Hullo ma wee blog,
It's nice to get a comment or two on something you've published. Most comment comes from those readers who're kind enough to regularly share their thoughts or reactions to what's been posted but occasionally I'll get a comment from someone as a new visitor or someone who follows but hasn't commented before. Normally, as is probably the case in your own blogging experience, most readers don't comment one way or the other, which is fair enough.
This week though I had some contact that was a bit different. A lady in New Brunswick in Canada emailed me to say her husband had stumbled onto 'Crivens Jings' while looking for some information about a relative killed in WWII. They'd been hunting for some time with limited success, partly hindered by lack of information about her relative and partly because records weren't available in Canada and gaining access in this country seemed a convoluted rigmarole of red tape. The situation was complicated too by family memory being sketchy on detail so long after the event. They knew he had served in 153 Squadron, that the squadron had been based at Scampton and that he had been lost over Germany in January 1945. Family recollection of the name of the place he'd been killed wasn't matching anything they could find until her husband had found my postings on the history of the squadron set out as a campaign diary across 1945 and found that I had listed the men lost on each operation. The email said she was very excited to see the name of her relative at last and asked me if I could help them. The frustration of the search so far and the hope raised by finding his name in my obscure wee blog was obvious, as was the hope of renewing the connection lost over a generation to someone existing only in family folklore and a few fading photographs. She explained that the man's brother was still alive and had tried to find out what had happened without success over several years. Could I give any more information on the raid? Did I know what position in the crew the man held? Did I have any more information about the man I could give them? Could I give them more information about the aircraft he had been flying in. I think it was this not knowing that struck a chord with me, similar as it was to my own previous lack of knowledge about my late father's wartime experience in the same squadron. These people clearly felt a similar lack of understanding and need to try and fill in the gaps.
How could I say no?
That evening I sent her an email giving her a slightly expanded description of the raid on Zietz on 16th January 1945 during which her relative had been lost without trace, giving her some background as to why so much detail is sketchy. I would be happy to check for the information she was looking for. I'd done a lot of work on the squadron history and background research about war in Lancaster bombers in WWII and the material I used is still here. I said I would get back to her within a week and if lucky would be able to give her something solid on her ancestors career in the squadron.
Memorial plaque - Scampton Church.The next day was a day of dreadful weather here which made me swap my plans for a day outside for a more comfortable day indoors. Unexpectedly I had an opportunity to do a bit of digging into my books and records to see if I could find any trace of this missing airman. I quickly found myself absorbed in the task and had quite a bit of information about aircrew around, so within a couple of hours I could tell when he had joined the squadron, who his fellow crewmen were and that he had been the bomb aimer onboard. He'd been part of a crew made up of two British and five fellow Canadians too which may help with a search for information back in Canada. I was able to tell what flight within the squadron the crew had flown in and therefore who their direct commanding officer was. Luckily the flight commander had also written a book on his experiences as a bomber pilot in his later years and this contained detail about the raid which made it more immediate. With a bit more digging I was also able to track down the number of raids, targets and the dates which were flown. I could tell when the aircraft had been delivered and both its squadron and Avro serial numbers. Later that day I emailed the information I'd found along with some photographs I had of key squadron personnel her relative would have worked with and a contact name for the archivist of the squadron association who might be able to provide photographs of the aircraft and crew.
153 Squadron graves, Scampton kirkyard
I've been pleased to help someone in this way, delighted that the information I'd researched and posted - mainly for my own coming to terms with bereavement - had provided clues to someone trying to piece together a family story of their own. I'm gratified too that my efforts a year ago have left me in the position to do this quickly and with relative ease. I've mused over the last couple of days on the power of the web to make connections across continents and generations, to allow complete strangers help attach links and provide clues that will hopefully bring comfort and understanding. I've thought too about how no matter how challenging a prospect looks, chances are that someone somewhere has had those same thoughts or has that missing bit of information which can allow things to fit together.
All we need is the ability to make contact.