Bomber Command veteran and Concentration Camp survivor celebrates 100th birthday

04 May 2022

Stanley Booker, born in Gillingham, Kent, now residing in Berkshire, celebrated his 100th birthday last week with an array of activity. The celebrations took place over a number of days to allow family and friends to spend quality time with him on this special occasion.

A veteran of Bomber Command and a former Squadron Leader, Stanley witnessed more in the first 25 years of his life than many do in a lifetime. He was just 22 years old when his Halifax heavy bomber was shot down over northern France in June 1944. He was imprisoned until May 1945 and later received an MBE for his post-war work with British Intelligence.

In December 2020, Stanley was awarded the Legion D’Honneur – France’s highest military award – which recognises his military engagement and steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War.

Stanley was not forgotten by the Armed Forces’ family. SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, sent Stanley a birthday card with a personalised message to thank him for his support over the years. He was visited by Special Operations Executive historians as well as a group of officers from 10 Squadron RAF Brize Norton who presented him with a signed framed photograph of the Voyager aircraft.

Sqn.Ldr Stanley Booker M.B.E. Legion D’Honneur shared his thoughts as he approached his 100th birthday:

"As I approach my 100th birthday, I pause and reflect on the events, experiences and the people who have influenced me during the years that span my long life. 

"I have experienced the best and worst of mankind; the generosity of a loving wife and family; the comradeship of fellow airmen during combat and imprisonment; the small kindnesses given by fellow prisoners incarcerated with me in the notorious Buchenwald Concentration camp.

"I remember the bravery of members of the French resistance who sheltered me after my Halifax Bomber was shot down in June 1944 and the skills of my pilot and wireless operator, who were killed as they steadied the burning aircraft, enabling the rest of the crew to parachute to safety. 

"I was inspired by leadership of Sqn.Ldr Phil Lamason RNZAF, who motivated 168 captured Allied Airmen to find an inner strength to withstand the horrors and brutality of everyday life in KZ Buchenwald (1944). He was a true hero and role model.

"The bravery displayed by the SOE and allied special agents, who were murdered at Buchenwald in September and October 1944, has haunted me – it was a death sentence that I managed to escape by just two days. The discreet support by Captain Christopher Burney SOE during our incarceration and his key role in our rescue by the Luftwaffe enabled 166 Allied airmen to survive and be moved to Stalag Luft 111.  

"I have been betrayed by two double agents, the Belgium Jean-Jacque Desoubrie, who worked for the Gestapo in Paris (July 1944) and the Cold War Soviet agent George Blake whose treachery compromised our military intelligence work in Berlin. (1962). 

"I have known fear, pain and abandonment during Gestapo interrogations and solitary confinement in Fresnes Prison. This contrasts with my positive experiences during the Berlin Airlift where the Allied Air Forces worked as a coordinated team to supply essential food and humanitarian aid to a starving German population. 

"The Cold War provided interesting and dangerous challenges and whilst I was working in RAF Gibraltar as the Intelligence Officer, the Cuba Crisis brought us to the brink of WW3.

"In 1965, I was honoured to be awarded an M.B.E. by Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth. Then in 2021, the Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur was bestowed on me by the Government of France.

"In 1984, I returned with my wife to Buchenwald Concentration Camp to seek evidence which could prove that I had been a prisoner of the SS. The British Government had denied that I had been in Fresnes prison and Buchenwald.

"Thanks to the archivist at the Buchenwald Camp Museum, the original Gestapo records were found, which detailed the arrival of 168 Allied Airmen on 20th August 1944 to KZ Buchenwald and further documents provided the factual evidence that I had been seeking since 1945.

"We were invited to attend, on behalf of my beloved country, the 40th Anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald which was a very special and emotive event.

"My life has been full of contrasts and memories of family, friends and colleagues have sustained me over the years. I have been privileged to live a comfortable retirement where everyday things are valued; good food; clean sheets; warmth; my independence and the peace and beauty of my garden. 

"These days I am supported by an excellent team of Carers and medical staff, who enable me to live in my own home and I am enriched by memories of my late wife, Marjorie whose love and affection provided comfort for 78 years.

"Last year (October 23rd 2021) the community of Illiers L’Eveque, in France, held a special commemorative event to remember the Liberation of France; to reflect on the historic role of the local resistance families, who had sheltered many evading allied airmen, and to honour the crew of my Halifax Bomber MZ630. Two members of the crew are buried at the nearby cemetery of St Andre d’Eure and are honoured by the French community.

"My thanks and appreciation goes to M. Jean-Pierre Curato of Illiers L’Eveque, who coordinated the memorial event and his enthusiasm for local history brought the local community and representatives from Allied Embassies together in friendship and celebration. This commemoration was an honour which has provided me with a profound sense of peace.

"My personal belief and actions have echoed the words on the KZ Buchenwald memorial: "It is the duty of the living, to honour the dead"."

Speaking to SSAFA, Stanley’s daughter Pat Vinycomb, said of the celebrations: “My father, Stanley Booker, is very appreciative of everyone’s best wishes and greetings. I am going to compile an album for him to enjoy. I appreciate how much confidence and such a sense of self-worth the support from SSAFA has given him.”

On top of military celebrations, Stanley was sent a bottle of Highgrove Champagne and a personal letter from HRH Prince Charles.

Barry Dickens (Air Commodore Ret’d), Chairman of SSAFA Berkshire, said: “SSAFA would like to wish Squadron Leader Booker, a Bomber Command navigator in World War Two, a very happy 100th birthday.

“Modest and unassuming, Stanley’s survival after bailing out of his stricken aircraft is a testimony to his courage, fortitude, and strength of character.

"Stanley has the greatest respect for the work that SSAFA does. He has made few calls on SSAFA and knows the charity is there for him if needed.”

You can read more about Stanley’s story here.

Please feel free to call our Forcesline if you need any support.

0800 260 6780

We are open 09:00 - 17:00,
Monday to Friday.