Radio Operator Remembers
Stan Jones, Radio Operator, Bad Penny
The 101ST Squadron Lancaster bomber during Operation Manna, the food drop over German occupied Holland in the spring of 1945.
Two Lancasters were chosen for the test flight into Holland. An Australian pilot named Collett was detailed to fly one Lancaster and Canadian R.F. Upcott from Windsor, Ontario was to fly Bad Penny, the other.
Unfortunately, before we could get airborne, severe weather moved in to delay the operation. Three times we went to the aircraft expecting a slight break in the weather. Each time to see the trip cancelled. Finally, early on the morning of April 29, 1945, weather still minimal, we got the go signal.
Weather still bad over England. The Lancaster was popping in and out of heavy clouds when an American Flying Fortress appeared on the starboard wing on a collision course. Fortunately he chose to pull as we dived, missing a crash by inches.
We flew this trip at an extremely low altitude, as very low seemed the safest way to get passed the German guns. No pact had been signed. We were going in only British “bravado.”
Over the continent, the sky cleared, both planes could now see each other and got together, with R. Upcott’s plane leading the way. Navigation was strictly map reading but we had been well briefed as to landmarks such as chimneys and churches. Finding the big red cross was easy but looking down several gun barrels was uncomfortable. Two loads of food were released and two Lancasters hustled back to the Dutch coast, now, breathing a little easier.
On our return to our base and knowing that the trip had been successful, “Operation Manna” was activated. The major operation began about 12:30 pm that day. Alerted by radio messages that food was coming, thousands of Dutch citizens came out to cheer the 250+ bombers that flew over throughout the day. We appreciated the waving Dutch and English flags on later food drops but on that first trip in, few people knew we were coming.
Someone else in Bomber Command had experience with food-drop methods but it was IOI Squadron that got the job of going in to test the German reactions. Every crew on that first day’s trip thought they might get shot at. None of them were aware that two planes had gone on a trial run, without Pathfinder Crews going ahead to mark the drop sites with smoke flares.
After a few days, Germany finally signed a pact not to defend that specific track used by the food-dropping aircraft. After which, the American Flying Fortresses joined the operation, which they called “Chowhound.”
It was an experience that the crew will always remember.
What Operation Manna Meant For Me
Betty Van Deemter, Holland Christian Homes, Brampton, ON
Barely nine years old, I accompanied my Dad to “het Bosplan” near Amsterdam, where he knew we would find food. To me that sounded like a daring goings-on and without giving it a second thought I went with him, on foot. After all, hunger had been a daily dilemma for some time in our family, and I was sick and tired of sugar beets for breakfast, lunch and supper.
In the wooded area we could hear the roar of an airplane. My Dad yelled, “Watch out!” and sure enough, there came the “manna from heaven.” I remember it being in enclosures, some of which broke open on impact. I could see boxes with names on them and those alone made my mouth water. Yum, yum. Ready for a nice portion.
My Dad warned me not to lay a hand on anything. “You have to take it along first and share it with others,” he explained. This did not make sense. Had he forgotten how he went to Friesland on a fruitless cycling-tour, by means of a bike with worthless tires, just to obtain food?
But when my Dad gave orders, you knew better than to argue. Trying to get out of “het Bosplan” with my assortment of goodies, I remember being met by villagers who carried the distributions the rest of the way for me. Dad sent me home so I could tell the family a “Banquet” was coming.
At first they thought that I had lost my marbles, but when our father came home, we were ready for a meal.
Poor Mother. To this day I can still hear her frantic wailing, “Take it easy, children. You are going to be sick if you keep this up. Start slowly, p-l-e-a-s-e!”
Nowadays, I can remember sampling a piece of bread from Sweden, which came later.
The reading of “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back” in January, 2007 at Holland Christian Homes, brought back memories of days gone by. The experience IS forever etched in my mind. Manna did come from heaven and got eaten here on earth…
A Child, A War, And A Bad Penny
Carol Kosowan LL.B., B.A. (Law), B.A. (Policy) on November 10, 2009
When Remembrance Day comes around each year, I feel either blessed or cursed – I can never decide which one. As a child, there was no question in my mind that I was cursed.
I was born on November 11th, into an extended family of Dutch grandparents, a parent and assorted uncles and aunts, most of whom grew up in Holland during the Second World War.
My earliest memory of Remembrance Day was coming home to a mother, a grandmother and two aunts huddled around the family television, sobbing and in tears as they watched the Remembrance Day ceremony broadcast from Parliament Hill.
As a child, I could never understand the profound sadness that gripped our family on this day. Instead, I was exasperated and upset that on this day, my birthday, my own family couldn’t bring themselves to pass the day with something other than a river of tears.
When I reached an age where I could understand the meaning and memories behind Remembrance Day, I became a curious collector of what my siblings and I would call “Mom’s wartime stories”. The stories, from a family of young girls who knew the deprivation that accompanies living in an occupied country in wartime, both chilled and fascinated us. It was not until I reached adulthood and had acquired an historical knowledge of the global import of war that I could appreciate the horror of Mom’s wartime stories.
Food was an overriding concern in many of these stories – how to get it, how to divide it and how to cook it without fuel. As my mother bluntly put it, “Everyone was always hungry”. In some ways my mother’s family was luckier than many others. They owned a bicycle shop and therefore could bicycle into the countryside to get food from one of their uncles who owned a farm.
These excursions were risky enough for children, but often deadly for adults, who might be shot on sight while trying to evade the Nazi patrols. Thinking that the soldiers were unlikely to stop a couple of little girls on broken-down bicycles without tires, my mother and her sisters would sometimes make the long and hazardous ride out to uncle’s farm to collect potatoes, beets, tulip bulbs and the occasional rabbit.
The search for food became particularly desperate during the “hongerwinter” or famine of 1944-45. People would walk for many kilometers to find food and would trade family heirlooms for food at outlying farms. Tulip bulbs were pureed and made into cakes and biscuits. Those memories of deprivation remain as vivid for my mother today as if they happened yesterday.
Since there was no fuel to cook with, both cooking and heating had to be done with a wood stove. But wood was in short supply once the Wehrmacht arrived in 1940, so Dutch families were left to scrounge wood from wherever they could find it. Buildings and apartments that had been abandoned were fair game for scavengers. Children would find their way into these buildings and would strip off every bit of wood they could find – stair railings, floor boards, shelves, books – anything that would burn. When army patrols came by, the children would run, with as much purloined wood as they could carry.
If they were caught, they would be beaten and their hard-won gains would be taken away. If ice had formed on the canal, the children would slide their wood and other findings onto the ice. The soldiers, in their heavy boots and greatcoats, wouldn’t venture onto the thin ice for fear of falling through. The children would scatter and return later to collect their prizes.
In the dying days of the war, as thousands of grey, emaciated children perished from starvation, the Allied forces began a series of missions that saved the lives of countless others. Known by the name “Operation Manna”, hundreds of Lancaster bombers flew over Holland to drop food to the starving Dutch people. The need was so pressing that the first of the Lancasters set out on its mission even before a truce had been reached with the German high command.
April 29, 1945 the first Lancaster was sent as a test flight that would pave the way for the hundreds that would follow and was piloted by Bob Upcott of Windsor, Ontario. That bomber was called “The Bad Penny” and it later became the subject of a children’s book by Windsor author, Glen Mitchell.
When Amsterdam was liberated on May 7, 1945 by Canada’s Seaforth Highlanders, my mother’s family was barely hanging on. They were slowly starving and had been ill for some months. As Canadian troops entered Amsterdam, they dispensed food rations, raisins and chocolate to the throngs of children who followed them. My mother was one of those children.
As the years wore on, my mother first became indignant, and then saddened by the fact that Canadians were forgetting the sacrifice made by their soldiers and others…because she always knew, and her children were never permitted to forget, that but for the Canadians, she would not have survived the war.