The night was calm and tranquil, but the stones and rubble left from the Second World War made the Lincolnshire scene unreal. The weather had changed, and droplets of rain covered the windscreen. James, my nephew, suggested we ought to call it a day. We had set out early to take in the old airfield trail of North Kesteven, as described in a very useful booklet published by the district council, but dusk was early because of the overcast sky
Then I saw it, coming in low; an old wartime bomber. Flames were gushing from one of its four engines, and only one of its undercarriage legs was down. It seemed to be heading directly for us.
I had persuaded James just to drive us to Metheringham before we made for home.
"Let's just see the disused airfield," I urged. The booklet said that many of the Lancaster's used in the bombing of Berlin were based here. It was particularly interesting because much of the old runway and perimeter track was still intact and used as a road to Blankney Fen.
"To drive along this old runway would really be something," I said. "And there's a memorial up there to the left."
James had lost some of his enthusiasm, I think, but I had to realise he was only 25. How could he be so keen as I, who remembered how those days were? Had I been just eight years older I could have been flying those old Lancaster's. That was on 1943. Then, I could have been killed, because 57 of the Lancs failed to return. Instead, here I was in 1998, attempting to picture the scene during those hectic was years/
We had driven about a half mile when I asked James to stop. I just had to tread on the old concrete runway, thinking about those poor souls who never returned. So young, but a sacrifice deemed necessary by "Bomber" Harris, who wanted revenge on the German bombing of our large cities.
When I was a kid the RAF pilots and aircrew were my heroes. I had experienced the horror of the German bombing, and was fortunate to survive.
Looking up, I realised the overcast sky had broken. The full moon was low, partly shrouded in black ribbons of cloud; it was a bomber's moon. One could almost feel the vibration of those many Lancaster bombers; so loud, loaded with bombs and on full throttle at take-off to gain those first vital feet. I stood where hundreds of bomber crews had passed over.
So much responsibility had been put on the young flyers of 106 Sqn, Harris used them to the full to bring down the morale of Nazi Germany. At the same time we all thought it was right to fight the good fight, to get rid of the Hun. They had really tortured us with aimless bombing; now it was outr turn to put the boot in.
A little further up the mile-long runway we saw the memorial to 106Sqn, adjacent to the runway. Lames pulled up again for me to have a closer look. It was then I heard the sound of droning engines like the sounds remembered from childhood. I turned to see the flaming bomber descending. It was a wartime Lancaster bomber all right. What the devil was it doing up there in 1998? As I watched it coming closer I suddenly realised that our car, with James inside, was smack in the middle of the runway, right in its path. I yelled at James, who seemed unaware of what was happening. He just sat there reading a map, and did not hear me. It was going to be too late. The blazing aircraft was almost at touchdown.
There was nothing I could do. I watched helplessly as the bomber hurtled towards James. It's one undercarriage leg collapsed suddenly, and the sound of scraping was horrific. Suddenly the whole mass spun and shot off the runway just missing our car. James was still reading his map. I just could not believe it. I closed
I looked up again. Everything was as before. James came over to me: "You all right, Pete?"
It was something that had happened in my mind that was all. Or was it? I had the idea that perhaps it was one of the missing aircraft of 1943, caught in a vacuum of time and still trying to make it back to base.
I assured James that everything was OK, and looked at the memorial again. I felt very humble because I was there, using their runway. The runway itself is also a perfect memorial to a great squadron well known in the annals of the Second World War. Perhaps it was all in the mind. Now there was just peace. I guess most of the crews were tied up in the business of war, as if there was no time for fear. The souls of those who never returned were freed, except for just one bomber crew who were destined to return in a crippled aircraft which, I feel, would have exploded on landing. Are they still up there, attempting to make a safe return> I would like to think not; that their souls are released too.
When I left Metheringham I felt no need to return again.
The motto of 106 Sqn was "For Freedom". Farewell 106. For freedom you fought well.