My father flew as a flight engineer in RAF Bomber Command from December 1942 until the end of WWII. He was demobbed in August 1946 as a Warrant Officer, given a striped “demob suit” and the princely sum of £17.
He was proud of having “done his bit” and those 4 years marked a high point in his life. He was happy in the air force, and would have liked to continue serving after the war, but was told that in spite of having risen to the rank of WO, in peacetime he would have to start again at the bottom. To a man who had put his life on the line time and time again, with over 370 flying hours, more than 50 operational sorties, sometimes arriving back in a crippled aircraft that could barely limp onto the runway, that was too humiliating and so he returned to his former job in Civvy Street. But the close-knit camaraderie and brotherhood remained of those aircrew who had shared the cramped, freezing and frightening conditions in the aircraft, rekindled at regular meetings of old pals and the annual squadron reunion.
Dad flew mostly in Flying Fortresses as a member of 214 Squadron, which was also part of 100 Group. This was engaged in early electronic warfare, jamming German radar, dropping WINDOW and carrying a German-speaking wireless operator to give false commands to enemy aircraft. They flew with the bomber stream, exposed to the same flak and attacks by Messerschmitts as the bombers.
Horrible things happen in wars. After WWII, Bomber Command got a bad press. The bombing of Königsberg, Berlin and Dresden in particular left a nasty taste. And so Fighter Command got the glory and a medal, while Bomber Command received only the 1939-1945 Star. Now, with the erection last summer of a memorial to Bomber Command in London and the issue of a Bomber Command Clasp, their role in World War II has finally been acknowledged. Of course, it can be argued that this is too little too late. Certainly too late for most of the 125,000 who earned it. Some veterans have even spat in disgust at the notion of a Clasp rather than a medal: “Not worth the metal it’s made of,” headlined one Plymouth paper.
My father died at the age of 85. Had he survived to claim the Clasp to which he is now entitled, intended to be worn with the Star, he would have been 99. We are claiming the clasp in his name, but it is with a distinct sense of regret and resentment at the fact that the bravery and achievements of Bomber Command were not recognised during his lifetime.
For more on RAF Bomber Command, click here.