Who knew how fascinating this would be? After all the research, the books I’ve read, the films and documentaries I’ve watched, the programmes listened to, the museums visited…. Who knew what an extraordinary difference actually climbing inside a Lancaster Bomber could make? Suddenly everything falls into place. Geographically I get it. I see how it all fits together. I understand how they must have moved into position and then how impossible it was for most of the crew to move out of position. And without being inside you really can have absolutely no idea about just how cramped they all were.
It was like an assault course inside, steps down and up, metal bridges to crawl over, positions to lie in – and if you did want to move, remember, you would have to do so in the dark. And mind not to bump your head. Or stub your toes. Or fall over the metal mounds or trip over the raised bits of the floor, or bang into your mid-gunner’s legs as you duck under him as he hangs there….
Then there’s the fuselage. All that’s between you and the sky or the bullets being shot at you is the metal of the fuselage. And that turns out to be no thicker than the metal of a cheap tin can. Not even a sturdy tin can. Ten hours or so they flew in this great big bird, cold and crushed and scared. Trained and committed and skilled. Without being strapped down as they plunged into avoidance manoeuvres the only thing that would stop them hurtling around the plane was to hold on tight to tiny metal handles – as they tried to protect the vital equipment they were working on.
And then there was the pigeon….