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Resident awarded rare medal for World War II food drops

Echuca resident Ron Pell received a medal from the Dutch Government for dropping food parcels into the Netherlands during World War II.

MONIQUE PRESTON December 21, 2012 4:54am

Echuca resident Ron Pell received a medal from the Netherlands Government for dropping food parcels into Netherlands during World War II.


Sixty-seven years ago, Ron Pell was involved in dropping food parcels over war-ravaged Holland.

On Wednesday, the Echuca resident finally received a medal from the Dutch government for his efforts.

Mr Pell is now one of only two Australians to receive the ‘Dutch Medal of Remembrance Thank You Liberators’ medal.

His flying crew of seven flew 23 bombing missions over Germany for two or three months from July 1944.

However, they were also involved in five missions to fly over the Netherlands, dropping food parcels to starving citizens.

With one flight to Rotterdam, one to The Hague and three to Juvincourt, his crew joined others from the Royal Air Force Bomber Command with strict instructions of a time to take off and a height to fly at.

While most of their other flights had been high in the sky, Mr Pell said the food drops saw them having to fly about 45m above the ground to ensure their five tonnes of cargo would safely land on the ground, with areas such as fields used to make the drops.

Negotiations had taken place with the Germans to allow the food drops to take place, with a ceasefire of sorts declared for them.

After his other missions, where there had been constant threats of attacks from the enemy, Mr Pell said the food drops were ‘‘just like a Sunday drive in the park’’.

‘‘The Germans were on the coastline manning the guns,’’ he said.

‘‘They were 150 to 200 feet (45 to 60m) away. I wondered what they thought of seeing our Lancasters (planes) and they couldn’t shoot.

‘‘When we were nearing the drop area, we had to drop just over roof height.’’

Height and speed were crucial factors in dropping the food parcels with minimal damage, as a lack of silk meant they had to be dropped without a parachute.

While Dutch civilians were kept off the ovals or fields where the drops were made — instead the Dutch authorities made the pick-ups and then distributed the food among the country’s citizens — Mr Pell can still remember seeing them during his missions.

‘‘They were all out waving sheets and towels,’’ he said, referring to the ground crew as the planes came in close to their drop targets.

It was Mr Pell’s job to direct the pilot onto the target and then press the button that would release the hessian-wrapped parcels.

Mr Pell first heard of the Dutch medal when he went to London in June for the unveiling of a memorial to the 55,000 airmen who fought and died during the war.

‘‘While there, I saw a chap sitting in a wheelchair wearing a medal I had not seen before,’’ he said.

‘‘He told me it was for dropping food to Holland.’’

When Mr Pell returned to Australia he contacted Member for Rodney Paul Weller’s office and later received a phonecall from a member of the Dutch Embassy in Canberra, who organised the medal and a certificate.

Unable to get to Canberra to receive the medal, Mr Pell was instead presented it by Dr Stone as a representative of the Federal Government.

Mr Pell was pleased to have received the medal.

‘‘I’m very proud to have it. I had no idea there’d been only two awarded (in Australia). I didn’t do anything special. I just did my job,’’ he said.

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