Manna from heaven by Harry Parkins

A recent article on the [Lincolnshire] Echo's Gossiper page about Operation Manna, when Lancaster crew dropped food to the starving Dutch, brought back vivid memories to me.

In those days I was a 20-year-old Warrant Officer Flight Engineer flying from 576 Squadron at Fiskerton, near Lincoln.

After completing my 39th bombing operation, on April 25, 1945, to Hitler's hideout, in daylight, air-crews were asked to take out all the ammunition and guns from our Lancasters because an agreement had been reached with the Germans to allow us to drop food to the starving Dutch.

April 29 was the first of six operations to Valkenburg, Delft and Rotterdam, dropping food.

The last trip was on VE-Day.

On the first trip we found that because the Germans did not trust us, they had put up many poles in the dropping area, causing the sacks of flour to burst open.

Our wireless operator, on seeing these white puffs of smoke from the bursting flour sacks, thought the Germans were shooting at us, and suddenly let out a violent scream saying he had been hit in the leg.

I rushed to him and removed his microphone and mask because his screams could be panicking this, my second crew, who had only completed three bombing operations before.

I started to take off his flying boots and socks on the leg where he said he was hit, but I couldn't see any blood or injury.

Looking across the aircraft, I found one of the bomb clips, where bombs were winched up before a raid, had flown off when the bomb bays were opened to drop off the food.

The slip stream would have blown it against his leg.

We all had a laugh at his expense, but didn't have the heart to report it.

On our other manna trips, we flew just above the rooftops to get as low as possible so as not to damage the food too much when we dropped it.

It was heart-breaking to see the young children in their dog carts dodging the German soldiers to try to snatch up the food to take home.

We heard afterwards that the Germans took a lot of the food for themselves.

These manna operations at least did not kill anybody and we were happy to help the brave Dutch people.

After dropping food to the Dutch on VE-Day we went into Lincoln to celebrate.

The people were wonderful to us that day. Standing by the Stonebow, I got talking to a nice young lady called Mavis and in 1948, she became my lovely wife.

Note: The operation on VE-Day was the last operation of the war for Harry Parkins, bringing his total number of ops to 45.

Note: Sunday 7 January 2006, Mavis and Harry celebrated 58 years of marriage.

Note: Originally published as 'Sacks of flour Manna from heaven for hungry' in the Lincolnshire Echo 14 June 2005.

Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as 'Sacks of flour Manna from heaven for hungry' 13 January 2006.

Note: As a special 80th birthday treat, Harry Parkins was taken by his daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and her boyfriend to the former RAF East Kirkby where he had been stationed during WWII (before being stationed at RAF Fiskerton). Following the wedding reception of granddaughter at nearby Petwood Hotel (used as an officers mess by the Dambusters Squadron), he then made a return visit with friends of the family as a honoured guest of the Panton Brothers. An account, 'The People's War', can be found in Reedlink December 2005.

Lincolnshire ~ Harry Parkins ~ Avro Lancaster ~ Opeartion Manna ~ 576 Squadron ~ RAF Fiskerton
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- January 2006 rev 1