41 – Courageous Duty Done in Love, He Serves His Pilot Now Above

“Courageous Duty Done In Love, He Serves His Pilot Now Above”, is the personal inscription or epitaph, written on the Commonwealth War Grave headstone of Victoria Cross recipient Flight Sergeant John Hannah, who is buried at Birstall St James the Great Churchyard in Leicester.  What is Courageous Duty?

CWGC Headstone of Flt Sgt John Hannah VC at Birstall St James Churchyard

John, although a V.C. winner, is so typical of many veterans that I have come across in my career with the Royal Air Force and also in my time as a welfare caseworker with the Royal Air Forces Association, the charity that supports the RAF Family. 

Many service personnel are too proud to ask for help and try and resolve their issues via their own means, sadly at times, only asking for help when it is too late.  John was a prime example.

Sergeant John Hannah VC

Being a shy and reserved character, John was not a fan of all the publicity he was receiving following his award of the V.C. and disliked having to go on tours giving public speeches.

In this blog, I try and tell the story of John, not only for his heroic deeds when he showed ‘valour in the presence of the enemy’ which earned him the V.C., but also his bravery and courage in fighting his life debilitating illness and the courage he showed in overcoming his shyness in giving talks to provide a means of income to support his family. I also look at his widow and three daughters and how they showed bravery and courage to fight through their daily struggles following his death.

John Hannah was born on 27th November 1921 in Paisley, Glasgow, to his parents, James a dock crane foreman with the Clyde Navigation Trust and his wife.  John was educated at Bankhead Elementary School and Victoria Drive Secondary School in Glasgow, and he was also a member of the 237th Glasgow (Knightswood Church) Boys’ Brigade Company and played football for the local team.  After leaving school he took up employment as a salesman in a local boot company.

Victoria Drive Secondary School

He has an elder brother James, aged 25 who served in the Green Howards.  There was also a younger brother Charlie, who described John as having a reserved disposition.

On the 15th August 1939, just 3 weeks before Britain declares war on Germany, John aged only 17 enlists in the Royal Air Force on a 6 year engagement.  Following completion of his initial training at RAF Cardington, he was posted on the 14th September 1939 to the No 2 Electrical and Wireless Training School at RAF Yatesbury to train as a wireless operator.

John and his fellow students would have attended classes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week to learn the theory of wireless and how to maintain and operate various types of wireless sets including the Marconi R1155 receiver and the T1154 transmitter.

They were instructed in morse code and how to transmit and receive messages. A competitive system was set up between the students where they would strive to achieve a standard of six words per minute in the sending and receiving of morse code.

A class of trainee Wireless Operators receiving instruction in morse code IWM CH 002040

After meeting the criteria of six words per minute, they moved on to another table that demanded eight words per minute and worked their way up to the required standard of twelve words per minute.  In addition to learning about wireless transmitters and morse, the students were also taught the use of the Aldis signalling lamp for visual communication in morse code.

Once his ground training was completed, John would have then undertaken aerial training as part of his wireless course. The aerial training would have consisted of a series of air experience flights in De Havilland Dominie aircraft operated by the “Yatesbury Wireless Flight”, piloted by civilian employees of the Bristol Aircraft Company. During the air experience flights, John would have been introduced to radio receiver training consisting of sending and receiving messages from base and practicing the art of transmitter tuning by calibration and back tuning to the transmitter.

De Havilland Dominie aircraft operated by the “Yatesbury Wireless Flight”

After completing his training at Yatesbury, John was next posted to the No 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF West Freugh for a short course in air gunnery.  After successfully finishing his course in air gunnery, he was next assigned to No 16 Operational Training Unit at RAF Upper Heyford on 18th May 1940 for the final part of his training before qualifying as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (WOp/AG).

After successfully completing his WOp/AG training, he was promoted to Sergeant and posted on the 1st July 1940 to his first front line unit as what is known as a “Rooki”, serving with 106 Squadron at RAF Thornaby in Yorkshire who operated Handley Page Hampden bombers.

Hampden bombers

John didn’t serve on 106 Sqn for long as on the 11th August he was posted to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to join 83 Sqn who again operated the Hampden bomber.

83 Squadron crest (IBCC Archive)

83 Sqn was one of the few Bomber Command units that went into action on the first day of the Second World War by carrying out a bomber sweep over the North Sea searching for German warships. The Sqn continued with daylight ‘precision’ raids against German naval and coastal targets throughout 39/40, but as the daylight operations became more costly, they switched to night operations. 

The summer of 1940 has become famous in RAF history for the actions during the Battle of Britain where RAF Fighter Command pilots became known as “The Few”.

Whilst Fighter Command were heavily engaged in defending the skies above Britain intercepting the German Luftwaffe, Bomber Command units were sent out night after night to attack the naval forces that Hitler was amassing as part of his preparations for the seaborne invasion of Britain known as Operation Sea Lion. 

Huge numbers of barges had been observed making their way down the River Rhine as well as other European rivers to congregate in the Channel ports like Antwerp.  No 83 Sqn had been flying against concentrations of invasion shipping in the Channel Ports and Germany during the late summer and autumn of 1940.

On Sunday 15th September 1940, the Luftwaffe launched its largest and most concentrated attack against London in the hope of drawing out the RAF into a battle of annihilation in order to destroy its airpower before Operation Sea Lion could be commenced.  Around 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles which lasted until dusk.  The action was the climax of the Battle of Britain with the RAF Fighter Command defeating the German raids and the day is now known as Battle of Britain day.

Battle of Britain Day painting by Gary Eason

During the daylight hours on the 15th, Bomber Command dispatched 12 Blenheim bombers on sea and coastal sweeps, but all bombing sorties were abandoned due to ‘too-clear’ weather.

Bomber Command were in action again during the night of the 15th/16th September with 155 aircraft taking part in operations against Channel ports and various targets in Germany against the barges and naval forces Hitler was amassing.  No 83 Sqn dispatched 15 Hampdens as part of this force to attack target “Z11” at Antwerp.

German invasion barges being loaded with supplies for Operation Sea Lion

All 15 of 83 Sqn’s Hampdens were detailed to attack barges in selected basins at target ID Z11.  Eight successfully attacked the target, one aircraft attacked Antwerp in error, two aircraft successfully bombed the secondary target at Flushing (CC2), one aircraft had temporary engine trouble and had to jettison its bombs.  One aircraft experienced electrical issues which prevented it from releasing its bombs when attacking the target and another returned to base with its bomb load. Another a/c failed to identify either the primary or secondary targets but attacked a ship in Dunkirk roads on its return leg to base.

John Hannah took part in this Op as the WOp/AG on Hampden P1355 OL-W. His pilot was Pilot Officer Clare Arthur Connor, with Sergeant Douglas A E Hayhurst as the Navigator and Leading Aircraftman George James as Rear Gunner.

83 Squadron Hampden P1355 OL-W

During the first run over the target, the approach was inaccurate, and no bombs were dropped so the pilot went round again.  In the second approach at 2,000 feet, the aircraft was subject to intense fire from the ground, but the attack was pressed home successfully.  During the attack the bomb compartment was shattered by anti-aircraft fire and the port wing and tail boom were also damaged.

Fire soon broke out in the fuselage, enveloping both the wireless operators and rear gunners’ cockpits.  Both port and starboard fuel tanks had been pierced by shrapnel giving risk to the fire spreading. Hannah forced his way through the flames only to discover that the rear gunner had left the aircraft.

Illustrated London News 10th Oct 1940

He said in a letter to his parents “I am very lucky to be alive.  When we got into a terrible ack-ack barrage, the plane caught fire and my whiskers were singed.  It looked as if the plane would blow up.  We made for our parachutes, but mine was on fire.  By that time, the navigator and gunner had bailed out.  The plane was a blazing mess and a perfect target for the ack-ack, which was still batting away. I did some quick thinking and started throwing out parts.  During this time, the ammunition on the kite was going off at ten a penny and the heat was terrific.”

Thousands of rounds of ammunition was exploding all around Hannah and he was almost blinded by the intense heat. Air being admitted into the fuselage via the holes made by the ack-ack made the compartment an inferno with all the aluminium sheeting on the floor having melted away.

Using his oxygen mask plus returning to his WOp/AG cockpit for fresh air, he managed to fight the fire for 10 minutes using two extinguishers.  Once they had run out, he used his log books and bare hands to successfully put the fire out. He then crawled forward and found that the navigator had also left the aircraft, and passed his log books and maps to the pilot.

On landing at Scampton, the true extent of the damage to the aircraft and the actions of the crew became apparent.   The pilot, Canadian Pilot Officer Clare Connor was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the navigator Sergeant Douglas A E Hayhurst was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) and the WOp/AG Sergeant John Hannah was recommended for the Victoria Cross.  Unfortunately, the rear gunner, Leading Aircraftman George James didn’t receive any recommendations.

VC Recommendation

The Air Ministry announced on the 1st October 1940:-

“The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned airman, in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:-

652918 Sergeant John Hannah

On the night of 15th September, 1940, Sergeant Hannah was the wireless operator/air gunner in an aircraft engaged in a successful attack on enemy barge concentrations at Antwerp.  It was then subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and received a direct hit from a projectile of an explosive and incendiary nature, which apparently burst inside the bomb compartment.  A fire started which quickly enveloped the wireless operator’s and rear gunner’s cockpits, and as both the port and starboard petrol tanks had been pierced there was grave risk of fire spreading.  Sergeant Hannah forced his way through the fire to obtain two extinguishers and discovered that the rear gunner had had to leave the aircraft.  He could have done acted likewise, through the bottom escape hatch or forward through the navigator’s hatch, but remained and fought the fire for ten minutes with the extinguishers, beating the flames with his log books when these were empty.  During this time, thousands of rounds of ammunition exploded in all directions and he was almost blinded by the intense heat and fumes, but had the presence of mind to obtain relief by turning on his oxygen supply.  Air admitted through the large holes caused by the projectile made the bomb compartment an inferno and all the aluminium sheet metal floor of this airman’s cockpit was melted away, leaving only the cross bearers.  Working under these conditions, which caused burns to his face and eyes, Sergeant Hannah succeeded in extinguishing the fire.  He then crawled forward, ascertained that the navigator had left the aircraft, and passed the latter’s log and maps to the pilot.

This airman displayed courage, coolness and devotion to duty of the highest order and, by his action in remaining and successfully extinguishing the fire under conditions of the greatest danger and difficulty, enabled the pilot to bring the aircraft safely to its base.”

His V.C. Award was Gazetted in the London Gazette Issue 34958 page 5788/5789 dated 1st October 1940.

It also became apparent how serious the injuries were to Johns hands and face and he was immediately dispatched to the nearby RAF hospital at RAF Rauceby, just 5 miles South of RAF Cranwell.

John was in Rauceby hospital undergoing treatment for about 3 weeks and whilst there, he said in a letter to his parents “I have had so many C.O’s and big shots visit me that I feel I’m a big shot too.”  He goes on to say “Apparently, it was the first time a fire has been put out in the air. My pilot got a DFC, so I expect that I will be getting something too.  But if you feel the way I do you will be quite thankful that I am alive without worrying what I am getting or am going to look like.  They were worrying about shock when I came in, but I seem to be OK.  The only snag I have is that I cannot eat.  My skin is all frizzled up.  You won’t likely know me when you see me.  I have gone thin already and if they change my face, I hope I don’t get lost looking for my home”.

Sergeant Hannah VC writing home in hospital. IWM CH 1378
A letter John wrote to his brother whilst in RAF Rauceby Hospital (RAF Museum)
Sergeant Hannah, VC with some of his ward companions. IWM CH 1379

It was whilst a patient at Rauceby that he found out about his award.  He was discharged from the hospital on 7th October, and on the 10th he accompanied Pilot Officer Clare Connnor to Buckingham Palace where they received their V.C. & DFC awards from the King.

Sergeant John Hannah and Pilot Officer Clare Connnor at Buckingham Palace

Sergeant Douglas Hayhurst didn’t receive his award of the DFM as he and the rear gunner Leading Aircraftman George James were now both prisoners of war due to bailing out over enemy territory and imprisoned in Stalag 357 Kopernikus. Both were to survive the war and return to England in late 1945.

Many years later, Douglas Hayhurst was the branch manager of the Eagle Star Insurance Company in Coventry and in 1966 there was an article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph about an annual reunion with a friend from Bristol that began in a POW camp.  He recalled the incident when he bailed out “I bailed out, so did the rear gunner.  We were taken to a prisoner of war camp.  Two weeks later when new prisoners were brought into the camp, we learned that Hannah had won the V.C.  We had thought the aircraft crashed. They told us that Hannah’s chute was burnt and he could not get out and the pilot stayed with him.”

On the 2nd November, the Strathearn Herald published a poem “A Schoolgirl’s Appreciation of Sergeant John Hannah V.C.”

O noble John Hannah, how much we admire you,
With your wonderful coolness and courage so true,
When you stayed in that ‘plane all riddled with bullets,
And fought with the flames which were eating it through.

O what did you feel in that terrible air-flight,
When the gas and the smoke must have blinded your sight?
Or were you benumbered by the sense of great danger?
And did you just do what you thought to be right?

O how joyful and proud will your dear mother be,
When she hears how you gallantly won the V.C.,
Her Brave son in safety she’s longing to see.

                                                                        S.M.C.D.

Following his discharge from hospital, John didn’t return to operational flying and on the 4th November 1940, he was posted to No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Cottesmore as an instructor.

Before he was posted to 14 OTU, he had public duties to perform as the Guest of Honour to Lord Hamilton of Dalzell.  He had been invited along with his younger brother and their parents to the official opening of the German Junkers 88 exhibit at Motherwell to raise money for their Spitfire fund.

In March 41, more public duties followed when John was presented to the workers of an aircraft factory by the aircraft designer Mr Frederick Handley Page.  It was reported that when he met the staff in the lunchtime break, they wanted him to speak and all he could say was “Thank you. I am very glad to be with all you boys and girls” due to being scared of the audience.

John Hannah and another V.C. winner from Scampton, Flight Lieutenant Roderick Learoyd of 49 Sqn, were honoured in a ceremony at the Scampton Base.  As both men had won their V.C.s whilst operating as crew members on the Handley Page Hampden bomber, the aircraft designer Mr Frederick Handley Page, commissioned Mr Frank O Salisbury to paint their portraits. 

Sergeant John Hannah VC & Flight Lieutenant Roderick Learoyd VC with Mr Frederick Handley Page

The paintings were presented to the two men at a ceremony at Scampton by Mr Frederick Handley Page on 21st June 1941.  At the ceremony, both airmen immediately handed the painting over to the Station Commander for safe keeping.  Among those present at the ceremony were Air Vice-Marshal Arthur T Harris and Air Vice-Marshal Norman Bottomley who were both later to become Air Officer Commanding In Chief Bomber Command.

Painting of Sgt John Hannah VC by Mr Frank O Salisbury

This wasn’t the first time he had had his portrait painted as back in October, shortly after his award of the V.C., his portrait was painted by the official war artist Eric Kennington.

Sergeant J Hannah, VCby Eric Kennignton (Art.IWM ART LD 638)

Whilst at Cottesmore, John started a relationship with a local girl from Oakham by the name of Janet Beaver whose father was awarded the Military Medal whilst serving with the 5th Leicestershire Regiment during the First World War. 

On Saturday 21st June 1941, Janet and John got married in secret at Oakham Register Office.  The Sunday Mirror on the 22nd June published a feature on their wedding and a photo of the happy couple.  It stated “Sergeant John Hannah V.C., nineteen-year-old RAF, bomber hero, was shy over his decoration, but shyer still over his wedding yesterday.  He married Miss Janet Beaver, of Oakham, at the register office in that town and he had made careful plans to keep his romance secret.”

Janet and John wedding photo Sunday Mirror 22 June 1941

The Wednesday after his wedding, John was undertaking more public duties when he attended the Headquarters of the Market Harborough and District Air Training Corps where he and Squadron Leader J E C G E Gyll-Murray met the district flights of Market Harborough and Kibworth at the County Grammar School and made speeches to the cadets.  After the speeches, there was great competition between the cadets to obtain the autographs of the two airmen, who duly obliged.

John stayed at Cottesmore until September 41 when he was promoted to Flight Sergeant and posted from 14OTU to No 4 Signals School at RAF Yatesbury as an instructor.

Flight Sergeant John Hannah V.C. instructing WOp/AG students at RAF Yatesbury (IWM CH 3926)

In November 1942, John was medically discharged from the RAF with a full pension as a result of being to unfit to serve due to his health deteriorating and the onset of Tuberculosis (TB) brought on from his injuries sustained in the fire. 

John and his wife Janet and their children set up home in Birstall on the outskirts of Leicester.  It was around this time that John had joined the Leicester Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association.  On Friday 15th January 1943, John attended a ball held at the Palais de Danse in Leicester for “warriors of the present battles of the skies” sponsored by the old pilots and observers of the Royal Flying Corps on behalf of the Leicester branch of RAFA.

RAF Association Leicester branch Warriors of the present battles of the skies ball at Leicester Palais de Danse 1943

The Daily Record reported on 23rd January 1943 that he had been discharged from the RAF and the article went on to quote him as saying “I have been given a pension for a year. It will be reviewed at the end of that time after I have been before a medical board.  I have a 100% pension, just now – £3 7s. 3d. a week for himself, his wife and his child.”

Asked why he is in Leicester, he pointed out that his wife was from Oakham and had worked in Leicester.  He went on to say “I am here, also, because of the official attitude in Glasgow towards me.  When I won the V.C., they had the bands out for me, but little has been done for me since.  The people of Leicester have done more for me in a week or two than Glasgow has done for me in a long time. Dances and other functions are being organised for a testimonial fund for me, and I much appreciate what the people here are doing for me – so different from Glasgow.”

The Lord Provost of Glasgow, Mr John Riggar, expressed great surprise that Sergeant John Hannah V.C. should criticise official Glasgow.  He stated “I have heard nothing of Mr Hannah from the time before I took office.  That was over a year ago, when I believe, he was being recommended for a commission.  We have not heard anything from him at all, and did not know where he was.”

Another article a few days later in the Daily Mirror quoted him as saying “I long to be back in the Royal Air Force again and to fly with the boys.  After getting my V.C. I had two serious crashes and had to come off flying.  My nerve gave way and I could not carry on, and was discharged.  I love being home with my wife and daughter, but I should prefer to be behind my gun in the air.  The medical authorities have told me I must not work for six months.  I am now taking life easy and passing time giving short talks on flying, as I cannot forget the RAF.  Everyone has been very kind to me, both at my home town in Glasgow, and here in Leicester.”.

Sergeant John Hannah behind his guns in his Hampden WOp/AG cockpit

Since being discharged from the RAF, he had returned to Glasgow to look at businesses in the area and had numerous offers of employment from various people in Leicester, but he had turned them all down as he wanted to concentrate on improving his health.

However, due to his much-reduced income, he had decided to take to the stage and his first appearance would be at the Hippodrome Theatre in Ipswich starting on Monday 15th February 1943.  His stage manager was comedian Len Childs who introduced him to the audience. 

Ipswich Hippodrome Theatre

His turn came about halfway through the show, just after a knockabout turn by the Tracey Brothers and O’Leary.  The curtain went down on O’Leary singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” and swung up again on Len Childs singing “Lords of the Air”.

After his opening song, Childs went on to say: “I would Like to pay tribute to the Air Force, of which I was a member in the last war”. With that and amid cheering, Hannah walked on stage wearing his RAF Flight Sergeant uniform with his Air Gunner’s badge and V.C. ribbon. 

Hannah told the audience a funny story about when he was a ‘Rookie’, another about his first flight and then about the flight during which he won the V.C. for batting out the flames with his bare hands over Antwerp. Afterwards he saluted the audience and marched off to whistle and applause to autograph the photos of himself which were being sold for 2s each in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund.

After his debut, he told the Daily Mirror “I have a wife and kiddie in Leicester, and I need the money.  My pension is £3 7s. 3d. a week and I have been living on the £70 I saved while I was in hospital.  I am receiving treatment for tuberculosis, and I cannot make a regular stage contract because I do not know how I shall feel”.

The first few nights of his shows he appeared on stage wearing his RAF Uniform, but after the show on Friday, he was approached by an RAF Officer accompanied by a Police Officer who told him it was illegal for him to wear his Flight Sergeant uniform and that he would be prosecuted if he continued to do so.  After the show, he went with the officers to the Police Station where the regulations were read out to him.

On the Saturday, he appeared on stage wearing civilian clothes without his V.C. ribbon.  Instead, he wore the badges of the British Legion and Royal Air Forces Association on his jacket lapels.

Even though he said he cannot make a regular stage contract due to his ongoing treatment, he still undertook public duties as the week after his Ipswich stage shows, he was touring Munitions factories on behalf of the Ministry of Information.

The dispute over Glasgow’s support towards John continued throughout 43 and in March 44, Johns father, James wrote to the Sunday Post “To the Editor of the Sunday Post.  I am the proud father of John Hannah, first and youngest V.C. of this war.  I read your article on Carluke doing its V.C’s proud.  There are many conflicting rumours about Glasgow’s recognition of my son.  It has been said that he got £500 from Glasgow, and even as much as £1000.  I would like to make it known that he received £25 in War Savings Certificates from the people of Knightswood and a wallet containing £12 from the personnel of Victoria Drive School. That was all, apart from a few personal gifts.  I hope this letter will put an end to the rumours. James Hannah.”

Over the next couple of years, John took up employment as a taxi driver when he and a friend purchased two cars and started the taxi business.  It was a struggle for them and the business was wound up in early 1945. 

In January 1945, John branched out and opened his own cycle shop in Leicester.

Unfortunately, by 1947, his health had deteriorated to such a state that he became bed ridden in January 1947.  By this time, Janet & John now had three daughters: Josephine, Jacqueline and Jennifer.

In January, Mr A E Carr, of Victoria Street London, who was a Cpl Instructor with John at Yatesbury in 1943 put out a call to the public to subscribe to a fund to send him to Switzerland for treatment. 

Mr Carr told a reporter “if the Government at this late date cannot see their way clear to do what I am sure all air crew and indeed the whole of the Royal Air Force, believe to be their duty, then I think we members of the public, who are now being thanks for raising £7000 for China relief in cinema collections over the last few days should demand that a similar appeal be made immediately.”

Mr Carr goes on to say “Shy and reserved, he was persuaded to travel the country giving talks in aircraft factories and other war plants. We knew he hated this duty, but it was probably that experience which gave him the courage to go on music hall stages to try and earn sufficient money, not only to maintain his wife and children but to pay the expense of his treatment.”

As a result of the appeal being launched, a Government official from the Ministry of Pensions was instructed to visit John and his family to find out what help he needed.  They had heard that he had to be fed on milk, brandy and eggs and that his wife was struggling to make ends meet.  The People newspaper published on 27th January 1947 reported that they had been informed by a Ministry official “We are looking into his case immediately to see if we can give extra aid through the King’s Fund, and, possibly, an increase to his pension.”

The recent newspaper reports about Johns deterioration in his health also stimulated another former RAF airmen into trying to provide help and assistance.  Mr Norman Dodds, who was an ex-ranker, was the MP for Dartford and the President of the Dartford branch of the Royal Air Forces Association had been in touch with his Czech friends in London who were in discussions with their Government in Prague about getting an invitation for John to go to one of their sanitoria and that the Association were prepared to pay the costs.  However, John didn’t want any of this as his response was “I appreciate what Mr Dods and my old RAF friends are doing.  I don’t want to seem ungracious, but I have always tried to stand on my own feet.  If I go anywhere, I prefer Switzerland.”

John told a newspaper reporter that “I have had offers to go to Switzerland, but my doctors are against me taking the risk of making a journey to Switzerland or Czechoslovakia.  I would prefer to go to the Swiss mountains but if I did so, I would have to accept the responsibility.  It is heartening to know so many people are willing to help, and I hope they will not think I am ungrateful if I say I would like to go under my own steam.  I have been advised to enter a local sanatorium, where I can build up my strength, but I believe I can do that by resting at home.  There the matter must rest at the moment.”

When advised of Johns views, Norman Dodds replied “The offer remains open, and if at any time he is able to accept, Mr Hannah’s old colleagues of the RAF will be only too happy to render every assistance possible.  I hope to visit Leicester shortly, and will state our views personally to him.”  Mr Dodds mentioned that for some time, negotiations had been in progress between representatives of the Czech Government and Squadron Leader A J O Warner, Secretary of the RAF Association, for sick RAF men to visit Czechoslovakia for medical treatment.

A few days later, Norman Dodds visited John in his Birstall home and reported that John was frank about his attitude.  He does not seek charity nor want it, and he cannot rid his mind of the thought that in some way he would be accepting charity by taking advantage of the offers made.  Norman went on to say that “The Leicester Branch of the RAF Association are in close touch with the position, and in view of the several requests made to me to convey help to the V.C., I point out that Flying Officer W F Watson, Chairman of the Leicester RAF Association, will deal with these if made direct to him at the branch headquarters, Charles Street, Leicester.”

John was admitted to Markfield Sanitorium on 31st January 1947 after being seriously ill in bed at home for several weeks.  His wife Janet, as well as looking after their three daughters, had also been his nurse at home. 

Markfield Sanitorium & Isolation Hospital

The Markfield Sanitorium or Markfield Hospital was the County Sanitorium and Isolation hospital on Ratby Lane and was opened in September 1932 by Sir George Newman, the Chief Medical Officer to the Ministry of Health.

It had 203 beds in six wards, with isolation for fever patients and a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis (TB). Fever patients were usually children, with fevers including diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid, smallpox and meningitis. Those with TB were mostly between aged 17 and 26 or were older people.

Stays were often lengthy, with TB patients there for up to two years. This was before more effective medicines became available, with the main treatment for TB being lots of bed rest, good food grown on the hospital farm and fresh air – patients were exposed to the Markfield winter air and snow too! Medical treatment for TB included PAS, an unpleasant medicine taken four times daily, streptomycin injections and air treatment for the lungs.

She had been overwhelmed by the large numbers of telephone enquiries and offers of assistance she had received at their home in Stonehill Avenue Birstall.  “My husband’s illness has brought in its train inquiries and offers of practical help, not only from neighbours and friends, but from well-wishers in all parts of the country.  The number has been legion, and it is beyond my powers to answer each one individually.  I do hope that through the Evening Mail, many of them will learn of my heartfelt appreciation of their kindness.”

Mr Neil McKinnon Willmot, a veteran of Alamein and who was now a farmer in the Cape Province region of South Africa offered his home to the Hannah family.  He said that if Hannah could be brought out to South Africa, he, as well as his family, could remain at his farm until he got better.  He felt certain the South African climate together with plenty of good food would cure the RAF hero.

The Leicester Evening Mail on the 7th June 1947 reported that John had passed away in Markfield Sanitorium.  Johns wife Janet, told one of their reporters “he was too proud to accept anything that had the appearance of charity.  He had lived to regret having the V.C..  It meant nothing to him.  All he wanted was good health and a chance of happiness with the children.”  John was receiving full disability pension of £4 5s. a week for himself and his family and was in the process of buying the family home through a building society when he died.  His wife Janet went on to say “It will be a struggle and I’m worried about the children’s education, but I’m not able to think of anything at the moment, except that I shall never see John again.”

On hearing the news of Johns death, Flying Officer W F Watson, Chairman of the Leicester RAF Association conveyed to Janet, on behalf of the whole of the membership of the Association, their deepest sympathy in her loss.

The funeral service was arranged for Wednesday 10th June, ironically, the day of his daughter Jacqueline third birthday.  The service would be held at St James the Great Church in Birstall commencing at 1:30pm followed by the internment in the church cemetery. 

St James the Great Church Birstall

The service was officiated by the Reverends Francis Pratt, the vicar of St James the Greater and Reverend Charles A Turner, Rector of Broughton Astley and Padre to the Leicester Branch of the RAF Association.  The funeral arrangements were discussed with the Air Ministry, local units of the Royal Air Force and Air Training Corps.

At his funeral, the coffin was draped in the RAF Ensign and carried by a bearer party of RAF personnel from nearby RAF Wymeswold.  The station also provided a firing party under the command of Squadron Leader C Wright from the base.  The Leicester Air Training Corps Squadron provided drummers and trumpeters who sounded the Last Post.  A contingent of RAF personnel also attended from RAF Leicester East airfield.

The family mourners were: Mrs Hannah, widow; Mr and Mrs James Hannah, parents; Mr James Hannah, brother; Mr Hugh McColl and Mr John Hannah, uncles; and Mr and Mrs Arthur Beaver, father-in-law and mother-in-law.

Among those present were Mr Montague Turnor, Mr Craston White, Mr Dick Kerr, Miss Henson representing SSAFA, Group Captain A P Ellis, representing the RAF Benevolent Fund; Mr R D Buxton, hon. Secretary and members of the Leicester Branch of the RAF Association, Mr J P Moore, chairman; Mr C Williams, vice-chairman; and members of the Birstall branch of the British Legion and Flying Officer W F Watson, representing the Leicester ATC.

The Nottingham Journal published an article on the 10th June “Immediate Pension for V.C.’s widow.  Because it was first thought that her husband was a Sergeant (instead of Flight Sergeant) the Ministry of Pensions announced yesterday that Mrs Hannah, widow of Britain’s youngest RAF V.C., who died in Markfield Sanatorium (Leics.) on Saturday, would receive personal allowance of 37s.  She will in fact get 38s. a week.  In addition, she will receive 11s. for each of her three daughters and another 5 s. for each of the younger two.  This makes a total of £4 1s. compared to the nearly £7 a week which John Hannah received while alive.”

Children’s Education but Mrs Hannah will be eligible for a rent allowance (maximum 15s. a week) and can also apply for educational allowances for the children.  “Mrs Hannah has already filled in the necessary application forms” said a Ministry of Pensions official “and we shall make her a provisional allowance to help her and the children until such a time as the procedure is completed and then make any necessary adjustments.”

Following John’s death, a fund had been opened in Leicester to support Janet and her children.  Money was donated from various things and in July the Fleckney British Legion Women’s Section donated £4 from the proceeds of a whist drive that they held in the school.

The setting up of this local fund had caused questions to be asked in the House of Commons.  Air Commodore Arthur V Harvey, MP for Macclesfield, asked the Minister of Pensions, Mr J B Hynd, after he had announced the amount awarded to Janet “Do you consider that the pension is suitable for a man who served his country so conspicuously?”

Mr Hynd said that the pension and allowances amounted in all to £3 17/- a week.  In addition, the normal family allowance of 10/- weekly was being paid.  Mrs Hannah had been invited to apply for an education grant.  The pension was the maximum payable under the Royal Warrant.

Mr Barnet Janner, (Soc Leister W.) asked – “Are you aware that owing to the very serious condition in which the widow and children find themselves, a public subscription list has been opened in Leicester and will you do what you can to see that this very deserving case is looked into quickly?”  Mr Hynd said he was not aware of the circumstances being so hard as suggested.

John Hannah is commemorated in different ways.  As mentioned at the start, at the head of his grave at St James the Greater churchyard, is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone showing the V.C. medal.  He is also commemorated on the Birstall war memorial at St James’.

Birstall War Memorial
Birstall War Memorial with plaque showing Johns name

There are also a couple of other memorials to him in Birstall, the first being a row of shops being named Hannah Parade and there you will find a memorial plaque with his V.C. citation.

Hannah Parade in Birstall
Hannah VC Citation plaque

On the 15th September 2016, a green plaque was unveiled at the Royal British Legion in Birstall.

John Hannah VC Green Plaque at Birstall Royal British Legion

In 2007, a new memorial stone commemorating the Victoria Crioss recipients from Paisley was unveiled and dedicated in Hawkhead Cemetery. The meorial contains the names of 5 Paisley men who won the VC, 2 from the Crimean War, 2 from WW1 and John from WW2.

Victoria Cross Stone of Remembrance at Hawkhead Cemmetery Paisley. (IWM WMR 57780)

On VE Day 2020, Johns relatives attended the dedication of five memorial trees and plaques commemorating members of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF that were unveiled at the veterans’ monument in Knightswood, Glasgow.

John Hannah VC Plaque at the veterans’ monument in Knightswood, Glasgow

A Rose Garden has been dedicated with special roses in memory of JOhn at the St John the Baptist Church Scampton.

St John the Baptist Church Scampton Rose Garden
St John the Baptist Church Scampton Rose Garden Plaque

Inside St John the Baptist Church Scampton there is the Honours and Awards Memorial Board from RAF Scampton on which John is name as one of the VC winners along with Flt Lt Learoyd & Wg Cdr Guy Gibson.

RAF Scampton Honours & Awards Memorial Board St John the Baptist Church Scampton
RAF Scampton Honours & Awards Memorial Board St John the Baptist Church Scampton

At RAF Swinderby, one of the accommodation blocks was named ‘Hannah’ in honour of John.

Hannah Block RAF Swinderby

The RAF also named a rescue boat Sgt John Hannah at West Freugh near Stranraer in Scotland.

Paisley Daily Express 30 November 1988

A trophy, initiated by Ron Durran, a former Cadet Airmen who was instructed by John at Yatesbury has been introduced at John’s old school, the Victoria Drive Secondary in Scotstoun, Glasgow for the ‘most distinguished pupil’.

At the RAF Museum in Hendon, there is a dispolay of a few of Johns items. As mentioned poreviously there is a letter he wrote to his brother whiolst in hospital. The dispaly also included his Flying Helmet and Goifggles and intercomm/mic tel lead plus his VC Medal that his wife Janet donated to 83 Squadron.

John Hannah VC display at RAF Museum
Close up of Johns helmet and goggles at RAF Museum
Johns mic tel/intercom lead at RAF Museum
Johns VC Medal at the TRAF Museum

In 1953, John’s widow, Janet was allocated one of the four seats at Westminster Abbey for the Coronations of Queen Elizabeth II.  The four seats had been reserved for widows of United Kingdom V.C.’s through the Ministry of Pensions who provided accommodation in London and provided transport to take her to the Abbey.

The Leicester Illustrated Chronicle published an article in January 1956 about Janet and the three girls. “Sergeant John Hannah who won the V.C. at the age of 18 and died at 25, was a modest man. But he would be proud of today.  Proud of the wife and family he left at 87 Stonehill Avenue, Birstall. Proud of their courage, their ambitions – and their happiness.”  In the article, Janet says how life was grim after his death and she had to sink or swim.  She supplemented her pension of about £4 by doing hairdressing for friends.  The Leicester Mercury organised a fund to help make life easier for the fatherless family “And the Ministry of Pensions and the RAF Association have been good to me” she said.  The article finishes by saying “But his widow, who has so squarely faced the challenge to her own bravery, and those three fine children carry on the Hannah reputation for courage.” To read the full article click here: Leicester Chronicle 28 January 1956

On Tuesday 26th June 1956, Janet joined in with the ceremony where 300 V.C. recipients paraded in Hyde Park.  The ceremony was an echo of the great parade that took place 99 years previous when Queen Victoria, accompanied by the prince Consort, rode to Hyde Park to present the V.C. to 62 men which she instituted.

Also, at Hyde Park with Janet were six V.C. winners from Leicestershire: Lt-Col John Cridland Barrett V.C.; Captain Tom Steel V.C.; Captain Robert Gee V.C.; The Rev Arthur Proctor V.C.; Robert Edward Cruikshank V.C. and Richard Burton V.C.

At the same time as the Queen made her speech, a poppy wreath was laid on John’s grave in Birstall.  The Queen said “Today, I am proud to stand here, with men and women from all parts of the Commonwealth, to do honour to the successors of that gallant band, to the 300 brave men who are present and to those who can be with us only in spirit, or in the memory of family and friends.”

By 1962, Janet was looking at trying to stand on her own two feet instead of relying on charity and she was considering selling her husbands V.C. in the hope that it would raise £1,000 so that she could start her own hairdressing business.  Her daughter, Josephine who was now 19 and married, told the Daily Herald “She’s had a tremendously hard fight bringing us up. Now all she wants is security.  She’s grateful for the help she has received but she wants to make her own way now”.  Officials from the RAF Association contacted Janet in the hope that the association’s financial aid may persuade her not to part with the V.C.

Janet had received offers around £1,000 for the medal from all over the UK including the Imperial War Museum.  She had even turned down an offer of nearly £1,750 from an individual in New York plus offers from Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe.

“I want to make sure it goes to the right place.  I don’t want to cash in on the medal. I simply want to raise enough money to start a hairdressing business and preserve my independence.  The money will be shared with my three daughters.  They have agreed this is the right thing to do.  The second eldest wants to train as a hairdresser.  I have been a widow for 15 years and it has been a struggle to make ends meet. I could go on another 15 years and still be in the same position.  Without immediate capital, I could not start a business and selling the medal is the only way I can raise it. My husband was a practical man and I am sure he would have approved.”

An unexpected offer of help came in from a former World War One pilot meant that she may not have to sell the V.C.  Mr S Burgess of Worcester was the principal of the Worcester School of Hairdressing and offered to give Janet as long a refresher course in hairdressing as she needed and providing her with accommodation during training.  At the same time, his friend, Mr W Calway who was a manufacturing chemist had offered to provide her with £1,000 worth of hairdressing equipment. Mr Calway stated “We felt full of compassion for her in having to sell the V.C. and considered something should be done to help her in her predicament.  There are no strings attached to these offers and Mrs Hannah may pay for the equipment whenever she can without the addition of any interest.”

Janet and her three daughters agreed not to sell the V.C. stating “I’m tired to death of all the worry and publicity my family has received.  It was never intended this way.  All I wanted was security for myself and family.”

After declining many offers for her husband’s medal, she eventually decided to give it away free by presenting it to John’s old Squadron, No 83 Squadron who had reformed and were back at RAF Scampton operating the Vulcan bomber.  She said “Naturally, there were times when I was tempted to sell the medal.  I’m glad I kept it, and I feel I am doing the correct thing in donating the V.C. to John’s old Squadron.  I think they should have it for safe keeping.”

Johns Victoria Cross medal and several of hid belonging including his flying helmet, mic-tel lead and goggles plus a letter he wrote to his brother are now on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon.

In the Illustrated London News published on 1st September 1979, they published an article by John Winton titled “The high price of valour” – The qualities that make a man a hero in war do not necessarily fit him for a successful life in times of peace.  The author looks at the sad histories of some winners of the Victoria Cross.

The article looks at various V.C. winners and how they coped after leaving the military and John Hannah is one of those mentioned.

“Suicide rates among VCs have dropped drastically since the horrific levels of 100 years ago; the last were two first World War VCs, in the 1950s.  But memories are notoriously short (only a few years after the Armistice Boy Cornwell’s grave was found overgrown and neglected) and even in modern times life has not been easy for some VC’s.  Officers seem generally to have prospered; Sir Tasker Watkins is a judge and Leonard Cheshire found a second fame as a philanthropist.  

But for some, other ranks the going has been much harder. Private Speakman, the Korean War VC, found it extremely difficult to settle down in civilian in life.  John Hannah, the 18 year old RAF Sergeant who won a VC for putting out a fire in a Hampden bomber over Antwerp in 1940, was hard pressed to support his young family after the war and died in a sanatorium aged 25. 

Leading Seaman Magennis, the ‘frogman VC’, was the only Ulster VC winner of the Second World War and he was naturally feted when he went home to Belfast.  But he and his wife soon spent the money raised for them and Magennis sold his Cross for £75. “We are simple people” his wife said. “We were forced into the limelight” Ian Fraser, Magennis’s captain, who also won the VC in the same exploit, put the problem in a nutshell: “A man is trained for the task that might win him the VC.  He is not trained to cope with what follows.”

Going back to the question in the opening paragraph –“What is Courageous Duty?” Does it only apply to you while serving and something you carry out as part of a task that you have been trained for, or does it apply after you leave the service and apply to your duties of supporting your family?

I think that following his injuries, John and his wife both showed courage in their duties fighting Johns illness and supporting their family, especially Janet when she was having to nurse John and later bring up the three daughters all on her own with very little income.

At the grave of John Hannah VC in St James Churchyard Birstall. Leicester RAF Association Standard Bearer Roy Rudham and Branch Chairman Barry Smart with Sgt Bhav Chouhan and Cadets form 1947 Birstall Squadron ATC. Photo taken 2018

40 – Melton Officer Dies in a Nazi Camp

“Melton Officer Dies in a Nazi Camp” was the headline of the news article published in the Leicester Evening Mail on 11th January 1943.  The officer in question was Peter Anthony Lovegrove.

Leicester Evening Mail 11 January 1943

Peter was born in Melton Mowbray on the 3rd March 1920 as the middle child of 3.  His parents were the late Edward Tyler Lovegrove and his wife Hilda, of Thorpe Arnold.  Peter’s elder brother Vernon was born Sept 1917 and his younger sister Joyce in Dec 1921.

Within a few years of the children being born, their father Edward, died on 16th May 1922 at their home in Thorpe Arnold.  His death was put down to War Related Sickness”…a victim of consumption [pulmonary tuberculosis], primarily contracted through War service.”

Edward had served with the Royal Army Service Corps during the First World War.  He was given a commission in the ASC in 1915 as a Lieutenant when he proceeded to France in the December 1915.  He was promoted to Captain whilst serving with the 55th Division until the summer of 1918 when he was invalided out of the service with a Silver War Badge suffering from the effects of being gassed and having 2 attacks of pleurisy.

Peter, aged 8 was sent for schooling at the Oakham School from 1929 starting off in the Junior House, followed by the School House which he left in 1936.  Whilst at school he had the following achievements

  • Relay Race (under 13): won with team B – Spring 1930.
  • Form 1 Arithmetic Prize: Summer 1930.
  • Scouts: in the Fox patrol – Summer 1932.
  • Cricket under 14: awarded Colours – Summer 1933.
  • Form 4 Trustees’ Prize: Winter 1933.
  • Drama: played Blanch of Spain in the Form 5 production of King John – Spring 1936.
  • Fives: Captain – Winter 1936.
  • O.T.C.: Certificate ‘A’ – Winter 1936.

After leaving school, he trained as a chartered surveyor and on the 24th May 1939, the Nottingham Journal published a list of ‘local candidates’ who had passed their professional examinations of the Chartered Surveyors Institute. Peter was one of those listed that had passed Intermediate Examination Part One.

Fg Off Peter Anthony Lovegrove RAF (VR) (Photo: The Oflag 64 Record website )

Peter volunteered for the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) in November 1939 and was enlisted in 1940 as a Leading Aircraftman and allocated service number 1164992. According to the London Gazette, he was granted a commission for the duration of hostilities as a Pilot Officer on probation wef 9th March 1941 and allocated service number 62324.

After being commissioned, he trained as a pilot and earnt his wings.  He spent some time at RAF Cottesmore and whilst there he visited his old school in Oakham on several occasions.

At some point in his military career, Peter was posted onto No 83 Sqn based at RAF Scampton.

83 Sqn Crest

On the 8th April 1942, No 83 Sqn had been tasked with a bombing raid on Hamburg with their target being the Blohm & Voss shipyard.  Five aircraft from No 83 sqn were involved from the total of 272 aircraft made up of 177 Wellingtons, 41 Hampdens, 22 Stirlings, 13 Manchesters (of which 5 were from 83 Sqn), 12 Halifaxes and 7 Lancasters.

The 83 Sqn Manchesters involved in the raid were: L7484, L7385; R5833; R5838 and L7427 and all equipped with a bomb load of 6 x 1,000lb general purpose bombs.

According to the Bomber Command War Diaries, the raid on Hamburg was not a success.  Icing and electrical storms were encountered and out of the 272 aircraft involved in the raid, only 188 reported bombing in the area.

Later records from Hamburg reported that the equivalent of 14 aircraft loads fell on the city causing 8 fires of which 3 were large.  There was no particular reference to property damage and 17 people were killed and a further 199 injured.

Bremen reported a load of incendiaries were dropped very accurately on the Vulkan shipyard which caused damaged to 4 U-boats under construction plus several surrounding buildings.

In addition to the Hamburg raid, Bomber Command were also carrying out smaller minor operations involving 13 Wellingtons to Le Havre, 3 Blenheims intruding over Holland, 24 aircraft minelaying near Heligoland and 16 aircraft on leaflet flights to Belgium and France.

It was these leaflet raids that 83 Sqn provided 2 Manchesters R5837 and R5873 to carry out a nickel raid on Paris.

From a total if 328 aircraft involved in the two Ops that night, 6 aircraft were lost, 5 from the Hamburg raid and 1 from the leaflet drops.

Bomber Command Report on Night Operations 8th April 1942 Pg 1
Bomber Command Report on Night Operations 8th April 1942 Pg 2

R5837 that took part in the leaflet raid on Paris, took off from Scampton at 21:01Hrs and the crew were: Plt Off Proule; Plt Off Renvoize; Sgt Fitchett; Fg Off Goodman; Plt Off Dickinson; Sgt Neary and Sgt Porter. In addition, the Sqn Intelligence Officer Plt Off R J Dyer had accompanied the crew to gain an insight into operational flying.

On the outbound leg of the sortie, the aircraft was hit by flak in the Starboard engine.  Unable to maintain height, they ditched their leaflets near Calais and started an early run home.  The aircraft ditched in the sea off Manston and only the pilot (Plt Off Proule ) managed to make it to the dingy. The W/Op followed correct procedure and gave a fix which enabled the pilot to be found by the Search and Rescue unit after 14½ hours.  Sadly, the rest of the crew didn’t make it and within a couple of days, the bodies of Plt Off Renvoize and Sgt Fitchett were washed ashore and taken for burial at Thundersley St Peter Churchyard in Essex and Vlieland General Cemetery in the Dutch Friesian Islands respectively.  The rest of the crew have no known grave and are commemorated on the Runnymede memorial.

Manchester L7427 OL-Q 83 Sqn

Peter Lovegrove was the 2nd pilot on Manchester L7427 OL-Q for Queenie tasked with the raid on Hamburg.  His crew mates were:

  • 67046 Pilot Officer Jack Heathcote Morphett RAFVR – 1st Pilot
  • NZ/402188 Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Douglas Hutchinson RNZAF – Navigator
  • 647009 Flt Sgt Albert Henry Salter RAF – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
  • 923926 Sergeant Reginald Stanley Williams RAFVR – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
  • R.66159 Sgt George Charles Fisk RCAF – Air Gunner
  • R.69897 Sgt Charles Dewitt Gellatly RCAF – Air Gunner

According to the 83 Sqn Operational Record Book, they left Scampton at 22:15Hrs and were reported ‘missing without trace’.  Further information has since come to light that L7427 was last heard on wireless transmission at 00.10 hours, at which time it was believed to be in the Lastrup area of Germany.

It was later reported to have crashed in the small town Ermke near Lastrup-Cloppenburg.  It was claimed to have been shot down by Fw Gerhard Goerke 1/NJG3 – West of Lastrup South East of Cloppenburg at 00:49Hrs and also claimed by Flak of 1/schw Res Flak Abt 603 (unknown type) near Lastrup, Cloppenburg at 00:45Hrs.

Sadly, all the crew died in this incident, apart from Peter Lovegrove who as mentioned previously was the 2nd Pilot.

The crew who died on the 9th April were originally interred at the Russian Vechta Cemetery but later they were exhumed and re-buried on the 12th June 47 at the Sage War Cemetery.  Most of the 816 casualties buried in the Sage cemetery were airmen lost in bombing raids over northern Europe whose graves were brought in from cemeteries in the Frisian Islands and other parts of north-west Germany.

There is an interesting story on the ‘Short Stirling & RAF Bomber Command Forum’ website posted by a user relating to this aircraft and the sortie on the 8th April.

“I am doing some research into the earliest use of the radar system H2S first used officially by Bomber Command in January 1943.
The reason is my wife’s uncle was 21 year old commanding Pilot Officer Jack Heathcote Morphett who died on the 9th April 1942 in a raid over Germany.
The story in the family goes that Jack had completed 30 successful missions and was on leave in Wales, R&R when he got a call from his commanding officer at Scrampton.
Two Avo Manchesters were to take part in a raid over Hamburg and the nominated Pilot Officer was regarded as not being sufficiently experienced, and the mission was an important one.
This plane was fitted with some experimental equipment- he told his sister but could not say more, -and it was essential an experienced pilot ensured that if the plane was in difficulty
and had to crash, that the equipment did not fall into the hands of the Germans.The plane left RAF Scrampton at 22.15h.
The last signal was received at 1am over the Lastrup area of Germany, and the plane crashed NE of Cloppenburg.
My mother in law was told by the RAF that Jack managed to get his co-pilot free who bailed out but the plane lost control and he had to ensure that the secret equipment was totally destroyed.
The reference was L7427-01-Q.
Sadly Pilot Officer Lovegrove who bailed out was captured and died in November 1942 in Pozen Old Garrison Prison, Poland.
Does anyone know if this plane might have been fitted with a test rig of H2S? the first operation use was 30th January 1943, and on the 2/3 February a Sterling Pathfinder crashed without destroying
the H2S equipment and Telefunken developed within 6 months a detector of the equipment from the crashed plane.
Surely, before the system went into full operation there must have been some trials?
Any thoughts or advice on where to research this would be much appreciated.
Stephenph.

There is no mention in the record books that Jack Morphett was recalled from leave nor any mention of any special equipment being fitted to L7427.  However, the chat forum goes on to say;

“Two RAF officers came and consoled Barbara Morphett his sister,(later Lady Barbara Lawrence, wife of the Senior Master and Queen’s Remberencer) whom he had taught to fly. They gave her the impression that he may have been forced to crash the plane to destroy certain vital secret equipment.”

Another member of the forum called Volker takes the discussion further:

“I know the crash site exactly. I have located the crash site and explored with a metal detector. I have found many small parts of this Manchester.
For me, a long time it was not clear which aircraft crashed on this pasture. The records in the village chronicles were totally wrong. A difficult case. In the last year I have a found a witness. He is 86 years old and in good health. We talked a long time and he said to me he remembered a name. The name was Palagref.
This crew member was injured taken at night by his family. After a short time I knew that it was the co. pilot P.A. Lovegrove. Now I am in very good contact with the nephew of Peter Anthony Lovegrove. His name is Peter Lovegrove. Peter comes to Germany on 23.April with his family and visit the crash site. We have full support of the community and authoritis. Near the crash site we built a memorial (rockstone with a plaque and a wooden cross) in Memoriam for the crew.
The story is very interesting and I hope other members of the crew see this report. Maybe additional contacts incur.
For any further assistance, I am very grateful. There are many pictures of this aircraft. Unfortunately, there seems to be no pictures of the crew. To date I have only a picture of P. A. Lovegrove.”

As confirmed in the eyewitness account above, Peter was injured and taken in by a German family.  The Leicester Evening Mail on the 10th June 1942 states he had slight injuries to his forearm.  At some point he must have either been captured or handed over to the German authorities as he became a prisoner of war (POW No 778).

He was initially held in Dulag Luft (Lazarett Hohe Mark), from 9th April 1942 until he was transferred to Stalag Luft III (Sagan) on 28th May 1942, then again transferred to Oflag XX1-B (Schubin) on 17th September 1942.

The Leicester Evening Mail and Leicester Chronicle reported in their newspapers on the 10th & 13th June 42 that Pilot Officer Lovegrove, son of the late Captain E T Lovegrove has been promoted to Flying Officer.

It was whilst he was at Oflag XX1-B that he died.  According to a telegram that his mother received from the Geneva Red Cross, dated 23rd November 1942, stating that, according to official German information, he had died in the camp hospital on 12th November 1942 from injuries received as a result of falling accidentally from a high window.

Telegram from the International Red Cross notifying Peter’s mother of his death

He was alone, and it was believed he had been surveying the surrounding countryside with a view to escaping, but lost his balance and was killed instantly when he fell on his head at 2.45pm onto the pavement at the hospital entrance, fracturing his skull.

Oflug Stalag XXI B

This story is recalled in the book “Moonless Night: The Second World War Escape Epic” by B A Jimmy James. “Another tragedy struck soon after.  A young flying officer called Lovegrove fell off the top of the big white house, used as a hospital, to crash to his death three stories below on the concrete path at the entrance.  He was a member of the mapping intelligence department, and a desire to get a good view for his survey had toppled him to his death.”

The last photograph of Peter, taken in the camp just 24 hours before his tragic death. Group portrait of prisoners of war (POWs) at Oflag XXIb in Poland, a German POW internment camp for officers. Left to right: back row: Bromiley, Leetham, John Dicker, unidentified serviceman and Organ. Front row: Lovegrove, Svenson and an unidentified serviceman (Photo Australian War Memorial)

His funeral service and burial at the Szubin Cemetery was described by the Red Cross in a letter to his Mother, on 23rd March 1943, as having taken place with full military honours at 10.30 on 14th November 1942.

Peters funeral

A Chaplain of the Forces conducted the Service where 30 Officers were in attendance, the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ were sounded by a British soldier, and 3 volleys fired by a German firing party.  Six wreaths were sent, 4 from his comrades, 1 from the RAF PoWs at Stalag Luft III, and 1 from the German Kommandatur (Military Government Headquarters).

Army bugler

The Oflag 64 Record website recalls a letter from Senior British Officer Wing Commander Harry Day (dated 20th November 1942) which describes in detail all the tragic circumstances of Peter’s death:

“I am a Senior British Officer at this camp and I am writing to tell you how very distressed we all are over the terrible and unexpected accident which overtook your good looking and brave son. I have known him since his first arrival at Stalag Luft 3 and since hence I have a very high opinion of him. I have called a strict investigation to be undertaken by S/L Tench, who knew your son in England and it appears that your son climbed out of the top of 3rd storey window in the hospital building at 2:45 in the afternoon he either became giddy of slipped and fell onto the pavement at the entrance of the hospital. The two British Medical Officers were actually on the scene and attended to your son, but your son must have been killed instantly as he fell on his head. The reason your son climbed out onto the window ledge is not absolutely clear but as there was no one with him, but it can be put down to his keenness to escape. The window being good vantage point to see the countryside. As you probably know your son made one unsuccessful attempt to escape with a man of his spirit I am certain he was planning another”.

Leicester Evening Mail 18 December 1942

The Leicester Evening Mail 18th December 1942 “PRISONER’S FATE A letter the Red Cross has been received by Mrs E T. Lovegrove of Thorpe Arnold stating that her son Pilot Officer Peter Lovegrove RAF a prisoner of war has died through an accident. No cause of death is given. The letter that states that confirmation from the Air Ministry will follow.  This has not come through and enquiries are being made. A few days ago Mrs Lovegrove received a letter from her son stating that he was well set up for the winter in a new camp. and had met old school friends.”

On the 8th October 1948, his body was exhumed from the Szubin cemetery and re-buried in the CWGC Poznan British Military Cemetery (now Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery), Plot 5, Row J, Grave 14.

Following the loss of Manchester L7427 OL-Q for Queenie, the next aircraft on 83 Squadron to be allocated the code ‘Q for Queenie ‘ was Avro Lancaster R5868 OL-Q which was delivered to No 83 Sqn on 29th June 1942.

Lancaster R4868 OL-Q in May 43 whilst with 83 Sqn (Photo Ton-Up Lancs)
Lancaster R5868 OL-Q Groundcrew 83 Squadron (Photo: Ton-up Lancs)

Lancaster R5868 is probably the most famous Lancaster as the one credited with the highest number of ‘ops’ to survive to the present day, completing 137 known operations whilst serving with 83 Sqn, 467 RAAF Sqn, 207 (Leicesters Own) Sqn and back to 467 RAAF Sqn.

The aircraft is now on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon wearing the codes PO-S for Sugar that she wore whilst serving with No 467 RAAF Sqn.

Peter is commemorated on his parents grave at Thorpe Arnold.

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

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

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.

Grave Marker of LAC Cyril Browne at Cappucinni Cemetery Malta (Photo Jo Hart)
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

24 – Just Another Trip!

On the 13th August 1944, a Wellington bomber took off at 15:45Hrs from RAF Market Harborough for what was thought to be just another trip, a routine cross country training flight followed by a bombing detail at Grimsthorpe Bombing Range.

The aircraft in question was a Wellington Mk X, serial number LN281 operated by No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU).

The primary role of the OTU was to train aircrew to fly ‘medium’ twin engined bombers to an acceptable standard before joining an operational squadron.

No 14 OTU was originally formed at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland on 8th April 1940 when No 185 Sqn merged with the Station Headquarters flight. Its role was to train night bomber crews equipped with Hampdens and Herefords.

No 14 OTU Crest

In recognition of the units’ achievements in training aircrew, an official badge for No 14 OTU was approved by King George VI.  The badge depicted a hounds head with a hunting horn and riding whip.  The badge design was based on the units location and role. 

Originally being formed at Cottesmore in Rutland followed by a move to Market Harborough in Leicestershire, both counties are known to be some of the best hunting grounds in the country. 

The role of the unit was the training of airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy.  The Motto ‘Keep With The Pack’ was selected because ‘concentration had long been a principle in Bomber Command and the airmen hunt in packs not only for securing greater defence but to obtain increased effect in bombing.

In the autumn of 1942, No. 14 OTU converted from the Hampden bomber onto Wellingtons and remained at Cottesmore until August 1943 when it was moved to Market Harborough.

Wellington Bomber

The OTU courses lasted five months and involved 80 Flying Hours. Bomber Harris, C in C Bomber Command explains in his book ‘Bomber Offensive’ that training at OTUs only comes right at the end of a long period of flying training for each individual.  The education of a member of a Bomber Crew was the most expensive in the world, costing some £10,000 for each airman, enough to send 10 men to Oxford or Cambridge University for 3 years.

Official records show that the total number of trained personnel output from No. 14 OTU whilst at Market Harborough was 516 Pilots, 484 Navigators, 480 Bomb Aimers, 497 Wireless Operator/Air Gunners and 931 Air Gunners.  In order to achieve this output, flying took place on 510 days and 372 nights, during which a total of 45,835 Flying Hours were achieved.  In the course of these training exercises, a total of 61 aircrew were to make the ultimate sacrifice due to being killed in training accidents, with dozens more wounded.

As mentioned above, the Wellington on this ‘ordinary trip’ was built to contract B124362/40 by Vickers Armstrong’s Ltd at Chester and delivered to MU store in October 1942 with the Serial Number LN281. Following delivery, it was issued to No 429 Squadron at RAF East Moor just north of York in early June 1943 and given the code AL-V for Victor.

Not long after being delivered to 429 Sqn, LN281 ‘V for Victor’ was taking part in her first operational sortie and was tasked with bombing Wuppertal, Germany.  

This attack was aimed at the Elberfield half of Wuppertal as the other half had been attached at the end of May. This particular raid involved 630 aircraft from Bomber Command consisting of 251 Lancasters, 171 Halifaxes, 101 Wellingtons, 98 Stirlings and 9 Mosquitoes. A total of 34 aircraft were lost on the raid, 10 Halifaxes, 10 Stirlings, 8 Lancasters and 6 Wellingtons.

Post war analysis show that 94% of the Elberfield part of Wuppertal was destroyed that night with 171 industrial premises and 3,000 houses being destroyed, and a further 53 industrial premises and 2,500 houses being severely damaged. The loss of life is thought to be approximately 1,800 killed and 2,400 injured.

Canadian, P/O Keith McLean Johnston was the pilot in charge of ‘V for Victor’ and her multi-national crew when they took off from East Moor at 23.08hrs on 24th June 1943.  

The crew consisted of:
Pilot – P/O Keith McLean Johnston RCAF (J/16067), of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Navigator – Sgt Howard William Clarke RCAF, of Talbot, Alberta, Canada.
Bomb Aimer – Sgt F W R Frost RAF (1320228).
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sgt Joseph Arthur Marcel Lortie RCAF, of St Agathe des Monte, Quebec, Canada.
Rear Gunner – Lt J C Elliott USAAF.

At 03.54hrs the LN281 was landing on return from the mission when a tyre burst, followed by the undercarriage collapsing resulting in both propellers, the starboard wing, starboard engine and the bomb doors becoming damaged.

It is unclear as to whether or not this was due to damage received by enemy night fighters or flak defences. As a result of damage sustained, the aircraft was taken out of active service to undergo repairs.

The aircraft was repaired in works and on completion of the repair it was issued to No 14 OTU at RAF Market Harborough in late-1943.

On the 13th August 1944, LN281 was tasked with a routine cross country training flight followed by a bombing detail at Grimsthorpe Bombing Range – Just Another Trip!

The normal crew of a Wellington would consist of the Pilot, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Air Gunners (x2) and Bomb Aimer.  At times Staff Pilots and Navigators would be additional crew members as their role was to train the inexperienced crew and ‘check them out’ ensuring that the trainees were achieving the correct standard.  Staff Pilots and Navigators were deemed to have enough experience due to recently completing a tour of ops at a front line Squadron, normally consisting of 30 sorties over enemy territory.

On this trip, the crew for LN281s training mission was no exception as the crew consisted of the usual six trainees plus a staff Pilot and Navigator.The crew of LN281 on the 13th August was:
Staff Pilot: Fg Off N Owen DFC 162950
Staff Nav: Plt Off S J Guiver 174686
Pilot: Sgt E M Roberts 1624053
Nav: Sgt W M Thomas 1652484
W/Op: Sgt R McCudden 1822819
Bomb Aimer: Sgt L Wilson 1684528
Air Gunner: Sgt P R Stafford 1881894
Air Gunner: Sgt G H Raby 3006707

At some point during the sortie, the aircraft started to experience trouble with the starboard engine and overflew RAF Melton Mowbray airfield at a height of 1000ft. 

At this height, the aircraft was too low for the crew to safely bale out so the only option was to try and make a safe landing.

Whilst trying to execute a large circuit on one engine and make an emergency landing at Melton airfield, the aircraft lost flying speed, stalled and crashed four miles from the airfield between Saxby Road and Thorpe Road in the Copley South field and burst into flames.

The entry in the No 14 OTU ORB for 13th August states:- “Wellington LN281 crashed 4 miles north Melton Mowbray airfield. Staff Pilot – F/O Owen. Pupil Pilot – Sgt. Roberts. Attempted forced landing in field and blew up on impact, finally being destroyed by fire. 7 killed and 1 dangerously injured.”

The accident record card for LN281 goes on to state “The aircraft crashed and caught fire. Court of Inquiry: the aircraft started to execute a large circuit on one engine, lost flying speed, stalled and crashed and burnt out” ” Pilot lost safe S.E. flying speed and turned with the good engine and stalled”.

The official records state that LN281 crashed in a field known as Copley South which is approximately 4 miles north of RAF Melton Mowbray airfield and quoted the following Cassini map grid reference WF 225405 Sheet 630 and this equates to an Ordnance Survey map reference of SK783 197. 

Crash site grid references

However, according to eye witness accounts, and the actual location of Copley South field, the crash site is at grid reference SK768 195, several hundred yards further West than the Cassini reference.

Wellington crash site in Copley South Field

As one can imagine with this type of incident taking place in a well-populated town, there would have been numerous witnesses that saw the incident or are relatives of those who were involved in it some way or another.

The following paragraphs detail a few of those accounts of local people that witnessed the event or became involved in the rescue.

The Melton Times from Thursday October 4th 2012 reported the following:  It was around 19:30Hrs when Melton man Walter Griffin spotted the aircraft pass overhead with 1 propeller feathered just clearing the houses in Saxby Road whilst he was playing cricket at the All England Ground on Saxby Road.  At the time Walter was an air cadet and went to the rescue with two other fellow cadets.

Walter said: “I thought it might crash because it only had one engine going. When I got to the crash site the Wellington was broken in half and it had caught fire straight away.”

“There were three airmen on the ground. One was very badly burnt, another was alive and the other one I didn’t know.”

Walter pulled two of the men clear of the wreckage while the rear gunner was shouting from the twisted-up tail of the aircraft.

He said: “I couldn’t get to him because of the rear turret. I got a hold of his arm but I couldn’t free him. The fire came along the aircraft and he burned to death while I was trying to get him out.”

It wasn’t long before more people soon arrived at the scene to help in trying to rescue the crew.

Walter, whose arms were badly burned as a result of his brave rescue bid, was commended for his efforts after trying to save the lives of young airmen after the Wellington bomber crashed. 

Walter Griffin commendation letter

“Sir, I am commanded by the Air Council to inform you that their attention has been drawn to the assistance you gave when a Royal Air Force aircraft crashed and caught fire at Melton Mowbray on 13th August 1944.
The Air Council wish me to convey to you their warm appreciation of your services and to thank you for your help.
I, am Sir,
Your Obedient Servant
Permanent Under Secretary of State”

The following statement is an extract from The Melton Times dated Friday October 6th 1944.

            Gallant Action of Melton Air Cadets.

The Officer Commanding Melton Air Training Corps has received the following letter from Air Marshall Sir Leslie Gossage, Chief of the Air Training Corps.

Flt/Sgt R.S. Baber, Cpl Moore and Cdt W.  Griffin.

“The Commandant for the Midland Command Air Training Corps has drawn my attention to the gallant action performed by three members of No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn cited above, who, on the 13th August 1944 with complete disregard of the danger involved, joined in an attempt to rescue the rear gunner of a Wellington aircraft which had crashed and caught fire.  The ammunition was exploding during the time that the rescue attempt was being made and eventually the intense heat and flames drove them back but not before they had made every effort to release the Sgt Air Gunner who was trapped in the burning wreckage.  I consider that the action of these cadets which is in accordance with the high tradition of the Royal Air Force and the Air Training Corps, reflects the credit both on themselves and No 1279 Sqn to which they belong.  As Chief Commandant I shall be glad if you will convey to them my sincere appreciation of their gallant conduct.”

Another ATC Cadet, Keith Doubleday, who was an apprentice working at Boulton & Pauls on Horsa gliders, also remembers the incident very well. 

Keith says “I was an ATC cadet. A cricket match was being played at the time. The aircraft came almost directly over the All England Ground. As I recollect one of its engines had stopped. It banked and side slipped into the ground, bursting into flames. I have a feeling this was in the early evening but, due to Double British Summer Time, it was quite light. The sports facility was always well patronised with ATC cadets. Many of us raced to the scene of the crash and attempted rescue of the crew but it was a hopeless task. Being a Wellington and fabric covered the heat was intense.  What we didn’t realised at time was the ‘hissing’ noise passing us was live ammunition exploding. Amazingly, none of the cadets were injured due to this. As the “Swans Nest” swimming club was very close by, many service personnel also came to the rescue. The Rear Gunner was the most prominent of the crew and many brave attempts to rescue him were made. As the Wellington is of geodetic construction and being metal it was red hot. It was impossible to reach the gunner from inside the fuselage. It is a memory those of the remaining cadets will always have imprinted on our minds. I was 17 at the time as was most of the other cadets.”

Jack Williamson was an airman stationed at RAF Melton Mowbray and was known as ‘Snowy’ while at Melton as his hair was jet black.  Jack remembers being asked to work late one night by his Chief as a Sqn of Fleet Air Arm Swordfishes came into Melton for an overnight stay. Jack was a witness to the Wellington that crashed between Thorpe Arnold and Saxby Road on August 13th 1944.  Jack remembers thinking ‘What’s he doing flying away from the airfield with one prop feathered?’ when it hit a haystack and burst into flames.  Jack was one of the first people to arrive at the incident and managed to drag one of the crew members out of the flames.  As the RAF Ambulance and medics arrived at the scene, Jack said to one of them ‘look after this chap a minute’ and crept away from the scene as he didn’t want any publicity for his actions.  After the accident, everybody was asking who was this brave airman was but nobody knew.  A couple of days later back at camp, all the airmen were getting inspected as it was the CO’s parade and Jack was picked up as his uniform was all burnt from rescuing the crewman.  From this they deduced that Jack must have been that airman whom they were searching for and he was subsequently awarded a citation for his heroism.

Another eyewitness to the crash was a gentleman called Ken Digby.  Ken was just 12 at the time and was one of the first on the scene.  In an article published in The Melton Times on 25th October 2012, he said “I can remember it vividly to this day and will never forget what he saw.”

Ken recalls: “I lived at Thorpe End and was walking near the Swan’s Nest with a friend and saw the plane flying low. We ran across the road and could see smoke pouring out as it crashed near to Copley’s South field.  As we entered the field a gentleman called Jack Gibbs came up to us and told us to keep away. There was ammunition on board and bullets were going off in all directions.  We saw one of the airmen trying to get out of the cockpit but all of a sudden it just went up in flames.”

Ken went on to say that Trevor Woods, the fireman in charge, gave him some money to go and get some beer for his crew and he went to the White Hart in Melton to fetch it.

He said: “My dad got some Toddy’s Ale and I carried it back down to the gate to give it to the firemen.

Another witness to the crash was a Mrs Orridge of Melton who recalls the crash in a Melton Times article on the 4th Jan 2013:

My friends and I stood on a bridge spanning the railway line and we watched a Wellington bomber circling above.

It came so low we could clearly see the men in the plane and we started waving to them.

Suddenly, to our horror, the plane was alongside the bridge, almost touching, the noise was horrendous. It vanished from sight. Then a loud explosion and smoke told us the plane had crashed.

That day remains with me still and the sadness we felt.”

Ron Barrow was swimming with his friend Derek Woodman in the River Eye at the Swans Nest or Chippy Dixons Lido as it was also known.  Ron remembers the Wellington circling round, maybe upto 3 times before it crashed in the ‘100 acre’ field.

Ron and Derek rushed over to the site but as they were only in their swimming trunks there was not a lot they could do as the aircraft was already engulfed in flames.  They returned to the Swanns nest with sore feet from all the thistles in Copley South field.

 Rons main recollection of the crash was the smell of burnt flesh that stayed with him for several days after the crash.  When asked about the position of the aircraft, he recalls that the fuselage was broken in two with the tail part angled up in the air.

Back in the early 70’s, a young Melton man named Joe Perduno had been discussing the crash with another witness called George Charity.  As a result of being told the rough area where the crash occurred, Joe went metal detecting and found an aircraft fuel gauge which he remembers the words  “Rear Tank 160 Gallons”.

Back in the early 70’s, a young Melton man named Joe Perduno had been discussing the crash with another witness called George Charity. 

As a result of being told the rough area where the crash occurred, Joe went metal detecting and found an aircraft fuel gauge which he remembers the words  “Rear Tank 160 Gallons”.

In an interview on 30th October 2013, Roy Beeken was 20 at the time of the crash recalls the incident vividly.

Roy explained to me his version of events.  Roy worked part time for the Melton Fire Service and was at home on the Kings Road ‘extension’ when the Wellington flew overhead in a North West – South Easterly direction flying low over the houses on Thorpe Road with one engine smoking and getting lower and lower all the time.  He didn’t see it crash, but saw the smoke rising up from the scene.

Roy kept his fireman’s uniform at home and instead of reporting to the fire station, he put on his fireman’s tunic and got on his bicycle and went to the site of the crash.  As he was cycling down Saxby Road (B676) he was passed the Melton fire tenders.

Roy recalls running away from the burning aircraft as the oxygen cylinders were exploding and also remembers the same as Ron Barrow in that the tail part of the aircraft was angled slightly up from the ground.

Staff Pilot: Flying Officer Norman Owen DFC 162950

Norman Owen DFC

Norman Owen was born in 1918 and was the son of Richard and Diana Owen, of Colwyn Bay, Wales.  He grew up on Pendared Farm, Llysfaen, with his sister and five brothers and was educated at the local primary school, probably in Llysfaen and then from 1929 – 1932 at Colwyn Bay Central School.

Prior to joining the RAF, Norman served as a constable with London Metropolitan Police from 1937 – 1941, serving at Hammersmith throughout the Blitz.

Following the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on the 14th May 1941 as an Aircraftman 2nd Class Aircrafthand/Pilot and allocated service number 1390425. He trained as a pilot at Turner Field, Georgia, USA and completed his training in Britain. He was promoted to temporary Sergeant on 13th December 1942 after which he was commissioned on 23rd November 1943. During his flying training he sometimes took a detour to fly over Pendared Farm, where his mother would wave a sheet which led to some local complaints about low flying!

Following completion of training Norman was posted to No 207 Squadron at RAF Spilsby, Lincolnshire where he completed a full operational tour of 30 operational sorties as a Lancaster pilot.  It was normal procedures that after completing an operational tour, the crew would then be posted to training units for a rest tour and sometimes this required the crew to be split up. Norman was transferred to No 14 OTU at RAF Market Harborough, Leicestershire to become an instructor.  Approximately a month after leaving 207 Sqn at Spilsby

Norman completed 36 operational tours over enemy territory with No 207 Sqn, Norman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and this was announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 13th October 1944 page 4693.  However, as DFCs cannot be awarded posthumously, the Gazette stated that the award will take place with effect 12th August 1944.

Norman Owen DFC

Norman’s first operational trip over enemy territory was a “2nd Dickie” trip with an experienced crew before taking his own crew on 35 ops. Some were to French targets, which until late May 1944 were deemed to count as only a third of an op. Norman is amongst several pilots recorded in 207’s ORB as complaining about this. After the losses on the Mailly raid in May 1944 the powers-that-be relented and French trips were then re-counted as a whole op. However, by the time Norman was nearing the end of his tour the number of required ops had been raised to 35 and this continued until near the end of the war when the number of 1st tour ops were changed down and up several times, presumably as a surplus of aircrew arose due to the training programme output, and the reducing losses then being seen.

At the time of the crash, Norman had amassed a total of 506 Flying Hours, of which 68 were in Wellingtons.  He was aged 26 when he died and left behind his wife Mary Owen, of Dolwen.

Norman and Mary wedding photo

Many thanks to Normans nephew, Raymond Glynne-Owen who has provided valuable information and photographs regarding Norman.

Flying Officer Norman Owen DFC is buried in Grave 34 of the C of E Section at Old Colwyn Church Cemetery.

Norman Owen grave

Staff Navigator: Plt Off Sydney Jack Guiver 174686

Sydney Guiver

Sydney Guiver was born in 1921 in the Rochford region of Essex and was the 3rd child of Frederick George and Maud Emily Guiver, of Southend-on-Sea.  Prior to joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1941 as trainee aircrew, Sydney was a bank clerk. 

Following his aircrew training, he was posted as a Sgt Navigator onto Lancaster bombers. 

Sydney and crew mates in front of Lancaster bomber

According to the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 30 May 1944, Sydney’s promotion from NCO aircrew to Commissioned Officer was announced.  The entry stated that he was appointed to Commission within the General Duties branch and was awarded the rank of Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) wef 31st Mar 44.

Sydney Guiver back row 3rd from Right

Sydney married Dora Isabel Gunning in 1944 in Holywell Flintshire in Wales.  Dora served in The Land Army and they lived with Frederick and Maud at 641 Southchurch Road, Southend-On-Sea.  Although they lived in Southend, Sydneys death certificate recorded his address as Bryn Awel, Leeswood, Mold, Flintshire.

Two telegrams sent to Mrs GF Guiver informing her of the death of her son and when the coffin will be dispatched from RAF Market Harborough.

Death notice telegram

The first telegram reads:

“Mrs F G Guiver, 641 South Church Road Southend on Sea, Essex.  Deeply regret to inform you that your son 174686 P/O Sydney Jack Guiver lost his life as a result of a flying accident on 13/Aug/44. Please accept my profound sympathy further telegrams follows OC RAF Market Harborough.”

The 2nd telegram advises the family about the coffin and reads: “16 Aug Coffin late P/O S J Guiver will leave Mkt-Harboro Station 7.49PM today and will arrive Southend Station 6/44AM repeat 6/44AM Thursday 17th August – RAF Market Harborough.”

This letter was sent to Sydneys father on the 20th Aug and reads:

“Dear Mr Guiver, I write with the deepest regret to convey to you the feelings of this unit in the very sad loss of your son, Pilot Officer Sydney Jack Guiver, as the result of a flying accident.

Your son was the Navigator of an aircraft which crashed near Melton Mowbray at approximately 7.30pmon the 13th August 1944. Death was instantaneous.

During the short time your son was at this Unit he made himself very popular with everyone.  The loss to the service is great as the Royal Air Force can ill afford to lose such a keen and cheerful member of aircrew.

I have today written to your sons wife, giving full particulars of her husband’s death.

Letters from RAF Market Harborough

Again on the 17th & 20th Aug, RAF Market Harborough wrote to the father.  The letter on the 17th reads:

“Dear Sir,
Pilot Officer S J Guiver (deceased)
It would be appreciated if the flag forwarded with the coffin could be returned to this Unit please. An official paid label and wrapper are enclosed for your convenience.
It would be appreciated if the flag forwarded with the coffin could be returned to this Unit please. An official paid label and wrapper are enclosed for your convenience.
Date of burial Place of burial
Name of cemetery
Grave number

Yours faithfully
Group Captain Commanding
RAF Market Harborough”

The 2nd letter from the 20th reads:

“Dear Mr Guiver, I am enclosing herewith three photographs of your son which we happen to have on the Station as I am sure you would like to retain them.

I would be pleased if you would be good enough to give one of the photographs to Mrs D I Guiver.

Yours Sincerely

Group Captain Commanding

RAF Market Harborough”

Grave of Sydney Jack Guiver

Pilot Officer Sydney Jack Guiver is buried in Plot C Grave 722 in the Sutton Road Cemetery Southend-On-Sea.

Pilot: Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts 1624053

Edward Mansel Roberts

Edward Mansel Roberts joined RAF (Volunteer Reserve).  He was the son of Wilfrid and Martha Roberts of Buckley, Wales

Edward Mansel Roberts completed 140 Flying Hours of which 23 were on Wellingtons.  He was aged 20 when he died.

Mansel Roberts KIA
Family grave with Edward Mansel Roberts

Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts is buried in the Non-Conformist Cemetery at Buckley.

Navigator: Sgt William Marshall Thomas 1652484

Sgt William Thomas

Sgt Thomas was the son of Haydn & Jane Thomas of 28 Byron Street Cwmam Aberdare Glamorganshire and was born in 1923 in Aberdare (Merthyr Tydfil).

William Marshal Thomas front row 2nd from left

He was educated at the Aberdare Boys’ Grammer School where he is commemorated by name on the schools’ Memorial Plaque, dedicated to those who fell in the Second World War.

Aberdare Boys Grammar School Memorial

The wording on the memorial plaque states:

“This memorial was erected to honour and perpetuate the memory of those past students of the Aberdare Boys Intermediate School who fell in the World War 1939-1945.”

“Thomas, Wm Marshall Sgt Navigator RAF”

Sgt William Marshall Thomas is buried in an unconsecrated Grave X/4120 at Aberdare Cemetery Glamorganshire.

Air Gunner: Sgt Peter Robert Stafford 1881894 

Sgt. Peter Stafford

Sgt Peter Stafford was born on 29th Aug 1923 in Croydn, Surrey to John Francis and Dorothy Mary Stafford, of Addiscombe. He was educated at Asburton School and was a keen cyclist and a member of the Addiscombe Cycling Club.  Prior to joining the RAF he was an electrician serving with the Borough Valuer’s Dept in Croydon. 

Sgt Peter Stafford AG Wing badge

A letter from his RAF Station said that after being posted there on the 28th June 1944, he had made himself most popular with everyone there and carried out his duties with keenness and efficiency, an example to all of them who knew him. The family were obviously devastated at the time, and his mother always maintained that this event largely contributed to her husband’s death from cancer in 1948.

Sgt Peter Stafford grave Oxford (Botley)

Sgt Peter Robert Stafford is buried in Plot H/3. Grave 124 of the Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.  Botley is a RAF regional cemetery used during the Second World War by RAF stations in Berkshire and neighbouring counties.

Bomb Aimer: Sgt Leonard Wilson 1684528

Son of Elsie Wilson, and stepson of Hedley Whittlestone, of Lupset, Wakefield.

Sgt Leonard Wilson gravestone

Sgt Leonard Wilson is buried in Grave 374 Section. T of the Alverthorpe  (St Paul) Churchyard.

W/Op: Sgt Robert McCudden 1822819

Sgt Robert McCudden

Robert McCudden was born in 1925 and was the son of Alexander and Christina McCudden, of Kilncroft, Selkirk.

He joined No 427 Squadron Air Training Corps in December 1941 and according to a newspaper report he was very quiet and self effacing. He applied himself most diligently to his instruction and overcame his handicap of leaving school early.

Prior to joining the RAF, he was employed at Ettrick Mills where he was very popular among his fellow workers.

Robert joined the RAF in May 1943, training first of all as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and later as a Sergeant (Signals).

Death notification telegram
Undertakers bill
Robert McCudden gravestone

Sgt Robert McCudden was buried in Section. H. Grave 2108 at the Selkirk Cemetery on the 18th August 1944 and his old ATC Squadron, No 427 Sqn, provided the Escort Party under the Command of P/O Beattie with Cadets aalso acting as pall-bearers.

Air Gunner: Sgt George Henry Raby 3006707

Sgt. George Henry Raby was the sole survivor from the crash.  It is thought that George was the Fwd gunner but at the time of the incident was sitting in or near to the Wireless Operator position.  During the flight he said he either did not plug in his intercom as he never heard the pilot say anything about a problem, he did not have his harness on and just went to sleep and woke up in hospital.

George was badly burnt as a result of the crash and subsequent fire.  Initially, George was taken to the Leicester Royal Infirmary but eventually ended up at the notorious Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead under the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe. 

George Raby (centre)

George, who naturally underwent numerous operations for many years afterwards.  On a recent trip to hospital for a cataract op, George bumbed into a nurse who remembered him from 30 odd years ago when he had some more surgery at the old Norwich Community Hospital. Although he has never spoken about the incident, he reeled off some details to the nurse about the crash.  Apparently, after he was in East Grinstead Hospital, an RAF investigation team came every day to speak to him but was sent packing by Sir Archibald McIndoe and they never came back.

George passed away in Norwich on 29th August 2015 aged 90.

Melton Mowbray Wellington Bomber Memorial Unveiling & Dedication Service 

During 2013 and 2014, I had the pleasure of leading the Wellington Bomber Memorial fundraising project with the aim of raising a target amount of £2,500 to erect a memorial to recognise both the sacrifice of the bomber crew, but also those local individuals who bravely attempted the rescue effort.

By the start of August 2014, a sum of £3, 399 had been raised.

Mowbray Fireplaces provided the granite for the plaque which the company have very generously donated free of charge.  Richard Barnes Funeral Directors and Co-Operative Memorials offered to engrave the plaque but again to do it free of charge, and finally the memorial was built by Rutland Building Supplies. On the rear of the memorial is a display board printed by B&H Midland Ltd and housed in a wooden frame built by Bob Cox, sadly no longer with us.

The unveiling and dedication service took place on Sunday 17th August 2014 at 14:00 Hours. 

Cadets from No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn and No 2248 (Oakham) Sqn along with the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Mayor of Melton Mowbray, Defence Animal Centre RAF Police and Leicestershire Constabulary. 

Standard Bearers from the Melton Mowbray, Leicester & Oakham Royal Air Forces Association Branches and the Melton Mowbray Royal British Legion and Royal British Legion Womens Section were also in attendance. 

Following the welcome speech and history of the tragedy, Air Marshall Sir ‘Dusty’ Miller gave a small speech on the history of No 14 OTU and Bomber Command.  A Cadet SNCO from No 1279 Sqn gave a small talk on the involvement of the Melton Mowbray 1279 Sqn Air Cadets and the crash and subsequent rescue attempts. 

After the speeches, the Dedication Service delivered by the Padre / Vicar was followed by a Wreath Laying ceremony, the Last Post, and the National Anthem. 

After the event, refreshments were served at the RAF Association Club on Asfordby Road.

23 – Leicester’s Own Bomber Squadron

No 207 Squadron was part of No 5 Group Royal Air Force Bomber Command and was based at RAF Bottesford in North East Leicestershire from 17th November 1941 to 20th September 1942, after which it moved to RAF Langar just across the border in Nottinghamshire. The Squadron was known as ‘Leicester’s Own’ as in the immediate pre-war period the RAF had mounted a campaign to increase public support by encouraging cities to adopt squadrons officially.

207 Squadron crest
RAF Bomber Command crest

On 21st June 1939 the Leicester Mercury reported:
Now Leicester Has An R.A.F. Squadron
Leicester was not mentioned when the scheme for the affiliation of R.A.F Squadrons to principal cities and towns of the country was announced in April last, but the Air Ministry now announces new affiliations, including that of No. 207 Bomber Squadron to Leicester. This squadron’s station is Cottesmore, and its Commanding Officer is Wing- Commander J. N. D. Anderson, who is now honorary member of the Leicestershire Aero Club. The squadron will pay an annual ceremonial visit to Leicester, and, it is understood, will give a display at Leicester Air port. On this occasion the public will be afforded an opportunity of inspecting aircraft when on the ground and meeting the crews. The squadron which will “watch over Leicester,” will probably co-operate with other air interests in important civic events, providing Service commitments permit.
Leicester Natives
The total number of towns now affiliated to R.A.F. squadrons is 59. Several members of No. 207 Squadron are Leicester-born men. Another squadron at Cottesmore is affiliated with the municipality of Shrewsbury. Mr. Roy Winn, of the Leicestershire Aero Club, to-day welcomed the news of the Cottesmore squadron’s affiliation to Leicester. a very good idea,” he said. At the opening of Derby Airport the Hucknall squadron, affiliated to Derby, put up great show. Leicester can look forward to similar display.”

On the evening of the 5th/6th August 1942, the Royal Air Force Bomber Command dispatched 25 heavy bomber to attack The Ruhr in Germany. 17 aircraft were targeting Essen, and the remainder 8 were sent to Bochum. The intention was for the bombers to reach their target areas by Gee and then bomb visually through gaps in the cloud.

Out of the 17 aircraft dispatched to Essen only 1 managed to bomb the target and 3 out of the 8 sent to Bochum bombed their target.

From the 25 aircraft sent, 5 aircraft were lost over Europe, 3 Halifax bombers, 1 Lancaster and 1 Wellington with a further aircraft crashing in England on its return.

In addition to the main bomber force, Bomber Command were also involved in minor operations with 57 aircraft on ‘Gardening’ Ops laying vegetables (minelaying) off France, Holland and Germany plus a further 14 aircraft on leaflet flights.

No 207 ‘Leicesters Own’ Sqn aircraft were involved in both the major and minor bomber forces. However, not all of the Squadrons crews took part in these ‘Ops’ as some of those newly arrived on the Sqn were tasked with local training flights.

According to the Squadron Operational Record Book (ORB), the entry for the 5th August states: “Fair. Six aircraft detailed for operations. Two attacked last resort targets. One a/c Captain (F/Lt Ings) failed to return to base. During local night flying Bar U crashed into B on landing. Five members of the crew ere killed and five injured.”

The ORB Record of Events records the following aircraft as being involved:

Lancaster R5633 ‘R’ – Bombing – Target not attacked owing to U/S T.R. Heavy accurate flak was encountered at 23000 feet consisting of box barrages with no searchlight co-operation. Trailing aerial shot away 0054 23000 target not reached, no cloud but heavy ground haze. 5 x 2000lbs and 16 bundles nickles jettisoned 0054 23000 feet at 5105N 0710E.

Lancaster R5761 ‘T’ – Bombing – Aircraft failed to return to base. No contact established. Crew
F/Lt Ings G A
Sgt Bell-Berry R
F/S Shapter W J A
F/S Everitt G C
Sgt Culley J
Sgt Manser D R
Sgt Holland J W E

Homeward-bound, ‘T’ for Tommy was shot down by the night fighter crew of Oberleutnant Loos & Unteroffizier Gumm of the 1./NJG 1, who were flying a Bf 110 F-4 from Venlo airfield.

Bf110’s of NJG1

Flt Lt Gerald Ings and the rest of the crew for ‘T’ for Tommy are buried in the CWGC Uden War Cemetery, approximately 23 miles South West of Nijmegan.

Lancaster R5674 ‘S’ – Gardening – Primary target gardening attacked at 0328Hrs from 400 feet in poor visibility. IAS 170mph, 5 vegetables at 7 seconds intervals. Garden identified by pinpoint from Point de Grave. No results seen.

Lancaster R5863 ‘K’ – Gardening – Primary garden attacked at 0330 from 600′. IAS 155mph TI 4 seconds. Weather conditions were hazy at 1000 feet and above but good visibility below. Garden was identified visually by pinpoint South of Grace Point and 5 mines were dropped. Opposition was encountered from light flak on both sides of estuary. 5 splashes seen, apparently successful.

Lancaster L7582 ‘D’ – Gardening – Primary garden attacked at 0322 from 800 feet at 160 IAS. Time interval 6 seconds. Visibility was good and garden was identified by pinpoint on Point de Grave 5 veg were dropped and no results were obtained.

Sea mines similar to those carried by 207 Sqn on Gardening Ops ready for loading onto a Lancaster

At 00:05Hrs on the 6th August, tragedy struck No 207 Sqn and RAF Bottesford when Sergeant Akerman landed Lancaster R5550 B for Beer after completing a local training flight.

The landing itself was uneventful but due to repairs being carried out on the Bottesford airfield perimeter track, Akerman was ordered by Flying Control to taxi back down the main runway due to the perimeter track being out of use.

Aerial photograph of RAF Bottesford dated 8th June 1942

Sergeant Frederick Akerman was the pilot of Lancaster MkI R5550 ‘EM-B’ of No 207 Sqn Conversion Flight and he and his crew had been on a routine training flight. In addition to Akerman, the pilot, the crew consisted of:
Flight Engineer – Sergeant Harold Curson
Observer – Sergeant John Brooks
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant AFG Smart
Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant Dick Ikin

207 Sqn Avro Lancaster

At the same time as Akerman was in the air in Lancaster ‘B for Beer’, Sergeant Arthur Pearson was also airborne on a similar training flight in Manchester MkI L7385 ‘EM-U‘. Pearsons crew aboard ‘U for Uncle’consisted of:
Flight Engineer – Sergeant John Forbes
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, – Sergeant Caleb Shepherd
Air Gunner – Sergeant J Slater
Air Gunner – Sergeant A Whitehead

Meanwhile, confusion arose in the Control Tower and the controller believed that Akerman and his Lancaster B for Beer was clear of the runway and permission was given for Pearson to land in Manchester U for Uncle.

207 Sqn Avro Manchester Mk1

Sadly there was nothing that could be done and the two bombers met head-on on the runway. Immediately following the collision, there was an explosion during which four crew were killed instantaneously. RAF Bottesfords ambulance and fire tender raced to the scene but couldn’t do anything to save them. A fifth crewman died shortly after the collision in the arms of the Station Medical Officer, Alan Ambrey-Smith.

Amongst the dead were Frederick Akerman, pilot of the Lancaster B for Beer, his Observer Flight Sergeant John Brooks and his Flight Engineer, Sgt Curson. Also killed were the Flight Engineer and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner from Manchester U for Uncle, Sgt John Forbes and Sgt Caleb Shepherd respectively.

Miraculously, five crewmen had escaped from the collision alive, although with varying degrees of injury.

The pilot of U for Uncle, 20 year old Sergeant Arthur Pearson, was admitted to the Burns Unit at the RAF hospital at Rauceby. He later returned to flying, but not operationally.

RAF Rauceby Hospital

Known formally as No 4 RAF Hospital Rauceby, the hospital acted in many ways as a satellite to the Cranwell unit, with 1000 beds, focusing its Crash and Burns unit on supporting aircrew injured on operations. Most famously the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe was part of this team, many of his early patients forming a drinking club known as the ‘Guinea Pig Club’. The wartime Burns Unit was situated in Orchard House, built alongside the hospital orchard.

Flight Sergeant Dick Ikin, sitting in the rear turret of the Lancaster suffered shock and concussion. His only recollection of the accident was of waking up briefly in the ambulance and seeing another airmen whose face was covered in blood, at which point he passed out again. Sent home to Brighton to convalesce, he stayed out later than usual one night and decided to catch a bus home. Unfortunately the driver was having none of it, and declared ‘This bus is for war-workers only!’, Dick lkin’s reply is not recorded.

Sergeant Frederick Samuel Akerman was born on 3rd April 1919 and was the son of Ernest John Akerman, and of Alice Akerman, of St. Albans, Hertfordshire.  

At the time of the 1939 register being taken, he was listed as living at 8 Colham Avenue, Hillingdon in the district of Yiewsley and West Drayton. Listed at the same address in the register were his father Ernest, a general Labourer, his mother Alice, unpaid domestic duties and his brother Ernest, a floor polish packer, whilst Fredericks job was listed as chief clerk and cashier.

Frederick enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant pilot and allocated service number 655412. Following the accident, his body was claimed by his family and buried in Row F. Grave 4, Hillingdon and Uxbridge Cemetery. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

Sergeant Harold Curson was born in the 1st quarter of 1919 and was the son of Sidney Herbert and Mabel Frances Curson of Hockering in Norfolk.

At the time of the 1939 register, Harold’s parents were listed as living at The Mill Farm, Hockering in the Mitford and Launditch rural district of Norfolk. Harold’s father, Sidney was listed at a farmer (employer), and his mother Mabel as unpaid domestic duties. Also at the family address were his brothers Raymond and Kenneth as farm workers assisting their father, and the sister Alice who was a mental nurse. Te register made no mention of Harold.

Harold enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant Flight Engineer and allocated service number 537658.  He is buried in Bottesford (St Mary) Churchyard. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

Harold enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant Flight Engineer and allocated service number 537658.  He is buried in Bottesford (St Mary) Churchyard. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

Sergeant John Forbes was born in 1920 and was the son of John Forbes and of Elsie Forbes of Woodside, Aberdeen. Prior to the war, he was a mechanic at the Balgownie Dairy.

Sgt John Forbes

In September 1940, he married Mary Wigglesworth of Morcombe, Lancashire. The couple had their first child Valerie in March 1941. Mary was pregnant with their second child Christine when John was killed. Christine was born in December 1942.

John enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a Sergeant, Flight Engineer and was allocated service number 967145. He is buried in Aberdeen Grove Cemetery in Joint grave 2059 with his brother Sgt James Forbes who was a Flight Engineer in the RAF and died 9th March 1945. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

BROOKS John, 924977, Flight Sergeant, Observer, RAF(VR).  John was the son of Thomas William and Jane Brooks, of Old Windsor, Berkshire.  He is buried in Class C. Cons. Grave 3332, Arnold Cemetery. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.


Caleb Stanley Kenneth Shepherd was born during the 3rd quarter of 1922 in Chester. He was the son of Stanley and Jane Shepherd. According to the 1939 register, the family lived at 15 Queen Street Chester and Stanley was listed as a taxi driver/proprietor/owner/driver and Jane as unpaid domestic duties.

Caleb enlisted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a Sergeant, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and allocated service number 1112237.   He is buried  in Sec. C. New Portion. Grave 233 of the Chester (Overleigh) Cemetery. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

August was a particularly bad month for casualties for No 207 Sqn with the night of Wednesday 5th/Thursday 6th August standing out as the worst single night.

Personnel from Leicester’s Own No 207 Squadron that made the ultimate sacrifice are remembered in the Squadron’s Book of Remembrance on display at Leicester Cathedral. Displayed above the BoR is the Squadron standard that was Laid Up when the Squadron disbanded in 1984. This Standard was presented by HM The Queen to the Squadron in 1956 and was the first to be presented by the Reigning Sovereign in person.

207 Sqn Standard and Book of Remembrance, Leicester Cathedral
207 Sqn Book of Remembrance, Leicester Cathedral

In addition to the Book of Remembrance at Leicester Cathedral, there is a memorial and Roll of Honour/Book of Remembrance in St Mary the Virgin Church at Bottesford.

“We Will Remember Them”

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