Why write a book about Bomber Command?
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Allied Air Force Research would like to thank Alan Measures
for contributing the following guest article to our website.
Note- that Alan is not Affiliated to the Allied Air Force Research Website.
The simple answer is that I never expected to. I was quite happily getting on with my life with no discernible yearning to commit to such an undertaking, but one day out of the blue, a random encounter changed all that and set me off in a direction I could never have foreseen.
My book “RAF Bomber Command Striking Back” started with a chance meeting in 2011, when a distant family member approached me with a folded up piece of paper and said, “I understand your wife is researching the family tree; here’s something that will close off one of the ends for her”, and, as an afterthought added, “Oh, and it might be of interest to you too ...”
I unfolded the paper which turned out to be an entry from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The name on this folded paper was that of my father’s cousin and best friend, Len Starbuck, growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, identifying him as serving on 102 Squadron, and a date, 26 June 1942.
Knowing something of the air war over Europe, I figured I would be able to research this in half an hour on the internet without too much bother, but quickly found out not only how wrong I was, but also how little I truly knew.
Intrigued, I set off for the National Archives at Kew to become familiar with the documents they held, first among which were the Operations Record Books. At this time, these records were on microfilm which required a degree of learning (and luck) with the viewers to be able to read them, but having acquired a degree of competence I made myself comfortable and set about starting work.
Firstly, I found Len recorded as being on a crew of six airmen in a Halifax departing from RAF Topcliffe for Bremen at 2355 hrs on 25 June 1942 and subsequently listed as “failed to return to base”. These same five words, I noted, had been repeated on the entries for a total of four aircraft from the squadron having left on the same raid, which seemed a shockingly high loss rate.
By now, I was definitely in the position of finding more questions than answers and my research began to mushroom:
· Who had my cousin flown with?
· What was the nature of the operation they were on?
· What other operations had he flown on?
· What had it been like to serve on the squadron?
· What had happened to him?
One thing was clear, it would not be possible to do half a job, and soon I found myself travelling around the country visiting various museums and archives, finding different pieces of the jigsaw at each stop.
I was also lucky enough to be able to talk with a few veterans, but given that it was now seventy years since these events had taken place, those I could find were by now in their nineties. Whilst I am very grateful for everyone who was prepared to share their experiences with me, the greatest individual contributor was Ed Cooke. He and I were in regular transatlantic email communication for months as he downloaded pages of anecdotes from his time serving as wireless operator / air gunner on 102 Squadron during 1941-42. Then one day the correspondence stopped as this wonderful man’s propellers had finally stopped turning, and I would hear from him no more. However, by his passing, he had entrusted me with precious memories of his time flying operations on the squadron.
The more people I spoke to, the more apparent it became that I was picking up irreplaceable information known only to a dwindling number of survivors, and as such it became a personal quest to ensure that I should do something with their stories so they would not be forgotten.
In parallel with collating survivors’ personal recollections, I researched the merits of the ageing Whitley with which Len had started his flying career on the squadron, to the Halifax onto which he converted. Whilst the different aircraft were the most obvious markers of the pace of change, they were but one factor of the deadly arms race that included the build-up of coherent German anti-air defences and the formation of their deadly night fighter force, the Nachtjagd.
In order to provide context therefore, I visited the Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv in Freiburg to find out what I could first hand about the German side of the conflict, and spent a few very intense days testing the limits of their records (and probably their patience too).
In the course of six years of research I found myself entrusted with personal anecdotes from a number of veterans who survived the darkest hours of Bomber Command, and would be lost if I didn’t actively do anything with them. Further, in piecing together the fragments of information from different sources, I had been able to explode a number of myths about RAF Bomber Command operations. Not only this, but in the course of my research I had found information in the National Archives containing correspondence between Churchill, Portal and Harris that had been misfiled because the codeword on the folder had been misspelled and fallen outside their categorisation system!
By this stage, I had uncovered so much that would be lost to history if I didn’t bring it to public attention, that I couldn’t in all conscience file it away in my study and forget about it. Yet, more important than this, I also felt a strong debt of honour to tell the story of my cousin and the five other crewmen lost with him on 26 June 1942. These were the factors that provided me with the motivation needed to push forward to publication.
I never intended to become an author, and certainly do not consider myself to have the knowledge and expertise of celebrated names such as Chris Goss and Theo Boiten, but this was never my goal. Instead, I consider that in a small way, I have succeeded in adding to the body of knowledge about this momentous period in history and helped to keep alive memories of those who would never have considered themselves heroes, but who undoubtedly were.
Alan Measures, 2021
You can purchase Alan's book 'RAF Bomber Command Striking Back' via Amazon or Waterstones
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