D-Day veteran opens RAF memorial to 73 comrades that never came home
- Credit: Steve Adams/The Control Tower B&B
“We didn’t have time to be afraid: I was 20, I felt as if I would live forever – we had no idea how big D-Day was going to be, no idea at all.”
Bernie “Bun” How served as a flight engineer on Stirling and Halifax bombers at RAF North Creake with 199 Squadron from 1944 to 1945.
On June 5 1944, he was part of a mission from North Creake that played a vital role in a day that marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
Seventy-seven years ago to the day he was back to unveil a memorial to those who served at the base. It was, the 96-year-old said, “an honour”.
The Home Safe steel Stirling Bomber sculpture shows one of the 16 planes that left North Creake at 9.38pm on June 5 in preparation for D-Day on June 6 1944.
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Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent, who own the nearby Control Tower Bed and Breakfast in Egmere near Walsingham, have fundraised since 2017 to build a memorial for those who served at the airfield their business is based at.
After buying the airfield’s former control tower in 2011, the couple set out to learn as much as possible about the history of the base’s 11-month operational life.
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From North Creake, No 199 and No 171 Squadrons of No 100 Group of RAF Bomber Command flew Stirling IIIs and Halifax IIIs on radio counter-measures intended to conceal the true position of the main Allied bomber thrust.
They used airborne radio transmitters called Mandrel to jam German early-warning radar and dropped aluminium strips, known as Window to give false radar readings.
Bernie, who is from Worlington in Suffolk, and the rest of his crew flew over to France ahead of D-Day and dropped the strips which tricked the enemy into believing the invasion was heading to Calais.
The mission took around six hours and offered a vital window of opportunity to the Allied invasion, the largest amphibious assault ever launched, involving a force of more than 156,000 soldiers, 8,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft.
“As soon as I heard about the memorial I said ‘whatever it takes, I will be there’,” said Mr How.
“I am the last of my crew of seven. I am here today for them and for all the men who never came home. It is so important that that we never forget the sacrifices.”
Father, grandfather and great-grandfather Bernie was involved in 35 operations and served four years at North Creake and later RAF Lakenheath and following his military career worked as a carpenter.
He said the sculpture, by Andy Knighton, brought back memories: “I can remember taking off as if it was yesterday,” he said, “we never thought about whether we’d come home, we just did what we were told and hoped for the best.”
Nigel paid tribute to those stationed at North Creake for their vital role in Second World War: “We are forever grateful to Bernie and those who were at North Creake. “The support we’ve received locally and even internationally for this project has been incredibly moving and people’s generosity has been wonderful.
“Since we moved here, we’ve felt that it was our duty to commemorate those who served here. This is all about them.”
He thanked the large number of people who have offered their time, money and expertise in order to bring the project to fruition.
The memorial is on the B1105 on land designated by the Walsingham Estate and also includes a moving Roll of Honour which details the 73 men who paid the price for our freedom today.
At a roadside ceremony, the Revd Dr Harri Williams, vicar of the Walsingham Benefice, dedicated the memorial along with Air Marshal Sir Stuart Atha.
The Last Post was sounded and there were readings by Clovis Meath Baker of Walsingham Estate and Thomas Coke, 8th Earl of Leicester.
“We are extremely pleased with the way the memorial has turned out: the sculpture is wonderful,” said Claire, “the Roll of Honour is sobering, particularly with the airmen’s ages. They were so young when they gave their tomorrow so we could have our today.”
A memorial erected by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust stands away from the road and is a tribute to the 17 crews that never returned to North Creake and their comrades.