Veteran Stories:
John Stratton

Air Force

  • Contemporary photo of John Stratton.

    Courtesy of John Stratton
  • Photo of a Lancaster, 1944.

    Courtesy of John Stratton
  • An Avro Vulcan bomber similar to the one Mr. Stratton served on between 1962 and 1969 as navigator.

    Courtesy of John Stratton
  • Mr. Stratton's Service Medals.

    Courtesy of John Stratton
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"So we were chosen to go and drop a bunch of flowers, of all things, to Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands."

Transcript

As soon as we got there [RAF Graveley, home station of No. 35 Squadron, RAF], we were informed that the war was over now [the war with Germany ended on May 8, 1945], it was over two weeks, three weeks or something like that. But we were part of what they called Tiger Force that was going to the Far East to shore up the Americans. And we had new airplanes to go. And we were there about, oh, not very long, a week or so, when they decided the Air Ministry in their wisdom or otherwise, decided they were going to mark the occasion of the, when we had to drop food to the Dutch in April of that year, they were starving the poor buggers and the Germans gave us a truce through the Red Cross to come and drop food supplies to the Dutch in a particular area. And the crew I was in were in the same crew, they wanted a crew that dropped food or had taken part in the food dropping in April and that were still intact and our crew was still intact apart from the pilot. He’d left and gone to a course somewhere and we ended up in this flight commander’s crew, Shorty Harris, squadron leader. So we were chosen to go and drop a bunch of flowers, of all things, to Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands. We had a couple of trips in the UK and dropped them a basket of flowers and a parachute. Which went okay and the day arrived and we went off to Holland to drop these flowers to the Queen that were in a basket, with a parachute attached. And we got airborne and we had to land in Amsterdam to pick up a couple of Dutch reporters, they came onboard and then we took off and went to Soestdijk Palace actually. It was an airfield parallel to the Palacewhich we were going to drop the flowers on. We arrived there and did a run up and where we were going to drop them. They had marked it on the ground, there were marks on the ground where we had to position it. So I went down in the nose and prepared to drop this bomb basket and the ruddy thing wouldn’t go. So we had a station commander onboard, he said, well what, what are you going to do with it, Jack, can’t you get rid of it? I said, well, I can jettison it. Well, jettison the bloody thinghe said; I said well, you’ll lose the carrier. To hell with the carrier, he said that don’t mean anything, you know, the bomb carrier? That don’t mean anything. So we went around again and jettisoned it. And I said, now, the parachute might not open. Because the static cord will be tied to the carrier. And that was the story, it didn’t open anyway, but the thing went underground. And then we had to do a fly past of the Palace, which we did, and all the Queen and her minions were outside. And eventually we got a nice photograph of that with a Lancaster in the foreground. And that was alright. They got the flowers they said and they were beautiful. They were signed by Lord [Arthur] Tedder, who was Chief of the Air Staff at the time, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder. And then we came back and landed in Amsterdam to drop off the two reporters and we just got airborne, took off, when they called us back in again. But on a different runway. We landed and turning off down the runway, to our horror, right across the runway was a big ditch. There’s no way you could stop; we went into it. The aircraft was written up, nose down, none of us was hurt, well, the group captain broke his leg I think. Yeah, he did or was badly injured anyway. It was okay after he had a cast put on it. But none of the actual crew were hurt. But the aircraft was a write-off. We got out and oh man the station commanders was disgusted. He said, well, I’m going to the embassy now, you fellows got to a hotel, I’ll fix you all a hotel and you might there for a week or two waiting to get an aircraft from the UK, take us back. So that’s the last we saw of him. So anyway, they put us up in a hotel and that afternoon, my mid-upper gunner, Eddie Farmer, from Bristol [England], who was my real good mate, and his mother was just like my own mother to me, Eddie and I went down Amsterdam, no in The Hague we were. And then The Hague, found a café, went in there. Christ, wherever you looked, there was pictures of our king and queen and the two princesses. I swear to God, you were back in the UK. And we got well in there and had a cup of coffee, couldn’t pay for a thing. And the chappy had two daughters. So we went in and I hooked onto them and we were there over a week anyway, we were in a hotel and we were staying at the Eastern Welland every night with them, or every day, all day long. And we had a marvelous week there in Holland. And up until then, or not since either, I’ve never seen a bunch of people so hospitable as the Dutch. But the RAF were riding fairly high in their regard during the war because the RAF were the main instrument of torture to the Germans. And the Dutch were occupied by the Germans of course. So they had a lot of respect for the RAF. What I saw in Europe at the end of the war, and we visited Europe a week or so after the war finished, and to see the misery that had caused there among one type of person, a Jew. There were over six million Jews slaughtered [by the Germans] during that war and most of them just thrown into the ground and covered over. And really, you know, it didn’t turn me against the Church, no, it never did but it wasn’t what I was taught in Sunday school. Now, remember, I was only 20 years old then, or 22, when the war ended. But it wasn’t what we were taught in Sunday school, that God would not allow things like that to happen. And it did happen. And really, it didn’t turn me against the Church but I decided that I’d be far better employed by staying in the Air Force, which I did. And that was the turning point in my life.
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