Flying Officer Alan Biffen served in the Royal Air Force from 1942 to 1946, initially flying Wellington bombers, before transferring to Lancasters. In this post Alan tells us what the new Bomber Command Memorial means to him:
Barbara Storer’s father was serving with the RAF in Bomber Command when his Lancaster was lost over France in 1944. Here, Barbara remembers her father.
My father, Flight Sergeant F J Hobbs, a wireless operator and air gunner, served from 1940 – 1944 when he was shot down in a Lancaster and killed.
He was very gregarious and outgoing, and also a caring father. I was an only child, and I remember being totally captivated by the uniform.
He used to wait outside the school gates and it was such a thrill to see him.
We had a local dance hall, the Locarno, which at that time was really quite posh. It had places where you had tea and a little nursery upstairs with a uniformed nurse.
He would take my mother dancing when he was on leave, and then he would bring me downstairs and I would dance on his feet. It was that sort of relationship we had.
He wrote to me all the time, and I still have his letters:
In case you haven’t got my telegram, many happy returns of the day. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to send you a birthday card. Still I know you will like a greetings telegram plus a letter. By the way, I’ve ordered you a cute little brooch in the form of an air gunner’s half wing from the jewellers in town. Unfortunately it’s not quite ready so you will have to look out for the postman in a couple of days’ time. Give my love to mummy and tell her I have received my letter today. Be a good girl and be happy. Cheerio Kitten, love and kisses.
We got a letter from the Red Cross saying he was missing, presumed dead. I didn’t ever believe it. I always thought he was coming back. The idea of not having a grave was strange to me as a child.
On VE Day, my uncle, his younger brother got leave and came down to visit for the day. I remember hearing the bell go and my mother opened the door and I saw this figure in uniform standing at the door. I flew up the hall thinking that he had come back. Of course it wasn’t him, it was his brother. I remember that pain.
My mother received a letter at the beginning of 1945, quite out of the blue, from a school teacher from a village in the northern part of France saying he had a wallet and some other documents belonging to my father.
He said the Lancaster had come down on the night of the 15-16 March 1944 and the locals had gone out to the plane before the Germans got there and taken away all the personal papers they could find, amongst which was my father’s wallet. He had hidden it in the ground until the Germans were gone.
When they were liberated, he was able to write to my mother. He also said my father had still been sitting at his post and they must have come down very suddenly, as there was no indication of the crew trying to exit.
It was bittersweet. Just to have his wallet was something very special. On the other hand I felt a great pain. Inside his wallet he had the last letter I had written to him:
Dear Daddy, thank you very much for the letter. It made me very happy to think I will be able to watch you build my bike when you come home. I think it’s a jolly good idea. Mummy says you have been back a month today. That means all being well you will be home in two weeks time.
Even now I find it hard to open it up and look at it, but nevertheless it’s part of him, and we don’t have much.
Having a memorial to Bomber Command after all these years gave me a kind of closure that had not been there before. It’s a beautiful memorial and sensitively done, remembering the sacrifice of so many men like my father who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
It’s so important that the memorial will be there for future generations to visit and I’m so grateful to the RAF Benevolent Fund for taking on the guardianship.
The RAF Benevolent Fund has created a new Bomber Command iPhone app that features Barbara’s story. The app is now available to download from the App Store.