Flight Lieutenant E J Harrod
Uncovering Operation Wildhorn
As a local man looks into the legacy of his father, a story of great bravery and daring comes to light during the Second World War.
Stephen Harrod from Great Milton in Oxfordshire was 14 when his father Edward died in 1968. He always knew that his father had been a pilot in the second World War but it wasn't until 18 months ago, when he started researching his family history - that the true significance of what Flight Lieutenant Edward Joseph (Ted) Harrod had achieved really came to light.
"He never spoke about it much," explained Stephen. "We only discovered last year a monument had been erected to commemorate Operation Wildhorn. We always thought of him as being in the background. Transport Command doesn't get the kudos it deserves... the Dambusters and the Battle of Britain are much more high profile."
Flight Lt Edward Harrod was the pilot in the first of three missions which landed in occupied Poland during the Second World War called Operation Wildhorn. Allied Forces arranged for a Dakota transporter plane to land in beetroot field and rescue key members of the Polish Resistance. The Operation also managed to bring out vital parts of V2 rockets which were being tested by the Germans.
After several false alarms the first flight took place on the 15th April 1944. 27 year old Pilot Harrod took off from Brindisi in Southern Italy and had to land in a dark muddy field just over the Polish border. Members of the Polish Resistance, or the Armia Krajowa, were there to meet him - although they put the green landing lights at the wrong end of the field, meaning the whole crew almost ended up crashing in some farm buildings.
By any standards it was a skilled piece of flying. Wing Commander E W Whittaker stated in his official report at the time: "As a navigational flight, the highest praise is due to all the crew for putting up such a superb effort in finding a beetroot field nearly 800 miles inside enemy occupied territory at night in poor visibility".
Taking off again - having picked up two senior figures in the AK - was also tricky. As the doors were closed for take off, the wheels narrowly missed the trees.
As Stephen is now discovering, this mission meant a great deal to the Polish people. The following day five villagers were taken out by the Germans and shot in retaliation.
Stephen Harrod talking to BBC Oxford
Now 14 of the Harrod and wider family are back in Poland to join local dignitaries, surviving members of the resistance and members of the Polish and British Air Forces for a special fly past and ceremony to mark that flight 60 years on.
"I'm sure this trip will be very emotional, "admitted Stephen. "He spent 35 minutes in this place and 60 years on they still remember it. Talking to the Poles who were there at the time- they say this is one of the most significant moments in their war."
Our reporting team of Emma Ruminski and Abigail Uden travelled to Poland for the ceremony. They kept a diary during the run up to the events of the day.
Monday 2nd June
Wednesday 4th June
Tonight the RAF arrive and we're looking forward to meeting them now for the first time and hearing about the Dakota and the Spitfire they are hoping to fly over Lublin to mark this occasion.
AK vets at the monument
Thursday 5th June (am)
Thursday 5th June (pm)
On the way to the memorial service the RAF minibus passes a Polish veteran in uniform at the bus stop. Squadron Leader Al Pinner asks the driver to turn around and pick him up. He's very pleased and chats to us in Polish the entire way to the church even though no one apart from the driver has any idea what he is saying but he seemed very grateful.
At the church it's a media scrum. Polish TV are here. In fact they seem to want to be in every single one of my shots! But things calm down and we learn later this story led the news here tonight.
Dakota flypast over beetroot field
The Harrod family light candles under a plaque that commemorates the 5 villagers who were shot in retaliation for the success of the mission.
But the fly past is even more emotional. You can hear a Dakota long before you see it. While it's graceful, it's not fast, and we can see the load master saluting from the open back door as the plane soars over our heads. It was so close it felt like we could touch it.
The crew passed over the field a number of times. The Harrod family are all waving, some in tears. Stephen's brother Jonathan says later that he felt his dad was very close. He has chosen to wear his father's medals today, the first time they've been worn by anyone in 40 years.
The same Polish men who once in their teens risked their lives to guide the plane in with small lamps were also present. Now in their eighties they both deny being frightened that night - they say they were just doing their bit for their country. Surrounded by people from the village the fly past attracted a lot of attention.
14 of the Harrod family at the ceremony
The whole idea of a fly past to remember this mission was just a dream a year ago. But today Stephen and Jonathan's dream came true. They stood in a field with 50 other people waiting as the resistance once did for a plane to come over the horizon.
last updated: 10/06/2008 at 16:54
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Helen Combe (nee Harrod)
The Harrod Family