Lancaster flypast tops squadron reunion

“What a beauty. What must the Germans have thought when they saw 1000 of them coming over?”Gerald Prettejohns flew in dozens of missions in Lancasters over Europe towards the end of the second world war.

“What a beauty. What must the Germans have thought when they saw 1000 of them coming over?”

Gerald Prettejohns flew in dozens of missions in Lancasters over Europe towards the end of the second world war.

In the six decades since then, he has seen countless flypasts by the “graceful giant” and heard the unmistakable sound of the Merlin engine.

But the sight of a Lancaster flying again over RAF Marham on Saturday was as special as ever for the 84-year-old former flight engineer.

And his reaction to the flypast of the World War Two bomber - as well as a trio of Tornadoes - typified the moving reminiscences as members of the IX (B) Squadron Association gathered at the West Norfolk air base for their annual reunion.

Mr Prettejohns - who now lives in Pimlico, London - saluted as the Lancaster roared over the hundreds of people at just 100ft at Marham, which is the current home of IX (B) Squadron.

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“It could not be more perfect. It is a beautiful aircraft and wonderful to see it coming over.”

He has been attending reunions since the 1970s and the sense of poignancy was particularly special as this is the 90th anniversary of the RAF.

The association - which has 460 members - is as strong as ever and while the number of World War Two veterans has gone down, more servicemen who have been in the squadron in recent years have joined.

The association uniquely has current IX (B) Squadron personnel as members and the reunion brought together seven decades of service to the RAF.

Veterans who helped win the war more than 60 years ago were able to chat with young servicemen who are preparing to head off to join the modern day conflict in Iraq later this year.

A record 250 people had dinner in the officers' mess, which was the culmination of a series of events during the day including lunch, touring aircraft and history displays, presentations and the flypasts.

Rear gunner Harry Irons, 84, from Romford is featuring in a BBC film to mark the 90th anniversary of the RAF.

As a young man who had just turned 18, he was assigned to IX (B) Squadron and took part in the first bombing raid in Lancasters over Dusseldorf in 1942.

“I have never seen anything like it. I was absolutely terrified. The amount of shells and explosions and I thought 'we have got to fly through it.' As we flew through there were aircraft being blown up around us.”

Mr Irons said he did 60 trips as a rear gunner but never got used to the flak - and said it was “absolutely sheer, sheer luck” that he survived.

He is backing the calls to get a memorial in Britain for Bomber Command.

“Bomber Command won the war. What they went through night after night and year after year. They knew they may not live but they carried on. They had unbelievable courage.”

Dicky James, secretary of the IX (B) Squadron Association, said: “This is a year's incredibly hard work coming to fruition and we are delighted to see so many here.”

Association chairman Air Commodore Spike Milligan said: “It is a great gathering of the clan and it is very good to meet up with old buddies. The enduring thing is that the spirit that was shown in World War Two is alive today.

“Young and old can talk about something in common.”

One of the manoeuvres performed by the Tornadoes on Saturday was the Missing Man Formation, which paid tribute to Sqn Ldr Jimmy James, who flew with IX (B) Squadron and was christened “the Great Escaper.”

He died earlier this year and in 1940 was captured by the Germans and during five years of incarceration he made 13 break-out attempts and was a member of the team which escaped and were immortalised in the 1963 film.