This was the day that we headed north towards Bedford where will stay for 3 nights.
Bedford is on the Oise River west of Cambridge. But first we visited Hendon Museum where there were many aircraft of all periods from when flight commenced up until the present time. Visiting the Museum at the same timing were the lads from the Australian Bomber Command contingent. We had a few photographs that our fellows were happy to have taken as the enjoyed a part of that which the public really owes these fellows.
I was very lucky to be able to talk to one of those members, Robert Chester of 514 Squadron, and to have him relay to me his story about his work. Robert was a rear gunner in the Squadron and it was on 13 August 1944 as his plane was returning from Berlin, it was his 13th mission, at 13:00 they were attacked by a J88 night fighter which sprayed cannon fire right across the plane. The JU88 made a fatal error as it turned away Robert fired into its belly and it fell out of the sky. As his heroic pilot tried to keep the labouring Lancaster in the air at 1000 feet so as his crew could jump to safety, Robert clawed his way out of his position in the tail of the plane and jumped out into the dark night sky. He pulled the cord. The parachute opened and then he hit the ground.
He had landed in an isolated field in Belgium, injured due to the leg wound taken when the JU88 fired on them and he then pulled himself into a hay stack, drawing his parachute after him, he went to sleep. Awaking next day as the morning warmed, a farmer found him, wanted to get German medical assistance but he changed his approach when Robert refused that support. The rest is history as Robert was assisted by the underground to freedom in the UK. Robert was 19 years old.
This was an interview with one of our veterans but it is most probably the story of many. They deserve all the support that we can give them.
Following this wonderful visit to the Museum, we headed towards Cambridge where Graeme Smith, one of our tour party, wanted to find the grave of his best friend’s father who was lost and is buried in the Cambridge City Cemetery, War Graves Section. We found Henry van Raalte’s grave and conducted a small service there were Graham read a prayer and laid a poppy on the Grave.
We then proceeded to our hotel, Bedford Swan, for a wonderful dinner and a few drinks for it was a very big day. Tomorrow we will visit the Shuttleworth Collection, a private collection of period planes.
Colonel Graham Fleeton from Bedford UK.