The Founding of the Manna Association



The Founding of the Manna Association


An article written by ED Leaviss about the formation of the association.

Temporal Coverage



Three typewritten sheets


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[underlined] THE FOUNDING OF THE MANNA ASSOCIATION [/underlined]

by E.D. Leaviss

[underlined] PROLOGUE [/underlined]

As a Lancaster Air Gunner I flew with 460 R.A.A.F. Squadron Bomber Command from 1944 to 1945 during which time it was based at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, and took part in many widely differing ‘ops’ over Europe.

None was more outstanding than a series of low level food dropping missions over Holland from April 29th to May 8th of 1945, which were aptly code-named “Operation Manna”.

However, whilst the Netherlands were, at that time, well aware of the near starvation conditions forced upon them by their German invaders, causing the deaths of over 1,000 poor souls every day, it took almost 40 years for most people in the U.K., even aircrews who participated in the operation, to learn the actual extent of Dutch suffering and degradation.

[underlined] THE START OF A DREAM [/underlined]

The full facts may never have come to light, but . . . .
Nearly 36 years later, in 1981, having completed a long list of outstanding household tasks during a period of enforced ‘holiday’ through redundancy, the rapidly shortening winter days allowed reading of every word in my ex-service journals immediately on their arrival. The activities of 460 (RAAF) Squadron Association to which I belonged were, naturally, centred rather a long way away. Never having spotted any entry in the “reunions” columns to which I could relate, I fell to wondering whether I had participated in anything unique during those fateful war years.

Who knows why memory recalled the unexpected? Maybe it was the overnight conversion of Lancaster bombers and crews from delivering bombs from as high as possible to the dropping of food as low as practicable to an obviously appreciative Dutch populace. In a flash of inspiration the R.A.F. christened these plans “Operation Manna” – surely this was indeed unique?


[page break]

In order to test this theory, I put adverts in several Aircrew Magazines calling for ex-aircrew wishing to exchange their impressions of those life-saving missions. Due to varying publication dates it was early in 1982 before it became apparent that sufficient interest did indeed exist for a modest reunion to become a reality. Almost the first contact came from Hans Onderwater, a Head School Teacher, Air Historian and Author of several books, who was living in Barendrecht, near Rotterdam, and who avidly scanned ex-service Association Journals of all Air Forces. Hans always states that his Mother would not have lived to present him to the world without the timely arrival of foodstuffs via “Operation Manna”.

By coincidence Phil Irving of York, ex-Air Gunner of 218 Squadron had just submitted an article on this very subject to “The Turret”, the Air Gunners’ Magazine. Seeing my advertisement he telephoned to generously offer his services in the organisation of a possible reunion.

This trio of “Founding Fathers”, myself, Hans Onderwater and Phil Irving went into action just 12 months after the original idea and, at the behest of Hans Onderwater, immediately agreed that the venue must be Holland. The backing of some 35 participants and their wives was eagerly obtained in spite of the lack of an itinerary of any firm costs.

Phil and I journeyed to Holland to find that Hans had already secured the willing services of Colonel A.P. de Jong who, as Head of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Information Services, was able to provide invaluable assistance. This was greatly enhanced by the fact that, as a boy of 17, Col. De Jong had kept a diary of the bleak winter leading up to the “Food Droppings” as they were known over there.

Thus, by the end of a long, wet and windy night in February 1983 the skeleton of an itinerary had been agreed and the first reunion of “Operation Manna” was a reality for the 38th Anniversary in April/May 1983.

However, that is not quite the end of the story for after the reunion our overwhelmed party returned by North Sea Ferry reflecting upon a series of most memorable events. These ranged from Official Receptions by Burgomeesters to meetings in the streets with people anxious to tell us that they too had watched the precious food being dropped for them with tears in their eyes. Tears which flooded afresh as they embraced us in loving gratitude.

For the actual aircrew members the extent of the welcome brought the realisation that starvation conditions were much worse than they could ever have imagined. They regretted it had taken almost 40 years to appreciate this and felt that it could not – it would not end there. So before leaving the ship the Party had decided to form their own Association to hold together all the people who had shared these glorious and emotional experiences.


[page break]

Thus, from my first tentative thought stemmed


[underlined] EPILOGUE [/underlined]

With the approval of the Netherlands Ministry of Defence the Foundation of 40 Years Food and Freedom was formed in preparation for a National Celebration. This Foundation was chaired by Col. Arie de Jong with Hans Onderwater as its Secretary and took two years to arrange the event which took place in April 1985, the 40th Anniversary of Operation Manna. The Foundation selected members from each squadron that participated in OPERATION MANNA including R.A.A.F., R.NZ.A.F., R.C.A.F, and a Polish Squadron. Members of the U.S.A.F. B.17. Bomber Units were also invited.

In November 1985 during a visit to Lincoln by the Dutch Foundation the Association was consolidated by the members from 1983 and those visiting Holland earlier that year. The object being to maintain and develop the friendships formed during that memorable week and therefore by definition became a “Closed Association”.

During this memorable visit our Association was honoured by the architect of “Operation Manna” Air Commodore Andrew J.W. Geddes, C.B.E., D.S.O. Legion of Merit U.S.A. R.A.F. (Retd) consenting to be our President.

This was soon followed by an even greater accolade – Hon. Air Marshal R.A.F., H.R.H. The Prince of the Netherlands G.C.B., G.C.V.O., G.B.E. agreed to share this position, thus becoming Co-President together with the Air commodore of the Manna Association.

Consideration was given to the possibility of making membership available to others who were involved in the operation including Ground-crew, Air-crew and Army units. This idea was abandoned due to the vast number of people involved and the overwhelming workload that would be generated. The age of those concerned was also an important factor.

As an Association we meet annually in “Bomber-Country” when a weekend is devoted to usual reunion activities, in which our Friends from Holland and overseas regularly attend.



The Manna Association, “The Founding of the Manna Association,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

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