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World War II RAF pilot from Spalding meets survivor of Nazi German-occupied Netherlands during emotional Remembrance Day service




A Spalding RAF veteran who was part of a humanitarian mission during World War II has been brought together with a child whose relatives were saved.

Peter Peck (94), of Mendip Close, Spalding, met Cathie Atkinson (82), who was only four when her home country, the Netherlands, was invaded by Nazi Germany in May 1940.

Mr Peck was a member of RAF Bomber Command whose squadrons dropped more than 7,000 tonnes of food supplies over the Netherlands in just ten days, with an additional 4,000 tonnes dropped by the US and Canadian Air Forces.

Spalding RAF war veteran Peter Peck and Dutch-born Cathie Atkinson at Spalding Baptist Church.Photo by John Chester.
Spalding RAF war veteran Peter Peck and Dutch-born Cathie Atkinson at Spalding Baptist Church.Photo by John Chester.

Despite this, an estimated 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation as a result of food and fuel being seized, land being flooded and transport being controlled by Nazi German troops.

Mrs Atkinson, a married mother-of three now living in Greece, said: "I was living in Rotterdam when the Nazi German invasion happened.

"There was lot of bombing and our house was destroyed so we went to live with relatives and friends, moving around the country a little bit until we got a house in Zeeland.

"We moved into an abandoned hotel where everything was pretty ordinary until Nazi German soldiers found us.

"They gave us the bottom of our house, while they took over the top and kept 13 Armenian prisoners of war there.

"Eventually, the house was bombed in 1943 and we moved to my uncle's farm where we lived in a potato house made of glass.

"But we didn't suffer from hunger, unlike my grandparents and relatives in Rotterdam where people were really hungry towards the end of the war."

Spalding RAF war veteran Peter Peck flies over the Dutch city of Rotterdam during Operation Manna in May 1945.Photo supplied by John Chester.
Spalding RAF war veteran Peter Peck flies over the Dutch city of Rotterdam during Operation Manna in May 1945.Photo supplied by John Chester.

Mr Peck, who became a Lancaster pilot with RAF 12 Squadron based at RAF Wickenby, near Market Rasen, signed up as a 17-year-old in 1943 after two years in what is now the Air Cadets.

He said: "We learned there was a task for three days in May 1945 when we would have a three-hour window to fly 300-500ftabove the Netherlands and drop food.

"Although there was an agreement in place, Nazi German soldiers were still on tops of buildings with anti-aircraft guns so we were anxious.

"There were other dangers as well because the food could have burst and people could have been hit while running for the food."

But Operation Manna made sense to Mr Peck and Mrs Atkinson when they met each other during a Remembrance Day service at Spalding Baptist Church.

Mrs Atkinson said: "I knew about Peter because I had been told about him by my friends.

"But it's quite amazing to have met him and I never expected it because Operation Manna happened over 70 years ago."

Mr Peck said: "That moment when we flew so low over Rotterdam and dropped things, the whole purpose of it, just made sense to me after meeting Cathie."

A Lancaster bomber drops food supplies, including flour, corned beef, potatoes, spam and dried vegetables, over Rotterdam in 1945.Photo supplied by International Bomber Command Centre.
A Lancaster bomber drops food supplies, including flour, corned beef, potatoes, spam and dried vegetables, over Rotterdam in 1945.Photo supplied by International Bomber Command Centre.

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