Coronavirus response similar to Second World War operation, says RAF veteran

A Second World War veteran has said the armed forces providing essential supplies around the UK is “very much” reminiscent of an operation he took part in to help starving people in the Netherlands.

Alastair Lamb was a rear gunner during Operation Manna, a humanitarian food drop undertaken by crews during the final days of the war.

RAF pilots flew under 400ft to drop supplies of tinned food in canvas bags between April 29 1945 and May 7 1945 to people in the country who had their supplies cut off by the Nazis.

Crowds wave as RAF aircraft drop supplies from above (Crown/PA)

The 94-year-old, of Stirling, is now an ambassador for the RAF Benevolent Fund, and will mark the 75th anniversary of the operation on Wednesday.

The Fund provides support to RAF veterans, their partners or spouses and serving personnel and their families.

Mr Lamb said: “The Dutch were starving at the time so we dropped supplies – I did three drops around Rotterdam and all that area.

“We were flying very low – we had to be that low to drop the supplies.”

He added: “You call in the forces and they’ll do the job.

“The forces have always stepped in when needed, same with the police.”

Bomber Command veteran Alistair Lamb, aged 93, at his home in Stirling
Bomber Command veteran Alistair Lamb at his home in Stirling (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mosquitoes and Lancaster bombers flew as low as 390ft as the cargo did not have parachutes.

These aircraft were typically used to dropping bombs from 20,000ft.

Lancasters dropped 6,672 tons of food to the starving Dutch locals still living under German control in a large area of Western Holland.

Mr Lamb added: “I was very fortunate I was able to take part in it.

“The war was still ongoing as you will realise.

“It was a great thing to be able to do – and flying at a low level was a great opportunity.”

The former warrant officer has since received two letters from people who received some of those supplies and has spoken to another over the phone.

He was honoured with a medal by the Dutch Government for his role in the operation.

Example of food drop
An example of the load capable of being carried by a single Lancaster (Crown Copyright)

Mr Lamb said he remembers people were forewarned bags would be falling from the sky and were told to stay away from the drop zone.

They had been expected to gather and redistribute the food but some could not resist eating straight away.

This caused some to get sick and even die due to the effect fatty food can have in starved bodies – known as Refeeding syndrome.

The veteran’s aircraft was never targeted during his flyovers, however two other RAF planes were targeted by the Germans although they were never damaged.

Manna, according to the Bible, is an edible substance God provided for the Israelites during their 40 years of travel through the desert following the Exodus.

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