Bomber Command veterans remember emotions ahead of Germany raids

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Two Bomber Command veterans have described the emotions they would feel ahead of carrying out bombing raids over Germany.

Warrant Officer Harry Irons was just 17 when he joined the RAF as a rear gunner, flying in Lancaster bombers with No 9 Squadron during the Second World War.

The 94-year-old, who lives in Romford, Essex, attended the centenary celebrations marking the creation of the RAF on Sunday, and revealed he successfully undertook 60 bombing sorties.

“On my first tour we were at a place called Waddington, and as we used to take off, right in front of us was (Lincoln) cathedral.

“I used to say ‘all I hope is that we see that on the way back’ – and every time I saw it (on the way back) I thought ‘we are there’.

“We lost so many men it was unbelievable. You used to go on leave and come back, go in the mess and they would all be strangers there.

“The losses were horrendous… all boys, all kids. They were good those Germans… they shot down so many of our boys it is unbelievable.”

Describing the 100th anniversary of the RAF as “wonderful” and something he thought he would never see, he said he never came across a member of aircrew who refused to go on an operation.

“They knew, they knew they weren’t going to survive,” he added.

It was the “terrible” bombing of London’s East End, as he watched from Stamford Hill in the capital, that made him want to join the RAF.

Also flying in Halifax bombers during his service, he said these were his favourite aircraft as you could “get out of there a bit quicker”.

When asked for his thoughts on the current technology within RAF aircraft, he said: “It is beyond me. All we had was a map and a pencil.”

Air Commodore Charles Clarke, 94, also joined the RAF at the age of 17 – flying in Lancasters as a bomb aimer in 619 squadron.

Asked what it was like during the bombing sorties, he said: “You never thought it was going to happen to you, you never thought you were going to be selected or shot down.

“You couldn’t help feeling a bit tense… if you thought too much about it, you’d be frightened.

“The survival didn’t depend entirely on your skill or the skill of the crew, however good you were, survival was a matter of luck.”

It was during a sortie in early 1944 that his aircraft was hit by enemy fire, forcing him to parachute out of the plane, that he said was on fire and “the wing was falling off”.

He was then captured by the Nazis and taken to Stalag Luft III after being interrogated.

The infamous camp in Poland was where Allied PoWs constructed tunnels and attempted to make a daring bid for freedom in March 1944 – known as the Great Escape.

But it was in January 1945 that Air Cdre Clarke was evacuated from the prison as Allied Forces advanced, and ordered on the long march with other PoWs by the Nazis before being rescued.

Air Cdre Clarke said he is “very impressed” by the current RAF, and added: “If anything else they have much longer training and more professional training.

“We had so little… even as far as parachuting was concerned, the only training I had was to jump off a six foot ladder onto a pile of straw – once, not even twice.

“It is really hard to believe.”

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