On the 8th November 1944, during a daylight raid on Homberg, Lancaster PD374 HA-C ‘Charlie’ of No.218 Squadron, based at RAF Methwold in Norfolk was shot down over the target. Three of the crew went down with the aircraft, one was murdered on the ground and three survived. Allen Clifford, the navigator, was one of the survivors.
He was to endure near-lynching, hungry months in captivity as a prisoner of war and the infamous ‘cold march’ in the closing months of the conflict as the German guards tried to keep their prisoners from being liberated by the advancing Red Army.
When the Russians finally did arrive and continued to hold the starving rabble of survivors captive, Allen and fellow POW Bill Dunbar – a glider pilot who had survived Arnhem – escaped and made a dash for the American lines…
Allen was just one of Butch’s boys (‘Butch’ being the nickname for Sir Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief of RAF Bomber Command used at the time by RAF aircrews), ordinary young men from all over the UK and Commonwealth whose experiences in World War Two were anything but ordinary.
In telling Allen’s story this book aims to salute the achievements of them all. It describes how they competed, sweated and studied to earn their aircrew brevets and how they agonized about the prospect of failing courses, when the 'prize' at the end was an even chance of meeting with a singularly unpleasant death.
The almost casual bravery with which they faced their fate was exemplified by Les Hough, Allen’s Australian pilot and skipper, who stayed at the controls of his crippled Lancaster, sacrificing his own life in order to give his crewmates a few extra seconds in which to escape their burning aircraft.
By contemporary standards this would have merited a Victoria Cross and several television documentaries, but between 1939 and 1945 such stories were not uncommon. Sadly, the details could not be recorded until the survivors (if there were any) were repatriated at the end of the war. By this time officialdom was not much interested in celebrating dead heroes, once they no longer needed to encourage hard-pressed aircrews to sustain their efforts or new recruits to sign on for aircrew duties, and the heroism of Les, and the many like him, was forgotten.
This book, therefore, is not just for Allen, Les and the crew of Lancaster HA-C ‘Charlie’ both living and dead – it is for all the other unsung heroes of RAF Bomber Command who are owed recognition for the vital role they played in securing victory for the Allies in World War II.