In celebration of the "Hamilton" Lancaster bomber taking to the skies for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to re-post pieces I've written about Royal Air Force 626 Squadron and my father's experiences therein.
From March 7th, 2010:
626 Squadron - Royal Air Force
I’m just old enough to have had a father who served in World War II. I say this as when the subject comes up I am asked how I can be the offspring of a Second World War veteran – I’m 48, and I am one of the second batch as my late father had been married before.
In reference to that great opening speech in one of my favourite movies, Patton (1970), where George C. Scott as George S. Patton addresses an unseen crowd of soldiers, my father did not ‘shovel shit in Louisiana’. He served in RAF Bomber Command; specifically as an Air Gunner on Lancasters with number 626 Squadron. I say this, I suppose, partly in the hope to snag those former aircrew who might be surfing the Net after keying “626 Squadron” into their search engines. My dad’s “Skipper” was Pilot Officer A. R. Screen; referred to by his crew as “three engine Screen” as their Lanc often lost an engine on sorties.
As I discovered a few years ago after keying the said search I found out that there is a British gentleman, by the name of Dave Stapleton, who dedicates time to researching the very same squadron – he too has a connection to 626. Last week Dave sent me a nice panorama shot which had been taken of the squadron's crewmembers a couple of weeks after VE-Day. These large-format photographs were taken of the squadron previously during the war (as they were for other squadrons) but what is interesting about this one is that these guys survived the war. My dad is in there somewhere but, as the picture does not come with a “key”, I have to corroborate this one with the siblings.
Not to go on too much about the subject, Dave also supplied me with my dad’s Operational Record, but I will end with this: “This raid on Berchtesgaden was the last operational sortie flown by 626 Squadron, and the last major raid of the war in Europe. Two targets were identified for the raid, the Eagles Nest itself and the SS Barracks nearby. 626 Squadron’s target was the SS Barracks.”
Thanks again to Dave Stapleton for his fine research work: http://626squadron.org/
* The photo above is of the very Lancaster that my father flew in on the ‘Berchtesgaden’ operation; in addition to two earlier raids, including one on Bremen three days before. (The crew pictured here is not his crew.)