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".
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.
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 : -
Leader Maurice ‘Roy’ Skeet,
My father the hero
Visit to a child therapist
(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
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
Increasing loneliness and isolation
Desire to know more
Surprise at mother’s attitude
As I grew older, it became ever more obvious to me that mother was reluctant to comment further about him.
Increasing wall of silence
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
Growing ever more suspicious
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Keeping a shameful secret
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.
My sole confidante
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.
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
Learning to live with it
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.
(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
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
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
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
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.
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
(I had no idea that in the next few months I would discover more about my heritage than I could ever have imagined possible.)
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
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
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
(This upset me greatly and explained the apparent lack of evidence of my father at home during my childhood.)
Financial and legal matters
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
(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
Questioning mother’s attitude
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
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
Beginning a new life
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
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
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.
(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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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 Coroners Office
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
(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
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
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.
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.
All content Copyright © Michael A. R. Skeet. 2001-2010, except where otherwise stated.