September 16 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, June 12, 2014
The last time 92-year-old war veteran Norman Gregory from west Suffolk was behind the controls of a plane was in 1944.
But Mr Gregory, from Cockfield, who was a prisoner of war in Germany from May 1944 to May 1945, is being given the chance to fly again later this month.
He has been invited to this year’s ‘Project Propeller’ reunion, which is organised by a small group of pilots to express thanks to ex-World War Two aircrew members for their contribution to winning the war.
Mr Gregory, who is a grandfather-of-four, has been allocated a pilot who will pick him up on June 21 and take him to the airfield in Honington.
From there they will fly to Gloucester, with Mr Gregory getting the chance to get behind the controls en route, before flying back to Honington after the event.
Mr Gregory said he was looking forward to it “with a great deal of excitement,” adding: “Of course all us bomber boys would like to get back into a Lancaster.”
Mr Gregory, who was with 101 squadron, described how he and his crew’s Lancaster bomber got shot down over Dortmund in Germany on May 22, 1944.
The veteran, who was a bomb aimer during that mission, said: “We dropped the bombs on the target, but by then we were on fire from the main spar to the tail.
“The whole aircraft was on fire so the order to abandon the aircraft was given by the skipper. I was lying on the one and only escape hatch and I was the first one out. I jumped out at 23,000ft.”
He said he was soon captured by the Germans, ending up in prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau. He survived the notorious so-called death marches to Berlin in 1945, managing to get to American lines.
Mr Gregory, who finished as a warrant officer, said out of his crew of eight five were killed during the mission on May 22, 1944, adding the squadron lost four crews on May 3/4 1944.
“Somebody once said ‘you have got a guardian angel’ and I said ‘no I haven’t, I have got a squadron of them’.”
Mr Gregory, who was cycling a 100 miles a week until April, said he had been a passenger in planes following his time in the Royal Air Force (RAF), but had not piloted a plane since early May 1944.
He said he wanted to be a pilot as he preferred “to be a flying man and die quickly,” adding he took to the training “like a duck to water”.
After the war, he became a teacher, finishing his career at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury.