Bomber Command veteran Bob Pickford on finally being decorated - 69 years after he was taken prisoner

Bob Pickford with his award

Bob Pickford with his award - Credit: Archant

Standing in line to receive his medal, Bob Pickford couldn’t help but recall the same date 69 years earlier,

The Bomber Command clasp

The Bomber Command clasp - Credit: Archant

Ninety-one-year-old Bob, who now lives in Hilldene Avenue, Harold Hill, was among 27 veterans finally recognised by the British government more than seven decades after joining the Royal Air Force.

Bob in his uniform

Bob in his uniform - Credit: Archant

The reason? They served in Bomber Command.

Mindful of the number of German lives it claimed, the government was reluctant to decorate members of the command, but a concerted campaign in recent years has seen the attitude reversed.

For modest Bob, the ceremony was nothing less than a “privilege” – however late.

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“I felt quite proud,” he told the Romford Recorder. “When you look at the number of men that were killed – 55,000 – it’s about time the country knew something about it.”

It was March 19, 2013, that Bob and his family finally visited Downing Street to receive the award. March 19, 1944, was rather different.

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The previous day, Bob’s plane had been shot down over Frankfurt. Knocked unconscious while still on board, he’d been dragged out the escape hatch by his navigator Ted.

Luckily, he came to mid-flight and pulled the ripcord. It was then that the problems started.

“I knew I had to escape,” he remembered. “I came across a forest.

“But I could hear screaming, so I went to help.”

Finding Ted badly injured and crying out for morphine, he headed off to find help – and stumbled across a German village.

“They weren’t very pleased but they helped,” he said. “They got a ladder and we walked to the aircraft.

“They put him on the ladder like a stretcher and carried him to a room of some sort.”

Ted survived his injuries – but then, of course, the locals called the German military.

“They put me away in a cell somewhere,” said Bob. “Then they took me to a place called Dulag Luft [a POW camp for Air Force captives]. They interrogated me for a couple of days and then moved me to another camp. I spent about a year there, then one day the order came to evacuate because the Russians were coming.

“We spent a good few weeks walking the roads. Nobody seemed to know where we were going.

“After a while we got in contact with another prisoner, a British soldier, and he said: ‘Let’s make a run for it.’”

Chased by dogs and members of the Hitler Youth but uninjured, they lost their tail and came across a German hospital – where they were able to strike a deal for shelter in return for labour. Not long later, the war ended and the British came to take them home. Bob had been in captivity for 14 months.

It’s an amazing story – but Bob insists he “wasn’t a military person”.

“I was just an ordinary bloke who joined up,” he said.

Now a great-grandfather, ordinary bloke Bob still remembers the day he was shot down every year.

But next year, he’ll be celebrating a more pleasant anniversary as well.

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