Regular readers might recall that a while ago I related the tale of how my father was finally reunited with the Australian airman who piloted the aircraft, and led the team he flew with at the time he was wounded some 60+ years ago in World War Two.
To recap a little, when he was wounded he lost touch with the rest of the crew. Secrecy was paramount at those dark times and so once off the air base, all contact, all ties were lost. This secrecy was so intense that even after the war my father was unable to trace the whereabouts of any of this former crew mates and despite searching databases in the UK *and* Australia was unable to determine their fate.
Despite the lack of respect Bomber Command has received for it’s efforts on the country’s behalf since the war, it ought to at least be remembered that the attrition rate for fliers was almost 50%… i.e. almost one in two didn’t make it through. Was he the only one of the crew to survive? He didn’t know.
One thing he did know of course was the names of those he served with and luckily the pilot’s name was *very* distinctive… Lister Arrowsmith.
Nevertheless for years he could find no trace of them until one day I found a site (now lost to memory) on which I found the name and his home town… Townsville, Queensland. Ok after 80 years it was unlikely in the extreme that he would be living anywhere near… yet I looked him up… in would you believe… White Pages. And there, was Lister Arrowsmith!
I called him, explained who I was, who my father was and asked if he could ring. I told him my father would call straight back… without asking the father if he even wanted to talk to him! I called the father in the UK, he rang Lister and they kept in touch for a few years. 🙂
Last year for the first time in over 60 years these two old soldiers met up when my father finally made it up to Queensland. No real idea what went on up there but each was pleased that the other had made it through and lived long and fruitful lives.
As you know, this year, the parents couldn’t come to stay over Xmas but the father sent a card to Lister wishing him well. However, when he tried to telephone him he discovered the number wasn’t working and thought perhaps he was calling an old one.
A couple of days ago however he learned what had happened. The address he’d sent his card to *was* an old one, six years old in fact but fortuitously it was collected by a neighbour who remembered Lister fondly from that time and was able to pass news back to my father that his old comrade had sadly passed on some six months ago.
Sometimes it’s curious the way fate works. There were all sorts of barriers in place that could have, prevented these two from ever finding each other let alone meeting again. The sheer distance between them was possibly one of the greatest, and had I *not* been living in Australia, or *not* been Internet savvy etc then it might never have happened. Had he *not* sent his card to the old address it may be he’d never have learned Lister had died!
Also, just as importantly, had my father *not* gone to visit Lister, it may well be that his log book of the time (which covered, for example, the time my father was wounded) would have disappeared forever. But my father asked if he could borrow it to make a copy, and one was made that he now has back in Wales. I hope he remembers to have a copy made and passes a copy on the the Imperial War Museum for their records. I’d think they’d be more than pleased to have a copy of the log book of an Australian pilot!
With Listers passing the only surviving member of that air crew is my father. As I said to him, much as I mourn the loss of his friend, if anyone was to win the tontine… then I’m pleased it was him. However, we have to remember that with every passing year the survivors of those who gave their youth for us to be free is slowly decreasing. We really need to let them know how much we value the sacrifices they made on our, and our children’s behalf.
Rest in Peace Lister Arrowsmith.