34 – Burton Lazars Mid Air Collison

During the spring of 1943, the airfield at Melton Mowbray was still in the process of being built, but the sight of Royal Air Force aircraft over the skies of the market town would not have been an unfamiliar sight due to aircraft overflying the new airfield and the location of other RAF airfields in the locality.

The RAF was going about its usual business training new crews from training bases just across the border in Nottinghamshire.

RAF Wigsley was situated to the East of the County, 12 miles North East of Newark. It was the home of No. 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire, No. 5 Group, Bomber Command whose role was to train new crews on operating the mighty Lancaster Bomber.

At another base, again just North of Newark, No 12 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit was busy training new pilots on the Airspeed Oxford at RAF Ossington.

During the early evening of the 8th April 1943, Lancaster L7545 of No 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit was airborne from RAF Wigsley training a new Lancaster crew for Bomber Command.

Lancaster L7545 was a war veteran having previously been on No 44 Squadron as KM-K and taken part in a raid a year earlier on 28th/29th April 1942 on the German Battleship Tirpitz which was moored off Fættenfjord in Norway.

The crew onboard L7545 on the evening of 8th April 1943 consisted of 6 students and 2 instructors:

BAILEY Thomas, 1412311, Sergeant, Bomb Aimer, RAF(VR)

DAVISON Robert Fairburn, 1123089, Sergeant, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, RAF(VR)

MARTIN Douglas George, 1810891, Sergeant, Air Gunner, RAF(VR)

PILGRIM Brian Gordon, 1388935, Sergeant, Air Gunner, RAF(VR).  

UPPERTON Leslie Raymond, 1318579, Sergeant, Navigator,  RAF(VR)

WALKER George Frederick Maurice, 566666, Sergeant, Flight Engineer, RAF.  

WALLACE John, 1030121, Sergeant, Pilot, RAF(VR)

WOLTON James Herbert DFM, 143996 Pilot Officer (ex-1101527 Sergeant), Flight Engineer, RAF(VR).

Lancaster L7545 had been airborne for about 30 minutes after taking off from RAF Wigsley when it was flying over Burton Lazars, a little village just on the outskirts of Melton Mowbray when tragedy struck.

No 44 Squadron Lancaster

Also flying in the same area was an Airspeed Oxford Mk. I, Serial No. AB665, of No. 14 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, No 21 Group at RAF Ossington crewed by two Canadians.

Airspeed Oxford

LEMMERICK John Albert, R/123711, Sergeant, Pilot, RCAF.

MOORS Arthur Anthony, R/119562, Sergeant, Pilot, RCAF.

Both aircraft were flying at a height of about 2,000 feet when they collided at 18:15Hrs over Burton Lodge, Burton Lazars, approximately 2 miles South East of Melton Mowbray.

Tragically, all 8 of the Lancaster crew plus the 2 Canadians in the Oxford were killed in the collision. The Oxford came down near Burton Lodge farm and the Lancaster just a few fields away on the old polo ground at Brentingby. 

The bodies of the deceased crewmen were taken to were taken to the Station Mortuary at Cottesmore. The Two Canadians plus two of the Lancaster crew were buried in the St Nicholas Churchyard extension at Cottesmore, whilst the other 8 crews bodies were claimed by their families and repatriated to their home towns.

Sgt George Frederick Maurice Walker (known as Maurice) is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension. He was born at Sydenham in London on 30 July 1917. His parents were Nancy and George Walker.

Sgt George Frederick Maurice Walker

Maurice enlisted into the RAF on 5th September 1933 at the age of 16 and began his RAF career on No 1 Wing at RAF Halton taring to be a fitter. According to his service records, his posting wish list following completion of training was 1 – Biggin Hill, 2- Farnborough and 3 – Northolt.

Sgt George Frederick Maurice Walker

On the 11th March 1936, Maurice was posted from No 1 Wing RAF Halton to 19(F) Sqn at RAF Duxford and was promoted to AC 1st Class on the 21st August 1936.  He stayed on 19(F) Sqn until 5th May when he was transferred to 66(F) Sqn at Duxford. He remained on 66(F) Sqn until 2nd March 1938 when he was posted to the RAF Deport Middle East at RAF Aboukir, near Alexandria in Egypt.

On the 17th March 1939, Maurice was promoted to LAC and then to Corporal on the 1st November 1939. He remained out in the Middle East moving between units: No 103 Maintenance Unit, No 31 (Middle East) Air Stores Park, No 51 Repair & Salvage Unit, No 254 Wing, Maintenance Section Port Said and High Speed Launch Marine Craft 121.

Throughout his career as an aircraft fitter, Maurice qualified to work on aircraft such as the Gauntlett II, kestrel, Hart, Blenheim and Hurricanes plus the Mercury VI and Merlin engines.

On the 1st September 1941, Maurice got promoted to T/Sgt and was posted to 171 Sqn. As a Sgt, Maurice became a Flight Engineer and underwent training at various units including No 1656 Conversion Unit, No 4 School of Technical Training, No 1654 Conversion Unit, No 106 Sqn and back to No 1654 Conversion Unit in March 1943.

Sgt Brian Gordon Pilgrim was the only son of of Mervyn and Lily Pilgrim, of Pembury, Kent. He is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard extension.

Sgt Brian Gordon Pilgrim
Sgt Brian Gordon Pilgrim

Sgt John Albert Lemmerick was the son of George and Leta Lemmerick, of Traverse Bay, Manitoba, Canada. His brother, George Earl Lemmerick, also died on service.

Sgt John Albert Lemmerick RCAF

He is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension. His brother George was also serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Flying Officer with No 419 Squadron and was killed on the 28 January 1944 when his Halifax bomber JP119 VE-O crashed at Zuhlen near Rheinsberg. He is buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.

Sgt John Albert Lemmerick

Sgt Arthur Anthony Moors was the son of Walter Anthony and Gwendoline M. Moors, of Sanford, Manitoba, Canada. He is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension.

Sgt Arthur Moors RCAF
Sgt Arthur Anthony Moors

P/O James Herbert Wolton was the instructor Flt Engineer aboard Lancaster L7545 when it crashed.

Plt Off Jim Wolton

PO James ‘Jim’ Herbert Wolton was the fourth son of Mrs Wolton and the late Mr T Wolton, of Kenya, Eric Avenue, Chelmsford. A native of Clacton, where the family was well known, he was 27 and unmarried.

Of his 6 brothers, John Wolton was a company officer in the NFS, Fred was a patrolling officer in the same service, Leslie and Kenneth were both in the RAF and Tom was serving with the RASC.

Jim, as he was known, had previously completed an operation tour with No 50 Sqn as a Sgt Flt Eng and was awarded a DFM only two months prior to the crash in recognition of his actions in helping to bring a crippled aircraft back.

Jim is buried in the Broomfield (St. Mary) Churchyard.

33 – George Medal Award for Cottesmore Blazing Bomber Rescue

During my RAF career, I had the pleasure of being posted to RAF Cottesmore twice, once in the 90’s on the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, and 10 years later as part of the Joint Force Harrier.  On both occasions, I worked in offices adjoined to ‘C’ Hangar, and as usual with RAF folklore, I heard the story relating to the bravery of a former Station Commander on several occasions.

Located north of Cottesmore village, with Market Overton to the North West and Thistleton to the North East, the airfield was planned during the 1930’s expansion period and was originally known as the ‘Thistleton site’.

On the 1st May 1936, the Air Ministry announced their intentions to start building an airfield on the site and work started in July clearing the hedgerows and levelling the ground ready for the grass runways. The other main task was the construction of four large ‘C’ Type hangars, typical of pre-war construction being 150ft wide and approx 300ft in length, designed to take several bombers.

RAF Cottesmore airfield Post WW2 with extended runways

In March 1938, the Air Ministry declared that RAF Cottesmore would operate under No 2 (Bomber) group and the site opened as an airfield on the 11th March 1938.

On the 8th April 1940, No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU) was formed from No 185 Squadron at Cottesmore and its role was to train aircrew to an acceptable standard before they joined an operational Squadron. The OTU was initially equipped with Hampdens, Herefords and Avro Ansons.

No 14 OTU Crest
No 14 OTU Crest Approval

The crest of No 14 OTU shows its links to Cottesmore and its location being in some of the best hunting country. It features the head of a hunting hound, hunting horn and the hunting whip. The motto “Keep With The Pack” was selected because the Units role is to train airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy and concentration has long been a principle in Bomber Command.

Mid-September 42 saw the OTU re-equip with the Wellington bomber and the early ones to arrive were all tired MkIc’s which had been withdrawn from front line operational service and transferred to the OTU to take up the training role.

31st March 1943 was a quiet day for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command with no raids planned.  The Force had been active on the night of the 29th/30th with two ‘Ops’ planned with the first to Berlin involving 329 aircraft comprising of 162 Lancasters, 103 Halifaxes and 64 Stirlings.  The second Op was to Bochum comprising of a main force of 149 Wellingtons supported by 8 Oboe Mosquitos. 

A much smaller third raid was also carried out on the 30th by 10 Mosquitos who bombed the Philips works at Eindhoven.

On the 31st, it was just a normal, albeit a bit misty, day for No 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore with crews undertaking routine training sorties.

One of those training that day was Australian Flight Sergeant R W Humphrey of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) who was the pilot of a Wellington MkIc serial number AD628 ‘M’ of No 14 OTU.  His crew that day also comprised another 3 Australians, Pilot Officer M A Crombie, Sergeant W T Cuthbertson (Air Bomber) and Sergeant T McDaniel along with RAF Airman Sgt E A Robinson (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) of Runwell in Essex.

The crew had been tasked with a practice bombing sortie and all had gone well until an incident on landing back at Cottesmore. At 17:30Hrs, Flt Sgt Humphrey had brought his aircraft safely back to base at Cottesmore when he landed his Wellington AD628. 

Unfortunately, he landed it too far down one of the short runways and was heading straight for the control tower.  Luckily, he managed to swing the aircraft away and miss the tower, but in doing so, he crashed into another Wellington serial number X9944 that was parked in front of ‘C’ Hangar.

Wellington bomber in front of a hangar similar to C Hangar

Both aircraft were set alight as a result of the crash and Humphrey’s aircraft AD628 careered into the corner of ‘C’ Hangar setting alight the offices that ran along the front of the hangar and also putting at risk another four Wellingtons that were inside the hangar undergoing maintenance.

Cottesmore’s Station Commander, Group Captain Strang Graham MC was quickly on the scene and disregarding the danger from exploding ammunition, petrol tanks and oxygen bottles, and although he was aware that one of the aircraft carried a 250lb. bomb, he led the rescue party in extricating three members of the crew from Humphreys blazing aircraft.

Group Captain Graham then led the firefighting party in an endeavour to save the burning hangar. He was attacking the fire, which had spread to the offices of the hangar, when the 250lb. bomb on the aircraft, less than eight feet away exploded.

The CO’s face was badly cut by splintered glass and flying debris, and bleeding profusely he was persuaded to go to the station sick quarters.  Once at the sick quarters, he ignored his own injuries, making light of them and inspired others who had been injured by the explosion.

After receiving first aid treatment he returned to the scene of the accident and directed the firefighting operations until the fire had been subdued.

The accident was handled with professionalism and bravery by many airmen and local firefighters who managed to save the hangar and the four aircraft within it.  The two Wellingtons AD628 and X9944 were destroyed in the incident, and tragically, two of Humphrey’s crew were killed.

Sgt William Tait Cuthbertson, 415310, Royal Australian Air Force was born 20th May 1921 in Kalgoorlie and was the son of Douglas and Mary Lorna Cuthbertson of Leonora Western Australia.  He enlisted into the RAAF on 14th September 1941 aged 20 is buried in Cottesmore (St Nicholas) Churchyard Extension with a CWGC headstone.

Headstone of Sgt Cuthbertson at Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension

Sgt Cuthbertson is commemorated on the Panel 121, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra (Australian Capitals Territory).

Sgt Eric Arthur Robinson, 1330303, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was the son of Harry Algernon Robinson and his wife Doris Emily. He was laid to rest on the 7th April 1943 at Runwell (St Mary) Churchyard, Essex and his grave is marked with a CWGC headstone.

Headstone of Sgt Eric Robinson at St Mary’s Churchyard, Runwell

Sgt Robinson is commemorated on the memorial plaque at the Runwell Village Hall, on the Wickford Memorial at Runwell Memorial Park and also on the memorial plaque at Wickford St Catherine’s Church.

The three Australian crewmen that survived the crash with injuries, survived the war:

Plt Off Mervyn Andrew Crombie, discharged from the RAAF: 14 Mar 1946
Flt Sgt Robert Wallace Humphrey (Pilot), discharged from the RAAF: 24 Sept 1945
Sgt Terence McDaniel, discharged from the RAAF: 9 Jan 1945

Group Captain Strang Graham MC was later awarded the George Medal for his gallantry and inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.

Group Captain Strang Graham

Graham was a veteran of World War One, initially serving a Private with the 5th Cameron Highlanders, then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps where he was promoted to the rank of Corporal.  On 27th Sept 1916, he was discharged from the MGC on Temporary Commission to 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch).

It was while serving with the Black Watch that he was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a night attack. When the advance was held up by a strong point, he halted his men under cover, and himself led a party round to outflank it. Although wounded in the knee, he remained to consolidate the ground won.” His award was published in the London Gazette on the 7th March 1918.

Shortly after this, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps serving at RAF Cattewater/Mount Batten.  He transferred to the RAF on its formation on 1st April 1918 and was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer on 24th October 1919.

On the 1st Jan 1920, he was on the staff of No 2 (Northern) Aircraft repair Deport where he stayed until September when he joined No 2 Flying Training School (FTS), being awarded his pilots wings in Feb 1921.

His postings in the UK saw him undertake the roles of Flight Commander on No’s 7 & 27 Sqn’s as well as a tour at No 5 FTS and overseas tours in India and Iraq.

He was promoted to Group Captain on 1st June 1940 and became the Commanding Officer of RAF Cottesmore/No 14 OTU on 8th Jane 1943, the sixth Station Commander the base had had since it opened in 1938.

Group Captain Strang Graham, MC., [fourth from right – front row] outside the Officers Mess at RAF Cottesmore. © IWM CH 10417

Behind every gravestone there is a story to be told

32 – The Death of a Royal Navy WW2 Chaplain

Christ Church in Wesham Lancashire is the Church where my parents married back in 1956 and also where there is a memorial to my Uncle, Frank Coulburn who was killed at Dunkirk in 1940 serving as a Sapper with the No 9 Field Company Royal Engineers.

Christ Church Wesham

As you walk down the path at the side of the Church and enter the cemetery through the gap in the wall, you will see a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone on your left hand side commemorating Reverend P T Jefferson a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Chaplain of HMS Nightjar.

CWGC Headstone of Rvd Percy Jefferson MA

Percy Taylor Jefferson was the son of Mary Elizabeth Taylor and Matthew Jefferson, a Clerk in the Steelwork company.  He was born 17th November 1892 in Middlesborough and was baptised 30 September 1893 in Linthorpe Yorkshire.  He was the eldest of 6 children, his siblings being: Hilda (1895); Lilian (1896); May (1900); Arthur (1904) and Gladys (1906).

In 1901, the family were living at 9 Leamen Terrace, Linthorpe Road, St Barnabas Middlesborough where Percy attended the Victoria Road Juniors (Boys) School, from 3rd Oct 1899 to 28th Sept 1900.  He later attended the Middlesborough High School for boys, admitted 9th Jan 1906, left 22nd July 1910.

By 1911, the family had moved to 15 Orchard Road, Linthorpe.

Prior to the outbreak of the War, Percy was a second term theological student at St. Augustine College, Canterbury in Kent.

Not long after the outbreak of World War One, at some point between 27th April and 5th July 1915 he enlisted into the Army as a Private (Number 450) with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force) serving with the 1/1st South Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance in Canterbury. 

He set sail from Liverpool in September 1915 aboard the HMT Olympic which after completing a few Atlantic runs, she had been requisitioned by the British Government for use as a troop transport vessel. Her designation was changed from R.M.S (Royal Mail Steamer) to H.M.T (Hired Military Transport, often falsely interpreted as ‘His Majesty’s Transport’) at this time.

HMT Olympic

She was given interesting changes to help fulfil this role, including a 12 pounder naval cannon mounted on a platform on the forecastle deck, a 4.7 inch naval cannon on a platform on the poop deck, extra lifeboats on the aft well deck and a canvas screen/platform atop the bridge.

Olympic was bound for Gallipoli where Percy would be assigned to stretcher bearer duties at a Field Ambulance advanced dressing station on the Cape Helles front as part of the 42nd Division.  The South Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance landed at ‘W’ Beach, Cape Helles on the 7th October 1915. 

W Beach Cape Helles Gallipoli

In October 1915, he was evacuated from Gallipoli due to ill health to St David’s Hospital in Malta where he stayed until December 1915.  St David’s Hospital was a tented hospital for 1,000 beds constructed near St Andrew’s barracks, close to St Paul’s Hutments and All Saints Convalescent Camp. The rocky ground for the large hospital marquees was levelled by the engineers and roads, paths, gardens, kitchens, ablutions, baths and stores were constructed. The camp commandant was Major Charles Henry Carr RAMC.  On 25th July 1915, St David’s Hospital was ready to receive 500 patients. By August, it had become fully equipped for 1,000 beds. Initially, St David’s admitted mild surgical and convalescents, but like all other hospitals it was soon busy with the ever increasing stream of dysentery and enteric cases.

Following his recovery, Percy’s next assignment saw him serve with the Field Ambulance on garrison duties on the Suez Canal as part of the 42nd Divisions 3rd Dismounted Brigade.  From December 1916 he was assigned to the Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport base at Alexandria whilst awaiting his commission.

On 27th Aug 1917, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (492063) in The Army Service Corps. He served with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, Palestine & Egypt.  He was awarded the 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal and was Mentioned in Despatches whilst serving as a Lt. in Palestine.

On 4th Oct 1917, Percy was admitted to No 19 General Hospital at Alexandria with enterica.  He was admitted for 53 days, being discharged on the 25th Nov 1917 to the No 1 Convalescent Home.

No 19 General Hospital Alexandria

After the cessation of hostilities, he returned to education studying at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, where he obtained a BA in 1921, and an MA in 1926.

In July 1920, Percy married Constance Eve Ridsdale at Glaisdale, Whitby, North Yorkshire.

He was a Candidate Scholar at the Lincoln Theological College and was made a Deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln for Colonies. He was ordained Priest in 1922 by the Bishop of Kimberley, he was Curate of St Paul, De Aur until 1924; Rector of Prieska and Upington until 1928. Beaconsfield 1928–32; Christ Church, Fordsburg 1932–35 (South Africa), then Vicar of St Andrew, Bugthorpe in the Archdiocese of York 1935.

Percy, his wife Eve, and their 3 children Charles, Jessie and Hilda are listed on a shipping passenger list, departing Beira in Mozambique on the Gloucester Castle ship operated by the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd, arriving at Southampton on the 3rd May 1931.  On the 16th Sept 1931, the family left London, returning to Beira in Mozambique, aboard the ship Durham Castle, again operated by the Union Castle shipping company.

On 31st May 1935, the Leeds Mercury reported that the Ven. Archdeacon A C England tonight instituted the Rev. Percy Taylor Jefferson to the vicarage of St Andrews at Bugthorpe.  He stayed at Bugthorpe until 1941 when he left to undertake welfare work at a large shadow factory in the South of England.

British shadow factories were the outcome of the Shadow Scheme, a plan devised in 1935 and developed by the British Government in the buildup to World War II to try to meet the urgent need for more aircraft using technology transfer from the motor industry to implement additional manufacturing capacity. The term ‘shadow’ was not intended to mean secrecy, but rather the protected environment they would receive by being staffed by all levels of skilled motor industry people alongside (in the shadow of) their own similar motor industry operations.

On the 3rd September 1943, Percy enlisted into the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Temporary Chaplain.  He was assigned to HMS Nightjar at Royal Naval Air Station Inskip.  He lived with his wife Eve at Mowbreck Hall, Kirkham, Lancashire.

HMS Nightjar

HMS Nightjar (Inskip) was the home of No.1 Operational Training Unit and as a result many Fleet Air Arm (FAA) squadrons were based there for a few weeks, working up, prior to embarkation.

Their son Charles Edmund Hugh Jefferson was also serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant on HMS Stalker (D91) a CVE escort carrier.  Between the 15th & 27th August 1944, Stalker, equipped with No 809 Sqn FAA operating Seafires joined Task Group 88 as part the covering force for the allied invasion of Southern France as part of Operation ‘DRAGOON’. 

HMS Stalker

Charles died on the 21st August 1944, and is buried in the St. Remy-De Provence Old Communal Cemetery in the private vault of the Leger family, France.

Back home in Lancashire, Percy was admitted to the RAF Hospital at nearby RAF Weeton where he died on 31st October 1945. He is buried in grave 416, Christ Church Churchyard, Wesham Lancashire and his grave is marked by a CWGC Portland Headstone.

CWGC Headstone of Rvd Percy Jefferson MA

Eve must have been devastated to lose both her husband and son in just over a year whilst serving their country in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. The same goes for the daughters Jessie and Hilda who lost a brother and father.

The personal inscription that was chosen by the family to be engraved on Percy’s headstone is “ALSO IN MEMORY OF HIS SON HUGH. LT. (A) R.N.V.R. KILLED IN ACTION 26. 8. 44 BURIED AT ST. REMY. FRANCE”

Both Percy and his son Charles are commemorated on the WW2 memorial tablet in Christ Church Wesham along with my Uncle Frank Coulburn and 20 other villagers who loost their lives during WW2.

WW2 Memorial Tablet Christ Church Wesham

They Gave Their Today

31 – A Last Goodbye at Melton

In my last blog 30 – Melton Airmen killed in Mediterranean bomber crash we looked at the story of a New Zealand airman who was tragically killed when his Wellington bomber crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on a Ferry Trip to the Middle East.

In this blog, we look at another tragic accident involving a RAF airman with links to Melton Mowbray.

Catherine Drummond had been stationed in Oban, Argyll, as a wireless operator in the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force when she met Sergeant John Boyd who was a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and they eventually married in Catherine’s hometown of Bridge of Allan in October 1943.

Boston in ‘desert’ camo

RAF Melton Mowbray was completing the despatch of Boston Mk IIIs as part of Commitment 73 during May 1944. Many of the Boston Mk IIIs that were ferried out had already been with Squadrons in the UK either in either night fighter or intruder versions.

John & Catherine’s last treasured moments were shared in a B&B near his base at RAF Melton Mowbray. John left RAF Melton Mowbray on 25th May 1944 with his plane dipping its wings as a final goodbye to her as he flew off to Europe.

It may well be that John Boyd was with one of these squadrons in 1943 when he met Catherine and went through Melton Mowbray in May 1944 as part of a “refors“ crew taking a “redundant” Boston Mk III to the Mediterranean where he arrived eventually at 114 Squadron which then converted to Mk IVs.

There were two kinds of crew – reinforcement or “refors” and Ferry. By 1944 the majority of the crews were specialist Ferry Crews who carried out their deliveries and returned to Britain.

At the beginning of the war most crews had been “refors” and they had stayed with the aircraft at the squadron overseas. In that case both crew and aircraft were reinforcements. John Boyd appears to have been part of a reinforcement crew which stayed together with 114 Squadron once they had been assigned after arriving in the Mediterranean.

No 114 squadron

No 114 Sqn was moved to Blida in Algeria in November 1942 as part of No 326 Wing tasked with supporting the British First Army.  The Sqn was equipped with the Bristol Bisley, the ground attack version of the Blenheim.  It had poor performance and was vulnerable to fighter attack, and the Sqn was therefore largely confined to night bombing. Bisley losses continued to be high.

In January 1943 the squadron relinquished its Bisley aircraft to No 614 Squadron, and waited for new aircraft, receiving more Bisleys in February and returning to operations. In March the squadron finally received more modern equipment, replacing its Bisleys with Douglas Boston light bombers and returned to operation with its new aircraft on 21st April 1943.

The squadron then operated from Sicily and Italy, having been re-equipped with Douglas Boston aircraft.

On the 25th of August 1944 John was serving with 114 Sqn and crewed up with W/O Dowland pilot and F/Sgt Potter AG when their Boston Mk IV BZ465 developed engine failure and went down in waters just across from Elba, in Tuscany.

The ORB says that on that night BZ465 took off at 2.18am and landed at 5.23am. Then on 25th August W/O Dowland crashed in the sea off Piombino Point in Tuscany while on an air test. Nobody knows how the accident happened. The report came through that a Boston had been seen losing height over the sea. Unfortunately a New Zealand soldier on rest from the front line was also in the aircraft. All in the aircraft were killed”.

A day or so later -“The dinghy and two helmets were recovered from the scene of the crash of our aircraft on 25thAug. This is all that has been found so far.” Only two of the four crews bodies were recovered and John and his plane remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Catherine had written to John to tell him she was pregnant and he was overjoyed but just before her daughter’s birth in September she was informed he was missing in action. She prayed that he was a prisoner of war and despite receiving a telegram informing her he was almost certainly killed, without his body she failed to believe it and lived in hope he would return to her.

Catherine said: “His body hadn’t been found so I never gave up hope until all the prisoners of war were home. I was down for a long time. I missed him very much and I kept wondering, why me?” Her prayers remained unanswered and five years later, without even a covering letter, the MoD sent her John’s flight logbook. Its lists of sorties to France and Italy come to an abrupt stop with the words, “presumed dead”. “It seemed so final and it was such a shock to see that book suddenly arrive with his handwriting all over it.”

John is commemorated by name on panel 14 of the CWGC Malta Memorial along with the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives in the various World War II air sorties and battles around the Mediterranean and who have no known grave.

RAF Memorial Malta

30 – Melton Airmen killed in Mediterranean bomber crash.

For those who are not familiar with the role of RAF Melton Mowbray during World War Two, it was a base within Transport Command and was used for ferrying aircraft to overseas bases. More information can be seen in my previous blog 15 – RAF Melton Mowbray.

One airman based at Melton with No 1 Ferry Crew Pool was Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). 

Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen RNZAF

Kenneth was born on the 21st September 1921 to Hans Helge Wagner Hansen, and Isabel Hansen (nee Swetman, later Sardelich). He was educated at Northcote Intermediate School, and became a farmer on the property of Mr. D. Christie near Te Awamutu.

Prior to joining the RNZAF, he served for four and a half years in the New Zealand Territorial Army with the 15th North Auckland Regiment. He joined the RNZAF on the 6th of May 1942 at Ohakea as an Aircraft hand (General Duties).

On the 6th of June 1942 Kenneth started training at the Initial Training Wing, RNZAF Station Levin, and on the 15th of that month he officially remustered to become a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner under training.

Kenneth embarked for Canada on the 20th of July 1942, and was attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force on the 18th of August 1942. The following day he arrived at No. 1 M Depot to await a course, and on the 30th of that month he was posted to No. 3 Wireless School at Winnipeg, Manitoba.  After passing his wireless training, Kenneth was posted to No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School, at Lethbridge, Alberta, on the 17th of April 1943.

On the 31st of May 1943 Kenneth passed out of training, being awarded his Air Gunner’s badge, and being promoted to Sergeant. He was also remustered to officially be part of the trade as a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner.

Kenneth was posted next on the 12th of June 1943 to No. 36 Operational Training Unit, RAF, which was flying Lockheed Hudsons from Greenwood, Nova Scotia. After three months he proceeded on the 11th of September to No. 1 Y Depot, Halifax to await a troopship to England. He was now attached to the Royal Air Force and set sail for the UK on the 13th of September 1943.

Following his arrival in the UK, seven days after leaving Halifax, Kenneth was posted to No. 12 Personnel Dispatch & Reception Centre at Brighton, where he awaited the next course. This came on the 2nd of November 1943 when he reported to No. 104 Operational Training Unit to gain experience on Vickers Wellingtons.

On the 21st of December 1943 Kenneth was posted to No. 44 Group, Transport Command and on the 11th of January 1944 he became a member of No. 1 Ferry Crew Pool (FCP) based at RAF Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

No 1 FCP had just arrived at Melton in January 44 from RAF Lyneham. The FCP was a group of ferry crews which worked with Ferry Training Units to provide specialist ferry crews whenever they were needed. No 1 FCP had 160 crew members available and were trained to fly several aircraft types including the Wellington, Beaufighter, Hudson, Boston, Blenheim, Halifax, Spitfire, Mosquito and Beaufort.

Royal Air Force Transport Command

Whilst assigned to No 1 FCP, Kenneth would be used by No. 1 Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit, part of Transport Command, to act as Wireless Operator aboard aircraft being ferried from Britain to overseas stations.

Ferry crews normally did 3 or 4 trips a month. The return trip could be a source of delays for the crews as they had to hitch rides back to the UK and had to wait for an aircraft coming back with the necessary space to accommodate them.

On the 6th of February 1944 Kenneth was part of a crew that ferried a Vickers Wellington bomber to to Staging Post 70 at Rabat Sale in Morocco, returning to Britain aboard a Consolidated Liberator on the 11th of February.

A few weeks later, on the 6th March 1944, Kenneth was part of the crew aboard another Wellington X, serial number LP199, piloted by Flying Officer George Ballard, RAAF. They took off from RAF Portreath, Cornwall, at 02.25hrs and headed south, well out to sea away from enemy fighter cover. The other crew members aboard LP199 for the ferry trip were: Flying Officer Peter Bradley, Flying Officer Ronald Gee and Sergeant Francis Marchant.

The crew of a Vickers Wellington Mk II board their aircraft. © IWM HU 107785

As they were making their final approach to Gibraltar (Staging Post 73), and were only two miles out, when the aircraft stalled just 40 feet off the water, and crashed into the sea. It is believed that the airspeed was inadvertently allowed to drop too low while the pilot concentrated on his approach to the aerodrome in poor weather.

Kenneth and his crew mates died on the 6th of March 1944, in the sea off Gibraltar, and are commemorated on The Runnymede Memorial.

Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen is commemorated on Panel 264 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Fg Off George Jamess (Dood) Ballard 425417 Royal Australian Air Force was the son of James William Ashby Ballard, and of Elizabeth Beatrice Ballard of Tooting, Queensland Australia. George Ballard is commemortated on Panel 257 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Fg Off Peter Bradley is commemorated on Panel 204 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Fg Off Ronald Gee was the youngest son of George and Georgina Gee of Wheeldon Avenue Derby. Ronald joined the RAF(VR) in January 1942 and completed his training in Canada where he received his commission. Prior to joining up, he worked for Rolls Royce Ltd at Derby. His brother George, was killed in January 1942 whilst serving in the RAF as a pilot. They were both Old Bemrosians. Ronald is commemorated on Panel 206 of the Runneymede Memorial.

Fg Off Ronald Gee

Sgt Francis Marchant is the son of Harry and Winifred Marchant of King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire. Francis is commemorated on Panel 234 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill. The Memorial was unveiled by HM The Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953.

It has engraved glass and painted ceilings designed by John Hutton and the words from the 139th Psalm, sometimes referred to as the Airman’s Psalm engraved on the gallery window was written by Paul H Scott.

If I climb up into
Heaven, thou art there;
If I go to hell,
Thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the
Morning and remain in the
Uttermost parts of the
Sea, even there also
Shall thy hand lead
Me; and thy right
Hand shall hold me

It soon became the best known of the Commission’s memorials in England. Maufe shunned the grandiose of the Commission’s tradition as he was determined to use the drama of the site both internally and by exploiting its broad views from Coopers Hill on on the banks of the River Thames sweeping down towards Heathrow and Windsor.

The site is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and commemorates over 20,000 men and women of the air forces by name, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves

They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

29 – Coastal Command pilot from Barkby dies in tragic flying accident

Leonard Ashby Court was born in Leicestershire in 1919, his father was also called Leonard Ashby Court and his mother was Kate (May) Eagle.

Sgt Leonard Ashby Court

According to the 1911 Census, his father Leonard Ashby Court was living at home at 25 Lonsdale Street Leicester and was listed as a 15 year old employed in hosiery manufacturing.  The other occupants of the household were, a 3rd generation relative also called Leonard Arthur Court aged 40, who was a cigar maker originally from Warwick, Eliza Court his wife aged 42 and Frederick Court aged 6.

In the 1st Quarter of 1919, Leonard Ashby Court married Kate May Eagle in Leicester and on the 13th September, the 3rd generation Leonard Ashby Court was born.

Sadly in 1922, just a couple of years later, Leonard (2nd Generation) died, leaving his wife Kate May as a widow at the age of 25.  However, a couple of years later, she re-married, Bernard Toms with whom she went on to have more children with.

On the 1st September 1939, the same day that World War 2 started when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland and Britain declared war against Germany, the National registration Bill was read out in the House of Commons.  Two days later, the National Registration Act was passed and the 29th September 1939 was declared as the National Registration Day.

According to the 1939 register, Leonard Ashby Court was a costing clerk working within the machine tools industry.  He was living with his parents, Kate and Bernard in a property on Main Street in Barkby, Leicestershire and their sons, Carl, Terence and Brian.

At some point after this, Leonard joined the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) as a pilot and after gaining his wings, he joined No 7 (Coastal) Operation Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Limavady.

In 1941 at Barrow Upon Soar, Leonard was married to Joyce Enid Whiles and the couple had a son born in September 41.

Royal Air Force Limavady near Derry in Northern Ireland was the first of over 20 new airfields constructed in Northern Ireland during the war and was handed over to 15 Group.

The base was used by Coastal Command in the fight against German U-Boats in the Atlantic Ocean and was home to several RAF Units during WW2 operating large numbers of Whitleys, Hudsons and Wellingtons of 502, 224 and 221 Squadrons, respectively.

RAF Limavady with Wellingtons from No 7(C)OTU dispersed around the site

Operations from Limavady accumulated about 25,600 flying hours on convoy patrols during   its first year of service which was a record achievement among airfields of No 15 Group during the period.

In April 1942, it was transferred from 15 Group to 17 Group for training purposes and the operational squadrons withdrew being replaced by No 7(C) OTU equipped with Wellingtons and Ansons until January 1944.

After No No 7(C) OTU had departed, Limavady once again became an operational base with Nos 172, 407 and 612 Squadron operating the Wellington and the Fleet Air Arm 850 Squadron operating Avengers within 15 Group.

After the war, the base was handed over to the Royal Naval Air Service who operated out of it until 1958.

No. 7 OTU was originally formed on 15 June 1940 at RAF Hawarden in Flintshire, Wales and operated a variety of aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and Fairey Battles.  After a few months, the Unit was disbanded on 1st Nov 1940 when it became No 57 OTU.

On the 1st April 1942, it was reformed at Limavady operating Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansens.  The OTU role was to train and build together crews for Coastal Command’s operational Squadrons, similar to the OTU’s in Bomber Command.

RAF Coastal Command Crest

Each member of the crew would have undertaken their basic service training prior to this before going on to learn their particular trades at separate training facilities. At this stage in 1943, it is possible that some of the crew members may have done some off their initial training in Canada or another of the Commonwealth countries.

On 28th February 1943, a Mark VIII Wellington bomber, serial number HX737 operated by No 7(C) OTU took off from RAF Limavady on a training flight with 6 crew on board with Sergeant Leonard Court as the Captain for this particular sortie. The crew who were all Sergeants, consisted of 2 pilots, 1 Navigator and 3 Wireless Operator/Air Gunners.

Pilot – Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court (Captain)
Pilot – Sergeant John D’Arcy Wall
Navigator – Sergeant John Steen Campbell
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant Geoffrey James Scott Farthing
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant James Gilmore
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant Ronald William Gutteridge

The aircraft they were flying that day, HX737 was built by Vickers at their factory in Weybridge, Surrey. It was delivered to the RAF and taken on strength by No 32 Maintenance Unit on the 2nd of September 1942, thence to 33 Maintenance Unit and was delivered to 7 (C) OTU only on the 9th of February 1943, less than 20 days before the crash.

Many of the residents of Falcarragh, a small Gaeltacht town in County. Donegal were on their way to mass on the morning of Sunday the 28th Feb when they heard a plane circling overhead. At around 0915hrs, Vickers Wellington HX737 crashed into turf banks at Meenderry near to Falcarragh. This area was in the “Donegal Corridor”, an area of airspace over neutral Ireland in which Allied planes could operate on the Atlantic coast.

The impact destroyed Vickers Wellington HX737 killing all 6 crew members. Wreckage lay across surrounding fields while the aircraft’s heavy Pegasus engines submerged in the boggy ground.

A rescue and recovery operation by 17th Infantry Battalion found 4 bodies on the day of the crash. The following day the bodies of the remaining 2 crew members were recovered. The army also collected 4 Browning machine guns, 2 Vickers K machine guns, and around 200 rounds of damaged ammunition. A military truck removed around 2 tons of scrap metal, leaving the rest buried at the crash site.

The Operation Record Book for No 7(C) OTU dated 28th February 1943 shows the following entry: “Wellington a/c H.X. 737 (Capt Sgt Court) crashed in Eire and caught fire. The crew of 6, Sgts Wall, Court, Campbell, Gutteridge, Farthing and Gilmore were killed.”

The Leicester Chronicle reported on the 13th March 1943 that “Mrs Court of Barkby, has received news that her husband, Sergeant Pilot Leonard Court, Coastal Command, RAF; has been killed on active service.  The Sergeant pilot was the eldest son of Mr & Mrs Toms, of the Stores, Barkby.  He was aged 22.

Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court was buried in Grave 48, Section W of the Barkby Cemetery. He would have had a standard Portland Stone grave marker (Commission headstone) provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as according to his CWGC records the family chose the following personal inscription “LIFE’S RACE WELL RUN LIFE’S WORK WELL DONE LIFE’S VICTORY WON NOW COMETH REST”

CWGC Schedule A

This inscription has a strange history. It comes from the first verse of a poem written in 1879 by Edward Hazen Parker for a friend’s funeral. He based it on the words from The Epistle of St Paul to the Hebrews 4:9, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God”. Translated into Latin by another friend, W.H. Crosby, both the English and Latin versions were published in the New York Observer on 13 May 1880.

Following a clamour in the newspapers, the author of these lines was eventually traced back to Edward Hazen Parker.

It received no further publicity until over a year later when much to Parker’s surprise a slightly amended first verse appeared on the plaque placed on the assassinated US President James Garfield’s coffin.

Life’s race well run,
Life’s work well done,
Life’s crown well won,
Now comes rest.

The difference was explained by the fact that someone had come across the Latin version first. Not realising it had originally been written in English they had freely translated it, improving the scan, so they thought, as they went. This is the version that was picked up, circulated and became extremely popular all over the world. It’s popularity boosted in 1882 by its publicised usage on the headstone of one of Queen Alexandra’s faithful servants.

It would appear that at some point in time, the Commission headstone was removed and replaced by a personal memorial which commemorates both Leonard and his mother Kate.

Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court is commemorated on the Barkby War memorial located inside St Mary’s Church.

The memorial consists of a wall mounted, portrait orientated white marble tablet with a laurel wreath surmounted by a crown encircling a cross, all in relief. Within the wreath are the names of WW1 fallen, in black lettering. Inscriptions to either side of cross & below wreath, also in black lettering.

Immediately below WW1 tablet is a landscape orientated, WW2 tablet with scalloped top corners containing the names of the WW2 casualties & inscription in black lettering.

Barkby war memorial

He is also commemorated on the Leicestershire War Memorials Project

28 – First fatal accident involving a Saro Lerwick flying boat

The first fatal accident involving a Saro Lerwick flying boat occurred on 20th Feb 1940 when the pilot of L7253 ‘WQ-G’ of 209 Squadron attempted to land off Lismore Island near Oban in poor visibility.

The pilot was Flight Sergeant George Arthur Corby (known as Arthur), Mentioned in Dispatches and 2 Bars, was the Son of George William and Mary Jane Corby, of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire and husband of Nellie Corby.  

George was born in Ketton, near Stamford on 23rd April 1912 and was the middle child of 3 sons, John Charles being the elder and Philip Anthony the younger.

According to the Chelmsford Chronicle, George was educated at Palmer’s School from 1925-1927.

Chelmsford Chronicle 01 March 1941

He joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice on 23rd August 1927, joining the 16th Entry, No 4 Apprentice Wing at RAF Halton. He is listed on the Old Haltonians 16th Entry Roll of Honour.

When George turned 18 on the 23rd April 1930, he signed on for a 12 year engagement.

At some point in his career, Arthur transferred to aircrew and became a Sergeant Pilot.

Sergeant George Arthur Corby (bottom right) Photo credit: Judith Roger (nee Corby)

Arthur was Mentioned in Dispatches twice, the first being gazetted in the London Gazette, ironically, on the day of the incident when he lost his life, London Gazette Number 34795 dated 20th February 1940 and the second in London Gazette Number 34893 dated 9th July 1940.

No 209 Squadron was originally equipped with Stranraers, which arrived in December 1938. On the outbreak of World War Two, No.209 moved to Invergordon to fly patrols over the North Sea between Scotland and Norway. In October 1939 it moved to Oban for patrols over the Atlantic and in December began to re-equip with Lerwicks.

The crew onboard L7253 ‘WQ-G’ at the time of the incident was:  Flight Sergeant (Pilot) George Arthur Corby, Pilot Officer William Edwin Ogle-Skan, AC2 Alan Taylor, AC1 Richard J. Webber, AC2 Lawrence H. Trumay, and LAC George Peterson.

The aircraft took off from Oban at 11.30 Hrs and was forced to return at 12.30 Hrs due to bad weather. On reaching Oban the pilot decided to land well out in the Firth of Lorne due to poor visibility. Apparently owing to an error in judgment he stalled the aircraft onto the water causing it to bounce several times some 5 miles west of Oban off the lighthouse at the southern point of Lismore Island. In doing this the starboard wing tip float was knocked off and the aircraft heeled over causing water to enter through the windows. All the crew managed to get out into the water before the aircraft sank.  The aircraft was salvaged and used as a training airframe and sinks later in a gale at Wig Bay Loch Ryan.

Arthur Corby drowned in the incident and his body was recovered.  The bodies of three of the airmen: AC1 Richard Webber, AC2 Lawrence Trumay, and LAC George Peterson were never recovered and P/O William Edwin Ogle-Skan, AC2 Alan Taylor survived.

The CWGC Casualty database shows that Arthur was interred in Block B, Row 4 Grave 54 at Langdon Hills(St. Mary and All Saints) Old Churchyard Essex.

Funeral Procession Photo credit: Judith Roger (nee Corby)
Original IWGC Wooden grave marker Photo credit: Judith Roger (nee Corby)
CWGC Portland Stone grave marker

The airmen who were never found are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

The Lerwick seaplane was not a success. They had a poor service record and a high accident rate; of the 21 aircraft built, 10 were lost to accidents and one for an unknown reason. After flying patrols from Wales and Scotland they were declared obsolete and replaced by Catalinas in April 1941.

The last of a total of 21 Lerwicks was delivered in May 1941 but the type was withdrawn from front-line service in the same month. Most of the remaining Lerwicks were transferred to Number 4 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit at Invergordon; three were sent to 240 Squadron for service trials at the highly-secret Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Helensburgh.

In mid-1942, the Lerwicks were briefly returned to service, for the purpose of operational training with 422 Squadron and 423 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, based at Lough Erne. By the end of 1942 the type had been declared obsolete; by early 1943 the survivors had been scrapped.

27 – Melton prepares ‘George’ for trip down under!

One of Meltons’ claim to fame during World War 2 was the despatch of a famous war veteran to Australia in the form of a Lancaster bomber known as G for George.

Avro Lancaster Mk.I serial number W4783 AR-G (for George), operated by No. 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The aircraft flew 90 combat missions over occupied Europe with 460 Squadron, and is the second most prolific surviving Lancaster, behind R5868 S for Sugar which flew 137 sorties with No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 463 Squadron RAAF and No. 467 Squadron RAAF.

The aircraft was built to contract B.69275/40 by Metropolitan-Vickers Ltd. at Trafford Park, Manchester and was taken on charge by No. 460 Squadron on 22nd October 1942 and allocated to A Flight as ‘G for George’ at RAF Breighton in Yorkshire.

The first operational sortie for ‘George’ was on the 6th Dec 1942 when 10 aircraft from 460 Sqn took part in the raid on Mannheim. George took off from RAF Breighton at 17:23Hrs with a bomb load of 1 x 4,000lb bomb and 10 Small Bomb Containers, each loaded with 236 x 4lb Incendiary bombs. The bombs were dropped over the target at 20:18Hrs and returned to base at 23:58Hrs.

George took part in ‘minor ops’ on the night of 17th/18th December 42 when 27 Lancasters from No 5 Group were sent on raids to 8 small German towns and a further 50 aircraft were tasked with ‘Gardening’ Ops laying mines from Denmark to Southern Biscay. George was one of the aircraft on Gardening Ops.

The aircraft took off from Breighton at 16:50Hrs with 1 x PIM8 mine and 5 x B200 mines. Due to 10/10 low cloud and sea fog rising to 800 feet, the mines were brought back to base with the pilot reporting the operation as a ‘waste of time’. George suffered damage from anti aircraft flak resulting in hole 8″ in diameter being made in the starboard wing. The damage was categorised as Cat.Ac/FB with the repair being beyond the unit capacity, but was repaired on site at Breighton by another unit or a contractor).

W4783 is visited by the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, when it was serving in No. 460 Squadron

On 14th April 1943, George was part of a force of 208 Lancasters and 3 Halifaxes bombing the docks area of La Spezia in Italy. During this raid, George again received damage which was categorised as Cat.A/FB. This time, though, it wasn’t a result of enemy action, but the cockpit windscreen was shattered, possibly after being hit by falling bombs from above. The entry in the Sqn Operational Record Book states “The windscreen was shattered by below average bombing partly due to fog”. Again it was repaired on site and moved with 460 Squadron to Binbrook on 14th May 1943.

The famous 460 Squadron (Australia) Lancaster bomber ‘G’ George resting at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, after completing 90 operations over enemy territory during WWII
(Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119392/A-modern-day-mission-Lancaster-bomber-crew-preparesaction-70-years-remarkable-set-airfield-pictures.html)

The last operation for ‘George’ was against Cologne on the 20th April 1944. During it’s sixteen months operational service, ‘George’ carried out some 90 bombing operations against Germany, Italy and occupied Europe. ‘George’ was damaged over twenty times by enemy action and once by friendly forces. It has the added distinction of bringing home, alive, every crewman who flew aboard it. This is a surprising feat considering the aircrafts history.

The senior fitter, Flt Sgt Tickle kept a diary of ‘George’s’ active service record. One of the most exciting entries was dated 22nd October 1943, when the Lancaster, which was on its 67th trip, carried a heavy load of bombs to Kassel with Flt Sgt W. A. Watson, of Clarence River (NSW), as pilot and ran into a violent electrical storm.

‘George’ survived another severe test on the night of 16th June 1943, when over Cologne it collected 17 flak holes in the wings, tailplane. fuselage, and midupper turret. The propellers and under–carriage had also sustained some damage too.  The Lancaster on 6th September 1943, came home on three engines. ‘George’ also made many trips to Italy. The pilot: on the 90th and last war flight was Flying-Officer J. A. Critchley, of Brighton (Vic).

On the night of the 31st August 1943, ‘George’ was just one of 21 aircraft from 460 Sqn detailed to attack Berlin. the main bomber force they were part of consisted of 622 aircraft: 331 Lancasters, 176 Halifaxes, 106 Stirlings and 9 Mosquitoes. it was during this sortie that ‘George’ suffered ‘friendly fire’ damage when incendiary bombs dropped from an aircraft above ‘George’ put a hole in it’s tail.

Ninety small bombs painted on the side of the drab-coloured fuselage of “G for George” illustrates the proud record of many battles this plane has fought over enemy territory.

Before leaving England, men of the RAAF decided that ‘George’ deserved more than his 90 bombs’ painted on the fuselage for 90 missions, so they awarded ‘George’ the DSO, the DFM and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal which are an affectionate tribute paid to ‘George’ by men who remember the bomber as the luckiest and the staunchest they have ever flown and the best they have ever serviced.

Among 200 men who spent between them 664 hours and five minutes of operational flying in ‘George’ ‘many have been decorated or promoted.

On 29th May 1944 the Sqn ORB recorded that ‘George’ was despatched to Waddington prior to despatch to Australia.

HQ No 44 Group issued a special Air Movement Order to RAF Melton Mowbray on the 25th September 1944 headed “Lancaster MkI W4783 to be flight delivered to Australia, Special Commitment”.

The Air Movement Order provided details about what preparation was required to enable George to fly down under:
Weight – 52,260lbs
Height – 10,000ft
IAS – 170-160mph
Boost – +4lbs/sq in
AMPG (Air Miles per Gallon) – 1.15 statute miles

The aircraft was prepared for the journey by No 4 Aircraft Preparation Unit whilst the training of the specially selected crew and despatch of the aircraft would be undertaken by No 304 Ferry Training Unit. Note that both of these units were amalgamated on the 9th October 1944 and became No 12 Ferry Unit.

The crew members were specially selected for ferrying ‘George’ to Australia and were all tour-expired members of the RAAF being transferred from operational squadrons. They arrived at RAF Melton Mowbray on the 30th September and were:
Pilot – A/Sqn Ldr E A Hudson DFC and Bar
2nd Pilot – Fg Off F P Smith DFC
Navigator – Fg Off W C Gordon DFC
Bomb Aimer – Fg Off T V McCarthy DFC
Wireless Operator – Fg Off C H Tindale DFM
Air Gunner – Fg Off G B Young DFM
Senior Fitter – Flt Sgt H Tickle MID
Fitter – Sgt K A Ower

The crew assembled for the marathon flight. L to R: Wilfred Gordon, George Young, Francis Smith, Clive Tindale, Harry Tickle, Eddie Hudson, Keith Ower and Tom McCarthy

Awards gained by members of the crew include two DFC’s, two DFC’s and Bars, two DFM’s and one mentioned in dispatches.

Sqn Ldr Hudson, who comes from Rockhampton, Queensland, participated in attacks against most heavily defended targets, such as Hamburg, Kiel, Cologne, Dulsburg and Rostock.  He is noted for pressing home at tacks from low level.

Flt Lt F. P. O. Smith, of Newcastle (NSW), the second pilot, won the DFC for courage and skill in securing many fine photographs, particularly one of Turin in July, 1943.

Fg Off W. C. Gordon, of Raleigh (NSW), the navigator, gained the DFC for nursing the plane to the target and back to base after the compass, the airspeed indicator and radio had been put out of action.

Fg Off T. V. McCarthy, DFC and Bar, the air bomber, from Mossvale (NSW) is one of the most experienced Australian Air Force bomb-aimers. He had done 13 trips to Berlin.

Fg Off C. H. Tindale, DFM, the radio operator and air-gunner, of Cremorne (NSW) improvised the inter-communication system after it had been put out of action during a flight to Berlin.

Fg Off G.B. Young, DFM, airgunner, of Matraville (NSW) received his award for extinguishing a fire in the plane on his first operational flight.

Flt Sgt H. Tickle, of Adelaide, has been mentioned in dispatches. Tickle, from the time “G for George” began operations in December 1942. has been in charge of the maintenance flight which did the Lancaster’s repairs.

Sgt K. A. Ower, fitter, from Telamon (NSW) had long service with the Australian Air Force Coastal Command squadron before he was posted to the Lancaster squadron. Ower has a grand record as a member of the ground staff.

Standard training for new ferry crews usually took around ten days and included subjects such as long range flying, dinghy and parachute drills, compass and direction finding, navigation exercises, using the sextant and astro-compass, auxiliary fuel systems and petrol consumption. In addition tot he usual training, they were given instruction on the use of the radio range receiver that was being installed for the journey.

In October 1944 it was transferred to the RAAF and re-serialled ‘A66-2’. On the 6th October, ‘George’ and her all Australian crew left Melton Mowbray for RAF Prestwick in Scotland on the first leg of the journey.

On 11th October 1944 it departed Prestwick and commenced the long flight to Australia. A message before take-off was received from H.R.H The Duke of Gloucester, the Governor General Designate of Australia, who sent a good-will message wishing them a safe voyage and hoping that George would be joined by many Australia-built Lancasters.

The Sphere – Saturday 28 October 1944

The journey would take them from Prestwick via Reykjavík in Iceland; Goose Bay – Labrador, Canada; Dorval – Montreal, Canada; San Francisco – USA, Honolulu, Suva – Fiji and onto Brisbane. Whilst at San Francisco George had a problem with the radio transmitter which delayed the aircraft until it was repaired. After leaving San Francisco, the automatic pilot went and it was reported that one of the crew said “It is time the pilots did a bit of work.”

The aircraft experienced more trouble when it landed at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Suva in Fiji when the radio receiver went unservicable

George finally arrived at RAAF Station Amberley, to the west of Brisbane at 11:32am on the 8th November 1944.

The aircraft was required for a tour in the south, as part of campaign to raise war bonds but a request by the father of the pilot, Mr. S.G. Hudson of Rockhampton was first granted and after taking off on the 10th and circling Brisbane, ‘George’ landed at Rockhampton at 3 p.m. after twice circling that town.  The crowd cheered as the aircraft’s captain stepped out to be greeted by his father and family from whom he had been parted for over four years.

It was still touring in April 1945 when it visited Rockhampton again in company with Beaufort A9-580 in connection with the 3rd Victory Loan.

3rd Victory Loan poster

The  ‘3rd Victory Loan’ tour in which ‘George’ took part, ran from 13th March to 27th April 1945. On 6th April 1945, ‘George’ flew in formation over Brisbane with nine Beaufighters of 93 Squadron, six Liberators, nine Mustangs, three Kittyhawks, and one Boston as part of the “Victory Loan” campaign.  93 Squadron had earned the nickname the “Victory Loan” Squadron buy raising over 8,000 Pounds towards the Victory Loan fund.

In July 1945 it was flown into outside storage at RAAF Fairbairn, Canberra. In the early 1950’s a decision was made to preserve the aircraft and work commenced to prepare it for display. It is still housed at Canberra A.W.M. where it can be seen today.

In 2003, G-George returned to display at the AWM in the new ANZAC Hall after a five year restoration program, which restored the aircraft as faithfully as possible to its wartime configuration. It is displayed in conjunction with a sound and light show that attempts to convey something of the atmosphere of a World War II Bomber Command raid, and incorporates a German ’88’ flak gun and a Bf-109 fighter. The display is based on a sortie captained by Flying Officer “Cherry” Carter to Berlin on “Black Thursday” December 1943, so called because Bomber Command lost 50 of the 500 bombers detailed for the raid – more than half were lost in landing accidents due to bad weather.

No 460 Squadron flew the highest number of Lancaster sorties in Bomber Command, but also suffered the highest loss rate of any Lancaster unit in No. 1 Group. Quite rightly, ‘George’ serves as a memorial to all Australians who flew with Bomber Command, and to the 1,018 dead of 460 Squadron.

Extract from the RAF Melton Mowbray ORB from Oct 44 which states:

“There were two bright spots – we finally liquidated the arrears on commitments No’s 91 & 166 and we successfully despatched the special commitment of one Lancaster to Australia. This aircraft has been much photographed at various stations throughout the world, but was prepared and the crew trained for this overseas flight and despatched secretly from this station.”

For more information on RAF Melton Mowbray and its role in ferrying aircraft across the world during WW2, see my previous blog: 15 – RAF Melton Mowbray

26 – The Death of a Melton WW1 ‘Ally Sloper’

The men of the Army Service Corps (ASC) were jokingly referred to as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, after the scruffy, vulgar, gin-swilling loafer Victorian comic strip superstar famous for sloping off down the alley to avoid the rent collector.  It was a good choice – the men in its ranks needed the same cheerful disregard for danger as they ducked and dived around the fighting soldiers,

Army Club Ally Sloper cigarettes advert

Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition and during the Great War, they could not move without horses or vehicles. It was the job of the ASC to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won. 

Army Service Corps badge and uniform

A Remount Squadron consisted of approximately 200 soldiers, who obtained and trained 500 horses. The soldiers of the Remount Depots were generally older, experienced soldiers.

The Central Remount Depot was based at Aldershot with additional Remount Depots (No.1 at Dublin, No.2 at Woolwich, No.3 at Melton Mowbray and No.4 at Arborfield). 

The  acquisition of horses for the war effort was an enormous operation.  In his book, The horse and the war, Sidney Galtrey states that 165,000 horses were ‘impressed’ by the Army in the first twelve days of the war alone.  Records show that during the course of the war some 468,000 horses were purchased in the UK and a further 618,000 in North America. 

This massive increase in numbers required a rapid expansion of the Remount Service. Four additional main Remount Depots were established at the following locations:– Shirehampton (for horses received at Avonmouth), Romsey (for Southampton), Ormskirk (for Liverpool) (depot situated at Lathom Park) and Swaythling (a collecting centre for horses trained at the other three centres for onward shipment overseas).

As you wander around Thorpe Road cemetery in Melton Mowbray, you will see the familiar gleaming white Portland stone grave markers/headstones.  Standing proudly above the graves of military personnel, they mark the graves of those who had died whilst serving their country, some through enemy action but the majority through accidents.  Some are in tended plots whilst others are scattered and isolated.  This is no different to the other war graves throughout the UK.

One of the scattered war graves is that of an Ally Sloper – Strapper George Essex, Service Number TS/4251 of the Army Service Corps who died 10th February 1915.  The TS prefix to his service number means that George was specially enlisted for his trade: in other words, he came from civilian employment in a trade that was of direct value to work in the Horse Transport.

CWGC Headstone of TS/4251 Strapper George Essex ASC

A Strapper is the same rank as a Private and is essentially a groom working with horses.  This is certainly no surprise seeing as there is an Army Remount depot in Melton. 

There are, however, a couple of anomalies:

Firstly, the inscription on the headstone shows his unit as the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and the Regimental badge displayed on the headstone is also of the RASC.  George died in 1915 and the Army Service Corps was not giving the Royal assent until 1919 by the King in recognition of its efforts during WW1. 

Admittedly, the CWGC casualty record does display his unit correctly as the Army Service Corps (ASC).  They are aware of this error and when the headstone is replaced, the correct Regimental crest will be engraved on the new stone.

Secondly, according to his casualty record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, he was the husband of M.G. Essex of 13 New Street, Melton Mowbray.  As a serving soldier from Melton that has died whilst serving their country, you would expect to find his name on the towns war memorial. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so why does George Essex not appear on any of Melton’s war memorials?

Let’s take a look at who George Essex was.

George was born 1878 to William Essex and his wife Fanny (nee Draper).  He was baptised on 11th August 1878 by Reverend William Colles.  According to the 1881 census, William was a brick labourer and George was the middle child, with an elder sister, Esther, and a younger sister, Fanny.

In 1889, Georges mother Fanny died, and William later re-married in 1892 to Ellen Wooding.

By the time of the 1901 census, William had become and engine driver, George was a bricklayer labourer and there was now Elizabeth and William in the family.

At the time of the 1911 census, the Essex family were living at 4 Bentley Street.  Georges’ father, William, had passed away, Ellen was the head of the household as a widow.  George was listed as aged 32, single and his occupation was a Furnaceman (Labourer).

George married Mabel Grace Winters on the 21st March 1914 at the Register Office.  When they got married, Mabel already had an illegitimate child, Lillian May Winters. The family made their home in a small three bedroomed house, not far from the centre of town at No.5 Bentley Square, Melton Mowbray.

When the 1911 Census was taken, Mabel was residing at No 9 Wilton Terrace with her sister Violet Pearson, her husband Alfred Pearson and their daughter Zara.

Mabel’s daughter, Lillian May was born 11th October 1911 and the birth certificate listed her address and occupation as 24 Scalford Road, Melton, a Doubler in a Spinning Mill. The birth certificate did not name the father, consequently it is unknown as to whether Lillian is the child of George.

As soon as war was declared, George started working as a civilian Groom at the Melton Remount Depot.  He subsequently enlisted into the Army on the 5th November 1914. 

Remount Depot Recruitment Poster

According to his attestation papers, he was aged 36 years and 158 days and his height was listed as 5ft 5in.  His occupation was listed as Groom and his answer to Question 15, “Are you willing to be enlisted for General Service?” was “Yes Remount Depot Only”.

Shortly after enlisting, George was transferred from the Melton Depot and attached to the Romsey Depot to help train horses being received in Southampton following purchase in the USA. 

Romsey Remount Depot

George had been home on leave since Friday 5th February 1915. Prior to that, he had been hospitalised for about a month with injuries to his leg following being kicked by a horse he was training.

The Essex’s neighbour, Mrs Mary Cox, husband of Charles Cox at No. 3 Bentley Square believed George had got home late on the evening of Friday the 5th.  She saw George on Saturday morning and she asked him how he was getting on.  He told her “quite well” and how kind the people at Southampton and the other various depots were.

According to Mrs Cox, she said he seemed to be himself but she noticed a ‘sort of wildness’ in his eyes.  She had also seen him on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and he still had a ‘glassy’ excited look in his eyes.  She knew he had been in hospital for about a month with his leg and he had been to France and back since he came out of hospital.

Mrs Cox believed that George was going to be returning to camp on the Wednesday as his wife Mabel had got in some provisions that he usually took back with him.

On Tuesday evening, George and Mabel retired to bed at about ten o’clock.  About half-past six the following morning, Mabel heard George get out of bed, and asked him where was going? He said was going downstairs for a “fag” and went and returned immediately.

The next moment George struck Mabel on the head with a hammer that he had brought upstairs with him. She struggled with her husband, and, though he succeeded striking her about the head three or four more times, twice on the stairs whilst she was endeavouring to escape, none of the blows were of sufficient force bring her down.

It was about twenty to seven when a Mr Carlton was walking home from his night shift at the Holwell Iron Works and saw Mabel stood on her front doorstep in her night clothes.  Her hair was matted with blood and her nightclothes were covered in blood from the injuries sustained from the hammer blows.

Mr Carlton got the attention of the Cox family, next door at No.3 and Mary Cox asked Mabel “What the matter?” she replied, “Oh my baby, never mind me, my baby”.  The Cox’s eldest son, pushed by her and went upstairs and grabbed the child, brought her downstairs and put herein her mother’s arms.

As the son went upstairs, Mary Cox saw George sat at the kitchen table. When she said to him “George what have you done?” she noticed a wound in his neck from which blood was flowing and as he tried to speak, he could not and only turned his eyes.  George walked around the kitchen table and collapsed on the hearth rug in front of the fire.

When Superintendent Hinton of Melton Police spoke to Mary Cox, he asked “Have you heard of any previous quarrel between the man and his wife?” the response was “No Sir, They have come into my shop together and have always seemed a comfortable pair.

The questions continued: “Was he a steady man, as far as you know?”  Mary Cox replied “Yes, he had been a teetotaller for months, in fact, years.”

“Do you think he was jealous of his wife?” Mary again replied “No, I don’t think so.  There is always one or two mischief makers who try to upset things, but I don’t believe the man was naturally jealous.  He always spoke respectfully of his wife.  There might have been a little trouble some months ago, but it was only hearsay, as far as she was concerned, and she did not take any notice of that.”

Dr. J T Tibbles examined the body of George Essex.  He found him lying on the hearth rug, lying prone on his face and his feet towards the window.  The Doctor could feel no pulse and pronounced him dead.  He had a large wound in the neck, from beneath the left angle of the jaw right across the front of the throat to a point below the right of the jaw.

The wound and consequent loss of blood was sufficient to account for death. From the nature and direction of the wound he had no doubt that it was self-inflicted. On a chest of drawers Dr Tibbles saw a razor, it was open, and covered with blood stains. The actual cause of death was syncope from the loss of blood.

At the inquest, George’s sister, Sarah Pick stated that about fortnight ago she received a letter from George, which Mrs. Essex saw, and which she afterwards ascertained she had destroyed.

George wrote asking her to keep an eye on his wife. On a previous occasion when he came home on leave, he had said to Mabel that he knew about her as the talk was all over town.  Sarah told him she had heard things, but he must not take notice of what people said, as possibly they made more of it than there was. He replied, “Well, seeing is believing, and if I hear any more you will not see me again.” She then asked him if he meant to keep away, and he nodded his head.

He was certainly very troubled about his wife and was very fond of her, but he thought she was going on in a different way from what she ought, and it preyed on his mind.

The incident was reported in the local press, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News.  It was also published in other newspapers around the country such as Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail, Nottingham Journal, Nottingham Evening Post, Leicester Daily Post, Leicester Chronicle, Coventry Standard and Grantham Journal.

The verdict of suicide could well explain why George is not listed on any of the towns war memorials.  There was no strict rule as to who was included on the war memorial or excluded from it.  The list of names to be added to the memorials was approved by local committees and quite often, those service personnel who committed suicide were excluded.

Back in 2013, Princess Anne unveiled a new War Horse permanent memorial to commemorate the thousands of horses shipped into battle during WWI have unveiled a bronze model of their statue. Click here for more info.

Romsey War Horse Memorial

About 120,000 of the 1.3 million horses and mules involved in the conflict passed through a giant military depot just outside Romsey in Hampshire.

Not everyone that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorate was killed by enemy fire.  Consequently, all serving military personnel who died during the First or Second World War, irrespective of the cause or circumstances of their death are commemorated with a headstone where the burial location is known, hence why George has one of the familiar war grave headstones on his grave.

It would appear that around the time that George enlisted into the Army, his wife Mabel had fallen pregnant. Mabel gave birth to a baby boy on 7th July 1915. Tragically George and his new born son, Montague Kitchener George Essex never got to meet each other.

In August 1915, Mabel was informed by the Colonel IC Army Service Corps Records that in view of the circumstances of the death of her husband, a pension for herself and child can not be granted from Army Funds.

Following an appeal, the War Office confirmed that “it has been decided that the widow of No TS/4251 Strapper George Essex, Army Service Corps, may be regarded as eligible under the usual conditions for the grant of a pension from Army Funds”.

According to the pension record card, the amount awarded was 18/6 a week from 1th July 15.  Following the successful appeal, the Army were instructed to pay the arrears as a lump sum and to make enquiries as to whether Mabel would like to invest the money into the War Savings scheme.

Pension Record Card

On 17th July 1919, the War Office issued a list of service personnel who had died on Active Service (A/S) and whose next of kin were to be issued with the Memorial Plaque, commonly referred to as the ‘Death Penny’  and Commemorative Scroll, the list contained the details of TS/4251 Strapper George Essex.

However, the Colonel IC RASC Records at Woolwich queried this in a letter dated 20th September 1919 asking the Secretary of the War Office as to whether the circumstances in which George died should debar the next-of-kin from receiving the plaque and scroll.  On the 5th October, the War Office subsequently approved the issue of the plaque and scroll.

After the death of George, his wife Mabel continued living in Melton and never remarried. She passed away in 1948. 

Lilian May went on to Marry Kenneth Daley in Melton and passed away in Macclesfield in 2000.

Montague Kitchener George joined the Northamptonshire Regiment during WW2. He married Joyce Weston in Northampton in 1943. He was taken Prisoner of War in 1943 in Germany held in Stalag IVG camp.  He survived the war, returned to Northampton and passed away in 1981.

According to George’s service records, the cause of death was recorded as “Suicide self-inflicted wound during a state of temporary insanity due to A/S”.

What was the cause of this temporary insanity?  Was it jealousy of his wife, was she having an affair?  Was it a result of the injury sustained from being kicked by the horse?  Was it the stress of military life, seeing the result of military action resulting in death and destruction in France?

I suppose that we will never know the truth behind this tragic incident in what the press reported as “Soldier goes mad – Suicide follows attempted murder at Melton” or “Another Domestic Tragedy at Melton”. 

Soldiers described the effects of trauma as “shell-shock” because they believed them to be caused by exposure to artillery bombardments. As early as 1915, army hospitals became inundated with soldiers requiring treatment for “wounded minds”, tremors, blurred vision and fits, taking the military establishment entirely by surprise. An army psychiatrist, Charles Myers, subsequently published observations in the Lancet, coining the term shell-shock. Approximately 80,000 British soldiers were treated for shell-shock over the course of the war. Despite its prevalence, experiencing shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.

But the concept of shell-shock had its limitations. Despite coining the term, Charles Myers noted that shell-shock implied that one had to be directly exposed to combat, even though many suffering from the condition had been exposed to non-combat related trauma (such as the threat of injury and death) like George Essex. Cognitive and behavioural symptoms of trauma, such as nightmares, hyper-vigilance and avoiding triggering situations, were also overlooked compared to physical symptoms.

Luckily for the sufferers of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it has been recognised that it is these cognitive and behavioural symptoms that define PTSD. The physical symptoms that defined shell-shock during WW1 were often consequences of the nonphysical symptoms.

25 – Tragic Accident or A Case of Mistaken Identity?

As you wander around the Leicester Gilroes cemetery, you can’t fail to notice the Cross of Sacrifice outside of the main crematorium building. In front of the Cross is a screen wall containing the names of 31 casualties from all 3 branches of the services, Army Navy and RAF plus the Home Guard.  All of whom died during WW2 and their bodies were cremated.

Gilroes Crematorium Cross of Sacrifice and Screen Wall

Also, scattered around the cemetery are the graves of a further 272 military personnel from both WW1 and WW2.  The majority of the graves have the standard CWGC headstone made out of either Portland, Stancliffe or Botticino stone, whilst others have a private memorial stone erected by the family.

As you meander around the site, looking at the graves, you will also see headstones that mention individuals that were killed on military service and are buried elsewhere.  These are actually classed as war memorials as they commemorate a deceased service person who as previously mention is buried at another location.

One example was the Browne family headstone, and as usual it was the inscription that grabbed my attention as it referred to the individual being Killed on Active Service in Malta.

Browne family headstone at Gilroes Cemetery
In
Loving Memory of
Percy
Beloved Husband of
Beatrice Browne
Died July 14th 1927 Aged 53
Also of
LAC Cyril Browne RAF
Beloved Son of the Above
Killed on Active Service at Malta
Dec 17th 1942 Aged 38
Also of Beatrice Julia
Beloved Wife of
Percy Browne
Died January 22nd 1948 Aged 74
“Re-United”
Also of
William James
Beloved Son of the Above
Died July 1st 1977

A quick check of the CWGC casualty database soon confirmed that indeed the individual was buried in Plot F. Coll. grave 18. of the Prot. Sec. (Men’s). in the Cappucini Naval Cemetery in Malta and not in Gilroes Cemetery.

The Grave Registration Report Form can be viewed and downloaded from the CWGC casualty record and this shows several personnel from 138 Sqn who were killed on the 17th Dec 42 and are buried in Cappucini Naval Cemetery.

But who was Cyril Browne and what happened to him?

As we have already gathered from the inscription on the headstone, Cyril Browne was the son of Percy and Beatrice Browne.  He was born on 5th June 1906 in Blaby district of Leicester.  He had 3 elder brothers, 1 younger brother and 2 younger sisters.

When the 1911 census was carried out, Cyrils father Percy was listed as a Provision Merchant and was recorded as living with his family at Roseleigh, Fox Lane, Kirby Muxloe, Leicester. Listed on the census return along with Percy, was his wife, Beatrice and their children Willie (11), Archie (10), George (7), Cyril (4) and Charles (1).

At the start of the First World War, the family were residing at 371 Fosse Road South in Leicester, but by 1918, they had moved to 44 Glenfield Road.  Within a couple of years, they had moved a few doors down the road to No 23 Glenfield Road.

By 1930, the family had moved from Glenfield Road and were now residing at Glen-Haven on Narborough Road. At the time of the 1939 register, Cyril was listed as living at Glen-Haven, Leicester Road, Blaby with his mother Beatrice, his younger brother Charles, and their younger sisters Beatrice and Kathleen.  Cyril’s occupation was listed as Grocer and Fruit Salesperson.

Following the outbreak of War, Cyril enlisted into the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) as a Mechanised Transport Driver, undergoing training at RAF Padgate and allocated service number 1069726.

After completing his training, Cyril was serving with No 21 Personnel Transit Centre at RAF Kasfareet, part of No. 216 Group, Royal Air Force Middle East Command in Egypt.

On the 17th December 1942 he was returning to the UK, departing Cairo and staging via Malta and Gibraltar.  He was a passenger aboard a Handley Page Halifax Mk2 DT542 NF-Q of 138 (Special Duties) Squadron. 

The crew of the Halifax were all Polish Air Force serving in the Royal Air Force with the exception of the Flight Engineer:
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Krzysztof Leon Dobromirski, (Pilot)
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Zbigniew Idzikowski, (Observer)
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Stanislaw Pankiewicz, (Pilot)
Sergeant (Sierzant) Alfred Edmund Kleniewski, (WOp/AG)
Sergeant (Sierzant) Roman Wysocki, (Wop/AG)
Flight Sergeant (Starzy Sierzant) Oskar Franciszek Zielinski (Gunner)
Sergeant Alexander Clubb Watt (Flt Eng)

In addition to Cyril and the above crew members, the following personnel were also passengers onboard the aircraft:
Maj Allen Algernon Bathurst. (Lord Apsley) DSO, MC, TD. 1 Royal Gloucester Hussars Royal Armoured Car and MP
Maj Arthur David Curtis Millar. Indian Army
Sqn Ldr Jefferson Heywood Wedgwood DFC. Pilot, RAF 92 Sqn
Fl Lt Peter Earle. RAF air Gunner, 76 Sqn. Ex 462 Sqn
Fl Lt Leonard Arthur Vaughan. DSO, DFC. RAF Air Gunner, 40 Sqn
Sgt Dennis Spibey. RAF. Fitter Grade 2 (Engines), 138 Sqn
Cpl Douglas Sidney Hounslow. RAFVR. Fitter Grade 2 (Airframes) 138 Sqn
LAC Richard Clegg. RAFVR. Flight Mechanic (Engines) 138 Sqn
AC1 Stanley Edward Kelly. RAFVR. Clerk/General Duties, 244 Wing Middle East Command

After it had been refuelled, DT542 NF-Q took off from RAF Luqa Airfield in the dark at around 04:00hrs to continue its journey to England via Gibraltar.

Shortly after it was airborne, the aircraft passed over Zeitun when a loud explosion was heard, and it crashed onto fields between Il-Bajjada and Ta’San Girgor, limits of Zejtun 04:05hrs and caught fire. Tragically all the crew and the passengers were killed in the crash.

There are conflicting stories that the aircraft suffered engine trouble just after take-off from Luqa and was returning when it crashed.

The Island’s defenders would certainly have been wary of any aircraft, as it was not until 20th November 1942 that the siege of Malta could be considered as over. Enemy air attacks continued for some time, albeit only sporadically and on a much reduced scale. The cost to both sides had been high, with well over 1,000 aircraft written off and thousands of military personnel and civilians killed and injured.

At least one account claims that the Halifax was mistakenly identified as an enemy aircraft and shot down by Anti Aircraft fire. 

It is not clear what the aircraft was doing out in Egypt as there is no record of any sortie for the crew around that date other than an entry for the 17th listing the crew names and stating “Killed on Operations”.

The Operational Record Book of 40 squadron which Flt Lt Leonard Vaughan DSO DFC belonged to merely states that the aircraft “crashed on landing after being recalled”.

Cyril is buried in the Cappucini Naval Cemetery Malta (Protestant Section Men’s Plot F Collective Grave 18. He is also remembered on the memorial at St Johns Church, Enderby plus on his parents gravestone at Leicester Gilroes Cemetery.

Cappucini Naval Cemetery Malta

I suppose we will never know the true answer as to whether it was a tragic accident or a case of mistaken identity, but according to the aircraft accident card, there was no mention of enemy action and certainly ne mention of a friendly fire incident.

Proudly and Thankfully We Will Remember Them