When we look at the Second World War, and think of flying, we think of the Battle of Britain, when the few took on the might of the German air force.
But we should not forget those who night after night took part in bombing raids on Germany and occupied Europe. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can question the legitimacy of many of those raids, terror campaigns against German cities and civilian populations as we would now see it, but we should not forget, these were lonely, long, dark nights for men in their early twenties, with the knowledge that you may not come back, young men who lost many of their friends and comrades on such night missions.
One such man was Harry Parkins, now in his 80s, then a young 20-year-old Warrant Officer Flight Engineer.
Harry Parkins grew up in the East End of London, in Hackney, went to school in Hackney.
As a young man, still in his teens, so in those days legally not even classified as yet a man, he was walking to work one day, to find on his arrival it had been destroyed in a German bombing raid, all he found was the smoking ruins.
That decided matters. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was stationed in Lincolnshire, known for its number of airfields as Bomber County.
Known to his crew as 'Ackney Arry', Harry Parkins served with two squadrons, based at two different airfields - 630 Squadron at RAF East Kirkby and 576 Squadron at RAF Fiskerton. The service with 576 Squadron at RAF Fiskerton was more by accident than design. His first crew was a mix of British and Commonwealth, including crew from New Zealand and Australia. The second crew was all British. He flew exclusively Avro Lancasters.
First crew: Pilot Joe Lennon, Flight Engineer Harry Parkins, Bomb Aimer Jimmy Hurman, Navigator Bruce Reece, WOP Jimmy Marriot, Mid Upper Gunner Joe Malloy, Rear Gunner Joe Pollard.
Second crew: Pilot Flight Officer Fry (Chips), Flight Engineer Harry Parkins (Ackney Arry), Bomb Aimer Woodliffe (Fingers), Navigator Smith (Smithy), Wireless Operator Lait (Sparky), Mid Upper Gunner Younger (Geordie), Rear Gunner Jones (Taffy).
On a bombing raid to Munich on 24 April 1944 via the French Alps and Italy to fool the Luftwaffe night fighters, a round trip of more than 2,000 miles, Harry Parkins and his crew are believed to hold the record for the longest non-stop flight by an Avro Lancaster during WWII. After taxiing for take-off, the plane was topped up, it ran out of fuel just as they touched down at East Kirkby, 10 hours and 25 minutes later.
The final operation of the war, the dropping of food to the starving Dutch (part of Operation Manna) on VE-Day, brought the final tally of operations to 45. At the end of the war, Harry Parkins was a veteran of 45 operations.
Following the final operation on VE-Day, Harry Parkins went into nearby Lincoln to celebrate the end of the war with Germany (the war with Japan had yet to end). It was here that he met Mavis Wright who was to become his wife.
On leaving the RAF (now married), Harry Parkins remained in Lincolnshire, where he has lived ever since.
Harry Parkins now spends his time gardening, repairing watches and fixing things. He is currently engaged in recording his war time memories for posterity.
As a special 80th birthday treat, Harry Parkins was taken by his daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and her boyfriend to the former RAF East Kirkby where he had been stationed during WWII (before being stationed at RAF Fiskerton). Following the wedding reception of granddaughter at nearby Petwood Hotel (used as an officers mess by the Dambusters Squadron), he then made a return visit with friends of the family as a honoured guest of the Panton Brothers. An account, 'The People's War', can be found in Reedlink December 2005.
For Christmas Day 2007, Harry Parkins received a copy of Bomber Boys by Patrick Bishop (Harper Press, 2007). Flipping through that evening, it was noticed there was a picture of the Stonebow in Lincoln High Street on VE Day (the same picture is also reproduced in Lincoln and Lincolnshire by Peter Washbourn). [see BCID 5607211]
The picture was from the Lincolnshire Echo archives, and the Echo kindly issued an invite to see if it was possible to identify anyone on the photograph. Unfortunately this proved not to be possible. The Echo kindly gave a copy of the VE Day picture and a copy of the front page of the Echo that reported on the VE Day celebrations. [Lincoln Prayed – Then Went Wild, Lincolnshire Echo, Thursday 10 May 1945]
Harry Parkins met his wife Mavis in front of the Stonebow during the VE Day celebrations. 7 January 2008 they celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary. [see Match Made at Stonebow]
June 2009, wife Mavis celebrated her 80th birthday with dinner on the day at their daughter's house, then two days later Sunday dinner at Martin Moor Golf Club.
July 2009, Harry Parkins was an invited guest at the Bomber Command Memorial Appeal Banquet at Petwood Hotel, fomer Officer's Mess of 617 Squadron.
Harry Parkins is a contributor to Capturing Lincoln Cathedral, an illustrated guide to Lincoln Cathedral. Capturing Lincoln Cathedral was launched at the Moorland Centre, Tritton Road, Lincoln, Saturday 15 November 2008, where there was a display of some of the pictures used in the book. The book went on sale from mid-November 2008 at £9.99, part of a gift pack that includes a sturdy re-usable shopping bag and a free pass to Lincoln Cathedral. All monies raised from the sale of Capturing the Cathedral will go towards supporting the Cathedral. Prints of pictures from the book may also be ordered.
Further wartime exploits were covered in the column 'Reed Connections' in Reedlink March 2006.