This year’s 102 Squadron Association reunion saw a former RAF Pocklington pilot jet in from Australia to meet up for the weekend with three of his former World War II comrades.
Ron Houghton, who lives in Sydney, was back in Pocklington for a week to take in the 102 Association reunion, based at the gliding club on the ex-WWII airfield, and visit some of his old haunts of over 70 years ago.
Ron, who was accompanied on the trip by his daughter, Janice Houghton-Peate, was staying at the Feathers, which with the Black Bull he described as his favourite local watering holes during his time in Pocklington – “not only did we drink a lot of beer, we made a lot of noise”.
Ron was a Pilot Officer at RAF Pocklington for around six months at the height of the conflict in 1943 and 1944.
Bomber Command suffered some of WWII’s highest casualty rates; despite several close calls Ron and his crew survived the 33 missions they flew from Pocklington.
They all used to catch up periodically in the post-war years, but Ron, now aged 93, (he celebrated his birthday during his stay over here) has not been back to Yorkshire for a decade after his crewmates passed away: “I’ve just about run them all out”, he commented poignantly.
However, he was able to meet up with three other 1943 RAF Pocklington veterans at the squadron’s 2017 reunion.
Not surprisingly, Ron was the youngest of the quartet – he lied about his age to join the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve aged just 17, arriving on the other side of the world in Pocklington as a fully fledged bomber pilot at 19 – and he was able to greet two reunion regulars in fellow pilot Tom Sayer and navigator Harry Hughes, both 95. But the oldest veteran this year was 96-year old ground crew engineer, Stan Jeffrey, who was making his first visit to a 102 Squadron reunion.
All four had made major efforts to get to Pocklington for the weekend.
In addition to Houghton flying in from Australia, Sayer drove up from Kent, Hughes travelled alone by train from Cornwall, and Jeffrey, who is virtually housebound these days, attended with his wife from their home in Oadby, Leicestershire.
Ron Houghton was based at Pocklington for the D-Day operation on June 6, which marked the beginning of the end for the Hitler regime.
After 30 missions, Bomber Command personnel were able to stand down from active operations.
But Ron’s love of flying knew no bounds and he promptly switched to flying Spitfires and Hurricanes with Fighter Command, being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 1945 for his ‘skill and fortitude in operations against the enemy’.
He was further honoured in 2014 when he flew to France as one of seven Australian veterans to receive a retrospective Legion d’Honneur from French President Francois Holland.
After the war he returned to Australia to become a commercial Qantas airline pilot, then flew with Air Lanka, and Philippine Airlines, not officially retiring until he was “well over 65”. At home Ron is the long term President of Bomber Command in Australia Association.
After enjoying the 102 reunion dinner in the gliding clubhouse on Saturday evening, he laid a wreath at a special memorial service at Barmby Moor on Sunday morning, then had an early birthday treat when he started up the restored Hercules bomber engine that was in Pocklington for the weekend.
He then made a quick visit to view the local wartime photographs on display in All Saints church for the Flying Man Festival; and had a good look at the scale reproduction of RAF Pocklington, even pointing out a miniature replica of his own aircraft, a Halifax DY-H, on the runway of Bernard Ross’ remarkable airfield model.