Unlike the heroes of Fighter Command – those we remember for their derring-do in Hurricanes and Spitfires – Britain has been rather more reluctant to honour its bomber crews, even though, of all the branches of the Armed Forces, they faced the deadliest odds During the long dark nights of the winter of 1944, 10-year-old Peter Cannon had grown used to the rumble of planes overhead.His family’s cottage on Station Road in Quainton, Buckinghamshire, was only a few miles from RAF Westcott.So many aircraft – friend and foe – flew overhead that his father had instructed the family that when the air raid sirens sounded, they should no longer bother to hide under the kitchen table.Yet at around 10.35pm on March 15, something about the sound of one plane caused the boy to leap out of bed and peek past the blackout curtain in the back bedroom.“I remember this very peculiar noise,” says Mr Cannon, now 80.“It was an aeroplane, but one that sounded in a lot of trouble.” A devastated Vickers Mark 10 Wellington bomber suddenly lurched into view in the night sky.While on a training flight, it had been struck on the starboard side by a Mark III Stirling bomber, whose crew were returning from Amiens, France, after completing their first mission.
“It was only a matter of moments, then there was this terrific bang and a great fire went up into the sky,” remembers Mr Cannon.He did not know it at the time, but the pilot who had steered the Wellington away from the village was Jim Lyon, the flying officer who lived next door with his pregnant wife – and whom the youngster idealised.He was killed in the inferno, as were seven other crew.The Stirling made it to near Wappenham, Northamptonshire, before it also crashed, killing all seven people on board. That night, he must have known he was going in the direction of where his wife lived and steered the plane away.
“I used to watch him [Jim Lyon] cycling back from Westcott to his house,” says Mr Cannon. I felt so sorry for the poor woman expecting the baby.
Then, all I heard was that she had moved away.” Flying officer Lyon was one of 37,000 Australian airmen who volunteered after Britain sought help from its allies.