Last Op: War, Trauma and the Legacy of Bomber Command
Sunday 3 October
The Court House Ballroom, Jury Street
Alex Smith is an Australian-born writer and sociologist at Warwick University. His current book project is Last Op, a family memoir that explores one of the last great taboos of World War II: the troubled legacy of addiction and mental illness on veterans and their families.
Last Op tells the story of the author’s maternal grandfather, bomber pilot Harold ‘Hank’ Hancock, who flew a Handley Page Halifax on thirty-six missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. For the three decades after he returned, Flight Lieutenant Hancock struggled with alcoholism, depression and undiagnosed PTSD before having a breakdown and entering rehab. In 1975, and having achieved sobriety, Hancock and his wife flew to England to attend the 30th anniversary reunion of Bomber Command veterans in York. First, however, the couple travelled to Warwick to reunite with other members of Hancock's crew – three Australians, four Englishmen – at the home of bomb aimer, Les ‘Dutch’ Holland. From there, the group embarked on a one-week tour of the airfields from which they had operated in 1944 and 1945. This was, poignantly, their ‘last op’ together: Dutch Holland was dying of terminal cancer and would not survive the year.
Interweaving elements of the autobiographical novel and personal memoir with family mythology, historical ethnography and a psycho-geographical journey through some of England’s forgotten wartime airfields, the book reconstructs that private reunion to consider the enduring psychological impact of the war on Hancock, his bomber crew and their families.