“The Lancaster story that changed my life”

As part of our series, MyPast – where you get to tell us your historic aviation stories – George Corney tells us about the day that sums up the bravery of the men who went up in Lancaster during World War II

After a brief break for Christmas, we’re back to tell more of your stories with MyPast. This week, we pay homage to the Avro Lancaster, which celebrates the 80th anniversary of its first flight on January 9. George Corney tells us the heart wrenching story of one Lancaster crewman who was victim to the all-too-common nature of war.

“It’s often easy to forget the human element that attaches itself to every single aviation story. I was reminded of this starkly in 2013 when I attended a memorial service for Lancaster crewman at the official Pathfinders Chapel in Warboys, Huntingdonshire. Every year in May there is a reunion held at Warboys Church and Village Hall, remembering those that served in the RAF squadrons surrounding the area and the Pathfinder Force during World War II. As someone so involved with aviation as I am, it was an honour to be invited into the memorial and to get such a once in a lifetime experience to meet the remaining Lancaster pilots and crewmen. Sadly, not many were left by this time.

“We listened for two hours following the service on that day as several of the brave men told stories of going up in their Lancasters, never sure whether they would make it back again. But there was one pilot that I spoke to who opened my eyes completely to the sheer effect that serving in a war
can have on us as people.

“Many of the men stationed at RAF Warboys during the war were close friends. One day, one of the men left to get married to his childhood sweetheart. He was only allowed one day of leave, and therefore they were unable to have any kind of honeymoon. The next week, they planned for the airman’s new bride to arrive at Huntingdon. Just before, however, the gentleman learned that he had been called out to a mission, and therefore would be unable to pick up his bride of just a week from the station.

 “The men all rallied round, and it was the chap telling the story to us who went to pick up his friend’s bride from the train station. While he was fetching her, those left at base set up the newlyweds’ one room flat with flowers, wine, cheese and some spam. The couple had never had a honeymoon, so the boys were determined to make it special for their reunion. When he arrived back at base, this man’s bride in tow, they were met by the commanding officer who informed them that her husband had been killed. It had been his first mission.
 “To listen to this frail old man tell this heart wrenching story of a Lancaster crewman has affected me ever since. These guys were truly astonishing. There was not a dry eye in the house that day. I’ll remember that man and that church for the rest of my life.”