At the end of the war, Bomber Command Lancasters started flying to Brussels and other airfields to collect British prisoners of war recently liberated from the camps. 97 Squadron’s ORB contains several entries for Operation Exodus. One of the most dramatic is the following:
ORB for 10th May 1945
Sixteen aircraft carried out “Exodus” operation. Aircraft OF/Z, piloted by F/Lt C Arnot, crashed on take off from BRUSSELS airfield and was totally destroyed by fire. All occupants uninjured, except for two ex-PoW and one other passenger – slightly injured.
The best times must have been when they could bring back one of their own. This happened when Jack Beesley of the Fletcher crew came back in Lancaster PB422 – see photograph above, Beesley is second from the right, shaking hands with the pilot. This must have been one of the happiest moments of his life, and indeed of all his fellow passengers.
According to the MOD RAF website (2005 60th Anniversary site which is now apparently defunct – we will try to find another source for these figures), 469 flights were made by aircraft of Nos 1, 5, 6 and 8 Groups before the war ended and approximately 75,000 men were brought back to England by the fastest possible means.
Many thanks to Alex Bateman for the photograph.