The reluctant hero

PUBLISHED: 14:14 01 June 2006 | UPDATED: 14:42 12 May 2010

Lt Col Ed Gates in a B-17 Flying Fortress

Lt Col Ed Gates in a B-17 Flying Fortress

LT Col Ed Gates looks an unlikely war hero. Tall, upright, he has a sense of humour that belies the dangers he saw in bombing missions over occupied Europe and Germany. He talks in a matter-of-fact way that disguises the emotion of those years in the Seco

LT Col Ed Gates looks an unlikely war hero. Tall, upright, he has a sense of humour that belies the dangers he saw in bombing missions over occupied Europe and Germany.

He talks in a matter-of-fact way that disguises the emotion of those years in the Second World War: the years when being brave and courageous seemed to be second nature. If questioned about being a war hero, I doubt whether he would actually see himself as that kind of person. Indeed, he is the most reluctant of heroes.

But like the men who served around him with the United States 95 Heavy Bomb Group at Bassingbourn he did much to change the course of the war. To us those men remain heroes of their time.

But talk to the 82-year-old Lt Col Gates and he says he does not remember much about those dark war-time years.

"We were said to be over-sexed, over-paid and over here," he said on Saturday. "I wasn't over-sexed and I sent all my money home. So the only thing I can say is that I was over here." He had returned "over here" at the weekend in his role as president of 95 Heavy Bomb Group Association.

It was a weekend that saw him return to the his war-time base in Bassingbourn - and make a visit to the Duxford Imperial War Museum to once again climb aboard the towering Flying Fortress.

He was co-pilot on one of the giant B-17 bombers which took part in daring day-time raids across Europe.

"I remember some isolated events, but I remember little about combat," said the man who completed 35 missions.

"We lost half our squadron - about 15 men - and six aeroplanes," he said.

He had not returned to Bassingbourn for almost 20 years. "It's not like coming home because I remember so little. But it's an opportunity to be part of remembering," he said.

The remembering came on Saturday morning when wreaths were laid at the American memorial in the Priory Memorial Gardens in Royston. Lt Col Gates laid a wreath for the 95 Heavy Bomb Group alongside Royston's mayor Cllr Lynn Berry and Chris Murphy, chairman of the Royston branch of the Royal Air Forces Association. He was watched by his son, Lt Col Eric Gates, who is based in Stuttgart and had arrived to spend the weekend with a man who had made him "proud".

"He always seems to be the same - never seems to change, but we're enormously proud of him," he said.

A day earlier the veteran had visited Duxford for a two-hour tour which turned into four hours.

He had the opportunity to climb into the Sally B, but, as he said: "I really wanted to see the Lancaster. I've never seen one before and I was really impressed."

Those he meet during the weekend were impressed, too, by a man who had done so much but remained immensely modest about a war record which speaks for itself.


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