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You are in: Oxford > People > Stories > Uncovering Operation Wildhorn

Flight Lieutenant Edward Joseph (Ted) Harrod

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

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

Abigail
We meet Stephen for the first time face to face at his home in Oxfordshire. Also present is his daughter who will be travelling with him to Lublin for the first time. It's clear this story has got him gripped and has changed the lives of all his family. Everyone seems immensely proud and excited about the next few days and what they will mean. Amazingly Stephen not only has his father's medals but also a file of the top secret documents relating to Operation Wildhorn. The hand drawn map looks more like a school project than a military mission.

Wednesday 4th June

Abigail
A very early start as we make our way to Luton. We have divided the camera kit and the laptop and are hoping to be able to send material back to base between us. Of course there is a delay at check in as the tripod has to go in outside baggage and we cause amusement at the X ray machine when Emma has to explain what the microphones in her bag are.

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

AK vets at the monument

Emma
We were in Warsaw filming today when Squadron Leader Howard Leader gets in touch to tell us there is a small problem. Unless a vital part comes for the Spitfire it can't take part in the fly past tomorrow. The engineers are waiting in Berlin for a courier to drop off a part so they can fix the problem. The Dakota isn't a problem and for us that is the main focus of the story. These planes are now over 60 years old so the occasional technical problem can happen. The old town of Warsaw is very pretty. It's hard to believe that very little if nothing of it was left after it was destroyed in the war - so much has been carefully rebuilt.

Thursday 5th June (am)

Emma
We are leaving with the RAF this morning for Lublin. Everyone is looking forward to the flypast and ceremony. Steve Harrod and his family are already there. We've arranged to meet him at the church and we hope to also speak to the members of the Polish resistance who helped his father all those years ago.

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

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 members of the Harrod family at the ceremony

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
created: 05/06/2008

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Helen Combe (nee Harrod)
Thank you Emma and Abigail for excellent coverage and a moving account of what was a momentous day in our family's life.

Caroline Findlay
Very moving account. Wonderful for you all to be able to be there and remember him.

Richard Phelps
A fantastic event and piece of history that reflects everything I know about this family today - courageous, brave and adventourous

The Harrod Family
This was a momentous occasion for the family. Our thanks go to BBC Oxford, especially Emma and Abigail, for helping us create a record of this event. The RAF BBMF motto is 'Lest we forget' - we never shall.

Odyssey427@aol.com
I grew up in UK. Live now in USA. My father served in Burma. I am moved to tears by your story and so proud of your "mission" to honor your father and the Polish people.

Andrew Luce
This is a very direct and moving account - thank you

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