Library Reference Number: 017
The Aftermath - The Price of Freedom
Britain only entered WW2 in 1939 after Germany had already invaded and occupied Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and in 1940 invaded Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, France and Luxembourg. Consisting of many young men who were territorial volunteers, the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated at Dunkirk in June 1940, and in Septembr1940, Germany launched its bombing blitz on Britain. As a result of German domination, with no Allied ground forces within Europe, RAF Bomber Command took over the role of front-line troops with only the English Channel separating us from the full force of Hitler's invasion forces, and Bomber Command's determination to strike back.
Thankfully, Bomber Command was successful in protecting the Free World from vicious, indiscriminate rocket attacks by destroying some of the German rocket-launching bases. They also took the fight back into Europe, enabling ground forces to eventually re-establish themselves and to help restore freedom in Europe.
The price of freedom was high. 55,573 members of RAF Bomber Command failed to return and one of our branch members had the harrowing task of searching for the remains of aircrews whose aircraft had crashed in enemy territory: Harry Wilson, DFM. qualified as a Navigator/Bomb Aimer at No.42 Air School for Observers at Port Elizabeth, S.Africa.
After training on Anson & Oxford aircraft, Harry attended No.14 Operational Training Unit, flying Wellingtons at RAF Cottesmore. Harry continues, "I then had further flying training at No.1664 Heavy Conversion Unit, Wigsley. I was then sufficiently trained to join an operational squadron, the first one being No.9 Squadron based at Bardney and flying Lancasters in 1943. I then joined No.97 (Straits Settlement) Squadron which was based at RAF Bourn. My crew at that time being a member of Pathfinder Force, whereby certain aircrews were selected to enter the target area first, andproceed to identify and mark specific targets to ensure greater accuracy for other bombers.
In 1944 we moved to RAF Coningsby still with No.97 Squadron, and by the end of 1944 had completed two operationaltours. From then until the end of the war, I was posted to No.1660 H.C.U. Swinderby as an Instructor.
In 1946, having survived two tours of operational flying over Europe, I was perhaps entitled to think that for me, all thoughts of conflict were now over, with hostilities ended. But in that year, I was posted to Germany as a member of No.4 Missing Research Unit. Our task to seek out information on the whereabouts of crashed Allied aircraft - seekout and look for bodies and remains of aircrew members of Commonwealth Air Forces. Having discovered remains, (perhaps buried in temporary graves) it was then our further task to re-bury the bodies in Military Cemeteries.
Remaining in the RAF after the war, I was granted a Short Service Commission. In 1948 I returned to flying at No.2 Air Navigation School, Middleton St.George. Posted to Transport Command as Operations Officer, I then took part in route flying, also being actively involved in the Berlin Airlift with No.27 Squadron. I ended my full-time service with the RAF in 1951, then as a member of the RAFRO, I flew in Ansons for the next four years at Scone.
To following generations we would say
"Guard you freedom with vigilance -- it was not gained lightly."