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The Boy With Only One Shoe

Title:The Boy With Only One Shoe - An illustrated memoir of wartime life with Bomber Command
Writer:Meller, J.H. & Brownbill, C.
Published in:2020

This book has been written by still living R.A.F. veteran, former Warrant Officer John Henry Meller (1924). I have received this book, signed by him personally, even including a picture in which he signs his book. Considering the writer is a retired police colleague, one will understand that receiving, reading and reviewing this book is quite an honor.

The foreword immediately explains the choice of the title. At the age of three, the author sustained third degree burns from boiling water. Here, in his own words, he had a near-death experience: he sees a glowing light and a staircase far into the clouds. Climbing and climbing, he sees some sort of angel at a gate who won't let him enter heaven: 'You can't come in because you only have one shoe'.

Another special event occurred when this experience was discussed again: an uncle puts a hand on his head, saying: 'Stay on the ground, my boy and don't fly again'. And during World War Two, it was he who became a crew member of a Lancaster bomber of the R.A.F.

In some thirty short but well described, easy to read chapters, the R.A.F. veteran describes his life from his youth up to his demobilization in 1950. In the beginning he is still too young to enter service. He attends the R.A.F. Cadets and in addition works in a factory. He makes long days and is involved in avionics of numerous types of aircraft.

In September 1942, his eighteenth birthday, he joins the R.A.F. His keenness to fight against the Germans becomes clear from the following: should the function of pilot/navigator not be available, he is given the choice to wait or enter service as gunner of W/T operator. He opts for this last function and writes about the training in his book.

Eventually Meller, twenty years of age, is posted to No. 149 Squadron R.A.F. Bomber Command. He describes the nocturnal bombing raids, aircraft and crew members failing to return, from his own quarters as well. In chapter sixteen for instance, he describes a flight during which his aircraft is hit by Flak and sustains damage. After fires have been extinguished and the clouds have saved them from German night fighters, the crew manages to fly the heavily damaged bomber safely back to base.

April 1945 sees him posted to No. 15 Squadron R.A.F. Bomber Command. Shortly after his transfer he meets Barbara, his future wife. In between flights, he sees her as much as possible. Then Operation Manna is launched, the dropping of food over occupied Holland. Next comes a period of evacuating British prisoners-of-war. At the end of 1945, Meller participates in daylight flights over Germany, recording the surroundings and the damage on camera. In July 1945, he undertakes evacuation flights with British prisoners-of-war from Italy.

As there is a fair chance of being transferred to the Far-East to support the fighting over there, a special training is scheduled next to prevent being made a prisoner-of-war. Because of the Americans deploying atomic bombs in August 1945, the Japanese surrender and the war is over. For Meller, a transfer is out of the question. It hurts when in December his aircraft is destined for the scrapyard, although it has flown 134 sorties and still survived. Meller writes about post-war life in the R.A.F., his marriage to Barbara in January 1949, her first pregnancy and the birth of his son in September 1949.

The R.A.F. veteran and his wife are very active in organizing and execution of commemorations of the fallen and in the end, a monument is erected in memory of the 55,573 personnel of Bomber Command who lost their lives during World War Two. It is a gripping moment when at the unveiling, an R.A.F. Lancaster bomber flies past dropping thousands of poppies as a tribute to those who fell, sending the message: "We are a Lancaster bomber with a crew of ten carrying 55,573 souls.

As Meller is so grateful he did survive the war, he has dedicated his book, a blend of personal memories and historical facts, to the next-of-kin of the deceased 55,573 crew members of R.A.F. Bomber Command. The revenue of his book is donated to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.

The fund is a prominent charity organization lending financial, practical and emotional support to former and present members of the R.A.F., their partners and others whose care they are entrusted to. The support varies from child care, relational problems, sickness, injury, disability, financial support to dealing with bereavement.

The author is almost 96 years of age, has been married to Barbara for 71 years and resides in Cardiff, Wales. After his discharge from the R.A.F., he became a police officer of Scotland Yard. He conducted investigations in internationally known cases such as the Great Train Robbery. This was a nocturnal raid in august 1963 on the mail train from London to Glasgow; the booty being 2.6 million.

Co-author Caroline Brownbill is his daughter. Caroline used to be a commercial pilot. Together with her daughter Stephanie, she runs her own livery stable in South-Wales. Currently, Meller is working on his second book entitled 'On the beat with only one shoe' together with his daughter. I am looking forward to this with great expectation!

Rating: Excellent


Translated by:
Fernando Lynch
Article by:
Wijnand de Gelder
Published on:
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The strong faith of RAF veteran John Henry Meller


The strong faith of RAF veteran John Henry Meller

TracesOfWar employee Wijnand de Gelder recently reviewed the book The Boy With Only One Shoe by RAF veteran John Henry Meller (1924). In his early youth, at the age of three, the writer was severely burned with third-degree burns by boiling water. Here, according to his own words, he had a near-death experience: he saw a glowing light and a staircase far into the clouds. As he climbed and climbed he saw a kind of angel in a gate. He didn't want to let him enter heaven: You can't come in - because you only have one shoe!

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