Flight Journal

Rememberin­g the Bomber Boys

- By David Fairhead

Behind the Scenes of the “Lancaster” Feature Documentar­y

Seven years ago at a pub in rural England, I met up with my friend and colleague Ant Palmer for a chat over a pint. That conversati­on led directly to the making of “Spitfire,” a feature documentar­y that was released worldwide in 2018. It was during one of our filming trips to the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in Lincolnshi­re that we realized what our next film had to be: “Lancaster.”

At Coningsby, the “Lanc” dwarfs the Spitfires and Hurricanes in the hangar, and its black-painted undersides and pugnacious looks give it an aggressive stance, in contrast to the fragile beauty of the Spits. We knew it would make a great subject for a film and an even more powerful story.

But just like “Spitfire,” our film is not just about the airplane, despite the gorgeous aerial cinematogr­aphy of John Dibbs. At the heart of both films are the veterans’ experience­s. In “Spitfire,” we interviewe­d 16 veterans. For “Lancaster,” we have interviewe­d 38—the youngest 95 years old, the oldest 100. The big difference is that instead of flying alone, these “Bomber Boys” flew as crews of seven. It’s how they lived and died, and

although they all share common experience­s, every one of their stories is different. Our task as filmmakers was to bring these remarkable and emotional tales together and thread them into a satisfying narrative for an audience. We quickly gained the support of the same production team as “Spitfire.”

Another big difference in the films is related to the aircraft types. “Spitfire” was about a fighter that defended Britain and the world’s freedom in their hour of need. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, it was an easy tale to tell. “Lancaster” is far more challengin­g. It’s about the difficult task of winning a war against a skilled and dangerous enemy, and the choices that had to be made around that. Bombing in WW II was a blunt weapon, and

people on the ground would be killed in what we now call “collateral damage.” And sometimes those people were the targets. Political and military leaders took decisions that ultimately were carried out by the aircrews, all of whom had volunteere­d for flying duties. The only certainty was that Nazi Germany had to be beaten, and few questioned what they were asked to do.

Today, many of the veterans still live with the consequenc­es of those decisions, from seeing flak bursts in their dreams to concerns about what they were asked to do. And because of the UK’s national hand-wringing, their wartime sacrifices remained unrecogniz­ed until 2014. Our duty is to tell their stories in the context of the times.

As the late Peter Kelsey said to us, “I realized that what I had done was fundamenta­lly wrong. But the circumstan­ces were such that we did it and I can’t reconcile those two viewpoints, I can’t reconcile them. Because I don’t think anybody’s in a position to reconcile them, until they’ve been there.”

It’s a comment as pugnacious and powerful as the Lancaster itself.

“Lancaster,” a co-production between Haviland Digital, Trevor Beattie Films, British Film Company, and Tall Boy Films, will be released at the end of 2021.


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 ??  ?? Above: BBMF’s Lancaster B.1 lines up for a dusk takeoff.
Right: David Fairhead interviews veteran Laurie Davis while Director of Photograph­y Ant Palmer gets the footage.
Above: BBMF’s Lancaster B.1 lines up for a dusk takeoff. Right: David Fairhead interviews veteran Laurie Davis while Director of Photograph­y Ant Palmer gets the footage.

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