"AN AIRMAN'S SON, POEM and PERSONAL MEMOIR".
My Poem entitled "AN AIRMAN'S SON".
This is a redrafted version of my personal Poem, first composed in 1997
whilst I was undergoing counseling for severe depression.


I was just a wee child, when the world went wild, with war bird, bomb and gun,
Not knowing then, whether or when, we might see the next rise of the sun,
In this time of great fear, when death seemed so near, could we hide or possibly run?
There was nowhere to go, for the place was aglow, with such chaos, all senses to stun.
I was not quite a lad, when told about Dad, and that I was an "Airman's Son"
He had served with ambition, to fulfill a tradition, and gave up his life and fun,
With the pride of his Nation, and their brave dedication, in Bomber Command, he was one,
Sent to stop the machines, and the ways and means, of the foe they called "The Hun".
However!
Casting ethics aside, High Command did decide, Area Bombing, would have to be done,
For this task then belied, with convention denied, "The Whirlwind" was begun,
With his honour all spent, and his loyalty bent, his conscience then twisted and spun,
So he finished it all, yet his way, held no call, for his memory any to shun.
It is a long time now, since I found out quite how, he made that sad final choice,
Yet year upon year, I shed a small tear, and ponder the thoughts he might voice,
So many lives and dreams ended, when tradition upended, in the War that had to be won,
Though he is never quite known, I am ever his own, and proud to be his "Airman's Son."
Michael Anthony Roy Skeet, 2005.
*********

My personal Story.
(as redrafted 10th October 2010).
Introductory note: -.
This is a personal recollection of my emotional life experiences, discoveries and the subsequent opinions I formed, relating to the RAF career and tragic death of my late father : -

Squadron Leader Maurice ‘Roy’ Skeet,
RAF BOMBER COMMAND, (39800), 1937–42.

Heartbreaking news
‘He was a pilot in the RAF, and you were two years old when he died. After that, I married Harry, your stepfather, and now you are known by your stepfather’s name.’
As a four-year-old boy, I had just been informed by my mother of the death of my birth father.
‘How did he die?’ I asked.
‘It was to do with the war,’ my mother answered, hesitantly.
‘What kind of planes did he fly?’ I continued.
‘Bombers, I think,’ she replied. ‘Now it’s time for you to go to sleep – come on, lie down and close your eyes. We will talk about it tomorrow.’

My father the hero
I lay in my bed trying to absorb what I’d just been told. Although still young, I’d gradually become conscious of the war and was trying to understand a little of its impact on the world around me.
My father was probably one of those airmen missing in action. He must have been a hero! My childish thoughts were filled with naive excitement and growing pride as I drifted off to sleep.

Visit to a child therapist
A few weeks before I was told this news, mother had taken me to see a man in London, who’d asked me lots of questions and watched me play with some toys and sand. We had visited this man several times over the course of a few weeks, and he had spoken quietly to my mother whilst I played.

(It was only years later that I learnt that he was a child psychologist, apparently, mother had been worried about my somewhat shy and retiring nature. Thinking there might be something wrong with me, she had taken me to see him for his professional advice, and he had recommended that I should be told about my birth father.)

Sense of pride in my real dad
Naturally, my curiosity about my airman father was overwhelming, and in the following weeks and months my questioning grew ever more frequent. I was not told very much, but what I did learn was that my father was named Maurice Roy Skeet, and that he had married mother before the war started.

Apparently, he had been a Squadron Leader in the RAF with Bomber Command, and after their marriage they had lived with his mother, Mrs. Jean Skeet in Edgware, and, I was told his family had moved away after he died, and their whereabouts were unknown.

He was an airman
I began my education at a small private school a few months later. There I was given elocution lessons and other forms of instruction in addition to the ordinary lessons. During this time, I was proud to inform my new-found chums that my real dad was an airman who had died serving his country in the war that was in progress.

Increasing loneliness and isolation
Shortly after the end of the war, my parent’s financial circumstances changed, and I was transferred to an ordinary, state primary school. There, the other children gave me the nickname ‘Pansy’ due to my newly polished accent, and I was sometimes teased and bullied without mercy. This resulted in me becoming increasingly isolated and introspective. I began to find it a little difficult to make friends and interact with other children, and sometimes I felt very lonely.

Desire to know more
As I progressed through primary school, the questions I wanted to ask about my father became ever more detailed and complex. I was told he’d flown such aircraft as Blenhiems, Whitley and Wellington bombers, and that he’d been posted to the Middle East, where he had flown aircraft ferrying men and equipment. Despite all my questions, I learnt very little more about his career, only that after his death he’d been buried in Yorkshire, near Lynton on Ouse.

Surprise at mother’s attitude
To my surprise, mother seemed critical of his personality and dismissive about his RAF career. Occasionally, when I asked about how he had died I was met with a stony silence or told to change the subject. Sometimes, when mother was angry with me for some childhood misdeed she would remark how much like my father I was.

As I grew older, it became ever more obvious to me that mother was reluctant to comment further about him.

Increasing wall of silence
Concerned that I should not upset mother any more than necessary, I approached my grandparents Nan and Pop for some of the information I so eagerly sought. I felt very close to them and respected them greatly. They had often taken care of me on the occasions when my mother and Harry went out for long periods. They had treated me with a great deal of love and understanding as a young child.

However, they were somewhat reluctant or just not able to answer all my probing questions. They gave me a little information, but one day, in a concerned voice, Nan said kindly, ‘Don’t ask too many questions – you might find out things you would not like to know.’

I’d imagined the sacrifice my father had made and developed a strong feeling of pride in his memory. I could not understand why my questions met with such a sense of mystery. In youthful ignorance, I felt a confusing sense of guilt for wanting to know.

Finding part of my paternal legacy
Occasionally, I would search through the various cupboards at home. In my mother’s bedroom, I found some toys and a stamp collection mounted in official-looking stationary books. There were also some glass projection slides for a Magic Lantern and a few rolls of eight-millimeter film, including some cartoons of Popeye the Sailor, Mickey Mouse and a couple of home movies.
When I asked about them, I was told that they were things that had been left to me by my father. When I wondered why I was not allowed access to them, I was told that they would be kept for me until I was older.

Growing ever more suspicious
Mother seemed to find these things – and my interest in them – as disturbing as my questions. I often wondered where the equipment to project the video items had gone but was not offered any explanation other than mother had needed to dispose of some of my father’s things after his death.

Meagre relics
I found a few RAF buttons, a pair of flying goggles and an RAF dagger in the cupboard under the stairs where Pop and I had slept during wartime air raids. But I felt these were meagre relics of my father’s life and his service career.

By now, I was beginning to suspect that there might be much more to find out about my father’s existence than what I had already been told.

Pop’s death spurs on my curiosity
As I entered my teenage years, Pop passed away following a serious illness.

This was a great loss to me as he was my most respected mentor, he’d helped me with my hobbies and encouraged me as a child, and he’d always seemed to understand and sympathize with my curiosity.

The grief and distress I felt at his passing together with a sense of loss seemed to emphasize my inquisitiveness about my father. I’d often wondered if my mother might have had some information about my father hidden away among the private papers that I knew she kept in her dressing table.

One day I was alone in the house and could not resist the opportunity and temptation to satisfy my curiosity.

A traumatic discovery
‘Haemorrhage and lacerations of the brain from a gunshot wound. Took his own life whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed.’

It took some moments for the words I had just read to penetrate my brain.

I read it again. This was my father’s death certificate. Suicide. It couldn’t be. It was. His name was there. His address. His rank. His service number. It was his! This is how he died.

Please. No! No! In disbelief, my childhood pride screamed out for it not to be true.

The horror and anguish tore at my very existence, again and again my eyes scoured the paper, desperately seeking an error, a mistake, an inaccuracy, but none was there.

Wishing it was just a bad dream
I closed my eyes for a moment, hoping it was a nightmare and that the horror of the words would vanish.

But it wasn’t, and the words were still there – the hand-written, official account of my father’s death, mortified, I put the small bundle of papers down on the top of the dressing table and turned away to sit stunned with shock on the bed.

Numb chill of betrayal
My mind reeled. For what seemed like a lifetime, I sat feeling tortured and confused, trying to make sense of that piece of paper and the information it contained.

The numb chill of a pride betrayed was consuming my very existence.

My childhood beliefs were being washed away on a brutal tide of shame and humiliation. After a while I cautiously picked up the papers and leafed through them again.

One was addressed to mother. It was a letter from my father’s commanding officer. In my state of shock I read through it, but the glowing references to his personality and compliments about his service in the RAF were overshadowed by the stark revelation of a few moments before. The letter gave little consolation to me in my state of misery.

Anger and bitterness
My anguish turned to anger and bitterness as I recalled some of the criticism mother had made about my father’s life and his family when I’d pressed for information in earlier years.

She’d told me how my father had tricked Pop into signing permission for their marriage and her into unwanted pregnancy.

She’d also said how he’d been irresponsible with money and been sent abroad because of unpaid mess bills. I’d been told my father’s parents wanted nothing to do with me after my father died and that they were not worth finding out about.

Blaming myself
Why had mother kept the facts about his death from me? Why! Was there something wrong with me? Was I in some way to blame for this tragedy? Was this my legacy of shame and dishonour?
Was my childhood pride in his brave sacrifice in the war no more than a foolish delusion? And as she had often angrily remarked, was I in some way just like him?

Keeping a shameful secret
Bewildered, I replaced the papers in the drawer where I’d found them. I left the room in a daze, hoping that mother would not realize that I’d disturbed them.

Whilst I felt a pang of guilt for having invaded her privacy, my faith, trust and belief in her were now beginning to be replaced with resentment, doubt and disillusion.
Just 13 years old at the time of this discovery, I kept this apparently shameful and terrible secret to myself and, consequently, became almost completely isolated and increasingly self-conscious.

My sole confidante
The only person in whom I confided was my childhood girlfriend, we married in November 1958 and went to share a flat with another young married couple with whom we’d been friends for some years.
However, a few months later, circumstances made it necessary for us to move back to live with my parents.

During this time, my wife sometimes discussed my father’s history with my grandmother Nan, on one occasion, Nan mentioned that she knew of an RAF officer, a colleague of my father’s, who lived locally.

Mixed messages
When the anguish of my earlier discoveries had subsided a little, my curiosity about my father began to stir once again, I discovered the telephone number of the RAF officer and tried to make contact, but my first phone call resulted in a request to ring back a few days later.

During the second call, the officer said that he’d known my father well and had held him in high regard, as had his fellow officers. He also said that Roy Skeet had exhibited courage and conviction, and the men under his command had great respect for him. However, he said he was not able to give me any further information for fear of being accused of slander by my mother.

I was very curious to understand the reason for the officer’s concluding remarks. However, I was not able to enquire into this new mystery, as mother was unaware that I knew of the death certificate.

(It was only sometime later that I discovered that the officer had contacted my mother after my first call, telling her of my enquiry, which might go some way to explaining his response.)

Some Restored pride and self-esteem
The compliments from him reminded me of the letter I’d found with my mother’s private papers, the contents of which had remained buried in my memory. I was comforted by his high opinion of my father, and this enabled me to recover a little of the pride of those earlier years.

Learning to live with it
None the less, I remained very confused and not able to understand the wide difference of opinion between my mother and the officer about my father.

For the next few years, I concentrated on my career and tried not to dwell on all the confusion and frustration I felt. I deliberately avoided any temptation to question the subject further.

Painful times
In 1962, however, my stepfather, Harry, passed away suddenly, and then, three years later, Nan died. Both their deaths affected me deeply. After Pop’s death, I had grown closer to my stepfather, while Nan had remained a close support and confidante. At the time of these occasions of grief, I found my mind dwelling on my father’s death and the questions it evoked in me.

(I began to realize that my feelings about his death were taking me over. It was becoming an obsessive and recurring theme in my life.)

A visit to Yorkshire
Some years later, I was working as an installation engineer in what was then the developing computer industry. In this position it was necessary for me occasionally to spend time away from home.

On one occasion, I had completed a week’s work at a location close to the Yorkshire border. I was reluctant to return straight home, because my relationship with my wife had begun to suffer due to an earlier indiscretion of mine, and I was feeling somewhat depressed. When I realized that I was not far from the place where I had learnt my father was buried, I felt the urge to try and find his memorial.

In search of my father
On an early spring Saturday morning, I drove in bright sunshine through the countryside to Yorkshire. After I’d passed through the ancient town of York, I reached the large air force base a little further on. I told the young airman on duty at the gatehouse that I believed my father might have served at the base during the war, and that I was looking for the location of the churchyard where I thought he was buried. The young man informed me that if the commanding officer had not been away I might have been able to peruse the records at the station. Nevertheless, having told him what I knew about my father’s burial place he was able to give me some detailed directions, and I continued on to my intended destination.

The Grave
"This is Him" the unspoken words echoed in my mind as I shivered in trepidation. The hewn inscription seemed to leap at me across the space between my rapidly misting eyes and the waist high memorial a few paces away.

With a sob of long suppressed and unresolved grief, I choked on the words "Hi Dad, It's me, I'm here". I found myself announcing my presence with the respect and homage of a long separated son oblivious to the rivulets of tears dripping from my cheeks.

Time stood still as I became transfixed and completely overwhelmed by the deeply personal nature of that hallowed piece of ground and its significance to me, my mind was consumed in a maelstrom of emotions.

Renewing a bond
My blurred eyes flicked from the RAF crest below the gently curved top of the stone to the inscription bearing my father's rank, name, date of death and age, below the central deeply carved cross the words "In loving memory, ever in our thoughts, mother wife and son" spoke their message not more than a few inches above the grassy plot.

Gradually an overwhelming feeling of warmth and empathy came over me; the instinctive natural bond with my father and respect for his memory were being renewed and re-established, the release of a long repressed grief began to sweep away the disappointment and shame that had plagued me for the dozen or so years since my traumatic discovery of his death certificate.

A lifting experience
As I regained my composure and wiped the now drying tears from my face, my mind cleared and I looked around me. I was alone in silence except for the chirping of the birds and the rustling of leaves in the trees.

It only seemed like a few moments before, in the early afternoon, I'd entered that tranquil churchyard at Newton upon Ouse, with feelings of trepidation and curiosity I’d walked reverently between the rows of memorials until I reached the identical shaped RAF Gravestones recording the resting-places of fallen Airmen.

Now it was late in the afternoon, in the reverence of that quiet space I’d been consumed in a timeless trance of thoughts and emotion.

Purposes renewed
Turning away from that hallowed spot I studied the other gravestones for the name ranks and dates on them. Having paid my respects, I returned to my car and set off on the long journey back to London in the fading afternoon sunlight. I carried with me on that journey a silent vow; in the years to come I would discover all that I could about my father's life, the years of his RAF service and the tragedy of his untimely death.

With a renewed sense of purpose I would honour my father's memory by trying to find out more about him and adopt my birth name of Skeet and attempt to mend my marriage and prove my self worth and independence.

Starting a new business
A month or so later I resigned from my job and started a business. I'd been using my spare time and holidays to earn extra money in the fields of carpentry, plumbing and electrical household repairs, and had developed a skill in these fields due to my earlier employment training and the guidance given me by my late grandfather Pop.

(I had no idea that in the next few months I would discover more about my heritage than I could ever have imagined possible.)

Belated reunion
I asked the frail dark haired old lady who had just opened the door in the hall of the first floor of large Victorian House, if she was the person I was looking for? "Yes" she replied quietly, her breathing laboured with the effects of Emphysema. I introduced myself and asked if she minded me coming to see her? "I'm so pleased to see you. Please come in." was her excited, breathless reply.

She was my paternal grandmother, Mrs. Jean Skeet, it was 1966, and I was now 27 years old. The newly formed business I'd started using the name of Skeet was less than six months old.

(A few weeks earlier I'd managed to contact my late father's uncle who'd informed me of her address.)

I spent an hour or so talking with her, hesitating to question her too much about my search for information, but told her of my moving visit to my father's grave earlier that year. It was obvious that she was delighted to know me and welcomed my company, in stark contrast to what mother had told me. I felt very sad and frustrated that we had been separated for so many years.

Unfortunately, she was quite unwell with her chest condition and although she was keen for me to stay longer I was concerned not to tire her. So with a promise to visit again soon I took my leave and set off back to home with the warmth of our meeting and the thrill of discovering my grandmother filling me with satisfaction and an even stronger sense of purpose.

Over the next 4 years I visited my grandmother Jean as often as I could, sometimes with my wife and children, having many discussions with her about my father's family, his life and RAF career. She explained that she had divorced her husband Reginald Maurice Skeet when my father was a young boy, and although Reginald Skeet had passed away in 1961 they had kept in touch during their years of separation.

Learning more about father
From various discussions with grandmother about my father’s life I found out that he had been in Command of Unit in Iraq and had returned to this country when my mother wrote telling him that their marriage was over and that she had fallen in love with another man.

After my father returned to this country he had tried to rescue his marriage but mother had refused to consider reconciliation and told him that she did not want him to contact me in any way. Apparently she had continued to demand money from him whilst living with the man who was later to become my stepfather. Realizing his marriage was finished my father then met and fell in love with a young woman and began to live with her whilst serving with Bomber Command at various locations in the United Kingdom.

Grandmother Jean stated that she had met Jean Campbell and approved of her son's new companion and showed me a photograph of her.

Fathers last letters
My grandmother then told me of two letters my father had left when he died. The letter addressed to her she was permitted to read but the authorities retained it for security reasons as it contained sensitive Wartime information.

Apparently it contained details of how troubled my father was about the new policy of "Area Bombing" and had gone absent without leave, and that it involved dropping bombs on civilian targets. The letter stated that he could not get the thought of killing innocent women and children out his mind. It also said that he could not reconcile his conscience with this part of his duty and was concerned that if his thoughts and objections became known to the other Officers and men in his command it might affect their morale.

(By this time I had heard a little about the controversy surrounding "Area Bombing" and the civilian casualties that were caused by it. I knew from newspaper reports in the 1950's that it had been concealed by the authorities until quite late in the war and I found it very plausible that my father might find it objectionable on humanitarian grounds.)

A mothers distress
My Grandmother also described how the policeman who attended the scene of her son's death told her he found the Officer with a towel wrapped around his head in the bathroom of his hotel.
She mentioned her distress at my father’s funeral when my mother insisted on being accompanied by her new boyfriend and the later discovery that mother had destroyed almost all of my father’s personal papers and possessions including his uniform.

(This upset me greatly and explained the apparent lack of evidence of my father at home during my childhood.)

Financial and legal matters
In addition grandmother Jean informed me that after some legal wrangling with his personal representatives and the RAF Authorities his insurance company had paid out on his life insurance policy, even though he had committed suicide.

I was also told my father had owned an expensive motor car and a video camera and had purchased gifts for my mother and I whilst he was abroad,  apparently his father Reginald Maurice Skeet who was a successful businessman and manager of a rubber plantation in Malaya had helped him financially throughout his life.

My grandmother also mentioned that Reginald Skeet had visited my mother and offered to pay for my education and that he and grandmother wanted to keep in touch with me, however my mother had rejected these offers and refused to allow them any contact with me.

A few lasting memento's
Grandmother Jean gave me a few some surviving pictures and other memento's of my father together with his war medals in a small cardboard box. In the box with the medals was a cutting from a York local paper, which contained a journalist's account of the inquest held into my father's death. It included references to a statement by his lady companion about the financial demands being made by his wife and mentioned the two letters given to the coroner at the inquest.

(My grandmother's account of my father’s career and personality gave me great reassurance and comfort and renewed the pride I'd felt as a very young child.

The feelings I’d experienced in that tranquil Yorkshire churchyard were reinforced dramatically by what I'd learned from her.

(However, I was still conscious of the lurking doubts in the back of my mind.)

Losing my grandmother
Sadly, in January 1971 Jean Skeet passed away following a short bout of pneumonia and once again I experienced the pain of grief and feelings of a deep personal loss.
I was extremely distressed that we had known each other for such a short time but I felt more than privileged to have had the love and warmth of her company for those few years together.

Questioning mother’s attitude
Following my grandmother's death, I found out that she had lived not far from my personal home until 1951. This meant that my Mother had deceived me when she had claimed earlier in my childhood that she did not know of my father's family whereabouts! I later challenged mother about the things I'd learnt in the hope of gaining a deeper understanding of the way she had portrayed my father. Although she reluctantly conceded that the policy of "Area Bombing" might have been of some concern to my father she would not withdraw her opinion that his irresponsible personality and behavior with money were the main reasons for his state of mind.

Questioned about the letter of separation she had sent, she claimed my father had been unfaithful to her while he was abroad and that  she'd subsequently formed a relationship with Harry, my stepfather, and refused to accept any responsibility for the break-up of her marriage. This led to angry exchanges between us and subsequently I communicated very rarely with her.

More difficult times
Over the next year the continuing grief of losing my grandmother and the poor relations with mother together with difficulties in my marriage resulted in me suffering a period of deep depression. This culminated in the failure of my business activities and led to a nervous breakdown. Subsequently I spent some time as a voluntary patient in a Psychiatric Hospital.

During this time I had contemplated the possibility of taking my own life, however a feeling of duty to my father’s memory and my desire to find out more about him deterred me. Fortunately I was helped to come to terms with my circumstances by the counseling and treatment I received at the time.

A change of circumstance
After some six weeks I left the Hospital and then in an attempt to rebuild my life I found employment with a small engineering company in Hendon. By then I had formalized my change of name by Deed poll and my wife, children and I were known by the surname of Skeet. However it was becoming obvious to me that my marriage was almost at an end and that I would have to build a new life for myself.

Beginning a new life
In early 1974 I met a young Irish woman who was having difficulties in her own marriage, despite our mutual difficulties we fell very much in love and started to live together. Then later in the year I managed to obtain improved employment as an engineer with an Independent Hospital in North London. I was beginning to renew my self-esteem and improve my financial position. A year later I obtained a divorce and sometime later my new partner obtained her own, over the following sixteen years we forged a deep and intimate relationship together. The comfort, inspiration and security we obtained from each other, together with our improving financial position enabled us to take out a mortgage on a house near the Kent coast as a preparation for our future retirement.

For most of this time I put any thoughts of making further enquiries into my father’s RAF history to the back of my mind. Nevertheless I maintained a keen interest in anything to do with the RAF, the War and Fighting Aircraft. Occasionally, when visiting an Air display, or reading a news report or viewing a program on the Television about the RAF or the history of the war I would become quite emotional and wonder if there might be anything more I could find out about him.

Changing circumstances and renewed anxiety
In 1991 my partner’s career was terminated for medical reasons and shortly afterwards I was made redundant from my position as Chief Engineer. Having no alternative we moved to our new home in Kent, fortunately, with our savings we were able to pay off the outstanding mortgage and avoid the worry and burden that would have placed on us. However, the insecurity of unemployment began to play on my mind and I began to experience renewed feelings of anxiety and depression. I again found my thoughts returning to my father's career and tragic death. Although I retained some confidence in my grandmother’s account I was still troubled by nagging and obsessive doubts.

As my anxiety progressed I developed a mild form of agoraphobia making it difficult for me to leave the security of my home for any extended time. This increased my sense of isolation from the world about me. Fortunately the support, help and loving understanding of my partner prevented me from sinking into an irrecoverable state.

The results of counseling
A few years later I sought the professional help of a counselor and was advised to try to express my thoughts and emotions by writing them down. I did this initially in the form of the poem entitled 'An Airman's Son', in memory of my father. Subsequently in 1998 I felt compelled to obtain my father's record of service from the RAF record department.

I found the details it contained were somewhat abbreviated and difficult to understand. However, it gave me a further insight into his RAF career. It included details of the Units and Squadrons he'd served with from the time he joined the RAF in 1937 up until the time of his death in 1942, together with the dates of his postings, duties and promotions.

Renewed doubts
Rather worryingly, it included a notation relating to a Board of Enquiry set up by the RAF to investigate the cause of his death. The notation stated "The Investigating Officer considered that he took his life in consequences of financial difficulties".

(Once again this raised the spectre of those lifelong nagging doubts, I again began to wonder if the pride I felt in him might yet be the product of those early childhood delusions.)

A legacy revealed
A year later I received some items of my mother's possessions, she was by then suffering from dementia. In these I found copies of my father's death certificate, his probate declaration and the certificates of my mother's two marriages. To my surprise I found that mother had inherited a considerable sum of money from my father's estate following his death.

This seemed to explain how she had been able to afford to send me to a private school for the first years of my education. It also cast considerable doubt on the claims made by mother about his financial irresponsibility and the rather ambiguous and worrying notation on his service record.

Facing the confusion
Faced with these new facts I considered the only way could put my confused mind and the nagging doubts to rest would be to make enquiries of any other source of official records or information that were accessible.

(However, for the time being I remained somewhat intimidated by mother's attitude and my damaged confidence, consequently, I delayed any action at that time.)

My mother passed away in the year 2000 and later that year I decided to put aside any fears about what I might discover and further my enquiries into my father’s service career and his death.

The quest for facts
It was then that I began my long delayed inquiries using the information on my father’s service record. The details I sought were now over 50 years old and I was very aware that it might be difficult to find evidence to substantiate the account of my father’s life related to me by my grandmother Mrs. Jean Skeet.

With the help of a Computer and access to the Internet, I started my quest by contacting various organizations and individuals to find out if any substantial information existed. One of my earliest enquiries resulted in an e-mail contact with a chap who had posted a Website recording his father's RAF Memoirs with No. 158 Squadron. This was the Squadron my father had served with shortly before his death and I subsequently became a member of its Association. I then acquired the book "In Brave Company" a history of 158 Squadron by the Author W.R.Chorley.

From this book and my contact with the 158 Association I learnt that my Father had held the position of Flight Commander in May and June of 1942. The book stated that such responsibilities were usually only given to Officers with outstanding service experience or special qualities. This information indicated to me that his superiors must have held him in some esteem.

(It was reasonable to deduce from these facts that he would have been aware of the objectives and consequences of the 'Area Bombing Campaign' and that he would have seen any reconnaissance reports of the damage caused by the bombing undertaken by his Squadron during that period.)

Then later in the year I began receiving information from the Public Records office at Kew, which included details of my Father's operational activities. These were the Operational Records for his Squadron during May and June 1942 and indicated that he had taken part in the 1st and 2nd Thousand Bomber raids on the German Cities of Cologne and Essen a few weeks before his death.

My primary goal had been to find out what type of duties he was responsible for in the months just prior to his death. I felt it was essential to know the kind of experiences he might have had, as this might point to how he felt about his duties.

A Wartime controversy
Some time later I learnt that a great controversy had raged in Canada in the early 90s over a television documentary entitled "the Valour and the Horror". This documentary gave details of Bomber Command strategy with the consequences of the indiscriminate nature of "Area Bombing", and how the information had been concealed from the ordinary Aircrews and the General Public. It described how the policy was conceived in early 1942 and how it was intended to demoralize the German civilian population. Apparently the orders for it to be implemented were issued in a directive on St Valentines Day 1942.

At the time, the policy of indiscriminate Bombing was publicly denied for political and legal reasons, but it had been reported in Newspapers and also discussed in Parliament.

The Documentary also described how the term LMF "Lack of Moral Fibre" was used by the RAF to describe Airmen who refused to fly or cracked under the strain of duty and how they were stripped of their rank and humiliated in front of their Command. It also stated that prior to implementation of the Area Bombing Campaign, direct orders and the Geneva Convention prohibited Bomber Command from bombing targets that might involve causing civilian casualties.

(In the light of the apparent controversy regarding Area Bombing in World War Two, I could understand how he might have developed a doubts about this policy. It was obvious to me that if my father had refused to fly, because of his conscience, he would have suffered the humiliation of being classified LMF. Furthermore, in his role as Flight Commander such an incident might well have seriously influenced others in his command with similar doubts about their duties.)

Obtaining a personal opinion
By late 2000 I had managed to make contact with and speak to a Rear Air Gunner, Mr. J W P Curtis (DFC) who had flown with 158 Squadron on the same dates as my father and had known him reasonably well.

Apparently, they had by chance, met and had a drink together in the hotel on the evening before the day of my father's death. In my conversations with him I told him briefly of what I had learnt and he agreed with the opinion that my father’s death was related to the Area Bombing Offensive, he stated that he believed my father had been unable to reconcile his conscience with his duties.

Discovering a history untold
A little later I contacted and joined the RAF Habbaniya Association. I knew from my father’s service record that he had been stationed at Habbaniya from the start of the war until 1941. I then acquired the book ‘Hidden Victory’ by Air Vice Marshal, A.G. Dudgeon, CBE. DFC. This book gave an account of the Battle that had taken place in Iraq in 1941.

Early in 2001 I obtained the Official records concerning the Communications Flight stationed at RAF Habbaniya, Iraq. This was the unit my father had Commanded as Flight Lieutenant. The records indicated that his unit had been equipped with rather obsolete twin Engined Biplanes modified for combat duty at short notice prior to the emergency. The records detailed that the Flight had taken part in heavy night bombing operations on Iraqi targets during the Battle.

(This discovery did more than reaffirm my pride in my father's career and it was this that first prompted me to consider constructing a Website in order to publicize what appeared to be an overlooked part of the history of the War.)

Talks with a Corporal
At around the same time I managed to make contact with a retired RAF Corporal Fitter, Mr. Alan Summerbell, who had recognized a picture of my father during an Association Reunion. I once again heard how respected and liked my father was. The Corporal said he had served with the Flight and he described how he had been on flights with my father in Iraq. He also related some of his memories from his time in the Middle East and at RAF Habbaniya. He also informed me that due to wartime restrictions my mother could not have known of my father's whereabouts or his activities while he was abroad during the War.

The Corporal went on to recount a personal incident when a Senior Station Officer had wrongly disciplined him at Habbaniya. My father, as his direct Commanding Officer had subsequently insisted that the matter be removed from the record on the grounds that the Corporal was carrying out his orders at the time. This suggested to me that my father abhorred injustice and was not afraid to challenge superior Officers.

When I told the Corporal I held the opinion that my father had committed suicide because of the policy of Area Bombing, he remarked, "That sounds like your dad. He was just like that! He had a sensitive personality".

Any lingering doubts now being removed
The conversations with the Gunner and the Corporal were starting to help suppress any nagging doubts I had about my father’s personality. I felt I was making intimate connections with his existence. These conversations reminded me so much of what my sadly missed grandmother had told me. I derived much encouragement from speaking to these two Airmen, but I was saddened to learn that so many of the others who might have known and had first hand knowledge of him had since passed on in the intervening years.

The Coroners Office
A little time later I contacted the York Coroner's records to find out if there was any information in their archives that might throw further light on my father's death. In the reply I received was a copy of the entry in the Coroners records with a statement by the present Coroner that there were no records of any witness statements or the two letters said to be related to my father's death.

The copy of the record included the names and addresses of the witnesses present and a summary of the Coroners findings as to the cause of his death. Surprisingly, according to the present Coroner, this was the only record contained in the archive.

The Ministry of Defense
When I made an enquiry to the Ministry of Defense, I was informed that they permanently held a file on my father's death but that there was no record of a RAF court of enquiry on the file. The extract from the file sent to me included a reference to my father being concerned about his position with the RAF Authorities along with similar details included in the other documents in my possession and my earlier knowledge.

(At this point I felt I had exhausted the avenues of research open to me and that it would be difficult to obtain any further information.)

A brief television interview
Then in 2002 a representative of the BBC, INSIDE OUT regional documentary series, approached me. I was asked if I would be willing to be interviewed and provide some information about the circumstances of my father’s death. The article was related to the subject of conscientious objection in WW2 and the Hundreds of wartime airmen that were classified LMF. It illustrated with interviews how they were treated and that they were mostly suffering from the condition ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The article also included a brief representation of my father’s last days with some of my personal comments.

This was aired on Monday 24 February at 7.30pm in the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire region and a week later in the Southeast region.

My personal opinions restated
Despite the decades of doubt and confusion from my childhood, I now feel I can state my opinions based on what I have learned from my research and the few facts in existence.

Obviously, I am aware that readers of this memoir might consider that I have been prompted by a strong personal desire to honour my father's memory and justify my pride in him. However, I have tried to be as objective as is possible and have recorded my experiences and findings as accurately as I can.

I found the most curious factor in the circumstances surrounding my father's death, to be the brevity of the official records, particularly in relation to the inquest. The absence of recorded witness statements and any reference to the two letters in the Coroners Archive record is to my mind somewhat significant. I believe there would be little justification in not recording the witness statements and the existence of the two letters if my father’s state of mind was simply a case of personal circumstances and financial difficulties.

I also believe that in light of his position in the RAF and his duties at the time, an extended bank overdraft would have been one of the least of his concerns.

Perhaps the most telling document to hand is the report of the inquest in the York Local newspaper of the time. This stated that the inquest had heard from the Officer's companion that had told her he was concerned about his bank overdraft and had tried to persuade her to return to London, and that he was worried about his wife who had been pestering him for money. Somewhat significantly, the report also included a reference to the fact that two letters had been handed to the deputy coroner but were not read out in court, and that there were 'other matters' troubling the Officer.

The 'other matters' mentioned briefly in the Newspaper report coupled with the two unrecorded letters, suggested that there was much more to the issue of his death than had been exposed in open court. Furthermore, there was the extreme brevity of the extract from the file presently held by the Ministry of Defense stating that there was no record of the RAF court of enquiry on the file.

I consider the absence of that record or a copy of its conclusion places significant doubt on the validity and ambiguity of the notation on my father’s service record. Also furthermore, I am of the opinion that this would have been a convenient way for the RAF authorities to conceal the truth in the light of circumstances at the time.

I am convinced the references to financial difficulties were based on the unsubstantiated statement made by my father's female companion at the Inquest and were conveniently seized upon by the Authorities and subsequently my mother.

The later Probate document indicates to me that my father’s financial status was quite healthy at the time of his death.

The fact that he is buried in a RAF Grave and listed as remembered with honour in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission stands on its own as a testament to his Service Record and his memory.

This combined with his life insurance policy being honoured strongly indicates that the Authorities considered his death was directly related to his wartime duties.

It remains to be seen whether the letter read by my grandmother is still in existence and if any other personal documents contained remarks or comments that may have justified their retention and concealment at the time.

I consider it is highly likely that if such documents do exist then they may well still remain to be disclosed.

I am now convinced that the details related to me by my grandmother Mrs. Jean Skeet were as close to the facts as can be reasonably assessed in the light of the circumstances.

I feel I can appreciate the dilemma's that could have plagued him at the time and am proud of his apparent commitment to his personal principles, beliefs and standards of honour.

(I remain of the opinion that my father acted with courage - despite the manner of his death - and with the best of intentions and was just as much a casualty of war as all who gave their lives in the service of this country and for the principles they believed it was fighting to uphold.)

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Dedicated to: -
The Cherished Memory of my Grandmother,
Mrs. JEAN MARY ANN SKEET, (1893-1970)
And the Honoured Memory of my father, (1917-1942)
SQUADRON LEADER, MAURICE 'ROY' SKEET,
(39800) RAF, BOMBER COMMAND. 1937-42,
who ended his own life on the 26th of June 1942,
at the age of 24 years and 7 months.
Michael Anthony Roy Skeet, 2010.

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