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Character Bios

starPeter
starPilot Bob
starStan Jones
starBill Gray

starBill Demo
starBill Walton
starOrval Blower
starJohn Corner

Peter’s Story

Compiled by Elaine Weeks, Walkerville Publishing Inc.

reunion

Bill Gray and Peter Buttenaar reunite for the first time after 51 years. Bill was a bomb aimer in Operation Manna who waved at Peter, a Holland teen during WWII from the Lancaster, while on a mission to drop food in Holland. Photo Mike Beale.

My name is Peter Buttenaar. I lived in a city in Holland called Bossum in the west of the country, with my parents and two older sisters. I was 15 when Operation Manna started near the end of the Second World War. The day the planes came I was on my way to a German garrison to steal food. If they had caught me they would have shot me but I didn’t care. I was starving and my family was starving. My parents were quite religious and we always prayed every morning. The morning Operation Manna started, April 29, 1945, my oldest sister had said, “Why pray! There’s nothing on the table!”

All we had to eat were raw tulip bulbs or sugar beets. We had been without water or heat for nine months – from September 1944 to April 1945. It had been an extremely cold winter.

As I was walking across a field near town on my way to the garrison I heard the sound of heavy bombers. I thought I was about to be bombed. I jumped into a ditch and looked up to see two Lancaster bombers flying very low overhead. These aircraft were so low that the lead aircraft bombardier, the man in the nose of the aircraft, actually waved at me.

I thought the planes were going to crash because they were so close to the ground and going so fast. I saw them for just a few seconds and then they were gone. I ran home because I was so scared.

My parents told me that the planes had dropped sacks of food in the racetrack. The food was collected by a committee and then distributed. We had to wait one or two more days before we got our share: chocolate, sugar, egg powder, chocolate milk powder, and so on.

At the same time a boat had come in from Sweden with flour. I hadn’t seen white bread in years.

I will never forget those days and how Operation Manna saved my life, my family’s life, and so many Dutch people.

Meeting the Bad Penny Crew

reunion

Bill Gray, once a Lancaster bomb aimer in Operation Manna, sitting in a familiar place inside Windsor's own Lancaster Bomber FM 212, while Peter looks on in Jackson Park, November 9th, 1996. Photo Mike Beale. (Roll your mouse over the image to view a close-up of Bill)

After the war ended, I finished school and then ended up in the Dutch army for two years. Holland had gone bankrupt because of the war and the government was trying to get Indonesia back from Japan. After my service I decided to go to Canada in 1950, not only because jobs were scarce in Holland but more importantly, because Canada was the nation that had liberated us. I met my wife Dolly, who is also Dutch, in Canada.

I ended up in Ontario and became involved in construction and land development. In the mid-1990s, I was living in Southampton in Southwestern Ontario and I was doing a housing development. Someone from the local paper came in to my office to do a story about it and saw that I had a picture on my wall of a Lancaster Bomber. I told him that it hadn’t dropped bombs – it had dropped food. In honour of “Operation Manna” I had named the main street into the development “Lancaster” and seven other streets after all the men in the Bad Penny crew.

Apparently, a couple from Windsor named Jack and Duffy Davidson were driving along the shoreline of Lake Huron near Port Elgin and had stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee. They picked up a real estate paper about lakefront property and cottages for sale and in it was the story about my development and the Lancaster on my wall.

They took it back to Windsor and called Mike Beale from the local historical aircraft group whom they had recently met who knew a lot about Operation Manna. I recieved a call from Mike explaining that he knew someone who flew in the very first mission on April 29th, 1945 and that he had dropped food near the town of Bossun.

reunion

Bob Upcott, Peter Buttenaar and Bill Gray share good memories of Operation Manna while in Jackson Park Nov. 9, 1996. Photo Mike Beale.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told Mike my story and then he checked with Bob Upcott, the pilot of that first Lancaster, about the timing of their flight. Mike called me back to tell me that Bob was definitely the pilot on that first plane I had seen and that Bill Gray was the bombardier who had waved at me.

I shouted, “I want to meet these guys!”

Mike Beale arranged a meeting in 1996 under the Lancaster Bomber in Jackson Park in Windsor, Ontario. To meet these two men and their wives after 50 years was incredible and overwhelming. We were all laughing and crying. I was so happy to be able to say, “Thank you.”

Today Peter Buttenaar lives with his wife Dolly in Thedbord near Grand Bend, Ontario. They have four children and 15 grandchildren. Peter did not discuss the war with his children for, as he put it, “After the war we didn’t talk about those things until we get older and then the memories came back. My grandchildren know more than my children about what happened.”

Peter retired from his construction business and now sells special fans for construction sites. Ironically, the company is German and the majority of the employees are Dutch.

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Bad Penny Composite Photo

bad penny crew

The only existing photo showing all seven members of the Bad Penny crew was damaged. Sometime over the 62 years since the end of WWII one third of the picture had been cut off; the heads and shoulders were missing from the top four men.

Glen Mitchell, author of “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back,” asked the staff at Walkerville Publishing (producers of his book) if they could possibly create a composite photo using other snapshots of the missing men. Walkerville Publishing rose to the challenge and graphic designer, Chuck Rees (designer of this Web site and a Photoshop master), painstakingly recreated the photo using a variety of other photos. He even rebuilt the barracks behind the men.

bad penny crew
Original image

Several copies of the photo were made and presented to crew members or their families.

Back row: (L-R) Stan Jones, John Corner, Bob Upcott, Bill Walton
Front row: (L-R) Orval Blower, Bill Demo, Bill Gray

 

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“Pilot Bob,” Robert Upcott, Pilot of Bad Penny

pilot bob

Captain Robert F. Upcott of Windsor, Ontario, of the RAF/RCAF was just 21 years old when he was chosen for a special and dangerous test mission which would serve to launch the Allies’ Operation Manna. Bob was pilot of Bad Penny, a Lancaster bomber which, on April 29, 1945, was loaded with sacks of flour, egg powder, powdered milk and tins of dark chocolate intended for the starving people of Holland.

Stan Jones, Wireless Operator for Bob and his crew, recalls that Pilot Bob was exceedingly calm under fire and always chewed gum during their missions. He was extremely quick witted and on their test flight to

Holland to drop food bundles, not only did Bob have to fly at certain times with German guns trained on them, he had to fly through heavy clouds over England. At one point, an American Flying Fortress appeared on the starboard wing on a collision course. Fortunately, Bob dove and the U.S. plane pulled up, missing a collision by inches!

After the war, Bob Upcott returned to Windsor, where he worked for the City of Windsor. He died August 27, 2001 at the age of 78.

starBob Upcott Photo Gallery
starBy Bob Upcott: Pilot of the first bomber to drop food over Holland

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Stan Jones, Wireless Radio Operator on Bad Penny

stan 1945

Stan Jones served with the RAF/RCAF for two years during WWII. In the final days of the war, when he had just turned 20 years old, he and six other gutsy young men were chosen for a special test mission, which would serve to launch the Allies’ ambitious “Operation Manna.” On April 29, 1945. Stan and his crew mates, led by Pilot Bob Upcott, flew their Lancaster, Bad Penny, to Holland just a few hundred feet above the heads of German gunners.

Stan served as the Wireless Operator and recalls that the Germans “said they wouldn’t shoot – but they wouldn’t sign any papers.” Obviously, Stan and the crew of Bad Penny risked their lives in this daring guinea pig mission.

The crew’s goal was to drop bundles of food in strategic spots to help feed the Dutch. This dangerous first mission by Bad Penny proved to be a resounding success. Lancaster squadrons in Operation Manna were able to dispatch 6,684 tons of food supplies to the Dutch in May 1945. Jones served 24 missions in Bad Penny.

A native of London, England, Jones moved to Windsor in 1982 after meeting his wife Helen on previous trips, while visiting Upcott, a Windsor native.

Stan passed away in May of 2009. A granddaughter recalls: "My Grampa Stan was the bravest man I've ever known, and yet he was also the most humble. He was an inspirational story teller, holding audiences captive with his words. As a little boy, Stan often listened to his mother play the piano for the silent movies. He remembered in detail the theatres, the people, the beautiful clothes they would wear. Even though he couldn't read music, if you gave him the name of a movie or mentioned a scene from pretty much any silent movie, he could play the piano part that accompanied it perfectly."

Fly Over For Stan (Photo Gallery)
Fly Past and Missing Man formation to honour Stan Jones.
Denis Schryer piloting the Stearman and Mary Guthrie piloting the Chipmunk.

Interview of Stan Jones and author Glen Mitchell in 2008 (Video)

R.I.P.: Stan Jones, March 9, 1925- May 7, 2009
Bad Penny wireless operator on the Operation Manna Test Flight Mission: April 29, 1945.

flowers
planes
Flowers from Mayor Eddie Francis
Two planes fly in tribute

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Bill Gray

stan 1945

Bill Gray, known as "Wully" to his family and friends, was born in Burnbank, Scotland, 14 July 1923, arriving in Canada in the spring of 1931. He and his family settled in London, Ontario, as did those of his future wife Jean a year later. Like his crewmember Bill Demo, he hinted that he had lied about his age in order to enlist in the RCAF immediately following his grade 10 graduation. Like many servicemen upon their return, he talked very little about the death and destruction he witnessed on a continual basis recounting instead the more humorous incidents from his basic training in western Canada and later from his infrequent leaves in England, the same stories the crew doubtless told and retold each other to keep their spirits up. The exception was "Operation Manna". Ironically, while this was the mission that was the most personally rewarding, it was also arguably the most dangerous as they were effectively unarmed throughout.

Following the war, Bill returned to London where he secured a job with the London Hosiery Mills remaining there for 27 years before they experienced financial difficulties, were sold and ultimately closed. After a brief but unsettling mid-life period of unemployment Bill found work with a hardware distributor where he remained until his retirement. While his interest in aviation continued, it was limited to his passion for reading, attending annual air shows and Flight Crew reunions. He actually avoided flying after his discharge and on the few occasions in which it was unavoidable, it made him physically ill. Always active, Bill was a swimmer and lifetime fitness enthusiast.

Less than a year after his discharge and return to London, just as he had promised before he left, on 17 April 1946 he married Jean Taig. They had 2 sons – Scott, who after working and raising his own family in the Toronto area returned to London, and Richard who died at the age of 3 months. Throughout their long and happy marriage Bill and Jean were devoted to each other. After a brief but devastating illness, Jean died on the morning of their 51st wedding anniversary. Bill never fully recovered from her loss and followed a few years later.

rcaf cert
rcaf greet
bill lancaster
RCAF certificate
RCAF greeting card
Bill in Lancaster plane

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Bill Demo

bill demo

The youngest member of the Bad Penny crew, Bill lied about his age to join the RCAF at age 17. After the war he returned home to St. Thomas, Ontario and, like most veterans, found employment, married, and started a family. He married Olive Weaver in 1949 and his daughter, Chris, was born in 1950.

Bill worked for Canadian Timken for 37 years. He was an avid golfer and even scored 4 "holes-in-one.” He played baseball for several years and managed and coached his daughter’s baseball team. This included driving around the countryside making sure everyone had a ride to the game. Bill also loved to play pool and go to the horse races in London, Ontario and surrounding area. He really didn't have anything to do with aviation after the war and rarely spoke of it however, his Bad Penny crew (who were located in Ontario) got together at least once a year for quite a few years after returning home. Bill passed away at age 62 in 1986.

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F/SGT Navigator Bill Walton

will walton

When Bill Walton was 18 years old, he made a decision which would result in the most most life changing experience he would ever have. In February of 1943, Bill joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. As WWII ravaged Europe, Bill served his country as a navigator. The momentous test flight of Operation Manna on Bad Penny would prove to be one of his last missions; the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945.

After the war, Bill found gainful employment at the post office and later moved on to work for the Toronto Board of Education until his retirement. Bill married Alma Metcalfe in 1945 and they raised two children, Eric and June, and four grandchildren. Thirty-five years ago, Bill met his second wife, Shirley Reeves.

Bill has a keen interest in reading and building models in his spare time. One of the most memorable models was a scale model Lancaster bomber, which resembled Bad Penny. Bill also accumulated an extensive stamp collection and became an avid fisherman at his summer cottage on Rice Lake.

Bill no longer had anything to do with aviation on a professional level, except for his love of model planes. During the test flight of Operation Manna, Bill remembered a circle of German tanks with their guns aimed right at them. During the entire flight he prayed to “the big man up above” that they would not be shot down.

Bill and Shirley live in North York, Ontario, and they still visit Rice Lake frequently during the summer months.

(information provided by Bill’s grandson Steven.)

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Orval (Ozzie) Blower, Mid-Upper Gunner

ozzie

Ozzie Blower of Lakeview, Ontario, was 19 when he signed up for active duty in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. In early 1945, before Operation Manna, Ozzie was mid-upper gunner on a bombing mission with Windsor, Ontario native Pilot Bob Upcott and Flight Engineer Sgt. John Corner of Manchester, England. While flying back from Cologne, France both starboard motors were knocked out when a heavy flak burst rocked the aircraft just as the bomb doors were closing.

The right wing was shattered, the oxygen supply cut and the tail plane and fuselage peppered. Upcott dove to 10,000 feet and with wings tilted at 30 degrees, only two motors and without electrical navigation aids, the crew pinpointed their way across France escorted by Mustangs. Despite a tire blowout, Upcott made a superb landing at his home airfield. Sixty-six flak holes were counted by the shaken crew. Their Lancaster had to be taken out of service.

As for the test flight Operation Manna mission on Bad Penny, Ozzie says, "I was scared I would die, knowing also that I volunteered myself for something this dangerous. But I knew in my heart I was doing the right thing."

After the war, Ozzie returned to Canada and worked at a starch factory. He married June and they had two children, (Brad and Linda), and five grandchildren. Ozzie married Gail in 2002.

While always interested in aviation, Ozzie had no interest in flying after the war and he never returned to Holland.

Ozzie passed away in June of 2009. Michael Beale, past-president of the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association recalls, "Orval "Ozzie" (The Great "OZ") Blower was the mid-upper Gunner and the character of the crew. I remember Bob [Upcott] and Stan [Jones] saying he always made an effort to keep things light. Ozzie was gifted with incredible eyesight and was able to spot an enemy aircraft long before others could react."

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John Corner, DFM

As flight engineer for the "Bad Penny," John Corner was responsible for overseeing performance of the four Merlin engines mounted on the Lancaster. Hailing from Manchester, England, John was added as a crewmember when the crew was upgraded from a two-engine Wellington to the four-engine Lancaster.  

The oldest member at around 35 years of age, (most of the crew were in their early 20s), John was affectionately referred to as "Pops." John left the RAF after the war, married and was a much loved Uncle to his many nephews and nieces (he was the eldest of eight). Sadly, he died in 1978 at 68. "It was quite in character that Uncle John never spoke of his courageous part in such a wonderful humanitarian effort. [In 2009] I was researching Bomber Command for his great nephews when I came across the "Bad Penny" book. It was the first my Mother (his sister-in law) and I had heard of his part in operation Manna. My Mum and I were quite delighted to find all this out. He was tremendously fond of and proud of his Canadian comrades." John's niece, Catherine McLoughlin.

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