The bravest of the brave

The three veterans at Hurstpierpoint College
The three veterans at Hurstpierpoint College

Between 1939 and 1945 more than a third of Bomber Command air crew never returned safely to British soil

so when a trio of veterans visited Hurstpierpoint College to share their stories it was a remarkable occasion.

John De Hoop joined a New Zealand squadron as a navigator when he was 17; Dave Fellowes, who was born in Hurstpierpoint, was a rear gunner in an Australian squadron, and Harry Hacker was a bomb aimer in the Middle East.

The men, who were recently part of the BBC’s series Bomber Boys, recounted what it was like to fly on perilous journeys in snow clouds in Bavaria and to navigate by the stars.

John spoke movingly on the lingering trauma of facing death and uncertainty every time the young airmen flew a mission.

He said: “Today we call it ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ but in those days it was ‘a lack of moral fibre’.”

Harry added: “It was very difficult to deal with as the crew was only as strong its weakest link and no-one wanted to let his fellow team members down.”

Facing constant danger, the crews developed an extremely deep bond which has lasted to this day.

Dave said: “We were all volunteers and we just got on with it. In general, morale was quite good across most bases, except however if some teams did not return after a raid.”

All three veterans had never considered standing down from their work, despite the pressures. They beleived they had a job to do and got on with it.

John, Dave and Harry spoke about their experiences to staff and pupils who belong to the college’s Combined Cadet Forces (CCF).

They left the college with a £250 donation from the CCF in support of the RAF Benevolent Fund, which works closely with service families in need.

Major Dan Higgins, Commander of the Hurst Combined Cadet Forces said, “I was thrilled by the evening because it provided an open and comfortable atmosphere in which the staff and pupils could interact with the guests who were simply incredible.”

Photocaption: Major Dan Higgins, Commander of the Hurst Combined Cadet Forces, is pictured handing over the cheque to John, Dave and Harry.