There was a couple of excellent programmes on the BBC last night, paying tribute to the Dambusters raid of 617 Squadron seventy years ago. There were two surviving crew members present at the sunset ceremony at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire which was broadcast live.
There was a flypast by two Spitfires (Griffon engined) painted sky blue, in the colours of the photo-recon units that preceded the raids and then delivered the damage reports over the following days. They landed, taxied and parked in front of the gathered guests. Two Tornados from the current 617 Sqdn made a typical, low entrance on reheat, climbed out and slotted into a circuit then landed and parked behind the Spits. The finale was a grand entrance of our last Lancaster, “The City of Lincoln” which, after several graceful fly-by’s, landed and slowly taxied to a halt, inch-perfect and centre stage, shutting down her engines as the band played the Dambusters March. It was timed to absolute perfection and was emotional enough watching on TV, so how the gathered guests felt, stood behind former bomb aimer Sgt `Johnny` Johnson and former Kiwi pilot Sqdn Leader Les Munro (both in their nineties) I can only imagine.
I wanted to let you know something else about this outwardly `very British` ceremony. As the proceedings opened, the RAF Band marched on playing a specially chosen tune for the occasion, “Eagle Squadron”. This was in honour of those American airmen who came here, as volunteers, to fly with the RAF before America joined the war. I reiterate, this was the tune that opened the ceremony. Furthermore, I wanted to mention that among the Dambusters was American pilot Joe McCarthy who joined 617 Squadron after having just completed a tour of thirty operations and who was included in one of the tribute programmes shown on television later that evening. As you know I do love my co-incidences – and here’s another. Joe McCarthy’s son, former US jet pilot and Vietnam Veteran Joe McCarthy jnr, is married to Shere Fraser, whose father was Flight Sgt John Fraser, RCAF, and a bomb aimer on the raid. Read his remarkable story here.
It was a wonderful little ceremony honouring the remarkable feat of 617 Squadron, honouring the two remarkable 617 survivors present, honouring the airmen who didn’t return that night and of those souls caught up in the terrible aftermath of the raid and, last but not least, honoring the Americans who came to fly with us several years before this raid and were part of what, arguably, still remains the RAF’s finest hour.
I know that not everyone in the current White House administration is much bothered by `Little Britain` these days and some State Department official said a few years ago that `there’s nothing special about Britain`, but those aforementioned little touches in last nights moving ceremony are a small part of the whole that makes up this Nation of mine, are part of what I believe we still stand for and testament that we don’t forget our friends.