Available: 16 December 2015
Hardback: £20.99 +pp
Paperback: £14.99 +pp
Available from all local and leading bookshops
including Amazon and online outlets
With author Stephen Hutton’s chapter on The Mighty 8th’s Squadron of Deception
Wing Commander Dix-Weeks OBE, AFC, QCVSA
On the cover, sitting proud astride the nose of his aircraft is Canadian Pilot George Stewart DFC of 23 Squadron, based at RAF Little Snoring, Norfolk
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This remarkable book brings together for the first time writings of RAF No. 100 (Bomber Support) Group and the 36th Bomb Squadron RCM, U.S. 8th Air Force. During World War Two, together they flew secret operations deep into the heart of Germany – identifying and jamming enemy Radar using new experimental equipment, working with Bletchley Park and the Y-Service, dropping and collecting agents of S.O.E., and helping the Resistance.
Over 55,000 men died in Bomber Command, the highest casualty rate of any Unit. On V.E Day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill praised those who contributed to victory, with one glaring omission – Bomber Command, of which this Group was a valued part. What happened to his stirring words: ‘The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory’?
Seventy years on, RAF 100 Group remains shrouded in mystery, many families still unaware of the role played by their loved one as veterans take their secrets to the grave. Only amongst their own do they talk and share, and it is at such times a glimpse of the young boys they were shines through, their eyes lighting up at a prank played, aerobatics in the air in celebration of a successful op and return home for crews, quickly followed by the sudden silence as together they remember those they personally knew who never returned.
They remain at heart Kindred Spirits, especially over the RAF 100 Group Association weekend each May as we gather for a Reunion in Norfolk, coming back to the bases where they once served, the sightless eyes of airfields still waiting .. hoping .. yearning to hear those Merlin engines in the skies.
This book represents a tribute, a Memorial to them all together with those who flew with them, proof of their existence, finally giving them recognition so richly deserved.
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Please describe what your book is about
This remarkable book brings together for the first time writings of both RAF No. 100 (Bomber Support) Group and the 36th Bomb Squadron RCM, U.S. 8th Air Force who flew in partnership with them, based on secret Norfolk airfields. Under Bomber Command during WWII, they were tasked with flying secret day and night operations deep into the heart of Germany – identifying and jamming enemy Radar using new experimental equipment, flying ‘Spoof’ missions to direct the enemy away from the main force; working with Bletchley Park and the Y-Service, and supporting SOE and the Resistance.
Over 55,000 men died in Bomber Command, the highest casualty rate of any Unit. On VE Day, Churchill praised those who contributed to victory, with one glaring omission – Bomber Command, of which RAF 100 Group was an integral part.
It seems Churchill’s stirring words: ‘The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means to victory’ were misplaced as RAF 100 Group received neither recognition nor reward.
Seventy years on, RAF 100 Group remains shrouded in mystery, families unaware of the secret and vital role their loved ones played in wartime as veterans take their secrets to the grave.
As a founding member and Secretary of the RAF 100 Group Association, for the past twenty years and more I have continued to work closely with veterans and their families. I remain passionate about preserving both their history and wartime experiences, determined these brave but ‘forgotten heroes’ be remembered. This book therefore represents a tribute, a Memorial, proof of their existence and the manner in which they fore-shortened the war, saving many thousands of lives.
How did you come up with the title?
This is a book which has been twenty years in the making, given the unlimited access given to veterans' private diaries, letters, writings and photographs. I have been overwhelmed by the response by them, their families and friends in wanting to openly talk and share, offering a meaningful and deeply personal understanding to what their Group Squadron’s work entailed, the lives snuffed out before their time, feelings of the day, and how families react when a loved one dies and they discover unshared writings, Log Books, maps and other memorabilia tucked away in cupboards or attics of ones they loved. The title has therefore been there from the start, given the wealth of material, the voices of the departed, the need to be remembered and to know their work was not in vain, together with the bond of friendship and support that drew them close. Each life depended on the other, working together as a team. It has therefore been my promise to them to make public what they have given to me, so that others might understand truths and realise the price of freedom.
Who is your intended audience, and why should they read your book?
The book is intended for a readership of all ages, all walks of life. The stories contained within offer a fascinating insight into what it was like to be part of an active Squadron, sharing everyday life on an airfield, following what it meant to be part of an operation, and the aftermath of having witnessed the deaths of friends and colleagues, knowing they would never return. Both World Wars are now part of the curriculum in schools, and this book represents a history book which, rather than offering endless facts and figures in a conventional way, instead carries the voices of those who were a living, breathing, dying part of war, offering first-hand knowledge and truths which cannot be found elsewhere. For many, this book was the first and only time they will share their wartime experience. They do so now in the belief that it will make a difference, that the name of RAF 100 Group be known for the future, and that those who died be remembered as they remain forever young.
Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?
Readers cannot help but be moved by the poignancy of the stories told in the words of veterans who fought in a World War. The strength of their stories comes in teaching of the futility of war, the consequences of invasion and what it means for countries to come under enemy rule, how it feels when trying to bomb the aircraft rather than the people inside, and the price paid by so many that we might have the freedom we have today. It shows how people can make a difference when and where it matters most, especially when working together, the real sense of brotherhood amongst crews, and the kindred spirit forged between survivors which continues today through our RAF 100 Group Association where each and every person is valued.
What inspires and motivates you to write the most?
My inspiration originally came from the story of my mother and her wartime fiancé, Vic Vinnell.
Vic was a Navigator and Special Operator who, with his Canadian pilot Jack Fisher, flew their Mosquito DK292 on secret operations, based at RAF Foulsham, Norfolk, in RAF 100 Group’s lead 192 Squadron. On 26/27 November 1944 they failed to return. Nothing was ever heard of them again. Their deaths remain a mystery, as does the operation on which they flew that night. It is believed they tried to land on the French coast, not knowing it was a mined beach.
Today, I remain passionate about preserving the history and stories of this secret Group who did so much during the war that people aren’t aware of today, even the main Royal Air Force. Every day I hear from veterans and their families, or from someone new after a loved one has died, leaving behind a plethora of material they can’t understand, asking what RAF 100 Group means. It is a position of which I feel immensely proud and privileged, but which at the same time is deeply humbling, as I share so many different stories of these brave souls. It is they who continue to inspire me today.
Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now. If you could live anywhere you wanted to live, where would that be?
As I write, it is like stepping through the portal back in Time to the war years, living through the eyes of all those who have shared their stories with me. Once a year, we come together in Norfolk for a Reunion, and as we approach, we can almost hear the roar of Merlin engines, see the darkening shadows cross the fields, and understand the terror of both people on the ground and in the air as the Second World War raged on.
I was born in Surrey. Both my parents had been in the RAF. I shared a happy childhood, where every day I found new stories to tell about the adventures I ‘lived’ in a dream world where a cardboard box became a pirate ship, the branches of a tree became bows and arrows. However, beneath the surface, I had my own secret world, my own secret war, where I was being hurt by people my parents trusted. I understood the dangers, but with no way out, had to endure a private pain. Only years later was my secret told, and I realised then how people put their own perspectives on what can happen in life. It taught me valuable lessons.
Born disabled, with no real understanding of what was really wrong with me, and why we needed to visit the hospital two and three times a week, the world was a strange, mysterious, often dark and dangerous place with unexpected ‘beasties’ lurking which I needed to learn how to survive. Diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in later years, I discovered I can relate to veterans, particularly those who remain affected by war today. I became a Counsellor, working with vulnerable and ‘broken’ people in all walks of life. It expanded my understanding of human nature.
Today, with a PhD in Life, I live in the north of England. Writing is part of my everyday life, an intrinsic part of self. I continue to work with and serve veterans around the world, and hear from at least one every day. We think of ourselves as a Family, supporting and sharing with one another, remembering birthdays and Christmas, especially giving time to those alone and/or in need. I create a quarterly magazine for the RAF 100 Group Association, bringing together new experiences and writings, paying tribute to those who have recently died, and the Association continues to grow, taking on members worldwide, including those who served with the 36th Bomb Squadron RCM, U.S. 8th Air Force who lived and served alongside RAF 100 Group in wartime.
As far as where I would most like to live today, I am happy where I am because it is close to the sea. However, I am not someone who easily lives alone. Writing can become a very solitary isolating occupation. My life is filled with warm, loving, understanding veterans and their families, and I wouldn’t have that any other way. But I would welcome that precious gift of being able to love and to be loved by someone special … someone who will share the rest of the journey of Life with me.
Tell us something personal about yourself that people may be surprised to know?
I love reading children’s stories and the best time of my life was spent writing for my daughter Jo when she was a little girl. Now she is a writer herself and has travelled to many far and distant places around the world, getting involved in local communities. I also paint, and play the keyboard.
Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
I would love to meet veterans who died young in the Second World War and who were a living, breathing part of RAF 100 Group and its secret operations. Best of all, I would welcome meeting and sharing with Vic Vinnell, my mother’s wartime fiancé. I grew up with her unworn wedding dress at the back of her wardrobe, and amongst my treasured possessions I have the many hundreds of letters they shared. It was her cousin who told me that when he stepped into a room he could make it shine … and yet he only ever had eyes for ‘his Nina’.
Which writers inspire you?
Enid Blyton was the first writer to inspire me. I could easily escape into one of her many worlds and live life through one of her characters. I went on to John Creasey and crime novels, before being drawn to personal experiences, particularly of wartime.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I still have so much material relating to veterans that my goal is to bring them out of the shadows and into the light where they can be enjoyed and shared by others around the world. I like to have more than one book on the go at any one time so that I write according to my mood of the day. To this end, I would therefore love to continue my Joe Maddison series, and write the third in the collection which is fiction, but based on old myths and legends which Joe Maddison, the unlikely hero; needs to unravel from the past to discover the hidden meaning for today.
What are your expectations for this book?
For this book RAF 100 Group – Kindred Spirits, I already have a long waiting list reaching around the world waiting to buy a copy. It is a book which has already come to mean so much to so many, while since sharing their personal experiences, there are a few in the book who have since died and their families are each wanting a copy which they consider to be part of the legacy their loved one left behind.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I am absolutely delighted that this book is finally emerging from the shadows, and that all these wonderful stories will finally be told and shared, these ‘forgotten heroes’ remembered. My hope is that on Remembrance Day the name of Bomber Command and RAF No. 100 (Bomber Support) Group can be spoken aloud, so that people will start asking questions, wanting to know more about who they are, what they achieved in wartime. Even 70 years on, these people who did so much in the name of ‘Freedom’, pushing the enemy back to their own shores, are not recognised or known.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM!!