TEENAGE history students in Year 9 at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, and their parents, gained vivid insights into wartime bombing raids, in presentations by a former RAF pilot who flew 126 missions with Bomber Command in the Second World War.

Flight Lieutenant Mason (retired), whose service included participation in Operation Market Garden and D-Day, revealed Bomber Command's sobering Second World War statistics. He said that of 105,000 personnel on active service, 55,673 failed to return.

Interestingly, discussion revealed a surprising link: the great grandfather of local student Millie Sawyer was tail gunner in F/Lt Mason's crew.

The students were amazed to learn about the development of aircraft, the build-up to war, and the threat posed by Hitler and the Nazi regime.

The audience, in the lecture theatre, was captivated by the personal recollections of the speaker, a modest man whose childhood ambition had been to fly an aeroplane. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1938, when he was 18, scarcely believing that another war was imminent. Flt Lt Mason emphasised that war should not be glorified, and on recalling his own highly dramatic experiences, he commented: "These things happen."

He confessed a fear of swimming, and spoke of spending 56 hours in a dinghy in the North Sea after the crippled Stirling bomber was forced down by damage it sustained on a hazardous raid.

Flt Lt Mason was a pilot until an injury on a mission damaged his peripheral vision, and he retrained as a navigator before returning to active service.

Students and their parents relished the unique, enthralling opportunity to meet this modest veteran, now in his nineties.

History teacher Ben Cross said: "It was unforgettable, and we were so privileged to hear of this incredible man's experiences."