THE STORY SO FAR

 

Welcome to our website. I do hope you will take the time to read on below.

As I grew up in the 1950s, in common with many others of my generation I was surrounded by the echoes and ethos of the Second World War. It was almost impossible to come into contact with any adult of a certain age who had not served in some capacity in that conflict, be it civil or military. Present in large numbers too were those who had also endured the Great War.

But, the time for them to tell us of their personal contribution to those twin disasters had not yet come. For my own maternal Grandfather, a crippled survivor of the Western Front, and millions like him, that time never came. It is almost certain that many others of my age have similar memories to mine, of childlike attempts to get Dad, Mom, big Brother, Auntie, Uncle, Grandparents - or even the man next door - to tell me what they did to help save us then; all to absolutely no avail!

Although as yet untold it was, nonetheless, most definitely present. It had substance in their actions, approach to their children and to others, and the underlying honour with which they were trying to live out the rest of their lives. As children, we did not yet realise the basic truth - that certain of our elders were, of course, living on borrowed time - and had been since 1918 and 1945. Unspoken, their wartime experiences and the difference it had made both to their lives and to them as individuals, formed an indefinable, yet tangible backdrop to our formative years. As a result, we were well-aware of the manner in which we were expected to live out the rest of our lives.

It may be thought that such powerful influences were enough, but no; there were our comics with their inevitable and closely-followed war heroes! Sgt. Pilot Matt Braddock in the Victor then the Rover will never be forgotten; he did, after all, have the VC & Bar, and refused all promotion beyond Sergeant!! An ordinary hero that many working-class lads made their own with little difficulty. W/Cdr Robert 'Battler' Britton, a fighter pilot and an officer, was an equally well-remembered force to be reckoned with. His presence in any air battle made victory for the RAF a foregone conclusion. 

Also, the entry on to the scene of the Air Ace Picture Library series in 1960, with titles such as Gauntlet of Flak, Target Dead Ahead and Flare Path to fuel our fertile and avid young imaginations proved an irresistable lure, helping to seal the 'fate' of many. It is remembered to this day that one of their artists reproduced with great accuracy and much detail the uniforms and flying clothing our heroes wore; to say nothing of the aeroplanes they flew. These facts were only fully realised in later years, engendering the thought that he may well have been 'there'. These were indeed Happy Days!

Then there were the films. This was undoubtedly the heyday of the British Film Industry and the moguls of the time were only too well-aware of the rich source of material - and revenue - the Second World War handed them on a golden plate. It was inevitable that their various gems would come thick and fast to a cinema not too far from you. Those we all enjoyed then are far too numerous to mention here, but it was inevitable that any and all Air Force offerings were absorbed by countless air-minded boys with an equal, if not greater, avidity as were any of the 'comics' mentioned above.

First among almost equals was then, and to a certain degree still is, The Dambusters. Released in 1955, its high-profile advertising campaign had left us anticipating its release-date with high anxiety and great expectations - even a young boy of six, going on seven! We were not to be disappointed. The subject matter, the unforgettable music score, the tight, stiff upper-lip and oh-so-British, (and Commonwealth), performances from some of the finest actors then gracing the silver screen - all led by the superlative Richard Todd as Guy Gibson - made an impression undiminished by time. We were rightly proud of ourselves then and this manifested itself in many artistic and other disciplines, not least of all films.

In those days, when you 'went to the pictures', you could enter the auditorium at any time during the film and watch it round to the point where you originally came in. If you were very lucky and evaded the attentions of the dreaded ushers, or an over-vigilant ice-cream lady when the lights went up, you could sometimes watch it over again!

I was six and being taken by my Mother to see my third film, The Dambusters. As we sat down, a 617 Squadron Bomb Aimer, (believed to be Bob Hay, RAAF [Basil Appleby]), trying out the 'Sixpenny Bombsight' during a practice run on the Derwentwater Dam, turned his helmeted, masked and goggled head toward the camera and delivered himself of the timeless observation: "This is bloody dangerous!" as the dam wall could be seen getting rapidly closer through the Bomb Aimer's blister behind him. For me, that was it. I was irrevocably hooked and have remained so to this day. It must be said, however, that this, highly impressive as it undoubtedly was, has not lead me to become a Dambuster fanatic to the exclusion of all others. Future, more lasting and personal influences were to make sure of that.

Football also loomed large in my young life throughout the late 1950s, as it no doubt did for most lads, and I was certainly in some danger of 'straying', when, at the age of eleven, we went to the 'big school'. There it was my good fortune to be taught for four years by, among others, an ex-Bomber Command Wireless Operator, who bore the visible scars of his service still. As ever, he could not be induced to talk  to us about it much - he was far more interested in grammar, composition, English Lit.,  Shakespeare sonnets and spelling. Nontheless, he, along with his ex-Desert Air Force Armourer, Royal Marine Commando, Yorkshire Regiment Sgt. Major and RAF Parachute Jump Instructor teaching colleagues did much to keep my particular pot boiling! The seeds already sown now began to take a definite root.

At fifteen, with school over, it was time to embark on a working life. For me, this began with a then well-known steel firm at a plant employing many hundreds of people. The same 'no line-shooting' rules applied and many encountered had served, a significant number in the Air Force, so it was no surprise that none were over-forthcoming. Constant daily contact with them eventually allowed trust to grow, and a slow willingness to talk became apparent - and some even brought Flying Log Books, photographs and other reminders of their service in for me to see, indeed often borrow, copy and return. I realised then that if I was ever to know with any measure of certainty 'what it was like', then I must actively pursue personal contact with those who had served our country in the Air Force and survived it.

I was eighteen by now and we were well into 1967 and the 'Summer of Love'. It was not that I was not interested in such activities, I certainly was and even had a steady girlfriend. However, with hindsight, I can see that I was perhaps over-immersed in locating and contacting Bomber Veterans, and the 'true' meaning of that year seemed to pass me by. Not surprisingly, so did that girlfriend!

Subsequently, apart from living a 'normal' life; marriage, various career changes, loss of relatives and friends, and those ups and downs that come to us all with the years, I have continued to do, when possible, that which I promised myself I would do all those years ago. Sadly, the path has not been without cost, both personally and of course financially.

The steps taken during the years I spent in the steel industry were the first on that path.  It has led me to meet and in many cases befriend those whom I firmly believe were and are the finest people on earth. It would take much ink and many volumes to completely document the kindness, patience, trust, hospitality and comradeship that this unique band of an indisputably impressive generation afforded to someone who came after. In 1977, it was my considerable good fortune to be allowed close contact with and have the patronage of the Air Gunners' Association. I was invited to accompany them on numerous of their annual Pilgrimages to the Dutch polder town of Dronten, where the propeller of a No. 12 Squadron Lancaster, uncovered when the polders were drained, forms their town War Memorial.

I was to accompany them on many Memorial Services and other civic and private functions both in the Netherlands and here in the UK - some of a considerably convivial and memorable nature. Although I was most certainly with them, I was ever-mindful of the fact that I was not, and would never be, of them. They were a race apart and with them was more than good enough for me.

Joe Skinner, DFC & Bar, their National President of the day; Jim Carpenter, West Midlands Branch Chairman, Wally Simpson, MM, Harry Brown, DFM, Len Grice, DFM, Frank May, Jack Cocksedge, Jimmy Mansell....... I ask forgiveness for the many I cannot mention here - their memory is equally dear and their faces no less forgotten. All named above are lost to us, but some can be seen, silent in Remembrance, in the header image on this page.

Equal Tribute is paid to the many encountered who formed part of no ex-service club or association. I can never repay them for the priceless gift that knowledge of their Service and Sacrifice has proved to be. Their names are legion and their Memory no less overwhelming.

There are numerous others of my generation and a little older, who have found themselves similarly drawn, and certain of them are known to me. Some of these have found rightful and enduring fame as authors. For my part only now, seeing and having contact with much younger people who are also 'fatally' attracted to and seemingly avid for knowledge and more tangible evidence of those dangerous Air Force days and nights of so long ago, have I realised that what I have or may be privileged to know should be shared. Hence this website as something of a start.

It is, as can be seen, clearly an infant at present, but I fully intend to both modify and add to it at every available opportunity, and it is sincerely hoped that the result may be found of some interest. No matter what I think I know about RAF Bomber Command, I do not have a complete understanding of that which people discovering this website may wish to find when they do.

Do please contact me, via any of the methods to be found at the 'Contact Us' page and, if you will, give me some clues. It will greatly influence both the content and selection of any material that may be digitised and offered for sale.

In Memory of my Bomber friends, both living and dead, it is my sincere wish to make these pages the very best it is within me to achieve. This cannot be be done with anything near reasonable accuracy unless a degree of external guidance is available. So again, do please feel free to contact me - with criticism if you wish; corrections if you wish; to contribute additional material, or even make a purchase!

I would be more than pleased to hear from you, and will endeavour at all times to assist and ensure your comments or contribution are employed in the most appropriate manner possible.

Thank You.

Mark Chandler.

groupcapt@hotmail.com.

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