It was a rainy day in April 2012 when Vic Jay took part in a Lancaster bomber ‘taxi run’ experience at the Aviation Heritage Centre in Lincolnshire.
As he gazed out of the cockpit and listened to the roar of its four Rolls Royce Merlin engines, he was suddenly aware of how little he knew of his father’s relationship with the iconic aircraft.
Armed with just father’s logbook, a few photographs, and the name of the pilot, Mr Jay, from Pickering, North Yorkshire, embarked on a five-year project to research the No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, which his father was part of.
Mr Jay gradually traced the families of every one of his father’s crew of seven, four of them in New Zealand, and unearthed a series of tragedies that highlighted the devastating impact of World War Two.
The families provided a collection of poems, drawings, photographs and a transcript of an interview given by the pilot, Bill Mallon, in 2004. There were also letters written by the navigator to his wife and small children in New Zealand.
The 70-year-old retired teacher, said: “It has been a really emotional journey. My dad, Bob Jay, a flight engineer with No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, died in 1974 at the age of 55 and for a long time I vowed that I would find out what happened to him in the war.
“His crew all served in the war and they were all affected deeply by what they went through. My dad’s pilot lost two brothers and there are various other tragedies linked to the crew in their short time together.
“Every so often another story would come up and I thought ‘what a pity dad wasn’t here to see this’. Most of the stories he won’t have heard at the time because they kept the stories to themselves.”
Mr Jay said a particularly touching story was of navigator Jim Haworth, from New Zealand, who joined the crew at the age of 34.
“Jim was the oldest and the only one with children, two little girls whom he’d left behind two years earlier. His eldest daughter, Ruth, allowed me to read the many letters her dad had written to her mum during their long separation, and they provided some fascinating insights into the hopes and fears of a young man facing the biggest challenge of his life.”
But one of the most moving moments for Mr Jay was meeting surviving crew member Charles Green, a mid-under gunner, who had flown with them on three occasions.
“I travelled to Poulton-le-Fylde, in Lancashire, for an emotional meeting with a remarkable man of 95, on yet another rainy day. My story had come full circle.”
And last month Mr Jay found the family of the final member of the crew, 20-year-old Don Cook, completing the final piece of the jigsaw.
“Every few months I would think I have found everything out now. And suddenly I would get an email and another story would emerge.”
Mr Jay has recorded his findings in a blog, which has enabled people to get in touch with information over the years. He has also written a book - The Mallon Crew - on the history of his father’s squadron, which was published just over a year ago.
“At the end of the book I express disappointment that I wasn’t able to find the family of the final crew member. So I plan to do a re-write once the information from the family comes through.”
For the last three years Mr Jay has attended a Remembrance Day service in Mepal, a small town in Cambridgeshire, near to where his father was based during the war. Here he meets with other family members of the 75 Squadron RAF for an annual reunion dinner.
“Tomorrow there will be a memorial service in the village where we will remember them.”