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Library Reference Number: 161

Operation 'Manna' - The First Day

Anderson MacCormick, ex-Flight Engineer, No. 100 Squadron. RAF

Currently regarded as one of the major food distributors in modern times, it is difficult to imagine that in the final period of world war two, 20,000 people died of starvation in Holland. One recent eye-witness stated he was violently sick after gulping down food dropped from a mercy flight, as his stomach could not cope with the sudden intake of nutritious food. It transpired he had been recently surviving on tulip bulbs. In the following account, Anderson MacCormick takes us through the details of those unusual operations.

Operation MannaSunday 29th April 1945 was not a day that we expected to be disturbed early, the war was nearly over, it was Sunday and the weather was terrible. How wrong could we be! At an early hour our friendly S.P.s made their noisy entrance into our Nissan hut to announce that there was a battle order out and both crews in the hut were on it. When we went to the mess for breakfast we realised that something unusual was happening as we were the only members of the squadron who were having a flying meal. In due course we eventually got into the briefing room and found out that only two aircraft from 100 Squadron were going on the operation, which was to be the first airdrop of food to the people of western Holland, who were dying of starvation.

Apparently when the allied Airborne forces landed at Arnhem, the Netherlands Government called for a general strike by the railwaymen and in retaliation the Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart had imposed an embargo on all food supplies. Two small Swedish ships had reached Amsterdam and one from the International Red Cross but their cargoes were not sufficient to feed the people for any length of time.

We were informed at the briefing that an agreement had been signed between the allied forces and the German Reichskommissar that food could be dropped to the Dutch people by the aircraft of the R.A.F. and the American Air Force. It was to be forty years to the day before I learned that the agreement was not signed until the next day, Monday, 30th Apri1 1945.

Because of the atrocious weather we thought the operation would be cancelled, but this didn't happen and we were eventually taken to our aircraft (B2 LM644) where we found to our dismay that the guns had been removed. At the height we would be flying the guns wouldn't probably be much use to us but without them we felt a bit naked. We eventually took-off at 11.44am and for most of the one and a half hour flight to Holland the weather was the worst I had ever flown in. Over England and most of the North Sea we had to fly at 500ft or under to stay under the cloud and there were constant rain and snow showers. Flying low over water was not very safe or pleasant in these conditions. Shortly before we reached the coast of the Netherlands the weather cleared and it was now quite a bright day with little cloud.

At our briefing we had been instructed that we must not stray from the route we were given as this would infringe the terms of the agreement, so after crossing the coast we turned onto a course to take us directly to our drop zone at Valkenburg airfield near Leiden. We were the fourth aircraft in line and the noise of the aircraft in front of us was alerting the people in the villages we flew over and they were rushing out of their houses and standing in the street and waving to us. We saw a number of armed German soldiers patrolling in the villages and there were a number of light ackack guns which were manned and the guns followed us as we flew over them. The drop zone was quickly found and we made our drop of the food we were carrying but unfortunately we had a hang-up and did not drop our full load and had to take this back to base as we were not allowed to go round again. On our way out over the sand dunes at the coast there was a small jetty and at the end of it was a German soldier, with his rifle over his shoulder jumping up and down and waving his tin helmet. One German soldier at least was pleased to see us, he was probably hoping to share in the food we had dropped.

In 1985, the fortieth anniversary of the food drops, the Dutch people, through the Foundation "40 years Food and Freedom" invited to Holland three members and their wives, of each R.A.F. squadron who took part in Operation "Manna" along with men who took part in "Manna" from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Poland. Members of the United States Air Force, who took part in Operation Chow hound, the American equivalent of Manna, were also invited for a week to commemorate and celebrate this anniversary. I was very privileged to be chosen as one of the three to represent 100 Squadron.

As one would expect the many official receptions and functions were excellent. They included a reception by the Burgomaster at Rotterdam Townhall and a speech of welcome by Dr.R.Lubbers, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who presented Erasmus medallions. We also attended a reception by the Burgomaster of the City of the Hague, who presented Liberator medals. Prince Bernard of the Netherlands was to have met us on the Manna/Chowhound Memorial Day but due to illness he was unable to attend.

The greatest welcome we received came from the ordinary people of western Holland. Our program was well publicised in the press and wherever we went crowds of people appeared who wished to thank us, shake our hand or give us a hug. They were the people who had experienced and survived the "Hungary Winter" and they believed that we had saved their lives by bringing food to them when they were starving. Everyone we met, including the school children, were very aware of how significant the food drops were to all the people in 1945. I don't think anyone who visited the Netherlands with this group in 1985 will ever forget the thanks expressed to us by the people we met.

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