Handley Page Halifax.' The last flight.'
A limited edition lithographic print of 250. 23 x 15.5 inches approximately.
The 51 Squadron ground crew have prepared the aircraft and are clearing the dispersal of unwanted ground equipment. The aircrew have planned and briefed and have a few minutes to spare before the pre-flight checks begin. The Flight Engineer and the Engine Mechanic are discussing a slight overheating problem on No.3 engine. The remainder of the crew chat quietly, not in the boisterous tones that will come from those who return safely many hours later, but with a reserve metered by the unknown, a slight knot in the stomach as they wonder what the flight over Germany will bring. All have experienced it many times before - their minds are not really on the idle chat between friends, but are at 15,000 feet as the darkened coast drifts beneath a wing, thinking through every eventuality, every potential emergency.
Shortly they will climb the steps into the aircraft where the smells of fuel, ozone, paint and sweat mingle in this familiar environment. The engines will cough then crackle into life. They will taxi out, joining the other squadron aircraft, awaiting their turn. As the throttles are opened fully the machine will snarl to a crescendo, as the brakes are released and L for Love; will rumble down the runway at RAF Snaith to lift into the gathering night.
The aircraft did not return but crashed in Belgium. I was commissioned by a relative of the tail gunner to paint the crew and their aircraft before their last flight. I was a pilot in the 1970s and flew Victor tankers, not undergoing the same dangers as the crew of the Halifax in 1943, but certainly experiencing the same inner feelings of aircrew before a demanding flight.