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HISTORY: Wartime bombers' role in feeding the starving revealed
MORE than 60 years after the Second World War air-raids on German-occupied ports and cities that the RAF Bomber Command is best known for, a former crew member has told of the unit’s work helping starving civilians.
Frederick Limer, 90, of Thornwood Road, Epping, was a flight lieutenant on a Lancaster bomber in 1945 when the RAF was dropping food parcels to more than 3 million civilians who were starving after four years of German occupation and a harsh winter.
His crew flew out from Norfolk with food loaded into the bays of the aeroplane normally reserved for bombs and dropped dried food from crates to the people just 200 feet below, as part of Operation Manna.
“I was the person who released the parcels,” he said. “The crates used to tilt over and all this food just showered down.”
On the second of the short flights, he decided to gather the crew’s rations, which included chocolate bars, together, buy some food from their base’s tuck shop and drop it over Holland.
“The parcel I dropped had a little parachute on it and was in a waterproof bag,” he said. “After the first trip we did, we felt we should do something symbolic and personally give something to the Dutch people.
“I put a little note on there with my home address and my name as well.”
Three years after the end of the war, just as Mr Limer was leaving the RAF at the age of 22, he had a phone call from his mother, who was living in Barkingside, to say that an Arie Timmins from The Hague, Holland, had written to their home address thanking him for the parcel.
“It was quite a surprise,” he said. “It was pleasing to know that it had ultimately been found and my little waterproof bag was alright.”
He said Operation Manna and his crew’s other mission at the end of the war – repatriating prisoners of war who had been held in camps in France and Italy – were the most pleasant of the 30 operations he took part in during the war.
One of a few missions he said could have had a fatal ending for his crew was when they were heading to the bombing raids on Dresden in 1945.
“Our navigational equipment went wrong and we were lost,” he said. “We were buzzed – partially attacked – by a German night fighter and made our way back in a hurry.
“We had an extremely good pilot and the sky was not completely covered in cloud, so he was able to spot features in the landscape that he was familiar with.”
Others were not so lucky and losing whole crews was a regular occurrence for Bomber Command.
“A great deal of our colleagues were killed, which is not a nice experience,” said Mr Limer. “When you’ve got two crews in one sleeping place and you get back to find the other crew isn’t there, it’s disturbing.”
His story and the note from Arie Timmins have recently been published on the website theoddbods.org, which is run by a group of former Royal Australian Air Force crew who served in the UK during the Second World War.