‘Why I won’t forget my brave pal Hank’ – Sunderland WW2 airman finally visits comrade’s grave

Flight Lieutenant John Hall, 91 from Sunderland, who is making a return trip to the Netherlands to see where his dear friend, navigator James Hancock (AKA Hank) is buried.
Flight Lieutenant John Hall, 91 from Sunderland, who is making a return trip to the Netherlands to see where his dear friend, navigator James Hancock (AKA Hank) is buried.
1
Have your say

A WAR hero is finally getting the chance to pay his respects to his former navigator.

John Hall, a flight lieutenant and Lancaster bomber rear gunner, is making a trip to Holland to visit the grave of James “Hank” Hancock, who served in the RAF with him.

Dated: 02/07/2012  'Collect image of Flight Lieutenant John Hall, 91 from Sunderland, who is making a return trip to the Netherlands to see where his dear friend, navigator James Hancock (AKA Hank) is buried.  ' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

Dated: 02/07/2012 'Collect image of Flight Lieutenant John Hall, 91 from Sunderland, who is making a return trip to the Netherlands to see where his dear friend, navigator James Hancock (AKA Hank) is buried. ' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

The 92-year-old, from Grindon, will visit the Hardewojk General Cemetery in the Netherlands where his close friend was buried.

“Hank was my first navigator and he was definitely one of the best,” he said.

“We were like twins and we always stuck together. Where one was, you would always find the other.”

Together they braved the skies during the Second World War, but as they were nearing 30 missions, Hank was struck down by illness.

Dated: 02/07/2012  'Collect of James Hancock a Lancaster Bomber navigator in the RAF, who lost his life aged 36 during the Second World War.  'Flight Lieutenant John Hall, 91, from Sunderland is travelling to the Netherlands visit his former navigator James Hancock's grave, thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund .. ' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

Dated: 02/07/2012 'Collect of James Hancock a Lancaster Bomber navigator in the RAF, who lost his life aged 36 during the Second World War. 'Flight Lieutenant John Hall, 91, from Sunderland is travelling to the Netherlands visit his former navigator James Hancock's grave, thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund .. ' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

He was grounded by the RAF doctor and so John completed the next two operations without him.

Mr Hancock was then sent to complete this tour with another crew, but tragically he never returned from his final flight.

Mr Hall, who completed 60 operations in total and was shot down three times, said: “I cried my eyes out when it happened.

“Even talking about it now makes me choke up as he was such a great fellow. He kept the crew alive and he was full of fun.

The Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II today.

The Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II today.

“He took good care of everyone in the crew as we were all younger. It was a big loss to me.

“As a navigator, he was a true professional and as a friend you couldn’t do without him. Even now I keep a photo of him on the wall.”

Mr Hall hopes to make the trip later this month after he was given a £835 grant by the Big Lottery Fund, which is part of their Heroes Return 2 programme.

The scheme aims to pay for veterans to make trips like this and gives veterans the chance to have travel and accommodation paid for by the grant.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “We owe so much to these brave airmen whose selfless and courageous service showed endurance beyond imagination.

“With over 55,000 lost in action, they paid the ultimate price in their valuable contribution to bringing peace in Europe.”

Twitter: @tomwhite7

Tribute to brave heroes

FLIGHT Lieutenant Hall was last week able to attend the unveiling of a memorial to the tens of thousands of airmen who lost their lives during the Second World War.

He travelled to London to see The Queen officially reveal the stone and bronze tribute to the 55,573 heroes of Bomber Command, in Green Park (pictured left). At one point during the ceremony a Lancaster bomber showered the site with poppies.

It was the first chance in almost 70 years for the surviving crew to formally recognise their fallen friends, as almost half of the 125,000 Bomber Command lost their lives.

He said: “The day went very well and it really was a great show.

“There were people there from Canada, Australia and the U.S.

“The statues look fantastic and it was a real sight to see.

“It brought back lots of memories and it gave me a real lump in my throat.

“When the Lancaster flew over it was really something to behold.

“She was a beautiful aircraft which I completed 60 operations in and she got me back safely.”