“When I heard those Merlin engines and I saw her coming in to land, it brought on a feeling of nostalgia. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and it brought all the memories back of my time on the Lancasters.”
So said Bomber Command veteran Stan Instone after he watched the Andrew Mynarski Memorial Lancaster touch down at Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) today (Wednesday, August 27).
Mr Instone was one of a select group invited to see the Lancaster arrive in the region ahead of the sell-out ticket-only celebration day tomorrow (Thursday, August 28).
Mr Instone, 89, served at the Middleton St George Royal Canadian Air Force base as a flight engineer between 1944 and 1945.
He was part of Squadron 419 – the same as RCAF officer Andrew Mynarski to whom the Canadian Lancaster is dedicated to - and said seeing a bomber return to the site of the base was a special moment.
He said its arrival made him reflect on own his own experience in Bomber Command and to think about all those who did not make it.
“What I remember about Squadron 419 is that there was tremendous spirit,” he said. “A lot of the flight engineers were RAF and we got on very well with the Canadians; I couldn’t have asked for a better crew.
“I think almost every Lancaster crew member was very fond of their particular aircraft, despite it being cold and draughty.”
Fellow veteran Ena Bullement, 88, served at Middleton St George RCAF as a signaller and teleprinter. She put together crew and ammunition lists for the Lancasters and said she often wondered how the planes fitted everything in.
Many of the men on those crew lists never returned from their operations, a fact that Mrs Bullement said couldn’t be dwelled on during wartime.
“There were happy times as well,” she said. “You knew you had to get on with what you were doing and not grieve about things. It was very difficult at times.”
Mrs Bullement was thrilled at the arrival of the Mynarski Lancaster into DTVA, and it brought back memories of the time she saw a German fighter plane follow an Allied Lancaster into the base during the war.
“We were all told to stay inside when the German plane flew across. It was shot down somewhere near Thornaby. We were sort of shocked at the time, and just thought ‘crikey, better get in quick!’”
Frank Dennis, 91, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal for his time with Bomber Command. He lost two crews with Squadron 419; the first after an attack by a German Focke-Wulf which he survived, and the second due to a twist of fate.
“The weather was so bad we were told that there would be no ops for the whole weekend,” said Mr Dennis. “We were told to be back on Sunday night to fly on Monday morning, so I decided to go home for a night. The boys stayed, said they were going to watch some films and go to the Royal Oak.
"When I got back on Sunday night, somebody said ‘shame about your crew Frank’. I said ‘what, have they been up to some mischief?’ They said ‘no, they have been on ops and never came back.”
Mr Dennis later learnt that despite the poor weather, the Lancasters had been sent out to help the Russians as part of an agreement between Stalin and Churchill.
Multi-medal recipient Bill Parry, 89, served in the RAF for 13 years and continued a career in civilian aviation after the war. He avoided a fatal bomber command mission when he was on sick leave for a skin infection.
While Mr Parry was in hospital, the flight engineer sent to replace him died after being shot down.
“It was a bit gut-wrenching,” said Mr Parry. “It was a brutal time.”
Mr Parry remarked that the Lancaster arriving into DTVA looked smaller than he remembered.
Hundreds more people will see the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster at a ticketed celebration day tomorrow (Thursday, August 28) and while it will certainly be a memorable and historic occasion for everybody present, those who did not serve with Bomber Command can only begin to imagine what that Lancaster truly represents.