Sunday, 13 September 2009

Bomber Command

There is a little story about the photo at the head of this blog, and it begins somewhere in East Kent in 1940's wartime Britain..... (screen goes all wavy and the word 'Britain' echoes repeatedly as it fades away...)

My father was a gunner in Bomber Command during WW2, and the Wellington that he was flying in as tail-gunner on his last mission was badly shot up, but made it's way back to the Kent airfield. The pilot could not lower the undercarriage, and decided to ditch the plane, so ordered everyone to bail out at fairly low altitude. My dad did not hear the command to jump, as his radio link had been severed by a bullet, so the first he knew about it was seeing his mates float gently down on parachutes from his position at the tail of the aircraft. I bet he was gutted.

The plane came down almost flat to the ground, and the only bit to survive almost intact was the tail where my father was sitting, waiting to die. He had multiple leg fractures, but was pulled out and spent months in hospital recovering.

When they let him out, they gave him a job in the Ministry of War headquarters (now the MOD on the Thames Embankment), and whilst he was there, he suspected one of his fellow office workers of being a German spy. Rather than blowing the whistle immediately, he did some more checking up to make sure the bloke wasn't innocent, and the spy became aware of my father's suspicions and fled immediately - but not before slipping a dose of poison in dad's morning tea...

He survived that too, but spent more months in hospital having his stomach-lining repaired from the effects of the poison. Ironically, he had been given an overdose of whatever it was, so threw most of it up almost immediately.

Shortly after my father died (about 20 years ago) I was leafing through a pamphlet put out by the Ministry of Information called 'Bomber Command' in an antiques market. These little books were printed about all the major services - Fighter Command, Coastal Command, etc. and were a mixture of uplifting text and pictures about the war effort. I came across the picture above of a bomber crew climbing into the back of a lorry. The caption reads, "Their hearts are high."

My father is the bloke you can just make out peeping over the others in the background, behind the 'P' in 'Stephenson'. It was so like him to be in the background, like he always was in rare family photos.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Well I removed that cos of a typo. Dur!

    What I meant to say was: Sounds like your Dad was a bit of a shrinking violet Tom. Unlike you, who is more of a shrieking violent.

  3. He used to call me a screaming pansy. Funny how it goes full circle.