Thanks to Wartime Wednesdays, the families of two veterans who shared a Lancaster bomber for 15 missions -- one in Glasgow, Scotland, and the other in Vancouver, Canada -- are now connected. See more stories and website links of special interest to aviation buffs here.
The photo below shows Frank Jones of Glasgow with his daughter and granddaughter. But first, here's the background.
Bomber families reconnected
A few months ago, I wrote about Leo Richer, a former Lancaster bomber pilot who lived here in my town of Invermere, British Columbia. I interviewed him many years ago, before his death in the year 2000.
Leo wrote about his wartime service in RAF 90 Squadron in his 76-page memoir titled I Flew the Lancaster Bomber, that he published himself at a printing shop. For years, only his family, friends, and neighbours had copies.
You can read my original post by clicking here: A Rookie Pilot’s Nightmare.
It describes an incident taken from the book in which poor Leo, on only his second bombing mission, over Wesel, Germany on February 18, 1945, saw his much loved Wing Commander Peter Dunham blown up right in front of his eyes when his fully-loaded aircraft was struck by anti-aircraft fire.
Incredibly, I found a photograph in a book of that very explosion! When you look at the tiny Lancasters flying at the bottom right around this gigantic fireball (and one of them shown here, I’m betting, is being piloted by Leo Richer) you appreciate the magnitude of the explosion.
While preparing that column, I suggested to Leo’s son Roger Richer, a successful lawyer in Vancouver, B.C., that he make Leo’s book available to a wider public. The entire book was scanned and put online through Amazon and other digital book providers.
You can order it here yourself, as a print or digital version, by clicking: I Flew the Lancaster Bomber.
And that, dear readers, led to an amazing discovery! Leo’s book was discovered online by his very own flight engineer named Frank Young, still alive and well in Scotland!
His daughter immediately sat down and wrote a letter to Roger Richer. The Richers in turn emailed the letter to me. Here’s the letter, with the names and addresses removed. It’s a little hard to read, so I have transcribed it below.
Dear Mr. Richer:
It was with great interest that I read your father’s book “I Flew the Lancaster Bomber.”
My Dad Frank Young is the flight engineer in the enclosed photograph of the crew with the Lancaster. He is now 89 years old and remembers flying 15 missions with your father as pilot during his time with Bomber Command.
Dad’s brother (my uncle George) lives in Lincoln and is involved with the Lincolnite Memorial Centre to Bomber Command. The visitor centre requested local residents to contact veterans and provide their stories and photographs to the museum. This resulted in me tracing your father’s book on the internet.
Dad has fond memories of his time in the RAF, and in particular, remembers your father as a good strong pilot who played the guitar and had a great singing voice.
You may be interested to know that after the war, dad became an engineer with Rolls-Royce near Glasgow, manufacturing and repairing aircraft engines. He married in 1952, has four daughters and five grandchildren, and is very proud of his family.
The last few sentences in your father’s book sum up my dad’s approach to life, too – “Always look on the bright side and don’t get too hung up on problems.”
Maybe it was their time in the Air Force and in particular Bomber Command, with the huge loss of life, which led to this very positive outlook which he has passed on to his family.
I emailed Frank’s daughter and asked was whether her father was on the aircraft during Leo’s hair-raising adventure, and the answer was no. He joined later, and that’s why he wasn’t in the original crew photo. But there was a new crew photo taken later, and here’s the more recent version. Frank Young is clearly identified, second from right, and Leo is standing in the centre.
And Frank was kind enough to send me a recent photo, with one of his four daughters, and one of his five granddaughters, shown at the top of the page.
(The memorial referred to in the letter, where Frank’s memories will be preserved, is the Lincoln Bomber Command Memorial. Due to open in June 2015, it will as a world-class centre for recognition and remembrance for Bomber Command. To read more, click: Lincoln Bomber Command Memorial.)
You can imagine how thrilled Roger Richer and his wife Norine were to receive the letter from Frank Young, after so many years have passed!
According to Norine: “We were very happy and interested to get her letter out of the blue, especially since it arrived just as I had set out our Remembrance Day table, which I do every year, with Leo’s log book and picture, and a collection of books and novels and reference books for our three children to look at each day until the first day of Advent, when I change the table again. So of course, her letter and the photo were added to our Remembrance table!”
The Richers hope to be able to travel to Scotland to visit Frank Young in person. And I’m happy to report that the Richers also sent Frank a copy of my own wartime novel, Bird’s Eye View. I hope he enjoys it!
It also gave me great satisfaction to see that my local pharmacy here in Invermere, Lambert-Kipp Pharmacy, is displaying my book right next to Leo’s book. This is especially fitting, since Leo Richer helped me with my research.
I am in good company – or perhaps I should say GREAT company!
Now, for the aviation buffs among you, here are a few more fascinating links from readers of Wartime Wednesdays.
A Reunion of Giants
The Lancaster is a personal favourite, and I previously wrote about the four surviving Lancasters in the world. You can read it here: Love Those Lancasters.
The journey that our Canadian Lancaster bomber “Vera” made this summer, flying across the Atlantic Ocean to be united with the only other flying Lancaster in existence, was big news. The two aircraft drew huge crowds wherever they appeared.
A documentary film about that reunion is in the works, but you can see just a short preview by clicking here: A Reunion of Giants.
BBC Over Berlin
From Elinor Warkentin in Vancouver comes this link to a BBC wartime radio broadcast, direct from a Lancaster bomber!
In 1943, the BBC persuaded Bomber Command to let their reporter and audio technician fly along on a bombing mission over Berlin. The original broadcast by a frankly terrified Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, shown in the photo below, is replayed with new commentary from Stephen Evans of the BBC.
It’s an hour long, so sit back and prepare to be fascinated by this audio from the past. To hear it, click: BBC Over Berlin.
Honour in the Skies
This article came to me from Marc Stevens of Toronto, whose father was a bomber pilot and prisoner of war. (You can read his father’s amazing story by clicking here: The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin.)
The link he sent me is a true, heartwarming story about a German pilot Franz Stigler, shown below on the right, who refused to fire on crippled American B-17F Flying Fortress bomber pilot Charlie Brown, shown on the left. You can read the whole story by clicking: Honour in the Skies.
Fighter Ace Buck McNair
Several people from North Battleford, Saskatchewan have drawn my attention to war hero Robert “Buck” McNair, who moved to that fair city (also my home town) from his birthplace in Nova Scotia when he was a teenager.
He graduated from high school in 1937 and worked as a radio operator for the provincial government. Buck enrolled in the RCAF in June 1940 and graduated as a pilot in March 1941. He flew Spitfires for three years over France and Malta, where he destroyed five enemy aircraft and damaged eight others and scored several more hits during a fierce air battle over Dieppe.
Post-war, he flew in the Korean War, commanded the RCAF Wing in Germany, and served at the North American Aerospace Defence Command headquarters in Minnesota.
McNair's courage and bravery exhibited in wartime carried through to his civil service when in 1953, the North Star aircraft on which he was traveling as Senior Officer crashed at Sea Island, British Columbia. Although injured and soaked in gasoline, he managed to rescue and account for all passengers and crew members.
He died of leukemia in 1971, but this courageous flyer was admitted to Canada's Aviation Hall Of Fame in 1990. There have been a couple of books written about him. You can read his biography by clicking here: Buck McNair.
Vintage Wings of Canada
The Vintage Wings of Canada newsletter is just so darned good, I look forward to receiving each new issue in my inbox. It’s one of the best newsletters out there, and it’s free!
Here is a link to just one of the many striking articles/photo essays created by the talented writer and graphic designer Dave O’Malley. Click here to read Moose Jaw: A Prairie Town at War.
Thank you, Dave, for many hours of reading pleasure!
Star Weekly at War
The Star Weekly was a Canadian newsmagazine published by the Toronto Star. During the Second World War, a colour illustration with a wartime theme appeared on the cover each week.
Here’s an image dated November 15, 1941 that illustrates the country's somewhat confusing attitude towards women back then -- it looks like she is a pilot, judging from her flying helmet -- but she's afraid of a mouse!
To see my entire collection of Star Weekly covers, and I'm adding a new one almost every week, click: Star Weekly At War.
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