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Commemorating 70th anniversary of Operation Manna

It was the end of World War Two and the airmen of Bomber Command that propelled humanitarian relief work into the modern era.

Operation MannaAircraft of Bomber Command involved in Operation Manna, the air movement of food and supplies to the Dutch populace. MOD/Crown Copyright.

April 29 2015 marks 70 years since the first humanitarian sorties were launched in response to a call from Holland where people were dying in their thousands towards the end of the war.

German occupation, flooded farmland and cut supply lines meant food was scarce.

Former air gunner Warrant Officer Dave Fellowes served with 460 Sqn in Bomber Command and took part in the mission.

He said: "Now we were doing something totally different, dropping food to the starving people of Holland and it gave us a good feeling that we were doing something humanitarian."

Lancaster and Mosquito bomber pilots were trained to make the drops at 300-500 feet above the ground, ensuring supplies of things like flour, margarine, milk powder and sausages landed undamaged. The US Air Force joined the mission two days later, dropping more than 7,000 tonnes of food. Despite this ten-day effort, by the end of the war 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation and 980,000 were left malnourished.

In the years which have followed the RAF has been at the centre of countless humanitarian aid missions, relieving the suffering of those caught up in conflict, natural disaster and drought.

Today the RAF continues to provide humanitarian aid, delivering supplies around the world.

They were called into action recently, at the end of April, when an earthquake wreaked devastation on Nepal. An RAF aircraft was mobilised quickly to deliver aid and personnel to help the relief effort.

When Cyclone Pam slammed into the Pacific Island of Vanuatu in March 2015, RAF C17 aircraft were called to action by the Department for International Development (DFID). In a matter of hours they were airborne carrying provisions like lanterns, electrical supplies, food and sanitation supplies, organised by UK Aid, to the devastated region.

C17 pilot Flight Lieutenant Ryan Foils of 99 Squadron was one of the first to fly into Vanuatu. He said: "It was a country that was on its knees and appeals for help had gone out.

The main thing that stays in my memory is the sight of all the aid on the side of the airfield."

Not only is the RAF Benevolent Fund there to ensure veterans like Dave Fellowes are cared for as they get older, it is also there to support the families of personnel who are deployed to respond to humanitarian need at short notice.

Visit the Operation Manna homepage

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