As regular readers know, I have always tried to record and thank everybody when the blog has reached another viewing milestone.
Today I do the same, but almost breathlessly, given that we have reached the magic quarter of a million mark. Writing this, I have a smile from ear to ear every time I type quarter of a million.
Quarter of a million
I have reflected many times on occasions like this that the scale of interest and support has never ceased to amaze and touch me – and, without sounding repetitive, I do this again. I continue to come into contact with new people, relatives and interested individuals and it is their generosity and desire to share stories of the members of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF, both air and ground crew which allows me to keep posting and you all to keep viewing them.
The reservoir of information has steadily increased and recently, my ability to process and present this wonderful information seems to have, annoyingly, decreased……
We also now have an online store for memorabilia that contributes to the UK Squadron Association and the Memorial Garden in Mepal.
The Squadron database reached a significant milestone while I was down in Wiltshire visiting my Mother – lack of internet and my Mothers eclectic TV viewing habits allowed me to complete “phase 2” of the database.
We now have every operational flight with aircraft type, serial and where known, flight and individual designator number. We now have at least a surname for every crew member of every crew who flew on all of these Ops.
As I think I have explained before to give a sense of scale of this activity, the database is approximately 8,400 rows long as a list and each row currently is made up of about 85 cells that contain pieces of information about the Op, aircraft or airmen in any particular crew. When complete therefore, the database will contain in total, approximately 714,000 pieces of information.
The generosity of people contacting me about their relatives means the database already contains new personal information – specifically the Christian names of the RAF airmen that flew with the Squadron and also, just as importantly, designator letters and names of individual aircraft that are totally new information.
In real terms the database project in content is now about 50% complete and as sections of information are completed, the natural tendency and inevitable likelihood is that extra information will be added. At a point of ‘critical completion’ the database ‘en masse’ will be made freely accessible to the public. Whilst a database/ search interface might allow swifter interrogation of the data, I am at least personally cautious about reducing the boys of the Squadron to data returns. To this end, I would still prefer to present static, laid out biographies of crews and or individuals, based on gathered filtering of the gathered information.
Perhaps ironically, my decision to start the database was simply if I could understand who the other crew that like my Father’s had been told on the 20th of November 1943 that they, on instruction from 3 Group needed to be made an example of to the other aircrews in the Squadron. They were tour expired – in Bob’s crews case after 21 Ops – the remaining crews at Mepal that early winter had to be shown it was possible to survive the ‘Chop’ Squadron. Of course as things develop you tend to get distracted (or I do) and to be honest I am actually no closer to knowing who that other crew was – but I shall.
Given that after Dad died at the end of August 2011, I knew nothing of his time in the War, let a lone anything about 75(NZ) Squadron RAF, its been a hell of a journey. I know more now than I could have possibly anticipated and have the utter privilege of presenting material that in many cases has never before been seen. I am humbled and proud of the task that has befallen me, albeit, perhaps at least initially unwittingly…..
Dad is perhaps still rather a nebulous cloud – I certainly know more, but in real terms, relatively little. My Mum, Wife and myself have on occasions mused that perhaps the joke is on me – this was Dad’s final problem, set to his only son to try to figure out. Perhaps as ignorant as me at the end of his journey and the start of mine as to what would be discovered and where the path would lead – if he could come back, only long enough for me to scream at him for not talking to me about it, he would probably nod, grunt affirmatively a number of times and then swear – and that would be enough.
The mystery of Jock Sommerville in some small part continues. Having completed the name stage of the database, I perhaps indulgently did a data sweep for the AIr Bombers of the Squadron. I know that some will say that its not about best or highest and I would normally agree, but this was a search that it felt as if I had spent the previous 2 1/2 years working to – building a huge machine (readers familiar with Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ will know where I am going with this) to perform a single calculation.
The answer as we all know was 42 – in this case the Ops Dad completed and the answer (subject to final checking) is that F/O (highest rank with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF) Robert Douglas ‘Jock’ Sommerville had the second highest tally of Ops flown for any Air Bomber in the Squadron – I find this incredible, amazing and heart breaking that he did this – very probably in ignorance of this fact himself – and that I have to now type this without him to tell you all this fact about this quiet, funny, warm, pig headed, bullish, generous man.
and so, if on reading this, people, for what ever reason take offense at my statistical analysis, my stripping of history and the horrors of Bomber Command to discover something about my dad, I will answer as Jock would in the same situation:
In some respects, it’s been a strange summer. Having finally shed the infection and dragging symptoms from it that I picked up before Christmas, my expectation was that I could use my leave to try to get at least slightly back on top of the mountain of information I still have to share. However, a new car as perhaps always provided an excuse to drive and enjoy it and as a result a fair few days have been spent driving between the North East and North West coast recording gravestones for the Roll of Honour section of the blog – I have posted some already and I have some still to present. Sitting behind the wheel, eye on the satnav, it began to dawn on me that apart from the Marker stone at the airfields the Squadron flew from and the plinth stone in the Memorial Garden in the village of Mepal, nowhere else on the mainland of the UK are our Squadron airmen and their losses commemorated.
By geographical necessity, the boys I have been visiting this summer were all killed over or on British soil, however I am not aware of any specific memorial information that identifies the sites or areas that these losses occurred.
Having been running this amazing project for the time I have, I am all too aware of the wonderful opportunity it provides for a multitude of new ‘projects’. I wish to propose another.
By the time this blog has recorded another 250,000 views, that between us and whatever number of other individuals or groups we must become involved in, this will be rectified.Their names and sacrifice will be commemorated in a physical memorial at or as close to the point of their loss as can be achieved.
I don’t know how we will do this, where the money will come from or who will help, but I figure by saying we should do it, it might give a few people the thought they would like to get involved and that’s a start – and at this point, that’s what we need.
Thank you all again – without all of your help and interest, there would be nothing for me to type now.