Memorial unveiled

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This weekend sees the annual 101 Squadron reunion and, as always, on Sunday veterans, their families and serving members of 101 Squadron will spend the day at Ludford, the squadron’s home during the war years.

After a church service, wreaths will be laid at the memorial, which was unveiled in 1978.

The following transcript is how the event was reported in the Market Rasen Mail of the day.

The valiant years - seven Ludford aircraft and fifty-six men lost in one raid.

The epic story of the famous 101 squadron of the RAF during the war was recalled at a moving ceremony which accompanied the dedication of the squadron’s roll of honour and the unveiling of a memorial obelisk in the centre of Ludford village on Sunday afternoon.

The village was packed with cars which had poured into Ludford for the occasion from all over England and when the roll of honour was presented to the parish church for safe keeping it was recalled that the number of World War II casualties suffered by the squadron numbered as many as 1140 men.

The memorial obelisk, which itself is bound to become a part of Ludford’s history, was unveiled by Air Vice Marshall R S Blucke, who commanded at Ludford station during nearly the whole of its operational history.

Highlights of the squadron’s story when it formed part of the spearhead of Bomber Command attacks on Germany were recalled by Wing Commander M V P Harrington, officer commanding at Waddington station, following the laying of the squadron’s colours on the altar of the village church.

The Wing Commander recalled that this squadron flew Sidestrand and Overstrand aircraft and mentioned that the Overstrand was the first RAF bomber to be equipped with enclosed and power operated nose gun turrets. “The official badge of the squadron recalls this,” remarked the wing commander, “in depicting a lion rising up from a turret.”

By October, continued the wing commander, the squadron was flying Lancasters and the squadron took part in several of the 1,000 bomber raids on Germany.

Twenty Lancasters from Ludford took part, he said, attacking the heavy-water secret weapon site at Peenemunde, regarded as being an operation of the greatest importance.

He spoke of the so-called “airborne cigar” equipment being fitted to the squadron’s Lancasters as a means of jamming German night fighter control. “An additional eighth crew member was carried,” he said, “to operate this equipment which was so important that 101 squadron flew on every long raid of the period even when the squadrons of its own group were being rested.”

The Wing Commander went on: “On the night of the fateful Nuremburg raid, on March 30, 1944, No. 101 squadron provided the largest squadron effort of the raid with 26 ABC Lancasters. On this occasion a combination of bad weather and German night fighters attacks led to five aircraft being shot down before reaching the target. A sixth aircraft crashed close to Nuremburg and another crashed on return to England.

Seven aircraft and 56 men of 101 squadron therefore failed to return to Ludford. An Australian pilot who described his feelings after searching for his friends on returning to Ludford said: “We just waited, and waited, and waited.” This was a tragedy of the time and the loss of almost one third of the squadron was a great shock to us all. We were stunned, shocked and silent.”

It was some twelve months ago that Mr Dennis Goodliffe of Hatfield near Doncaster who served at Ludford Magna aerodrome during the Second World War, was discussing with two wartime colleagues their experiences there. From that meeting grew the idea which reached fulfilment on Sunday afternoon.

Subscriptions had been received from all over the world from former members of 101 Squadron, Bomber Command - sufficient for a commission to be placed for a single granite pillar memorial, suitably engraved and mounted on a stone base.

This piece of craftsmanship covered with a union flag at Sunday lunchtime, as scores of former RAF officers and men, together with wives and families converged on Ludford from all parts of the country - and beyond. Mr Doug Gray had travelled from Ontario, Canada to be present. The parish church of St Mary and St Peter had been beautifully decorated with floral arrangements in red, white and blue, created by ladies of the Parochial Church Council and their friends.

High-ranking serving RAF officers, former RAF officers and men, wives, children and villagers were ushered in by churchwardens, Messrs A Guthrie and T Pickering until there was not a vacant space. Among the congregation were Mr D Webb, county councillor; Mr A R Pridgeon district councillor, and Mrs Pridgeon; the present parish councillors of Ludford and their wives; and former Rector of Ludford in pre-war days, Canon Ravens.

The Signals section of R.E.U., RAF Henlow had installed loud speakers in the churchyard and across the road in the village school to relay the service to those outside the church. At the organ was Mrs Dorothy Drakes who could recall many memories of the wartime days and the RAF lads stationed at Ludford, as her family kept The Black Horse Hotel - one of the two village public houses.

Promptly at 2pm the standard of 101 Squadron was paraded the length of the church to the sanctuary step, where it was received by the Station Chaplain and laid on the altar. The colour bearer was Flt Lt Malcolm Stainforth and his escort were Chief Technician Murphy, Chief Technician Rowden and Chief Technician Swaisland.

Then followed the first verse of the national anthem - a volume of sound which the parish church has not enjoyed for many a long year. Leading the service were the Rev J Dowman of Legbourne who has the care of Ludford parish and RAF Chaplain, the Rev Ken Morris. The service included several well-loved hymns - all sung with great vigour. Flt Lt D K Goff - who had organised the programme for the afternoon in co-operation with Mr Goodliffe and many branches of the present RAF - read the lesson. Trumpeter, Chief Technician Ritchie of 50 Squadron sounded the Last Post and Revielle. The manuscript (calligrapher Mr David Freeman from Branston) was carried to its shrine in the Lady Chapel. Later it will be bound into a permanent volume by Mr J Ashman.

The sermon was preached by the RAF Chaplain who linked past with present and stressed the need for defence to protect the very freedoms which the men remembered had died for - and the blessing was pronounced by the Rev J Dowman. The offering totalled - by coincidence - £101. Then the standard was returned to the colour party and borne from the church.

The congregation, led by the clergy, proceeded to the site of the memorial where they were joined by many villagers and visitors. The police, who had controlled traffic flow through the village all afternoon in an excellent manner, held up the traffic whilst the memorial was dedicated.

The crowd, in excess of five hundred, saw Air Vice Marshall R Blucke C.B, C.B.E, D.S.O, A.F.C. (first Station Commander at Ludford and later Base Commander of Ludford, Faldingworth and Wickenby) unveil the memorial - with its inscription and squadron emblem.

The Rev Ken Morris read a few short prayers of dedication and then, with precision timing, a Vulcan from the present 101 Squadron at Waddington zoomed from the north above the crowd. The captain of the aircraft - Squadron leader Les Clark had not finished. He banked sharply to the left, turning in a tight quarter-circle to return at zero feet above the main road before roaring up and away to the west. The crowd recovered their breath as Air Vice Marshal Blucke laid a wreath on the memorial.

He was followed by Wing Commander Harrington on behalf of the present 101 Squadron and Coun C C Turner (chairman of Ludford parish council) who laid a wreath on behalf of all the parishioners of the village. The crowd slowly dispersed - and a few personal wreaths were laid. Some visitors went to the local public houses which had been granted extensions, but the majority to the New Hall. There the ladies of the local branch of the Women’s Institute (president Mrs M Roberts - another villager who could recall the war-time days when the squadron was stationed at Ludford), together with other helpers provided refreshment.

Hundreds of sandwiches, sausage rolls and cakes had been prepared and they, together with countless cups of tea were served.

The hall was full of reminiscing as former colleagues recognised or were introduced to each other. A frieze showing the Lancasters returning to Ludford at dawn, and a copy of the squadron badge - both created by the boys of the village school, were much admired.

Several old photographs were displayed - reviving many memories. Mr P Hurst, who had travelled from Oxfordshire with his wife - now confined to a wheelchair - considered it had been a worthwhile trip and thought it fitting that such a memorial should be erected in the village.

Mr Joe Davidson, D.F.C., from Plymouth, who flew 19 raids from Ludford - and was a survivor of the ‘famous’ Nuremberg raid - recalled the great spirit that existed in the squadron.

Mr John Varley, an Australian member of 101 squadron, who married a local girl and now farms in the area, and so was, in effect, a visitor and host, thought the afternoon had been excellent but wished it happened years ago.

Mr Doug Gray from Canada summed it all up in one word ‘marvellous’. One visitor found his name on the roll of honour - although very much alive. He crashed in Europe and was ‘on the run’ with the resistance forces from November ‘43 to April ‘44.

By six o’clock most of the visitors had left - and the washing up was nearly completed. Mr Denis Goodliffe and Flt Lt Goff were among the last to leave - two tired but well satisfied men, grateful for all the help and hospitality shown by the villagers, thrilled by the number of visitors who attended and proud to have helped create a lasting memorial to the fallen of 101 Squadron RAF.