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Bristol Bomber Boy - extract

A squadron of Lancaster bombers go on a terrifying and fatal raid over Germany - based on a true story

Photograph CC Carfax2

Dr Robert Owen has written a short story, Bristol Bomber Boy - From Bedminster to Bomber Command, based upon his father’s experiences as an RAF pilot during World War II. In the excerpt below, Jack vividly describes the terror he felt taking part in a bombing raid over Germany and how it is only now, 70 years later, that he has realised the impact of his crew’s actions on people living in the area. The story is available in Kindle format here.


April 25th 1945


Even after more than four months of active service, my legs still tremble every time I climb up the ladder into the Halifax. Will it always take focusing on completing the pre-flight checks for my legs to settle? Will I ever get used to the possibility we won’t come back?


Our brief is to knock out the guns that control the approaches to the ports of Bremen and Wilhelmshaven so we’re heading for the coastal batteries in Wangerooge, on the German Friesian Islands. The sky is almost as clear as a bell – I’d feel far less anxious if we had some cloud cover.


I give the order to put on oxygen masks when the altimeter reads 10,000 feet. Number 6 Group Bomber Command have now rendezvoused and there are hundreds of us. There are scores of bombers, mainly Lancasters, above, below, to my left and my right.   The engines of the aircraft above us are roaring; my control column shakes like hell ‘cause we’re bumping along in the turbulence created by the ‘kite’ in front of us. Christ it’s crowded up here.


A chill passes through me: We could be hit by bombs from above. I’ve heard rumours this has happened on raids.


Now what the hell’s going on down there? Two Lancs are getting too close to each other. Jesus fucking Christ! One Lanc’s wing has ploughed into the other’s props. Fuck there’s fire – the fuel tank’s going to explode. There it goes… Now the fuselage is in chunks, now the chunks are rapidly parting from each other. Is some of that mess bodies? I can’t see any more. Sweet Jesus, the other’s flying on its side. One engine’s breaking away from the lower wing – now it’s falling with the prop still turning! It’s unreal. Now the wing’s disintegrating and the rest of the aircraft is spiralling down gracefully like a feather and towards other kites. That could have been us. It’s a bad dream.


“Fucking hell. Did you see that Skip? Did you see that?” asks the rear air gunner breathlessly.


“Shut up! Maintain radio silence.”


There are tears in my eyes. It’s not a bad dream, it’s a living nightmare. Concentrate.


We’re approaching the target; it’s obscured by smoke from burning buildings. There’s flak – you can’t just see it, you can smell the explosives.

The explosions scare the shit out of me – I have to close my eyes to avoid seeing them. Surely it’s better not to see the chop coming; better to just disappear into oblivion if your number’s up. ‘Chalky’ White, the bomb aimer who also doubles as the front air gunner, says he’s ready to take over. I let him.


“Left. Right a bit. Left a bit! Steady, steady. Bombs away.”


We’ve shed 12,000 pounds of bombs and have been jerked several hundred feet higher: My stomach feels like it’s ended up in my heart. I struggle to hold a straight and level position for a few more seconds until the on-board camera has flashed, although there isn’t much to photograph below apart from smoke. I open my eyes and ask the navigator for a course heading back to base. There’s no more flack and no sign of fighters – this time.



2 hours later at the debriefing, we learned that there had been chain collisions and six bombers – all Lancasters crewed by Canadians – had gone for a burton. A further kite – a Free French Halifax – was hit by flak and downed. My logbook records ‘seven lost’. Worse still, a day or two later the rumour went around the camp that the concreted gun positions were ‘hardly damaged’ but a lot of civilians were killed. What a cockup!


A few weeks ago, my great grandson was showing me how to search on YouTube. I entered ‘Wangerooge’ and, among many films showing it as a tourist destination, we found a PowerPoint presentation, uploaded by a German survivor who was five at the time. I don’t read German but from what we could make out his whole family, including his mother and sisters, were killed in a direct hit on their home. Apparently every April 25th, at 5pm, the church bells ring out there in commemoration of the dead. Until then I’d never thought about civilian casualties in that direct, personal way; I was too worried about my own skin – and my crew’s, of course.

Copyright © 2015 by Robert E Owen


Bristol Bomber Boy - From Bedminster to Bomber Command is published on 24th November 2015. The Kindle format is available here.

Robert Owen

About the Writer

Dr Robert Owen has over 20 years' experience as a psychotherapist and group facilitator and is a quality assessor for a national counselling training organisation. He works from home in Strawberry Hill as a one to one therapist and couples counsellor and also co-facilitates personal development groups (a type of therapy group) at the Twickenham Therapy and Counselling Centre.


Until recently he taught the theories of groups, transactional analysis, emotional literacy and positive psychology to MA students at Brunel University. Husband, father and grandfather, he is passionate about yoga, mindfulness and healthy living & ageing. His short story, Bristol Bomber Boy - From  Bedminster to Bomber Command, is based upon his father’s experiences as an RAF pilot during World War II and available here in Kindle format. Robert's website is here.


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