyond the garden a paddock. There was outside seating but this was at the front in the car park.

A good choice of local real ales on the bar, and Anzac biscuits and Dambuster cheese.

Attractive and friendly girl behind the bar, who also doubled as waitress.

This is not a pub for food. Scampi and chips was ok, better than a chain pub, but not great. Haddock and chips, the haddock was not good, either because the skin had not been removed or it was not fresh and going off. Far far better fish n chips at Elite the other side of Lincoln.

There is nothing to see in Scampton, other than the village church, and it was closed. In the churchyard graves of killed servicemen.

The road back into Lincoln A15 is an old Roman road. It runs dead straight with Lincoln Cathedral dead straight ahead. Ignore all road signs, keep going straight ahead, you will eventually reach Newport Arch, the Roman gateway to Lindum Colonia. If you go through the arch, you are in Bailgate. An interesting area to explore. Or turn left, follow the roads around until coming back on oneself, will find yourself around the back of Lincoln Cathedral. The road is a no access, parking limited to 30 minutes. Just sufficient time for afternoon tea in the Lincoln Cathedral tea shop and quick look at the cloisters.

For an itinerary may also wish to visit:

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is located at RAF Coningsby. At Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a Lancaster that can power up its engines and taxi, but not fly. There are plans to get it flying by 2014. Petwood Hotel was the former Officers Mess for Dambusters 617 Squadron, one of the bars is maintained as it was during WWII. RAF Scampton, where 617 Squadron was formed, is now the base for the world famous Red Arrows.

The Blue Bell Inn, a very old roadside inn at Tattershall Thorpe, serves excellent food and a good choice of real ales. Apart being an interesting old inn and serving excellent food, another reason for visiting the Blue Bell Inn, is that on the ceiling of the old bar are signatures of members of the 617 Squadron.

I am surprised no enterprising person has produced a small booklet on these sites, available at all the sites, that could later be expanded into a book, though the pages linked to from here will give all the required information for visitors, bar actually visiting the sites.

Based at RAF Scampton, a few miles north of Lincoln, 617 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, was specially formed to handle the Dambusters raid. All the crews were hand-picked for the squadron.

A specially modified Avro Lancaster was needed for the raids. The bomb was slung below the plane. On approach to the target, the bomb spun up to 500rpm. This backwards spin caused the bomb to bounce, on hitting the wall of the dam, the backwards spin would pull it down the wall of the dam into the base of the dam. A hydrostatic fuse was set for 30ft, and failing that, a delayed detonation.

Details of the bouncing bomb and its release mechanism were kept secret until 1974.

After the raids the Germans managed to recover one of the bouncing bombs that had not exploded. They carried out their own work using the bombs, but had to abandon their trials as the bombs had a nasty habit of catching up with and destroying the release aircraft.

The bombs had to be dropped from an exact height of 60ft. Barometric altimeters were not sufficiently accurate. Spotlights were aimed at an angle at the ground. When the two spots on the water merged into one, the aircraft would be at an exact height of 60ft.

617 Squadron practised their bombing raids on Derwent Water. Such was the delicacy of the operation that not even the crews knew what their final target would be. A rumour was spread that it would be the German battleship Tirpitz, holed up in a Norwegian fjord. Ironic, in that later in the war, Tirpitz was bombed by 617 Squadron.

The Lancasters used in the raid, had their armour removed to reduce the weight.

The attack, code name Operation Chastise, on the night of the 17th of May 1943, was in three waves.

2013 sees the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters bombing raid.