World War II RAF hero Owen Scott, one of the last surviving Lancaster Bomber pilots, has died aged 96.
With the poignancy of the Armistice commemorations still resonating it seemed appropriate to dedicate our front story to this hero from another deadly war.
Owen moved to Stratford with his wife Nancy (Nan) in retirement, and the couple lived at The Hill – a listed building that once belonged to the local brewers, the Flowers family – for the last 25 years. Latterly the couple had moved to Priors House care home in Leamington.
They were married for 72 years. Nan died earlier this year, and was buried on what would have been the couple’s 73rd anniversary.
Speaking to the Herald, the couple’s daughter, Nicky Selby, who lives in Stratford, told us about her father’s amazing war career.
“Born in 1922, he went into the Merchant Navy at 14 having never been on a ship. On his first trip he went to Russia, South Africa and then ended up in Saigon. He had so many adventures between the wars.
“He enrolled for the RAF and was sent to Pensacola in Florida and trained on flying boats. Eventually he was posted back to England to serve with Bomber Command – and was one of the last surviving Lancaster pilots.”
He earned his wings and became Flight Lieutenant Owen Scott and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944. The pilot served in the RAF for three years – taking part in over 30 missions, including raids on Berlin and Dresden, and flying 27 different aircraft during his career.
Owen and Nan first met on the dance floor at their local town hall in Loughborough, Leicestershire. It was the height of World War II, and Owen was completing his conversion training to heavy bombers at RAF Wymeswold. Nan joined the RAF soon after, as a radar operator. She became responsible for plotting Owen’s bombing runs, which meant she knew exactly where he was going every time he took off, and the dangers he faced there.
Nicky says her father had lots of tales, and recalls one particular hair-raising one.
“On one bombing raid during the war he and the crew realised the bombs had got stuck in the bomb bay — they couldn’t drop them, even though Dad tried various aerobatic loops over the North Sea. So he radioed back to base, asking what he should do.
“He was told they had two choices: bail out or try and land it. The crew trusted Dad to try and land the plane — which he did, with the bomb bay door open and a 2,000lb bomb [known as a ‘cookie’] hanging out, and seven other 500lb bombs behind it… he managed it though.”
Speaking to the BBC in 2005, Owen gave a stark account of the dangers that the Lancaster crews faced. He said: “Ninety per cent of our operations were at night, flying over enemy territory in the dark, dependent on maps and instruments, aware that enemy fighters would be on our tail. We flew manually and ‘rolled’ the 37-ton loaded plane to see whether any enemy fighters were underneath us. To avoid fighter attack, we performed a ‘corkscrew’ operation. Being caught in a searchlight was a terrifying experience as it made our plane an easy target for enemy shells.”
Recalling the devastation of the air raids, Owen poignantly added: “I have vivid memories of the night we bombed Dresden. We had no idea then of the damage our bombs had done but I shall never forget the sight of the city in flames.”
It wasn’t all bombing raids however, Owen also took part in dropping food parcels over cities in Holland in the final days of World War II. The effort, called Operation Manna, meant the starving population, who had been cut off by the conflict, could eat and survive until more help arrived.
Nicky remembers her dad telling her about how he had to fly very low over Rotterdam in order to drop the food parcels.
Owen has shared his fascinating stories on various documentaries, and appeared on ITV’s This Morning in 2013, talking to Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield about his war years.
Holly was amazed to hear he was a pilot with Bomber Command aged only 22.
Owen explained: “It was terrifying. Seven thousand Lancasters were lost during the war, with 55,000 men killed… I was caught in searchlights a couple of times.”
He finished his appearance on the show, on which he was joined by his granddaughter and two young great-grandchildren, by saying: “I don’t want to appear a hero, but I did do it, and I can never forget it, never, and I still have nightmares.”
Owen and Nan had two daughters and a son, plus four grandchildren. In later life the couple ran a holiday letting business. Nicky recalled a happy childhood. Before moving to Stratford the family home was Talland House in St Ives, where the writer Virginia Woolf had lived, and which was an inspiration for her novel To The Lighthouse. “We had so many happy Christmases there,” said Nicky.
The Royal Airforce Benevolent Fund continues to give couples like Owen and Nan support in times of financial need. Find out more at www.rafbf.org