With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.
This year, Remembrance Sunday will stick in our minds I suspect for no reason other than it either feels as if it did not happen or happened in a very different way to what we are used to. As always however, it is a point in the year where we take time to pause and reflect on those who have fallen for the defence of their country. This is, quite rightly, an intensely personal moment and gesture and I am sure we all do it in our own ways, in some respects necessarily cocooned from those around us for those minutes and that silence – and it is this that makes this Sunday so important and resonant for all those who remember those who have fallen.
And so as a way allowing the act of remembrance to take place – some stories…..
Many of you will know Kevin King, either personally or by repeated mentions of him on this site. Chairman of the UK 75(NZ) RAF Squadron Association and probably the most knowledgeable person on the Squadron. Always at Mepal for Remembrance Sunday and always playing the Last Post, suddenly this year he is not going…… Kevin’s solution and a beautiful one I think, was to produce and display the following, I assume in his front garden, as a tribute and marker for the Squadron.
I met Mark Rae a good few years ago when he attended a Remembrance weekend reunion for the Squadron Association, which was also the debut of a song that he wrote and produced to honour the memory of his Grandfather, John Bell, Navigator with Ronald Gordon’s crew, one of 3 aircraft lost on the 20th November 1944 on one of the trips to what is widely recognised as 75(NZ) Squadron’s ‘bogey’ target, the Fischer Tropsch oil refinery at Homberg. I noticed Mark had paid a vist to the Lincolnshire Aviation Museum recently to take as I have done a taxi ride in their Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’. Mark filmed the event and you can see it below.
I recently did a request for information/ contact post about Keith McGregors’s crew, with the simple objective of trying to reach out to and possibly hear back from relatives of his crew, 6 of whom were lost on the night of 30th of August 1943 whilst on War Ops to Berlin. Perhaps at the time my reasons other than important were a little guarded, as I was keen and I felt it fit to try first to talk to relatives before announcing as follows that I have been gifted, very kindly by Gerald a large number of pieces of wreckage from their Stirling Mk.III Bomber, EF501, AA-K.
I must confess, after the first email contact form Gerald I was left a little cold, albeit flattered that he had thought to contact me having, himself come by the items from a German gentleman who had recovered the wreckage. I asked for some time to consider his offer. I have always been deeply uncomfortable with images particularly in some Facebook groups of boxes of wreckage jammed into cardboard boxes by enthusiastic crash hunters from all over Europe – I don’t damn them for it, certainly not, but personally I think crash sites, especially when in the ground are best left as they are, especially if the site is potentially and I hate the term – ‘wet’.
I mulled it over and on balance decided to take up Gerald on his very generous offer – now in the wild as it were, I think it was best I have them, given my links to the Squadron and through the blog it seems a perfect opportunity to return, if wished, the wreckage to the surviving relatives of the crew.
Having no reason whatsoever to doubt Gerald’s assertion that the wreckage was from EF501, I did some digging anyways and was happy when, after posting some pieces with manufacturing numbers on the Stirling Society Facebook page, received confirmation that not only were they from a Stirling, but that the part numbers identified it as being from the tail section of the aircraft. The images of these parts are below and show the serial numbers. The two parts both have serial numbers on them and both seem to be either mirror or perhaps each end of a larger part. They are double skinned aluminium and seem both to have a strip of wood/ plywood sandwiched between each pressing
I include some other parts now, simply perhaps to spark further debate discussion as to the position/ function of the pieces. Firstly, and perhaps most interestingly, a metal component with what is clearly fragments of plexiglass set into it – at this point my conjecture is possibly that this is a frame component of the Rear Turret – based on the previous 2 parts.
Next and possibly related is an iron, or perhaps heavily corroded steel rack – the teeth are clearly visible, and the depth of the teeth are about ¼ of an inch – perhaps again a part of the rear turret?
I have no means of identifying any functional aspect of this piece, however I include it simply to show the shocking concertinaing that an impact with the ground at speed and from altitude has on an airframe.
Finally, simply a fascinating example of multi-sheet construction utilising what in the day, was the main method of holding an airframe together – rivets. I would imagine though I have no proof that this is possibly a main member or possibly surface junction, possibly of the tail plane or rear wings. The following 2 pictures show the front and reverse of the same part.
I must confess when I had thought of this post and the presentation of this wreckage, I had lofty plans, however, handing and inspecting them, bought home to me 2 things. Firstly, that they are wreckage – broken, twisted, unidentifiable parts on the whole, of what was once a massive aircraft. Secondly that 6 allied airmen died in this aircraft and their bodies were never found. I am familiar with these pieces now, but still handle them with the respect that at least I think they deserve. I intend to continue to research the parts, document them all photographically and then, if and where possible return the pieces to family members of the crew. I am nothing more than a custodian of these remains, until ownership can be offered.
For the 6 McGregor crew and the other 1,133 members of the Squadron who were lost.
We will Remember Them
Ake Ake Kia Kaha!