“Food From Heaven” Saved Millions of Dutch
64th Anniversary of WWII Test Food Drop Flight, April 29, 2009
Early morning, April 29, 1945
Delayed by horrendous weather for two days, a Lancaster bomber finally rumbled down the runway to begin a dangerous journey over the English Channel. But this was no ordinary WWII bombing mission – this was the crucial test flight for “Operation Manna”, the code name for the Allied humanitarian endeavor to feed three million Dutch citizens in German-occupied western Holland, who were suffering from a severe food shortage.
The International Red Cross had accused the Nazis of “planning to starve the Dutch people to death.” By April 1945, desperate residents of western Holland had resorted to potentially toxic tulip bulbs as a source of nourishment.
Not only had the Nazis confiscated food supplies and ruined dykes and bridges, preventing food from growing or being transported, a savagely cold and snowy winter (called the Hongerwinter) had also taken its toll on the Dutch; thousands had died over the last several months.
Something drastic had to be done to help those who had managed to survive thus far and also signal to the Germans that the Allies would not stand idly by.
Piloted by 21-year-old Robert Upcott from Windsor, Ontario, and his brave crew of six young men, including four other Canadians, the Lancaster, named Bad Penny, (as in the old expression “a bad penny always turns up”),would fly low over designated targets and drop precious bundles of food. If she, along with a second Lanc that had followed them returned safely, then “Operation Manna” could begin in earnest.
Bad Penny’s pilot and his crew were essentially guinea pigs since there was no signed “do not shoot” agreement by the Nazis. Indeed, as they flew less than one hundred feet up towards their target their stomachs churned at the sight of German guns trained on them from the ground.
Near Waardenburg, Bad Penny was spotted by a Dutch teenager on his way to steal food from the Germans – a crime punishable by death. The sight of the Lancaster bomber flying so low to the ground with some of the crew waving to him was something the young man would never forget.
After dropping its load and turning back towards England, Bad Penny’s radio operator wired back to base “mission accomplished” and hundreds more bombers carrying foodstuffs for the Dutch began roaring over the Channel.
From April 29 to May 7, 1945, inclusive, RAF Bomber Command delivered 6672 tons of food to the people of western Holland. No. 1, 3 and 8 (Pathfinder). Groups flew a total of 2835 Lancaster sorties and 124 Mosquito sorties.
Upon hearing the remarkable but little known tale of Robert Upcott and his crew’s amazing flight, and of Peter, the boy who saw Bad Penny (and later met some of the crew after moving to Canada), Glen Mitchell was hell bent on preserving this story for all time. He decided his best audience would be children so this first-time author wrote the story, hired an illustrator and then self-published a children’s book he called, “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back”.
Since the book’s release in August 2006, Mitchell has continued his mission to ensure that Bad Penny’s story is never forgotten. Even in Holland, the story of Bad Penny’s first flight is not well known. A visit there in 2007 to share the book with school children connected Mitchell with a Dutch book promotion company that will present “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back” at the 64th Operation Manna anniversary event at the Aviodrome, the Netherland’s national air museum on April 25th and 26th, 2009.
Mitchell, who will be reading his book to children under the wing of a Lancaster at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, May 10th, will not be present but hopes to return to Holland to participate in the momentous 65th anniversary in 2010.
Bad Penny was decommissioned after the war but around the time of Mitchell’s book release, a Lancaster (one of less than two dozen left in the world) that had been “flying” in the middle of a Windsor park for nearly 50 years, was taken down for restoration work and christened “Bad Penny” in honor of home-town hero Upcott.
The restoration is being undertaken by the volunteers of the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association to not only honor Bad Penny, Pilot Bob, Peter, but all the children who suffered and were subsequently saved by Operation Manna. Photos of Windsor's Bad Penny, can be seen at www.ch2a.ca
Unfortunately, Upcott did not live to see this honor or read the book describing his incredible journey, but radio operator, Stan Jones, is alive and well and living in Windsor. For Jones, that remarkable morning in 1945 is still as vivid as if it happened just yesterday.
On April 25 and 26, the story of Bad Penny was presented by Siebe Huizing and Jan Louwers of Uphill Marketing at the Aviodrome in Holland. Here is their report:
"Today, 64 years ago, the weather didn’t allow Bad Penny to perform its mission: carrying food to the Netherlands, the beginning of Operation Manna. Today is also the day after the Bad Penny weekend in the Aviodrome, theme park of national aviation in the Netherland. We met with Ben of The Royal Canadian Legion, with Frans Cayaux of the Food & Freedom Foundation, with Henk Dijkxhoorn and fellow eyewitnesses from Rotterdam, with eyewitnesses from The Hague and Utrecht, and with children who now know the story of Bad Penny and Operation Manna.
The Aviodrome gave us the opportunity to present the story of Bad Penny in their theatre, with the largest screen in The Netherlands. We made a ½ hour ‘slide show’ giving four presentations. ‘Bad Penny – heroes of Operation Manna’. The presentation is about the crew of Bad Penny, their missions and, to us the most important mission of all: Operation Manna. It’s an unknown story and as such it was presented. People were surprised. Of course they didn’t know about the anonymous flight of Bad Penny – nor about the huge aid effort afterwards. In fact, we didn’t realise it either, until we heard from it by you [Glen Mitchell, author of "A Bad Penny Always Comes Back] – and we’re Dutch grownups whose parents experienced WWII!
Three of the four Bad Penny presentations went on for at least 45 minutes. People were asking questions and eyewitnesses shared their experience. At times it became personal/emotional, when eyewitnesses recognized pictures of Rotterdam in ruins and of Lancasters flying over. Saturday (warm and shiny weather) was a relatively quiet day but allowed us to speak and interview the eyewitnesses who came all the way from Rotterdam and The Hague. Sunday (bad weather as it was 64 years ago) the audience was much bigger."
On May 10, 2009, author Glen Mitchell, and Bad Penny wireless operator, Stan Jones, will share their stories with visitors at Canada's Aviation Museum in Ottawa. To learn more about this event, go to
NEWS UPDATE.... STAN JONES PASSED AWAY SUDDENLY THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2009 IN HOSPITAL IN WINDSOR, ONTARIO WITH HIS WIFE HELEN BY HIS SIDE. R.I.P. STAN.
To learn more about the story of Bad Penny, her crew, (including Stan Jones’ personal account of the Bad Penny flight), the war in Holland, and author Glen Mitchell, or to order the book and its companion puzzle, go to:
Here is a radio broadcast from April 1945, describing the food relief effort: