Some years ago, my father pointed out his cousin’s name to me on the War Memorial in Kendal, a rural market town in the Lake District of north-west England. The name was that of a young man from our family who I had never met, one of the seven-man crew of a Royal Air Force Lancaster bomber aircraft, lost in action in 1944. We knew nothing of the circumstances. As a former RAF pilot, I had to find out.
What followed was a catalogue of research and discovery which illustrates how much can be exposed when you scratch the surface of an unknown story. In the first instance, the narrative was written for the families of the seven young crew. However, after a limited distribution, we were encouraged by those who read it to publish the story.
We published the book so that more people, particularly the younger generations, could be made aware of the sacrifices made by our youth all those years ago on our behalf. The story examines the process of finding the surviving families around the world and, with their help, unearthing the facts.
Peppered with coincidences, revelations, and the founding of unexpected friendships, the story connects personal testimonies, photographs, letters, diaries and correspondence and relates them to information from official and archive sources. Some of the material has not been seen for over 70 years, hidden in drawers and boxes all over the world. However, all together, they build a fascinating story which had been all but lost by the young mens’ families. The loss of these seven men is still felt today by their families over 70 years after they died. Our family is one of them; a man from our family was on that crew.
The story looks at history not only from the Allied side, but also considers the views of those in the Luftwaffe Nachtjagd in Germany. They too were caught up in this terrible conflict; young men and their families also suffered in Germany. One accomplished Nachtjagd night-fighter pilot, Hauptmann Peter Spoden, graciously contributed to the writing of the narrative. It would have been straightforward to write the story solely from the Allied perspective; Peter’s input allowed us to balance the story from the other side.
Today, the Lincolnshire airfield that the Lancaster squadron flew from is disused; birdsong fills the air over a place which once echoed to the sound of scores of aero engines launching off to an uncertain fate in a forbidding sky. The target they attacked on their last mission is overgrown and derelict, its dark purpose from long ago forgotten by the people who live peacefully nearby. As evidence of that time slips into history, this written word will keep the memory alive of those seven brave men and their intrepid comrades – their families should know what had to be done all those years ago to create the peace in Europe that we now take for granted.