Mike Colman is an Award winning Australian journalist. A couple of years ago I remember reading an article he wrote for Brisbane’s Saturday newspaper which immediately appealed.
Essentially, whilst watching his children play in a park at St Johns Wood in inner Brisbane, Colman spotted a giant tree with a big boulder placed in front. On that boulder was a plaque saying the tree was planted in memory of Clifford Berger Hopgood who’d been killed on a bombing raid over France in 1944.
Colman followed through with the story of Cliff Hopgood, and vowed to chase up the story of the other six crew members in that plane that night
“Which I did, it took me six years and that’s the book”, he says. Published in 2018 Crew : The Story Of The Men Who Flew RAAF Lancaster J For Jig is a great read.
Colman’s introduction sets it up beautifully. “There were seven men in J For Jig that night in February 1944, heading for Germany – seven out of a total of 125,000 who served as aircrew for RAF Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945. Their backgrounds were not unusual. They weren’t a special crew, a famous crew, they were as ordinary as can be. And that’s what makes them important. Because their stories are also the stories of the 125,000- who they were, what they did, whom they loved and whom they left behind.”
Four died and are buried together in a little French village (Villers-sous-Preny), two escaped to Switzerland with assistance from the French Underground, and the badly injured pilot did it awfully tough being moved from one German prison camp to another. It’s not pleasant reading though I think it important that we do, if only so that we can learn from our mistakes.
Not only has Colman gathered information that is interesting for historical purposes, and written in a manner that makes it palatable to all demographics ( such as us non technical types), but the human interest side is equally fascinating, including the French reaching out to the families of the fallen some years after wars end.
This book is also another hats off to the families, the loved ones, and the civilians who simply kept “soldiering on” in order to survive during this period in our history. Marvellous stuff.
Finished this one in a single sitting.
Thanks, Cait, my youngest Easter Bunny – oh, and I ate all the chocolate in one sitting too.