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28 October 2014
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"Memories of a tail gunner"
Front of Lancaster Bomber (City of Lincoln)
"To fly at the rear of the Lancaster bombers, as lonely air gunners who always had gripes"

Ex Flight Sergeant 1590825 Ken Knapton who lives in Bradford has sent the BBC a poem he has written about his experiences as a tail gunner in World War 2.


Sense of Place


Commonwealth War Graves Commission
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Scarlet poppies grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth.

The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields.

The poppy quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in the First World War and later conflicts.

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The Americans they call us the veterans
To the British we are the Old Sweats
Now it’s sixty years on from the conflict
which to us was our finest hour yet

We were only young Lads when we joined up
Not knowing what it was about
But when our lives and our country’s in danger
It needed us all to turn out

I decided the RAF was my forte
as I wanted to don flying gear
And fly with my crew over Deutschland
Showing bravado instead of dark fear

We were a mixed bunch all we aircrew
from posh cats to lads from the streets
But we all joined in with the mission
doing a job that needed no freaks

I remember well my first training
when we were taught to fly Tiger Moths
It was my first time to be airborne
At home with the birds and the Moths

And what a great thrill to a young fellow
Sitting in the rear cockpit alone
Soaring up there in the great yonder
With just the wind and engines low drone

Our instructor had been a Spit pilot
whose heart wasn’t in it at all
And it seemed that his reason for living
Was to make we young trainees look small

He showed us young lads how to do it
But his heart was away in the clouds
And for all that he taught us of flying
Was to get far away from the crowds

We all were dead keen on our training
In the hope that we’d better our chums
But by now there’s a surfeit of pilots
So I re-mustered in charge of four guns

At gunnery school our Squadron Leader
The chief of A squadron called Spayne
He said that we were his best detail
And with him we would train for the game

The fact he was mad as a hatter
to us was no really great matter
As like him we were destined to be
Now to him the Luftwaff was just a big laugh
Now his cannon fodder were we

We were afterwards sent to our squadrons
Sporting our new sergeants stripes
To fly at the rear of the Lancaster bombers
as lonely Air Gunners who always had gripes

We all thought that this was a great lark
all flying together comrades we
Until our dispersal was emptied of aircrew
Then were left to face re-al-ity

But where have they gone all the aircrews
The ones who are now out of sight
With their memories of flying and fighting
in the flak and the glare of searchlights

The war came to an end far too early
for we who were foolish and brave
But had it gone on any longer
no doubt we were meant for the grave

Year by year we are getting much fewer
who in the furnace of war were hard tried
But no doubt on this day of remembrance
we remember with pride those who died

We who are left shared the mundane
of jobs that were all just the same
But where are the thousands of aircrew
who were robbed of the role which they trained

They’ve now beaten our swords into ploughshares
And our planes have long gone to scrap heaps
But the memories of the best of our efforts in war
Are the finest of hours we still keep

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