Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips


Paying respects to lost navigator by Big Lottery Fund
June 29, 2012, 2:20 pm
Filed under: memorial, monument, RAF | Tags: , , , , ,

Of all the men who served in Bomber Command, Flight Lt John Hall may well be one of the luckiest. Crews had to complete at least 30 missions, despite odds of being shot down at one in 25 per mission. Yet John Hall survived 60 missions – including being shot down twice over the Channel. On the first occasion he and his crew spent four days in a dinghy and were picked up off the Isles of Scilly.

John Hall visited the Bomber Command memorial

John Hall visited the Bomber Command memorial

For his courage, John Hall, a rear gunner, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI in 1943.

Of the 60 missions he flew, John said the worst was the March 1944 raid on Nuremberg when 795 bombers were sent to the industrial town and 95 failed to return. More airmen were killed that night than in the entire Battle of Britain.

He recalled: “It was a full moon and you could see anti-aircraft fire, searchlights, German fighters, flak all around and bombers in flames going down left right and centre. It was hell on earth.”

The 91-year-old veteran travelled down from Sunderland to take part in the unveiling of the memorial to Bomber Command in Green Park by Her Majesty The Queen on Thursday 28 June. And next month, John will be making an emotional Heroes Return trip to Netherlands to pay his respects to his friend James ‘Hank’ Hancock, the navigator on his Lancaster bomber.

John explained: “We had to do 30 trips on the first tour. When we were coming back from our 28th raid our navigator Hank said that he had an awfully sore throat. We went to the doctor first thing in the morning. The doc took one look at it and said ‘it’s not just a sore throat – you have quinsy. I’m afraid you are grounded’.  

“This meant that Hank missed our 29th and 30th raids. When he recovered, Hank was then put with a different crew to complete his last two missions. I approached Wing Commander Guy Gibson and asked if we could fly another two raids with Hank so that he’d be with us for his last two missions. We were like a family. He said that he couldn’t allow it as we had completed 30 and had to rest.

“I watched Hank fly out on his 29th trip and saw him back. But he never returned from his 30th.

“He was a good lad. I’ve got a photo of him on my wall. We were all like brothers.”

For more information about the Heroes Return programme, call BIG’s advice line on 0845 0000 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn


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