HARRY LONNEY – IN MEMORIAM
The late Harry Lonney sadly passed away in 2014. He was the Chair of the residents group at Epsom Gardens, one of our Leasehold Schemes for elderly persons.
Harry was a lovely, pleasant and modest man with whom I became friendly. He was a co-pilot and Flight Engineer for the RAF Bomber Command completing his full quota of missions over Germany and occupied Europe in World War 2. He took part in a raid on Peenamunde situated on Germany’s northern coast, the aim being to hopefully destroy the Nazis’s rocket manufacturing facility.
I wrote an article for our Newsletter in 2014 about his Wartime missions and whilst clearing my desk the other day, I came across his very eloquent account where he likens his Peenamunde mission to a surreal ballet. I felt it should be recorded somewhere for posterity so that it remains in living memory. With this in mind I emailed the account to Bomber Command Digital Archive who have confirmed they will include it in their archives. Here is the transcript of Harry’s account, particularly poignant as we approach Remembrance Day.
The Baltic Ballet by the late Harry Lonney
We rose high above the North Sea into the velvet darkness of the night sky, soon to be lightened by the rising moon and on course for the exciting ballet of the Baltic
As we approached the coast, we could see the beams of light of the Frisian Islanders waving their welcome to us and, passing over, observed the delicate puffs of smoke from their greeting cards, and savoured their rather acrid perfume as we cruised through them. Peace and tranquility again as we sauntered on for another couple of hours towards our nightly ballet until we saw the glow in the sky which was our rendezvous being illuminated by those beautiful marker flares of our Pathfinders.
Now, somewhat tense as we approached the theatre, we were amazed at the view portrayed – for our usual approach was in a darkened sky – but here was a magnificent Amphitheatre lit up by a full moon and the brilliant flares of red and green as they floated down on their drogues to the stage below, giving off a most brilliant, shimmering, incandescent glare as they cascaded downwards in their most wonderful colours – a sight to behold – absolutely breathtaking!
And, we had the most unusual sight of numerous other black moths, such as us, turning to silver when caught in this most brilliant of light, plus the lovely vapour trails ribboning across the sky, of the deadly Fireflies, as they pirouetted before diving into the fray to spit out their venom!
As we approached the scene from above we watched the slow – or so it seemed – parade of the silvered Pathfinders who were dropping their flares to illuminate the stage for us WHEN……suddenly……some way ahead of us a dancing, darting Firefly clashed with one of them……WHICH……Blew up in a blinding flash, and from it cascaded all the most beautiful colours of the universe – blues, greens, reds – an intermingling cascade in the most heavenly riot of colour ever seen!!! It was absolutely unbelievable and as we watched enthralled, we thought we saw from the centre of this radiant burst of colour that there emanated seven streaks of pure energy…bound for eternity!!!!
THEN……ANOTHER……dancing colour laden Moth blew up!!….a victim so impossible to describe……so fantastic……beyond belief……DEATH……DESTRUCTION……and yet the utmost beauty.
We, the Corps de Ballet, then entered the Main Stage, to the booming of the great drums below, soon to be drowned out by our contribution to the event! We thundered across stage in great waves – each one dancing and weaving to the commands of the Maestro Mosquito circling below – and as we lined up on the Reds and discharged our obligation, our craft and hearts lifted in relief!
We gracefully glided across stage hoping to avoid clashing with the Fireflies and had only to dance our way across this great arena of light to the welcoming darkness of the wings, when the great spotlights from the stage below transfixed us! Blinded by the brilliant light from below and moving slowly – so slowly, it seemed – as the applause mushroomed up from below in the form of handfuls of starbursts – with wicked looking centres! And the Firefly duly called to attend to us by the spotlights – though we could nor see him coming up from below due to the brilliant halo about us – obviously thought we had enough applause and decided not to join us!
Dance, we must keep dancing straight ahead into the welcoming and dark portals of the wings.
At last, we are out of range of those stage lights and the applause has ceased!
We had performed well and received just applause……now the long journey homeward but just one look back to the most stupendous production ever staged, gorgeous colours, brilliant lighting, superb choreography, dancers wheeling, pirouetting and exploding – all beneath a gorgeous moon and sky – with a cast of thousands and at a cost which could not be calculated, though some have paid dearly!
And the booming music below must have reached a crescendo – though we could not hear it – we knew the great musicians below would appreciate it, being themselves engaged in their ‘rocketing’ composition, scheduled to make its debut in London shortly!!
As we cruised high above the rivers and the land below, we uttered grateful thanks for having witnessed such a performance and hoped we would be allowed to keep such memories for we had well and truly disturbed the nest of the Fireflies and they were certain to follow and exact retribution for being so overshadowed at the Ballet. But, being in the forefront of the ‘Corps de Ballet, we had left the theatre early and were well on our way, only another 3 or 4 hours to home and safety.
A beautiful sky, wonderful moon, radiant stars, so heavenly peaceful – but beware – far, far behind, we can see the flaming trails of the now black Moths as they plunge earthwards – an encore by the Fireflies!
We continue to cruise peacefully – trusting the Fireflies have sated their appetites and returned to their nests and the roar of our progress through the atmosphere is transformed in the most glorious orchestral rendering the mind can comprehend – truly the music of angels! How fortunate we are – so few can see the splendour of the night sky as we can……a wonderful life!
At last we can see the coast ahead and the Frisian gatemen wave us Good Morning/Goodbye, secure in the knowledge that we will return this evening, possibly to attend the final acts of the Berlin Ballet, but vast and awe-inspiring as that Ballet may be, it would be hard-pressed to surpass the superb beauty and drama of the one act ballet we have just attended – the Ballet of Peenemunde.
We sail across the moonlit sea below, dawn is breaking behind us as we descend to the welcoming halo of the light below. We touch down and make off to our wooden chalet in the fields, so secure beneath our magnificent oak tree, which is so beautiful in the early dawn light.
And so to sleep……to awake as taut and stressed as harp strings, to fall out into the long grass and greet the noonday sun, as we take in great breaths of the sweet air. As we lay beneath the great boughs of our guardian tree – safe and secure – we contemplate the beauties of everyday nature around us, our sensitivities somewhat sharpened by our evening forays – what a wonderful life!!!
Until dusk descends, and calls us to ascend once more – in exhilaration, and some trepidation – to a possible heavenly appointment with our Valhalla!!!!