Play / pause Bernard Harris

Bernard Harris

  • Josh Levine
  • Interview by: Josh Levine

Transcript

Born in 1925, in Shoreditch in London.

Bernard Harris' father was a tailor.

His mother ran a sweet shop.

Family moved a couple of miles east of Bow.

Where Bernie went to school and at fourteen he

began work for the clock manufacturer, whose job

it was to service Big Ben.

In 1942, aged seventeen, Bernie volunteered for

The R.A.F. and he underwent aircrew training,

qualifying as an air gunner.

In early 1945, he transferred to 622 Squadron

at R.A.F. Milldenhall in Suffolk.

This Squadron had been equipped with Lancaster bombers

and in that spring, Bernie was involved in Operation Manna.

A series of humanitarian flights dropping through to the

Dutch population starving under German occupation.

Now, named after the biblical food which was God's gift

to the Israelites in the wilderness, Operation Manna

involved thirty three Squadrons flying thirty three

hundred sorties, each flying slowly and between three

and five hundred feet, dropping a total of

around seven thousand tons of tinned food, dry food

such as flour, sugar, coffee and chocolate.

And the planes had to fly low because they were

dropping sacks of food without parachutes.

An agreement had been reached with the German

authorities said the British crews would receive

safe passage, and apart from a few bullet holes

found in a few planes, the Germans kept their word.

Bernie, whose Squadron flew over western Holland,

remembered the Dutch citizens leaning out of their windows

and standing on their roofs, waving, greeting him.

This was in fact the first use of combat aircraft

for large scale humanitarian purposes, and once the war

was over, Bernies Squadron was transferred to Italy

to bring troops home and repatriate prisoners of war.

Bernie himself was then placed in charged of

an Italian hotel, used to house R.A.F. personnel.

He returned to Britain in 1947 and he was de-mobbed.

He married Mildred in April 1950, and he had a

son and a daughter.

After the war he went into the vending machine business,

and there's a certain irony in the fact that Bernie

saved the lives of so many people by dropping food,

later make his living selling food to people

who really didn't need it quite so badly.

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