These things start so simply don't they!
My eldest son's school set a Spring project every year and in March 2004 he came home and told me that he had to write 30 pages on a subject to do with the Second World War. Knowing I had my own Father's memorabilia from his time serving in Bomber Command in the RAF I suggested we could base it on that.
The project was excellent thanks to James' hard work on it, and he got an A+ and won the end of year project prize at his school, Gidea Park College.
In the process of doing the research for the project we have found out much more than we ever knew before about my father's time in Bomber Command during WWII and his amazing, yet sadly commonplace story and the stories of the men he shared a Lancaster bomber with in dark hostile skies 70 years ago..
This website now displays to those interested what we found with a little digging around the records avaiable, and more detailed information pulled together after making contact with relatives of the members of the crew and will hopefully grow still as I get further information.
The origial version of this website, which was published in 2005, is now long gone due to the web host folding and this is a relaunch.
I was brought up knowing that my Dad, John Edgar Wainwright, known by everyone that knew him as Jack, then a Constable in the Metropolitan Police, had survived having been shot down by a Messerschmitt 110 night fighter over France in 1944. He had been picked up by the Resistance, had lived for a short while as a Frenchman near the town of Beauvais, north of Paris with the Pelletier family and had returned home safely.
Beyond hearing his hearty rendition of "Alouette" which he had learnt in France and came out on particularly drunken occasions and a doll that had been sent to me by the Pelletier family shortly after my birth (they had heard Michael, decided it was Michelle and I was a girl!) the events of 1944 were always kept a little in the dark.
I guess the actuality of the events were a little overwhelming and my Dad would very rarely actually say much about what went on during his time in the RAF. This has proven to be a common story with the Bomber Command veterans and their families that I have met during this journey. The were almost all reluctant heroes and their country has done them a huge disservice by its embarrassment over what they did in the darkest of times, which was just what they were asked to do by their commanders. This is a theme I return to below.
I was just 18 years old when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, just starting out in life on my own, and when he died on October 13th 1978 it was a big shock to all of us left behind. He died as a result of smoking, a habit picked up in the RAF so I guess the war did get him in the end.
Then in 1993, shortly after my own first son James was born my Mum also passed away. My sister and I agreed that I would get my Dad's medals and that she took the little gold caterpillar which was the badge of membership to the Caterpillar club (people who's lives have been saved by a parachute). I also got a couple of photo albums and a small cigar box of mementos from the war years and just after.
Finding the photos, most of which were my Mum's, my Dad's forged French ID card, his "missing" and "safe" telegrams and looking at the medals spurred me to write to the RAF asking for any records they had on my Dad's service. Back came a photocopy of his service record, confirming that he had joined the RAF on the 29th July 1941, aged 18 and 6 days and served until March 1947. The records listed a long series of postings including his time with 44 Squadron in 1944, and the word "Missing" against the 5th July, and "Recategorised safe in UK" on the 1st September 1944.
Back then I found this interesting, and even stopped off on my way back from a trip up north in the village of Dunholme in Lincolnshire to see the site of the airfield, but I was a father myself now with a young family and there was no real time to dig deeper so I left things as they were.
I did mount a picture of my Dad in his RAF uniform, with his cap badge and medals in the house on display though, and although they are "just" campaign medals, this elicited a lot of interest from friends and as they grew a little older, my two boys.
When James' school project came along I dug out all my Dad's stuff again and found renewed interest in his story. By 2004 I now had the power of the Internet at my disposal in the search for more information. What I found out and how I found it, Dad's story, pictures and documents, those of his crew mates, and my Mum's pictures from her time in the WAAF in World War II are the subject of this website.
I hope you find the site interesting and informative.
If you can add to this story in any way at all, or recognise any of the many unknown faces in the pictures here, please get in touch.
France, July and August 1944 - the story of my Dad's time with the brave men and women of the French Resistance after he was shot down.
Bob Routledge - The story of Bob Routledge who was the regular rear gunner in my Dad's crew but missed the fatal flight in July 1944 and survived his tour of duty as related by his wife Jennie. I have also published Bob's flying log book for anyone interested.
Bill Young - The story of Bill Young, my Father's skipper, killed when ME699 was shot down in July 1944 and his friendship with Aussie cricket legend Keith Miller.
Bill Rennie - The story of Bill Rennie, who was the mid upper gunner in my Dad's crew and killed when ME699 was shot down in July 1944, as told by his younger brother Richard Rennie, with extracts from Bill's letters home from the RCAF.
Frank Wareham - What I have found out about the crew's navigator, Frank Wareham, killed when ME699 was shot down in July 1944 as told by a friend of the Wareham family.
Ronald Houseman - The "Houseman" family website has a tribute to Ronald Houseman who took Bob Routledge's position as rear gunner on the fatal flight in July 1944.
44 Squadron - A brief history of the famous 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron with whom my father flew in 1944.
St Leu d'Esserent Mission - A description of the final mission for my Dad's crew to the V1 storage and assembly site in caves at St Leu d'Esserent in France.
My Mum's pictures - My mother was a WAAF attached to No 460 Squadron RAAF based at RAF Binbrook. I have published some of her pictures here and would appreciate any information on the many unknown people in them if anyone can help.
A little real research - How I found out the detail that I have, the websites that proved useful in the search and the information gathered so far with links.
I will be continuing my search whenever I get spare time, in particular I still intend one day to head to the Public Records Office in Kew where wartime RAF records are held. In the meantime, if you know any of the people pictured, or can tell me more about the crew of Lancaster ME699, KM-T, for instance what became of the other survivor, the flight engineer, Sgt William (Bill) Robinson, please get in touch.
Be proud of Bomber Command
From a distance of 70 years it is easy to criticise the policy of area bombing by night that was undertaken by Bomber Command during much of the Second World War. Where modern war has been waged we have seen the video game like pictures of bombs being laser guided onto their targets to take out specific buildings in built up areas, and even then occasionally cause horrendous casualties by either missing their intended targets or as a result of bad intelligence.
At the start of WWII the RAF's bombers were only just a few steps on from the biplanes of the First World War, and often flew individually or in very small formations on missions to attack military targets with little more than dead reckoning to guide them there and back. In the early days the RAF Bombers took heavy losses in daylight raids against the German fighter forces and were forced to switch to night raids, meaning that navigation was even more haphazard.
The RAF were hailed as the saviours of the cause of freedom in the summer of 1940 when Fighter Command retained control of the skies above Southern England and prevented a German invasion in the Battle of Britain. Winston Churchill christened the courageous fighter pilots "The Few" in a famous speech to Parliament on the 20th of August 1940 but it is rarely mentioned that in the same paragraph of that speech when he used the famous words "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" he went on to say:
"All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day; but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power."
Churchill no doubt knew that his boasts about the effectiveness of Bomber Command were nothing near the truth at that time but they were virtually the last offensive weapon in his hands. As the war moved forward the advent of the "heavies" - Halifax, Stirling and Lancaster bombers - new navigational aids like Oboe and, H2S and new tactics like the Pathfinder force meant that larger bomb loads could be carried further into German territories to damage the infrastructure and manufacturing capability of the Nazi Empire and reduce its capacity to fight back as the tide turned, making Churchill's 1940 boasts into a reality.
The cost was enormous though. Bomber Command lost a total of 55,573 men in WWII. More aircrew were lost in the single raid on Nuremberg on the 30th of March 1944 (545) than in the whole of the Battle of Britain (498). That raid was, by coincidence, my Father's first operational flight, the aircraft damaged by another aircraft's incendiary bomb and attacked by a night-fighter before they got home safely.
Despite the appalling casualty figures, all aircrew were volunteers. Accepted figures now are that 55% were killed, while something only just over a quarter survived a tour of 30 operations without being killed, severely injured, captured or shot down.
Using my father's initial training group photo as a basis to inllustrate the statistics for the fate of aircrew, this is what the raw numbers regarding a man's chances in Bomber Command actually mean, based on the calculations on Rob Davis' Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command 1939-1945 site:
But was it worth it?
The various analysis of the impact of the bombing campaign on Nazi Germany often reach very different conclusions on how effective it was, often again making the mistake of applying a modern moral stance or "political correctness" to a 1940's backs to the wall situation. In fact the men of Bomber Command were disowned by many after the war as the devastation that they had caused in raids such as the infamous firestorm in Dresden in February 1945 became known. Even Churchill, who had pushed for the raid on Dresden in support of the Russian advance, distanced himself from the force he had championed during wartime once the conflict was over. At the end of the day, Winston Churchill, first and foremost, remained a politician.
Despite the real impact of Bomber Command on Nazi Germany's capacity to fight back as the war drew to a close and the true heroism of the men that got back in their aircraft night after night with little statistical chance of surviving, at the end of the war these men and their commander, Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, received no specific campaign medal, and Harris was the only one of the British forces commanders of equivalent rank not to get a Peerage. It was only in 2013 that the UK Government finally relented and issued a specific "Bomber Command Clasp" to veterans to augment the 1939-45 Starr.
I believe the best analysis that I have seen of the imapct of Bomber Command was made by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris himself in a speech to a Bomber Command Reunion Dinner in April 1977. In it he quoted the admiration of US forces commanders for what his boys had been able to deliver, and Albert Speer's views that quite apart from the damage done, the bombing campaign had a huge effect on the German war effort in that it tied up vast amounts of men and equipment on anti-aircraft duties that might otherwise have been fighting on the ground against the allies.
So from 70 years in the future, the idea of setting out to drop bombs on targets often in the midst of civilian populations out of dark skies based on flimsy navigational aids seems like a terrible thing to have done. At the time though it employed every technology available and required the utmost guts and determination to see through from the men tasked with flying the aircraft, so many of whom never returned.
The men of Bomber Command played their full part in the Allies victory against the tyranny that was Nazi Germany. Be proud of them, now and forever.
A video of the documentary "Who Betrayed the Bomber Boys?" can be found here.