Don MasonOperation Freshman and memories of a wartime bomber pilot
Duration: 22m 9s
Recorded: 18 November 2017
About this recording
Don Mason tells the story of Operation Freshman, an audacious and ill-fated raid on occupied Norway launched from RAF Skitten, near Wick, in November 1942. The aim was to disable the Germans’ heavy water research programme at Vemork – and so disrupt the development of a Nazi atomic bomb. The mission ended in failure with the loss of 41 Allied men, many of whom were executed by the Gestapo. Subsequent action by saboteurs from the Norwegian resistance inspired the Hollywood film The Heroes of Telemark. In 2002, Don was fundraiser and PR officer for the Skitten Project Committee, overseeing a number of 60th anniversary commemorative events including a civic reception in Wick. Don served as an RAF pilot and then a radio observer in World War Two, completing nearly 5000 flying hours including missions for the Special Operations Executive when he dropped agents into France along with supplies for the resistance. He was an acting squadron leader when, returning from a mission over Berlin in May 1941, his aircraft was attacked from below by a German fighter plane. The bomb aimer, navigator, flight engineer and wireless operator were all killed but Don survived along with his mid-upper and rear gunner. Somehow he managed to return his crippled Stirling bomber to an emergency landing field on the east coast of England despite suffering severe spinal injuries, damage to his left eye, lacerations around his head and a hole his knee. He flew to Normandy twice on D-Day. Don’s connection with Caithness began in 1940 when he flew Blenheims out of Wick. Originally from Kingswinford in Worcestershire, he moved to Thurso in the 1980s and at the age of 96 still gives talks about his wartime experiences to local primary school pupils.