Remembering the crew of Lancaster ND916
By Phil Furner
In late May and June this year, my partner and I travelled to England for a holiday and to attend an event relating to my father’s wartime activities.
Harry Furner was an RAF Air Gunner, who served with No. 51, 578 and 35 (PFF) Squadrons.
The event we had travelled over for had its origins many years ago whilst I was researching my father’s war time service.
On the 23rd June 1944 my father and his crew took off from RAF Graveley to attack a V1 rocket site at Coubronne, France. On their return leg after bombing the site their Lancaster was attacked by a Ju88 night fighter off the coast of France near Dunkirk. As a result of the attack my father (mid upper gunner) and the rear gunner were both badly wounded. The aircraft was badly damaged in the attack resulting in the Lancaster returning on three engines and the two gunner’s turrets being put out of action.
Having made contact with some of the relatives of the crew, I spawned the idea of getting together to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the crews ‘survival’ on this operation. As a result 4 sons and 1 daughter of the crew gathered for a weekend of events in both London and Cambridge.
On the Saturday we gathered at the RAF museum at Hendon to view the Lancaster bomber and also the Halifax bomber ‘wreck’ which is a former 35 Squadron aircraft.
From Hendon we travelled into the city for a lunch at the RAF Club courtesy of the eldest son of the pilot who had a contact at the club. Lunch was had in the clubs Lancaster room, most appropriate for the occasion. A very pleasant couple of hours was spent dining in the club and also exploring the corridors, viewing the various artefacts, including all of the RAF squadron crests lining the walls.
After lunch we crossed the road to pay our respects at the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. It was the first time that the others had visited and all were very impressed. One son of the pilot produced a 35 Squadron metal plaque that had belonged to his father so this appeared in many photographs taken over the weekend.
On Sunday we gathered at All Saints Church in the village of Offord Cluny, a few miles south of the old Graveley airfield in Cambridgeshire.
I had arranged for us to view the stained glass memorial window in the church dedicated to 35 Squadron. The church also holds the 35 Squadron standard and other memorabilia for the squadron.
After the viewing we headed 3 miles north to the old airfield to pay our respects at the memorial marker stone at the entrance to the former operational site of RAF Graveley.
The site is now a wheat farm and in more recent times has had eight wind turbines placed around part of the farm land. The perimeter track and centre section of the main runway still remain and are used as farm vehicle access points.
Whilst taking photographs of the marker stone the farmer came down the driveway and I explained to him the reason we were there. He then very generously said that we could drive onto the old airfield to what remains of the main runway.
Having visited the site previously, I lead the group onto the main runway in our vehicles. It proved to be a very moving experience for us all as we stood there 75 years to the day our fathers had taken off on that fateful raid.