Operation Manna commemoration visit 1983



Operation Manna commemoration visit 1983


A detailed account of the visit made by a group ex aircrew who took part in Operation Manna who had been invited for a five day visit to commemorate Operation Manna.



Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage





Four typewritten sheets


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On the 27th April 1983 at approximately ll.30 am, a party of 33 men and 20 wives boarded a coach on the Victoria Embankment to set forth on a journey that would take them across the North Sea to Holland to visit the food dropping zones of 38 years ago. This re­union, the brainchild of Mr. E.D. Leaviss of Derby was the result of eighteen months of hard work and organising ..
At 12 noon we set off on the first stage of our journey to Hull, entertainment on the way being provided by a Video film on the coach's T.V. of "633 Squadron''. Everybody was a complete stranger to one another, the only two things the men had in common were that they were all ex aircrew and they all had grey hair. The journey to Hull was uneventful and we arrived at the Dock at approximately 5.0 p.m. to be met by the Dutch organiser, Mr. J.G Onderwater and his wife. After being issued with our boarding tickets we went on board the "M.V. Norland" owned by North Sea Ferries who took the whole party, coach and driver included, there and back free of charge in appreciation of the food dropped to them 38 years ago. It must be mentioned here that this included a five course meal and breakfast both ways. It was at this stage that the captain of the ''Norland" invited the men of the party who were interested up on the bridge as we were leaving harbour.
After a calm crossing and an uneventful night we arrived at Europort, Rotterdam. We were addressed on board by Colonel A.P. de Jong of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Col. Breukelen of the Royal Dutch Marines, Commander of the Military in Rotterdam. Both expressed their sincere thanks for the help given by the R.A.F. and after the press had taken photographs on the stern deck of the ship we were given our first taste of V.I.P. treatment by being told that we did not have to go through the Customs
After further photographs on shore we boarded our coach for the trip to our Hotel. On the way to the Hotel we were all handed a folder containing a properly printed programme of the events we were going to participate in over the next four days. Little did we know how e1notional these next four days were to be. On entering our hotel rooms we found a copy of a Dutch newspaper headed ''Welcome and Thanks'' with a paragraph in Dutch and English. It read - "Tomorrow morning around forty former members of the RAF will arrive in our City. They all took part in the food droppings of 29th April - 8th May 1945 over western Holland. Many people in and around our City will remember those marvellous days. Finally the definite proof was given that after five long years the terrible war would come to an end. In Operation "Manna" 1,51 O English Lancasters took part in the area of Rotterdam. Here we would once more like to thank the representatives of this big group from the bottom of our Hearts. We are sure they will, these coming days, find out that Holland has not yet forgotten them."
Our attention was then drawn to a sheet of headed paper on which had been tped the following "Dear Friends, thirty eight years ago food came falling from the sky on our City. As a symbolic token of gratitude these products are offered you by a group of Rotterdam enterprises. These products included gramophone records, jigsaw, a, bottle of gin, box of chocolates, packets of coffee, biscuits, sweets and small bottles of liqueurs.
After we had composed ourselves we prepared to get ready for our first Civic Reception at the Rotterdam Town Hall. As this was to be a Civic reception we were asked to wear lounge suits and war medals. The Town Hall was a very impressive building, the interior being all marble. We were received by the Deputy Lord Mayor and Col. Breukelen. There were drinks of sherry, gin and wine and various small cocktails. The Deputy Lord Mayor made a short speech where he once again thanked all present for their part in Operation Manna carried out 38 years ago and which helped to save the lives of many Dutch people and boosted their morale by the fact that they then realised that the war was nearly over. All the men of the party were then given an envelope on which was stuck two postage stamps. One stamp bearing the head of Sir Winston Churchill, the other showing a Lancaster dropping food. Both stamps were franked with a post mark dated 29.4.83. Our party then presented a Bomber Command plaque to the Town of Rotterdam. In addition to this plaque two brothers in the party who had a brother buried in the local cemetery presented a photograph of their brother, together with his war medals and his brevet to the Deputy Lord Mayor. After much handshaking and reminiscing the party left the Town Hall by coach to travel to Rotterdam(Crooswijk) General Cemetery for a
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wreath laying ceremony.
The weather now took a tum for the worse and it really poured down with rain but fortunately for us it left off just as we arrived at the cemetery. The men in the party formed up in columns of three and marched through the cemetery to the Commonwealth Wargraves and War­memorial. A short memorial service was held and a wreath was laid by the Ketley brothers at the War Memorial and the last post was played by a bugler of the Royal Netherlands Marines. After looking at many of the war graves the party returned to the hotel to prepare for the next item on the programme.
At 16.00 hrs. the party boarded the coach for the journey to Rotterdam Zestienhoven Airport where \.Ve were to be the guests at a reception given by the Dutch Airline KLM. After a meal which included fresh strawberries for the sweet and the usual supply of drinks we departed at 18.30 hrs. to travel to the headquarters of the Royal Netherlands Airforce, Binckhorsthof, The Hague. On arrival we were greeted by the Commander in Chief RNLAF, General Major M.C. Visser. We were taken into a small room, complete with bar and made welcome with the hospitality we had now become accustomed to .. We were told that we were then going into another larger room where the room would be full of small tables. These tables would have four Dutch people seated at them and that there would be two empty seats which we would be expected to fill. On entering this room all the Dutch people rose to their feet, clapping and cheering, and I think most of our party fou.nd it a bit overawing and embarrassing. We had been told that we had nothing to worry about as roughly 99.5% of the Dutch people spoke English. Trust us to pick the other 0.5%. We sat with three Dutchmen and only one of them spoke a smattering of English but nevertheless we managed to make conversation, helped on with the draught Pils. We had a further welcome speech by Mr. Dick Bakker, who we were to meet again on our last day, and a lecture and slide presentation by Col, A.P.de Jong on the receiving end of Operation Manna. It was from Col. de Jong that we learnt how welcome our food drop was. We were told how the Dutch people were living on Tulip bulbs and how they were dying at the rate of hundreds per day. All the men who took part in this drop agreed that they had no idea that this situation existed. We also met a member of the Dutch resistance, Mr. Bagmeister, who had escaped to Gibraltar and then back to England to be dropped back in Holland by parachute to organise the reception areas on that side. As a memento we were given a folder containing copies of the telegrams he had sent back to England. So ended the first day of our visit which had been very emotional and overwhelming. On this first day something like eighty photographs had been taken and these were made into slides and shown that night on an automatic projector. These slides were then presented to Ted and hopefully will be circulated for members of the party to order what they require. It was at this reception that the men were presented with a Royal Netherlands Air Force necktie and the ladies received a box of Dutch toffees.
The second day of our visit started with a trip to Valkenburg Naval Air Station, one of the original dropping areas for operation Manna. We were welcomed by Capt. T. Tak of the Royal Netherlands Navy where once again we were thanked for the food dropped in 1945, after coffee and cake we were taken out on to the runway where the group was photographed with a Navy Anti-submarine chaser in the background. After the photographs the plane took off and did several low level passes over the runway. On the last two passes the plane dropped leaflets on the party which showed food being dropped by La.ncaster bombers.
After leaving V alkenburg air base we travelled to Haagsche Courant which is the name of a local newspaper where we were taken to a balcony on the fourth floor of the Suthoffpers building to witness a flypast by World War II aircraft of the Gilze Rijen Flying Club who dropped leaflets over Ypenburg airbase, another original dropping zone for operation Manna. We were then welcomed by Mr.A.M.Hoefnagels a member of the newspaper board and enjoyed a lunch and drinks given by the Haagsche Courant. After being presented with photographs taken in 1945 the party left for a sightseeing tour of the Hague. Our guide was Monique Willemse who pointed out various places of interest. After tea and cakes at Schevenigen (Hotel Kurhaus) we travelled to the Town Hall of the Hague, Groenmaekt. We were received by the Lord Mayor of the Hague, Mr. F.G. Schols who once again thanked everybody for operation Manna in 1945. The men were all presented with a necktie bearing the Hague coat of arms and we in turn presented a Bomber Command plaque to the Lord Mayor.
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An elderly lady turned up at this reception with an original label from the food dropped in 1945. The wording on the label was in Dutch but it was translated by Hans Onderwater and read - "this food is for you the Dutch people and it is given to you by the British Government. If the Germans take any of this food let us know". This elderly lady then told us what it was
like in those hungry days of 1945 but found it a bit too overwhelming and turned away to cry. everybody in the party agreed that they all felt the same, even one of the dutch photographers was seen to wipe his eyes. When the time came to leave all the party kissed the elderly lady
goodbye although more than one of the men found it too emotional. On arriving back at the
hotel we ere told that there was nothing more planned for that day and that it was late night
shopping in Rotterdam so everybody went into town to do some shopping.
On Saturday we boarded the coach for the journey to Amsterdam, where we were
amazed to see that although all the shops were closed, everywhere we went goods were spread out on the pavement for sale. It appears that it was the Queen's birthday and on this day of the year people could sell anything they wanted to from the pavements. We were told that quite a lot of it was rubbish but that it was possible to pick up some really good bargains. The party was then taken on a boat trip through the Amsterdam canals with a guide giving a commentary as we went along. The canals were lined with barges on which quite a large proportion of the community appeared to live. Some of the barges were quite nice and had electricity laid on and it appears that these were the ones that had official permission to moor whereas the ones
moored illegally were dirty and in a dilapidated condition. On disembarking from the boat we were introduced to the owner who had been a member of the Dutch resistance and had been
instrumental in helping about 170 allied airmen get back to England.
After leaving Amsterdam we travelled to Schipol airport, another original dropping zone where we visited the Fokker aircraft factory. The aeroplanes in production were the Friendship and the Fellowship and we saw them being made from the start. We were then given a lunch by Fokker and presented with a further necktie, it was at this point that one of the chaps said
"nobody will ever believe I went to Holland, they'll think I went to Thailand". After lunch we went on a conducted tour of Schipol airport by coach where we saw how the KLM Boeing 747 Ju.mbojet was loaded, and we were given a further collection of literature and a classical record.
We then left for the hotel to prepare for a dinner dance with the RAF A. At
approximately 18.30 hrs. we arrived at the headquarters of the RAFA Club, Amsterdam branch at Schipol airport, where we were welcomed by the club Chairman Mr., Peter Sainsbury.
After a dinner and drinks given by the RAFA club, the MC led the entire party with orchestra in a complete rendering of "Roll Me Over". There then followed a dance, raffle and further
speeches and the men then received their fourth necktie, a navy blue tie with a coloured motif of a Lancaster on the front. It was at this dinner dance that a tin of biscuits dropped in 1945 was produced, still sealed with the words "packed in July 1944" on the tin. It was agreed that this
tin should be held by the RAFA club and opened in 1985 on the 40th anniversary of operation Manna. It was at this dinner that we were seated next to a lady whom we took to be English, it turned out that she was Dutch and employed by the Dutch Broadcasting Corporation so she
obviously spoke very good English. She told us she was 17 at the time of the food dropping and she had vivid memories of it. At approximately midnight we all joined hands and sang
"Auld Lang Syne". On the journey back to the hotel several of the batchelor members chorused forth many of the old RAF songs and most of the men joined in. I think the ladies present were a steadying influence as none of the really bawdy songs were sung.
On Sunday 1st. May 1983 our first job was settling the hotel bills and packing our
luggage in the coach. It was raining hard and as we were going to the races the prospects did not look very promising./ Before we left the hotel we presented a photograph of a Lancaster
dropping food and signed by all the men in the party. We then left for Duindigt race course,
another one of the original dropping zones. We had not looked forward to this horse racing at all, but we were to enjoy it much more than we had expected. On arrival at Duindgit we
entered a large glass fronted stadium which we were told had cost thousands to build.
Tables were all arranged with flowers and sited so that the racing could be watched while
seated at the tables. At the back of the stadium was a tote with wickets at which to place bets. On the tables were betting tickets and a programme of the races. The names of the races had
been printed in the programme in our honour and were given as ''The Mosquito'', ''The
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been printed in the programme in our honour and were given as ''The Mosquito'', ''The Lancaster'', ''Operation Manna'' and ''The United Kingdom''. There was also a magnificent buffet laid out for people to help themselves to and we were told that no expense had been spared on this buffet. While we were drinking and talking it was suddenly noticed that Prince Bernhart had arrived, without any fuss whatsoever, and was helping himself at the buffet. He was introduced to several members of the party and was seen to exchange neckties with one of our party. Several of the ladies were also introduced. After an enjoyable day at the races it was time to return to Rotterdam to board the boat home. As we boarded the coach quite an appreciable crowd had gathered and they all waved us farewell as we pulled away. As a last show of VIP treatment we were given a police motor-cycle escort to Rotterdam, we really felt important as he stopped all the traffic and we went through traffic lights at the red. At the port we found we were sailing on the sister-ship ''Norstar'' and we all had special cabins which included W.C., Shower and Wash-basin. After a meal and duty free shopping we all finished up in the bar for a drink which was a bit of an anti-climax as everybody had the same feeling that the trip was over. After an uneventful crossing we arrived in Hull one hour late which they said was due to trouble with one of the engines. The whole party passed through customs without anyone being searched and we then boarded the coach for the jou1ney back to London. We dropped Ted off near Derby and all joined in singing ''For he's a jolly good fellow''. On arrival at Victoria we all dispersed after wishing everybody all the best and see you again sometime.
As a follow up to this re-union we all met the following year at The Chateau Impnie, Droitwitch where the Manna Association was formed. We have met every year since then at various venues throughout the Country, but mostly in Lincolnshire. Included in these yearly meetings are the ones we held in Holland in 1985, 1990, 1995 and the one to be held this year 2000.



“Operation Manna commemoration visit 1983,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/32275.

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