Alex’s incredible feat of survival: D-Day pilot talks of a day that changed the world

FLYING ON D-DAY: The 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings evokes strong memories for Alex Jenkins who flew his Lancaster bomber along the coast near Calais. Photo: STEVE GOSCH                                                                                                                                              0606lslancaster3

FLYING ON D-DAY: The 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings evokes strong memories for Alex Jenkins who flew his Lancaster bomber along the coast near Calais. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0606lslancaster3

WHEN the D-Day push into France began 70 years ago, Orange resident Alex Jenkins was there as a 19-year-old trainee pilot flying along the coast over Calais as a diversionary tactic to distract the enemy from the point of invasion.

A year earlier Mr Jenkins volunteered in Australia but found himself deployed to the United Kingdom where he began training to fly Lancaster and Wellington bombers.

“At the time of the invasion we weren’t given any information as to what type of an operation it was, but with the concentration of troops everywhere you looked we all knew it was something really big,” he said.

“We flew up and down the coast dumping huge amounts of aluminium foil to completely bamboozle the enemy.”

His D-Day experience was part of 27 bombing missions he flew over Europe in Lancaster bombers as part of the infamous RAAF’s 460 squadron.

At the height of the intense bombing campaign over Germany and Europe, which eventually brought the Third Reich to its knees, Mr Jenkins was shot down in Belgium close to the German border when his aircraft disintegrated around him.

He was the sole surviving member of his crew.

“We were blown to bits at 20,000 feet,” he said.

“I only survived because as the pilot I was sitting on a parachute which was part of my seat.

“The German jets created absolute havoc with our aircraft - so many were killed.”

OUR SAY: D-DAY COMMEMORATIONS A REMINDER OF OUR DEBT

After parachuting to safety in Belgium he was sent back to England for a short recuperation. It wasn’t long before he was back in the cockpit.

He formed a crew with four other Australians and two Englishmen to continue flying sorties over Europe after the D-Day invasion.

“Our flight engineers and our rear gunners were always English,” he said. 

Mr Jenkins said it’s hard to believe it is 70 years since the D-Day landings which have bought back a flood of memories.

“I remember how towards the end of the war in Europe we were running out of young men to man the aircrafts,” he said.

But the war didn’t end there for Mr Jenkins, who as a young volunteer was re-deployed to the pacific conflict despite his incredible effort in Europe.

He said along with many others he was focused on the task at hand to defeat the enemy.

“I couldn’t say we were completely without fear, but we just knew there was a job to be done,” he said.

When he finally returned to Australia after his magnificent effort Mr Jenkins was just 21, leaving behind an incredible feat of survival.

In a postscript to the story Mr Jenkins was tracked down while working at Sydney University after the remnants of his bomber were discovered by Belgian nationals who wanted to honour the crew who had given their lives for their country.

He later returned to Belgium for a moving ceremony where a memorial has been erected to honour his crewmates.

janice.harris@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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