Veterans gather to honour absent friends

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MEMBERS of one of the most thriving squadron associations in Bomber Command will travel from across the world next month to mark the 70th anniversary of the squadron’s arrival at what was then a newly built airfield.

Veterans of 158 Squadron, most of whom who are now in their 90s, will be joined for their annual reunion weekend in Lissett, near Bridlington, by association members from the UK, Europe, Australia, and Canada, reflecting the nationalities of those who served with the squadron in the Second World War.

But although only a small number of surviving veterans are well enough to attend, about 150 people are expected, as unlike many squadron associations which have disbanded as the years take their toll, 158 Squadron Association is expanding after voting four years ago to extend its membership to blood relatives.

Commemorations will begin on Friday, September 6, when veterans will attend the unveiling of signs in Lissett directing visitors to the squadron memorial.

The following day more than 60 will attend the squadron dinner at The Expanse hotel in Bridlington, followed by an open air memorial service at Lissett Church at 11am on Sunday, September 8.

They will be gathering to remember those who lost their lives in the war, and those who have died since.

The squadron ended the war with a tragic symmetry, having lost 851 members.

Those who died include air and ground crew and one woman.

Sgt Olive Mary Morse, a meteorological clerk in the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce, was taking a “joyride” in a Halifax bomber when it crashed during a training exercise on September 14, 1943, with the loss of all nine on board.

Association president Bluey Mottershead said: “Every year I remember those who flew with me during the war and it is a privilege to honour them at the memorial service.

“I am delighted that so many children and grandchildren are now in the association to keep the memory of the squadron active in the generations to come.”

As a fighting unit, the squadron took part in some of the most dangerous aerial missions of the war, being tasked with hitting key industrial cities in the Ruhr valley, as well as Berlin and Nuremberg.

Some flew in the famous Halifax bomber Friday 13th, which completed 128 operations.

More than 340 members of the squadron became prisoners of war in Germany after being shot down and captured while taking part in sorties over occupied Europe.

They included F/Lt Alan Bryett, 91, who named his son after the Australian pilot who saved his life by pushing him out of their Halifax bomber when it was shot up over Berlin in August, 1943.

The pilot, F/Lt Kevin Hornibrook, died in the crash, his body later being buried in the city he had attacked alongside the rear gunner and mid-upper gunner.

F/Lt Bryett’s son Kevin is now chairman of the association. He said: “We lost a couple of absolute stalwarts this year, including Donny Macfarlane from Scotland. I will be remembering Donny and Kevin [Hornibrook].”

The association also introduced last year a means of uniting all members and veterans unable to attend the reunion – by raising a glass to absent friends the night before the service.

Dr Bryett said: “I wrote to everyone not coming suggesting they have a drink as well. I started that last year and people wrote to me and said ‘I sat and had a whisky’.”