THE STORY OF “BAD PENNY” AND OPERATION MANNA
When once asked “What was your proudest moment of your flying career?” Flight/SGT Bob Upcott did not give us the answer we had expected. Instead of some glorious won battle, he quite simply stated that he delivered food to a horse race track near The Hague in Holland.
Over the “Hunger Winter” of 1944-45, the German occupation had cut off the food supply to the Dutch population and the situation was extremely grim with over 1000 people/day dying throughout Holland. You may have heard that they were eating tulip bulbs just to survive. Windsor native Bob Upcott and his south-western Ontario crew volunteered to go to England and ended up with the RAF 101, Special Duty Squadron. They were lacking a Radio Operator and were introduced to London, England’s F/SGT Stan Jones who happened to be a Radio Operator. He joined their crew and they were assigned Lancaster “Bad Penny”. There is a saying that “a bad penny always comes back” and this suited the crew nicely.
Early in the morning of April 29th, 1945, Bad Penny and a second Lancaster were assigned an extremely hazardous mission: fly in low, drop food, and not get shot down! They were the guinea pigs for a massive humanitarian mission to be known as “Operation Manna” or Food from Heaven. Upcott told us that the crew could see the cloth draped guns on the ground follow their flight and that they could read the time on the clock towers. Their target….Duindigt Race Track near The Hague, was easily recognizable from the air was not far off at this point. Passing over the fields at approximately 50 ft by now, Bomb Aimer Bill Gray waved at a small boy below who was searching for food. The two Lancasters dropped their 40,000 lbs of food and began their return flight. Wireless Operator Jones, then radioed back to headquarters that they were not fired upon and to send all of the additional aircraft. Later that day, hundreds of allied aircraft flew across Holland delivering their lifesaving cargo. Operation Manna had begun!
As fate would have it, Stan Jones moved to Windsor after the war, and the young boy in the field, Peter Buttenaar moved to the Port Elgin area. A reunion meeting was set up a few years back for Peter and the surviving Bad Penny crew members that was extremely emotional for all involved.
This story is told in our children’s book “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back” written by CAM member Glen Mitchell. (Available in gift shop)
Learn more at: https://www.badpennybook.com/
Pilot Bob Upcott passed away in August 2001 and Wireless Operator Stan Jones joined his captain in the sky in May 2009.
The Canadian Historical Aircraft Assoc. Lancaster CREW is restoring the City of Windsor Lanc as the Bad Penny to honour this brave crew and their incredible life saving mission.