Peter with his dad, Stanley Mansbridge (1918 - 2005)
Wing Commander Stanley Mansbridge of the Royal Air Force had completed two tours as a navigator/bomb aimer with 5 Group, 49 Squadron RAF, when King George VI pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on his chest during a wartime ceremony in Buckingham Palace. My father had been on many Bomber Command missions in the Second World War, including an August 1943 attack on the Nazis' Peenemunde rocket site that seriously delayed Adolf Hitler's V-1 and V-2 rocket production at a critical time during the war.
Like so many veterans of the greatest generation, my father rarely talked about the war. He'd "lost far too many friends," my mother used to say. One Remembrance Day I remember catching him gently crying as he watched the 11:00 a.m. ceremonies from Ottawa. I was twelve or thirteen, and it was the only time I would ever see him tear up. After that I decided that if I was ever going to get him to open up about his experiences, I'd have to start by learning the history myself. I became an avid student of the Second World War as a result. When I felt I knew enough, I ventured a questioned. I asked Dad if he'd ever met Sir Winston Churchill. He looked me in the eye and said, "I never met him, but one night I talked to him."
In the last year of the war, his missions from two tours behind him, Wing Commander Mansbridge had been assigned to Bomber Command headquarters, where major operations were mapped out, assigned and coordinated. One night at about four in the morning, with the latest mission over, he was filling in as duty officer when a certain phone rang - only one person called on that line. "Yes, Prime Minister?" my father answered, as firmly as he could. "How many aircraft have not returned?" was the only question asked.
An excerpt from "Mansbridge One on One," Random House, 2009.