RAF staff take on 300-mile cycle ride to honour Dambusters crew

Seven RAF personnel are to set off on a 300-mile (480km) bike ride to honour a Dambusters crew who were shot down moments before reaching safety.

The Avro Lancaster, flown by Sqn Ldr Henry Melvin "Dinghy" Young, was downed by German gunners in May 1943.

The staff from RAF Digby are cycling from their Lincoln base to Castricum aan Zee in Holland where a memorial stands to the men who lost their lives.

Wing Cdr Neil Hallett said it was an opportunity to "keep that story alive".

Each cyclist will be wearing a jersey with the name of one of the seven crew members who lost their lives and the journey will culminate in a memorial service on 16 May at Castricum aan Zee, attended by their descendants including Dinghy Young's nephew, Geoffrey Sturr.

The 63-year-old, from Phoenix, Arizona, in the US, described the expedition as "a fitting way to remember my uncle and his flight crew".

"I'm just gonna be emotional. I think I feel that way already," he said.

"It's a funny thing. I never met him but I think his life has been very much a part of mine just growing up.

"So I think gratitude is one [thing] I would express and it's interesting to me how his life and the lives of the other crew members touch so many other people.

"I'm eagerly looking forward to meeting the cyclists in particular."

The Dambusters raids, known as Operation Chastise on three major dams in Germany's industrial Ruhr Valley, were launched from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on the nights of 16 and 17 May 1943, using bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis.

Lancaster bombers
Of the 19 Lancaster bombers that took part in the raids, eight planes were lost [Getty Images]

Henry Young - known as "Dinghy" because he survived two crashes into the sea in an inflatable boat - flew in the first wave of attacks.

However, as his aircraft AJ-A turned to return for home across the North Sea, just moments from safety, it was hit by the last German position on the Dutch coast, near Castricum aan Zee.

The bodies of the men were washed ashore over the following days and were buried at nearby Bergen cemetery.

Describing his uncle as "a model and an inspiration", Mr Sturr said remembering the war, its causes and consequences were "all the more important today with the conflicts around the world".

The cycle ride will see Wing Cdr Hallett and his team ride out from their base on Sunday, taking in a route via the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) and the former RAF Scampton, through Hull and a ferry to Rotterdam before reaching the memorial on 16 May.

Wing Cdr Hallett, 43, station commander of RAF Digby, described the "great pride" he was feeling and said he was "super excited" to wear a jersey bearing Sqn Ldr Dinghy Young's name.

"To potentially meet some of the relatives of the Dinghy Young crew that are going to join us at the memorial in Holland is really quite special and very humbling.

"I'm very much looking forward to it, albeit a little bit nervous because most of us are novice cyclists. Some of us don't even have our own bikes. So we've kind of dug deep and managed to find the courage and the enthusiasm to take this battle on."

His colleague, Mel, 47, was part of the GB cycling team and competed in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester before retiring and joining the RAF.

She said: "I am so excited. I am almost as excited as I was to represent my country cycling, so this is a real big honour for me. I feel quite humbled to be part of this team.

"I appreciate it's going to be hard work but that's kind of what being part of the RAF is about. It's kind of overcoming these hardships put in front of us."

Twenty-four-year-old Charlotte, who comes from a military family with both parents, siblings and grandparents serving in the RAF, described the bike challenge as "daunting" but was compelled to take part because of her heritage and strong connection with the armed forces.

"Cycling together as a team and representing those seven individuals, I think it's just going to be an incredibly emotional experience.

"But I'd be incredibly proud for doing that."

Along with the cyclists, metal sculptures honouring the Dambusters crew, which are installed at the IBCC, will also head to Holland for the memorial service before returning back.

They will be sold at auction later in the year to raise funds for a new education centre.

In total, eight Lancaster bombers were shot down. Three men were captured and 53 were killed.

The raids were led by Wing Cdr Guy Gibson, who was later awarded the Victoria Cross.

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