Face to face with the young crews of Bomber Command at Yorkshire Air Museum

By Richard Moss | 03 October 2012
a black and white photograph of young smiling men in air gear and parachutes
77 Squadron aircrews at RAF Elvington before departure on hazardous bombing missions (circa 1943)© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
The young men glance good naturedly into the camera, some joke with each other and one, gesturing to a friend, laughs as he flicks a V sign.

These are the relaxed faces of RAF Bomber Command crew members exuding a cheeriness typical of many wartime snapshots that belie the fact they were taken moments before missions that would see several of them lose their lives.

The evocative photographs are currently helping visitors to Yorkshire Air Museum, based at the former bomber base of RAF Elvington near York, glimpse the faces of the men and women who once lived in its preserved huts and barracks.

Installed to mark the 70th anniversary of the base’s opening, the photos have been printed on aluminium and fixed to the sides of the huts to offer a subtle but moving “then and now” experience which not only brings visitors face to face with the past but puts them in its footprints.

Peering from the grainy black and white shots are RAF Halifax bomber crews. Like many who flew for Bomber Command, the casualty rate was extremely high.

No 77 Squadron RAF, the first to occupy the newly constructed base at Elvington from October 1942, suffered horrendously, losing more than 600 aircrew in the space of just 18 months.

During the course of the war, out of a total of 125,000 Bomber Command aircrews, 55,573 were killed, 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war.

Director Ian Reed, whose museum is also home to the Allied Air Forces Memorial and a collection of historic memorabilia and aircraft that includes a restored Halifax Bomber, describes the experience of seeing where some of these young men were as “quite emotional”. 

“They are very historic photographs,” he adds. “Displaying them in this manner makes people look at the site in a different way.”

The photographs also reveal the role of the French heavy bomber squadrons who operated out of Elvington from May 1944.

When 77 Squadron relocated to the newly opened RAF Full Sutton nearby, two newly formed French Squadrons, the 346 “Guyenne” and 347 “Tunisie” moved in. 

One of their first missions was on the night of June 5 1944, in support of the D-Day Landings. The French crews set out into the night sky and bombed their own country.

Their targets were the marshalling yards and railways of Caen and St. Lo in Normandy, as well as radar and communications installations and a huge German gun battery located two kilometres outside the tiny fishing village of Grandcamp Maisy, on the western tip of what was Omaha Beach.

It sometimes seems impossible to understand what people went through in the last war, but these subtle additions to an already evocative museum certainly help.

More pictures:

a photo of two groups of RAF air crew; one on the back of truck and another gesturing to them to them. In between them stand two female personnel.
77 Squadron© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
a photograph of RAF personnel crowding around a NAAFI refreshments truck
77 Squadron get a cuppa from the NAAFI van© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
a photo of a a photograph of a bomber crew being interviewed by a woman in a unifrom with a FRANCE shoulder flash
Capitaine Marchal of 1346 "Guyenne" Squadron is debriefed by Fl. Off. Ginette Plunkett of the Duxieme Bureau (Military Intelligence) at Elvington following a bombing raid on the German Ruhr Valley in 1944© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
a photo of a camouflaged hut
© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
a photo of a camouflaged hut with a small photograph affixed to the side
© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
a photograph of a woman looking at a photograph on the wall of a camouflaged building
Sandrine Bauchet, Yorkshire Air Museum's PA, is pictured with one of the photographs on the wall of the Bomber Command exhibition building© Courtesy Yorkshire Air Museum
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share