March 9 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, January 2, 2014
A strange series of coincidences which prompted one man’s 18-year journey of discovery has helped reunite about 50 RAF veterans decades after they last served together.
Rob Rooker, an Ipswich security worker, has spent countless hours researching RAF 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron in the hope of bringing its members together and telling the world their heroic tales.
“I look back now thinking I was meant to do this, to help the guys find old friends and make sure their stories are here for others to read and remember the sacrifice our guys made for us during the Second World War,” he said.
Mr Rooker’s intriguing journey began with a seemingly random series of events which prompted him, on a whim, to begin delving into the squadron’s fascinating history.
First he decided, out of the blue, to have a tattoo of a black panther – the squadron’s distinctive emblem.
Then, two weeks later, he was captivated by a picture of a Spitfire which he found sitting beside a bin at his friend’s house.
He asked to keep it, despite, once again, holding no previous interest in planes or military memorabilia.
Finally, a feature he read on the Battle of Britain drew the two occurrences together and inspired him to begin researching the history of three RAF squadrons, including 152.
After several fruitless exercises, and some “general head-scratching” he received a “life-changing” telephone call, when he was introduced to ex-Sergeant Ray Johnson of the 152 Squadron.
Mr Johnson told him much about the squadron’s history and also offered to introduce him to former colleagues, which escalated into Mr Rooker’s mammoth quest to reunite the veteran servicemen and highlight their achievements to the world.
Today, almost two decades later, Mr Rooker has joined together squadron members from South Africa, Canada, Australia and the UK, including Ipswich resident Angus Gray, found with the help of The Star in 2001.
Mr Rooker describes the squadron members as his “granddads” and says that reuniting them is the “biggest buzz in the world”.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that you can link people up.”
Sadly, with many of the veterans in their 90s, several, including Mr Gray, have died since Mr Rooker introduced them.
“When I lose them, I really feel it, it’s like I’ve lost someone close to me, but at least I had the chance to meet them, put them in touch and get someone to actually listen to their story,” he said.
To find out more about the 152 Squadron visit Mr Rooker’s website at www.152hyderabad.co.uk