THE right stuff was a term which could have been coined for South Yorkshire 88-year-old Dick Starkey – one of the last surviving Lancaster bomber pilots of World War II, writes Digital Editor Graham Walker.
Courage, confidence, dependability, toughness and daring. He has it all.
Dick flew 22 missions, amazingly piloting his way through bullet-riddled skies and out-manoeuvring the Luftwaffe, as he dropped 200 tons of bombs during the Battle Of Berlin to help defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.
VIDEO: Watch our exclusive video chat with Dick who reveals all in his book, A Lancaster Pilot’s Impression On Germany – available from The Star Shop, York Street, Sheffield S1 1PU,
This week marks the 67th anniversary of his final sortie, when he was shot down but miraculously lived to tell the tale – only to end up in Stalag Luft III, the infamous German prisoner-of-war camp immortalised by Hollywood in the film The Great Escape.
He arrived shortly after 50 officers were murdered for trying to escape in underground tunnels Tom, Dick and Harry.
As German guards feared advancing Russian troops, they then marched him and the rest of the camp’s prisoners of war for seven days in snow and ice, using them as a human shield. The brave Barnsley man then prepared himself again for the worst.
He was eventually set free and repatriated.
But his boy’s own story didn’t end there. The former Carlton pit office worker, who only became a RAF pilot to give the Nazis some of what he saw them deliver in the blitz over Sheffield, braved the horrors of the past to write a book about his war effort.
When he returned to the crash scene of his beloved Lancaster bomber Queenie, he was given a hero’s welcome by the people of Konigsberg, which was on his planned route to Nuremburg.
Amazingly, they had salvaged some of the plane and presented him with wreckage from the cockpit.
And they had an even bigger surprise. They took him to meet Martin Becker – the Messerschmitt pilot who shot him down and had been honoured the next day by Hitler.
With the help of an interpreter, the two old enemies enjoyed a conversation of mutual respect and even went on to swap Christmas cards with other German night fighter pilots who he went on to befriend.
Dick, of Royston, Barnsley, now a widower after the death of wife Jean, went on to have two daughters, two grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
He reveals all about his war exploits in A Lancaster Pilot’s Impression On Germany – available from The Star Shop in York Street.
Of his bombing raids he said: “I’m sorry for what I did. But I didn’t regret it.
“The two nights I saw the Germans bombing Sheffield made me join up. They started it.
“It was a miracle I survived. When I met the pilot who shot us down there was no animosity.
“I met others and we were like a flying club. We became friends and swapped all kind of cards.”
* For Lancaster bomber prints signed by him visit www.mustav.co.uk