Alton Webteam: November 2016
Here is an article based on the gripping true story of a Care Home resident, provided by Anna Chaplain, Helen Jesty. It is an extract from the book Brief Sweet Life by his daughter Glen Rose.
In Loving Memory of Sergeant Duncan Freeman's friends and crew , 50 Squadron RAF Bomber Command
In late May 1944 Duncan heard the devastating news that his beloved crew who had been flying together time and time again in a mighty Lancaster plane, had all died in a raid to Brunswick while he was recovering from pleurisy and pneumonia in a military hospital. Two bodies were recovered from the North Sea coast but the other five were missing in action. 60 or more years after these events Duncan shares his memories as if they were yesterday.
When in the hospital Duncan had been in the ward with a young soldier,many were so very young, who was badly affected by what he had been through in the war. Duncan saw the young lad didn't want to eat or drink and thought it was a terrible waste of a life.
Duncan's daughter writes ' realising that this was not how it should be, my father came to a decision that would save his own sanity. He made a vow. A vow to his crew: Chas, Ben and Ginger, to Nav, Ernie and Paddy and to the young — spare bod — called George who had taken Duncan's place, when he became ill, and a vow to the families of each of those men, to keep their memory alive.
Duncan has kindly allowed me to share his story with you all in loving memory of his dear friends and fellow crew members:
Flight Lieutenant Charles 'Chas' Startin had come over from Queensland in Australia to fight as a pilot with the RAF and was posted to Turweston, No 17 Operational Training Unit in October 1943.Pilots were in charge of the 'crewing up' process carried out on a 'pick your own' basis, very strong bonds were formed. Chas was 24 yrs old and within months he would be airborne with the men he gathered together to form his crew.
Flight Sergeant Keith 'Ben' Lawrence was next to be chosen by 'the skipper'. He was 22 yrs old and known as one of the 'Trenchard nippers' . He had already been in the RAF for 8 years, training as a pilot in the USA. He had 3 pranged planes to his name and it was decided he was better suited as a bomb aimer!
Then there was Duncan, who now lives in Borovere and comes to Holy Communion each week and told us his story. He was the wireless operator — WOP, spotted by the skipper because of his easy smile and friendly expression that he still has today.
Sergeant George'Jock' Reid replaced Duncan, when he was taken into hospital, on that fateful last raid.
Sergeant Eric 'Ginger' Hopkinson came from Yorkshire. He was grateful to be chosen. At just 18 yrs old , he was one of the youngest in the room. He was trained as an air gunner and was to show that he had quick reaction response when needed and it would be needed, often in the coming days.
Another airman Sergeant Ernest 'Ernie' Mcllwaine, 24 yrs old from Lurgan, Northern Ireland, was recruited as a mid upper gunner to complete the complement of six that were needed to fly the Wellington bomber.
On Bonfire night 1943 Chas and his crew boarded the Wellington with its two Hercules engines, and set course for Orleans in northern France on their first operation over enemy territory. Sadly, when the pressure was on, Sergeant Ted Evans, navigator, went to pieces and lost his way, putting everyone's life at risk. Duncan and the rest of the crew had to take over. After the dust had settled their 'skip' was very proud of the way they all reacted in this emergency, getting the plane back home and landed safely, even if they landed at the wrong air base but that is another story!
Sergeant Patrick 'Paddy' Duggan, 20 yrs old, from County Cork, joined the crew as a flight engineer when Chas and his crew converted to the heavy four engined Stirling bomber.
Pilot Officer Francis 'Nav' Linton, came from the Royal Canadian Air Force at 32 yrs old, he was a decade older than the rest of the crew and had a wife back home, the other side of the pond. He was known as Nav, and replaced Ted, the original navigator.
In March 1944 Chas's crew joined 50 Squadron based at RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire, part of Number 5 Group, Bomber Command.
Sergeant Duncan Rowlinson, as wireless operator on Lancaster bombers, flew 19 bombing operations over enemy territory under officer Commanding 'A' Flight, Flight Lieutenant (Sir) Michael Bentham
At RAF Odiham on July 13th 2013 a citation was read out by the Station Commander, Group Captain Dom Toriati. He presented the Bomber Command Clasp to Sergeant Duncan Freeman Rowlinson.
Duncan especially asked that the names be read out of his friends who did not return: Chas, Ben, Ginger, Paddy, Ernie, Nav and Jock.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
R.L.Binyon published first in The Times on 21.9.1914.
from the story of Duncan's life as told in
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