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Bomber on tour

Lancaster bomber on display until May 12 at Devonshire Mall

Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star
Published: Sunday, April 29, 2007

reunion

Windsor's Lancaster bomber has landed at Devonshire Mall. The WWII bomber was moved from storage at Jackson Park to the mall Sunday, exactly 62 years to the day since Operation Manna began. Photograph by: Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star

He flew her in low, under tree tops and church spires, uncomfortably close to enemy fire.

During the Second World War, Windsor pilot Bob Upcott and his crew dropped food to starving Dutch civilians in a Lancaster bomber, just like the one now in Devonshire Mall's parking lot.

"Because it wasn't an officially declared truce, they still considered it a combat operation," said project manager Ed Curnutte. "It was considered a very hazardous operation."

Windsor's 61-year-old Lancaster was hauled to the mall parking lot near Sears Sunday, where it will sit until May 12 as a tourist attraction.

Its' top speed was 278 miles per hour, but it took two hours to get from Jackson Park to the mall, negotiating some tight turns and clearing many obstacles by mere inches.

For a voluntary donation people can walk through the plane everyday until May 12, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Souvenirs are also for sale. All proceeds will go toward the aircraft's restoration.

When it leaves the mall, the plane will go to the airport for a massive restoration project, with an aim to get it into taxiing condition.

For now, the great hulk of a plane, currently without wings, sits in the parking lot with its twin .50 calibre gun turret poking through the top.

Windsor's Lancaster, built at the end of the war, didn't actually fly in Operation Manna making food drops in the Netherlands.

But it's an historical artifact in its own right, said Curnutte. It was used to photomap Canada's vast arctic.

If you used a geography textbook during the 1960s, you can probably thank the Lancaster for the photos.

"It was the first aircraft that had done this," said Curnutte. "It was an aircraft built in Canada out of Canadian raw materials, assembled in Canada, flew by Canadians taking pictures in Canada. I don't know how much more Canadian you can get than that."

And our Lancaster is representative of what others did in the war, he said.

The Nazi war machine had cut off all food supplies to the Dutch people during the winter of 1944 and 1945. Starvation took 1,000 people a day. They ate tulip bulbs and burned furniture to keep warm.

"They were literally starving to death," said Curnutte. "Things were bleak."

That's where a crew of Canadian boys came in, including Upcott, and their Lancaster, dubbed the Bad Penny.

The Allies negotiated a tentative truce that allowed food supplies to be dropped in, but it was nothing official. That meant that even though they were on a mercy mission, the German guns were still a threat.

"So they would fly very low to drop the food on target, sometimes even flying below tree top level and below church steeple level," said Curnutte.

The first mission began 62 years ago on Sunday. The plane in Windsor now bears the Bad Penny insignia.

For Rick Carnahan, 54, touring the airplane is a chance to walk down memory lane, and wipe out a past regret. When he was 10, his dad worked on this very plane as a mechanic, and Carnahan had his picture taken with it.

"I remember when I was a kid, he tried to get me to go up through the hatch, and I was too scared," said Carnahan. "I always regretted it."

twilhelm@thestar.canwest.com or 519-255-5777 ext. 642