SEARCHING FOR PROOF
This photograph means a lot to me because it led, eventually, to me discovering the Dad about whom I knew so little. He had only been in my life for three short years, and one of those was away from home, so I only had one or two very vague memories of this kind and gentle man.
I first found the photo when I started secondary school, after being embarrassed and whispered about. It seemed that I was the only person in my class who had to admit to not having a father when questioned by the teacher about our families
As soon as I arrived home from school that day, I delved into cupboards and drawers and there found this small, rather crumpled picture. I asked Mum about the photo and realising it was important to me, she said I could keep it. I put it in my purse and carried it everywhere, and I still do. It wasn’t until fifty years later that I wondered if it was possible to discover anything about his life and what became of him.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH.
Just by applying for his death certificate, I discovered enough information to continue my search. He was a pilot with 57 Squadron in Lincolnshire and had died in Trebbin, Germany on the 2nd of December 1943.
I set off by contacting the RAF, Bomber Command and 57 Squadron associations and advertised in various magazines connected with the airforce. They were all a great help and then I started to hear from the wonderful veterans who told me their own first hand experiences . We kept in touch for many years and one of these kind gentlemen had even flown on several operations with Dad. What a find,
From this I discovered that Dad, although in a reserved occupation and married with two young children, had enlisted in 1941 and then found himself sent to America for his pilot training which kept him away from home for over a year.
On return to England, now a Sergeant Pilot, there was just time for a quick reunion with Mum before several more months of rigorous training where eventually, he was qualified to fly the Lancaster bomber.
PREPARING FOR WAR
Now, with his chosen crew of six brave young men, they were posted to 57 squadron in Lincolnshire, in July 1943. Firstly at Scampton, before their transfer to East Kirkby. Their ages ranged between 20 years old and 29 and they were now thought ready to brave the dangers of war !
Once I discovered the names of this young crew I started searching for their relatives so I could share any information that I may uncover. I was lucky enough to find a relative of every one of them, even the young Canadian rear gunner. After their initial surprise at hearing from me they were delighted and we became good friends sharing photos and stories about their loved ones. One of these young men had only recently married and another had been due to marry just days after they were lost. Apart from one member of the original crew the other six stayed together and they died together. FOR US.
FLYING ON OPS.
They completed 21 missions altogether flying to places like Düsseldorf and Hamburg, on the code-named ‘Operation Gomorrah, Milan and Turin also Stuttgart and to Hanover, where they were attacked by two Junker 88’s. One of which they managed to shoot down and the second was scared off. Then there was the well known. Peenemunde raid and of course the many trips to Berlin including the ‘Battle of Berlin’.
It was on their 22nd Operation on the 2nd of December 1943 that tragedy struck and they all very sadly lost their lives. Once again their target was Berlin. They were attacked by a JU 88 over the small town of Trebbin and their Lancaster caught fire and exploded. There were no survivors.
I only tell this story because if, like me, you have lost a much loved family member or friend, whilst serving with Bomber Command, then please do not let them be forgotten like I nearly did. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you know about them if they served and lost their lives then it is important that they are remembered with the honour they deserve.
Life had not been easy for Mum bringing up, not just her two young children then aged seven and three, but also the baby son born three months later and never to see his daddy. She would be so proud to know that Dad has now been recognised and his details safely preserved at long last.
There is no finer place equipped to do this than at the International Bomber Command Centre at Canwick Hill, Lincoln.
In Memory of Pilot Officer Ernest H Tansley 149542 57 Squadron and his brave young crew.
To see Ernest’s entry on the IBCC Losses Database click here
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