Reed Connections

Reed Connections

Regular readers will know that Reedlink can unite people who have not seen each other for many years. In this edition we bring you a story of two Reed pensioners who share a unique sixty-year-old connection and were not aware of it until the last few months! [Reedlink edition 52 March 2006]

In edition 51 of Reedlink (December 2005), we featured the VE Day memories of Harry Parkins, who flew many missions with the RAF during the Second World War. However, unknown to him, he shares a wartime connection with another pensioner, Victor Gregory (ex-Odhams, Watford).

Both men, now in their 80s, spent five years in the RAF and joined as teenagers during the war. They both grew up in the same area of north-east London, Victor in Islington, and Harry in Hackney.

After basic training, Vic, already an experienced map draughtsman, joined a newly formed top secret intelligence unit based at Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe. Here he worked from photographic reconnaissance and aerial surveillance to produce maps for all the major bombing raids throughout the war. Vic was the youngest member of the RAF team.

Operating from airfields in Lincolnshire, Harry Parkins, a flight engineer, and the youngest member of a mainly New Zealand and Australian crew aboard a Lancaster Bomber, had flown 36 missions by the age of 20. By 1944, the aerial bombardment of enemy targets had moved into the period of 1,000 bomber raids, the brainchild of Sir Arthur Harris. This required precise timing, maps and navigation.

The young RAF cartographical draughtsman, Sgt Victor Gregory, on the other hand, had participated in a very secret war. At Hughenden Manor, a top secret facility and formerly Disraeli's home, a mix of gifted Air Ministry civilians and highly skilled Royal Air Force map makers created almost all of the target maps for bomber crews during the War. Sworn to absolute secrecy, they played an unseen yet vital role in some of the biggest raids of the War. These included German cities like Cologne and Berlin, the Dam Buster raids, the sinking of the battleship 'Tirpitz' and the destruction of the V1 and V2 flying bomb sites.

Flying with another crew, Harry took part in the final bombing mission of the war on 25 April 1945. Planning for this operation had begun long before, as Victor discovered in 1944, when he was sent to a secret meeting with British military intelligence and Special Operations Executive (SOE) in London. His brief was to create, from aerial photography, a highly detailed map of the Berghof estate at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps. Victor had become a key member of Operation Foxley, a plan to assassinate Hitler at this mountain lair. One part of this objective was a massive raid by the RAF and a Special Forces parachute drop to overpower any resistance.

On 25 April 1945, using Victor's maps, 350 Lancaster Bombers raided Berchtesgaden. Harry Parkins' crew was part of the bombing mission. Although they did great damage, they failed to kill Hitler, who was in his Berlin bunker. Five days later, on 30 April 1945, he committed suicide.

After reading Harry's story in the last edition of Reedlink (December 2005), Victor got in touch with Harry through Reedlink, and he has now been able to share the story of his war one which was secret for 60 years.

On 24 April 1944, some 244 Lancasters and 16 Mosquito fighter bombers attacked the railway station at Munich, and the marshalling yards which provided connections to Austria, Italy and Eastern Europe.

Warrant Officer Harry Parkins, known as 'Ackney' by the crew members, was aboard Lancaster K for Kitty as the flight engineer. If they survived the raid, they were due seven days' leave on their return. At the briefing, they were told that the flight would be the longest ever attempted by a Lancaster Bomber, a round trip of more than 2,000 miles. Fully loaded, they were to trick the defences and night fighters by flying over the French Alps into Italy, turn east, and attack Munich from the south on the return. They would be flying on the extreme range of the bombers fuel capacity, and received a last minute top-up of fuel in the take-off area.

Should they return, they were ordered to land in the south, thereby probably missing a day of their leave. Harry recalls that all his crew were "a bit mad" and took unbelievable chances.

Crossing the coast and running short of fuel, they decided to try and make it to their home base in Lincolnshire. Just as the wheels hit the landing area, all engines stopped. They were completely out of fuel and had to be towed off the runway after a flight of 10 hours 25 minutes. For this, they all received a severe reprimand, coupled with handshakes all round for getting back safely.

Extracted from Reedlink edition 52 March 2006.

Note: K for Kitty were a mixed Commonwealth crew of 630 Squadron based at RAF East Kirkby.

Note: Flight of 10 hours 25 minutes was the longest recorded war-time flight of an Avro Lancaster.

Note: Bombing raid on Hitler's mountain retreat the Berghof estate at Berchtesgaden was a different crew of 576 Squadron based at RAF Fiskerton.

Lincolnshire ~ Harry Parkins ~ 630 Squadron ~ RAF East Kirkby ~ 576 Squadron ~ RAF Fiskerton
Web design and additional footnotes (c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- May 2006 rev 0