Seventy years ago Jack Cook took part in a daring little known wartime mission which saved the lives of thousands of people.
He was one of the brave bomber crew members who had to trust German gunners not to fire as they flew low over occupied Holland to drop desperately needed food supplies for starving civillians.
Fortunately, the anti-aircraft guns stayed silent and Jack and his pals were able to deliver pallets full of meat, vegetables and dried foods to wildly cheering Dutch people.
Back then he was just a teenager but the memories remain poignant for Jack, who is now 89 and living in RAFA acccomodation in Burton Road, Melton.
“Not many people know about what we did back then,” he said. “It was coming towards the end of the war but the Germans hadn’t signed up to any truce and we didn’t know whether they would fire at us.
“We flew over the Dutch coast at only about 400 or 500 feet and we could see the German guns following us. You don’t get nervous when you are only 19 but that was pretty scary for me waiting to see if they were going to shoot at us.”
The mission, which was dubbed Operation Manna (as in food from Heaven), swung into action over a 10-day period in April and May 1945. More than 20,000 Dutch people had already starved to death and a further 980,000 were classed as dangerously malnourished, as a result of a food blockade by the Germans. Around 12,000 tonnes of food was dropped.
“I made three sorties and I remember the first drop was over a racecourse in Rotterdam,” recalled Jack. “People were cheering and waving things, they were so pleased to see us and to get the food, of course. I even saw two German soldiers waving their helmets on top of their rifles because they were probably desperate for food as well.”
The assignment was in stark contrast to the destructive bombing missions wireless operator Jack took part in with 100 Squadron over Germany earlier in the war. He was the youngest of the seven-man crew on their Lancaster after volunteering for the war effort at 18.
Jack’s beloved wife Constance died 15 years ago but he clearly dotes on his two sons and three grandchildren.
His mind regularly drifts back to those remarkable Dutch missions and he has been going back to Holland every five years with fellow RAF survivors to meet and greet those who benefited from the food drops and their relatives.
He added: “It’s very emotional every time we go back. I’m not sure how many of us will be fit enough to go there in five years’ time but I know the Dutch people will always remember what we did for them.”