Reviews

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Reviews: Band of Brothers

By Richard Benedikz on 6 January 2014, 16:25

Seven Short Lives: Pro Libertate by S B Potter, Tucann Books, 280pp, sbk, illus, £12

At its heart this is the story of seven young airmen, all of whom were brought together from differing backgrounds to fly as the crew of an Avro Lancaster in World War Two, and all of whom were lost on their 28th trip together in July 1944. It also gives a much broader account – not only does author S B Potter detail the stories of each of the seven, but he also puts this into context with the developing state of the war. Not just the men, but the machines used at the time are profiled, and the book also looks at the enemy and what the men of RAF Bomber Command were facing as they flew on hazardous nocturnal operations.

This account was originally collated for the families of the crew members, the narrative revealing some remarkable coincidences, and telling a story which is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure. Personal testimonies, photographs, letters, diaries and maps connect to build a story which had been all but lost by the young men’s families. It is a tale of people brought together by circumstances, living through both the routine and the highly dangerous, and ultimately – like so many – making the ultimate sacrifice. The book can be ordered through the following website, and also can be ordered through some branches of Waterstones, from the RAF Metheringham Visitor Centre in Lincs, the Aviation Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells, and the Marlow Tourist and Information Centre.

Book Review – Friends of Metheringham Airfield with the 106 Squadron Association,

Newsletter September 2013

Seven Short Lives by S B Potter

The author’s interest was aroused one day by a name on the Kendal War Memorial in the Lake District.  His father told him that the name was that of his cousin who had been a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command during the Second World War.  Steve determined to find out all he could about him, himself an ex-RAF pilot and now an experienced airline Captain.

His researches led him far and wide. Eventually he built the story of seven young men who flew together during the Second World War. They came from a variety of backgrounds but due to the processes of recruitment and their preparation for service in the armed forces, they eventually came together to form a bomber crew; they operated from RAF Metheringham in No 106 Squadron during 1944, but their lives were cut short in their youth.

In the author’s words, ‘it is the story of the strength and courage which can be summoned from ordinary men plucked from the street and placed in a relentless fight for life or death almost beyond imagination.  Theirs was a task which required selfless toil and devotion to duty seldom asked of anyone.  Their survival was unlikely, yet they still went forward with courage to face a ruthless and efficient enemy, determined and equipped to do battle.’

Flying Officer Fred Clement and his crew, to which Steve’s second cousin belonged, operated throughout the late Spring and early Summer of 1944, through the initial stages of D-Day preparations and army support thereafter, and eventually the end of their tour of operations seemed to be within their grasp.  But then began the German bombardment of London and its environs with the V-weapons.  The destruction of the V-weapon sites had to be carried out at all costs.  St Leu d’Esserent was one of the most important of these and Bomber Command was instructed to attack it.

There were two attacks on this site, the first unsuccessful, but both very costly in the loss of aircraft and crews, particularly for No 106 Squadron. These two attacks proved to be one of the squadron’s ‘bad times’ of the war – seven aircraft were lost on the two nights.  Because it was such an important target, the German defences were particularly well co-ordinated and effective, especially the nightfighters, and soon after Fred Clement had bombed the target and turned for home, the aircraft was attacked and shot down with the loss of all the crew.

The author’s research into the whole story has been meticulous down to the finest detail and he has drawn a very clear picture of active service in Bomber Command, the men involved, and their families at home.  Although written primarily as a family memoir, it is in fact a very good reference book for anyone who is studying the life and times of bomber crews in WW2.  It is doubtful if a better description can be found anywhere.  It is a very fine piece of detective work and shows a dogged perseverance to get at the facts and uncovering moving family histories at the same time.

The author takes the trouble to investigate the other side in the conflict, and finds people very like our young men; their attitudes to the same conflict are of great interest.

It is often said nowadays that the words ‘thank you’ are falling into disuse and are unfashionable in their formality.  But surely, no two words in the English language can have such meaning or convey so much from a grateful recipient.  For too long the efforts of individuals in various countries have gone unrecognised and to have them acknowledged properly can mean so much to maintain good relationships.

In so doing the author describes a trip he made to France with members of all the families involved and Squadron representatives to Bures-en-Bray where the aircraft crashed. to thank the people there and establish relationships with the local people who continue to look after the graves of the fallen. The French people had looked after the bodies of the crew much to the fury of the Germans,

It is often said that present generations could not perform in war as their grandparents did, yet here we have descriptions of ordinary men plucked from their everyday lives who reached the sublime heights of courage and self-sacrifice when they were called upon to serve their country.  Is there any reason why later generations would not show the same resolve if called upon to do so?

No 106 Squadron’s motto is ‘Pro Libertate’ – for Freedom.  That about says it all.

Seven Short Lives by S B Potter is very highly recommended, not only as a family memoir, but as a work of historical interest.  It is extremely well written and well worthy of a place on any bookshelf.  It is available at the Visitor Centre and all good Bookshops and costs £12.

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