38 – Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire Mk IIb P8522

In my previous blog Melton & District Spitfire Fund I looked at how the people of Melton Mowbray and surrounding villages came together in a fundraising effort in late 1940 to buy a Spitfire fighter plane.

This blog continues with the story of the Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire P8522 and looks at its history from being built in 1941 right through to when it was retired from RAF service in 1945.

Spitfire P8522 was built according to the official Air Ministry list as a F Mk 1A, but during production it was converted to a F Mk IIB.  P8522 was built in April 1941 at the Vickers Armstrong Ltd. factory at Castle Bromwich, and was part of Contract No B981687/39/C.23(C) dated 12th April 1939 which was placed for the first batch of 1000 F MkII’s. 

As requested by the fund organisers, P8522 was adorned with the towns emblem of the Red Lion Rampant upon a white background and wore the title “Melton Mowbray & District” along the side of the fuselage under the windscreen. 

Alex Henshaw

On the 5th May 1941, P8522 took her maiden flight at Castle Bromwich with the Vickers test pilot Alex Henshaw at the controls.

Shortly afterwards on 12th May 1941, P8522 was transferred to No 24 Maintenance Unit at RAF Tern Hill in Shropshire where it went to be fully fitted out for operational duties. 

Following being fitted out for operation duties, P8522 was transferred to No 303 (Polish)  Sqn based at RAF Northolt on the 19th June 1941 and assigned to “B” Flight with the code  RF-W.  In addition to the codes RF-W, the 303 Squadron emblem was also added next to the Melton lion.

Rolling off the production line in 1941 meant that the Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire was too late into service to be involved in the Battle of Britain and it joined No 303 Squadron which claimed the largest number of aircraft shot down during the Battle, even though it joined the Battle two months after it had begun.

303 Squadron Emblem as worn on P8522

No. 303 Squadron RAF was formed in July 1940 in Blackpool, England before deployment to RAF Northolt on 2 August as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. It had a distinguished combat record and was disbanded in December 1946.

Flying Officer Wojciech Kolaczkowski was the first Polish pilot to fly the Melton Spitfire when on the 20th & 21st June he took P8522 up for a series of test flights to check it out before being declared operational on 303 Sqn.   

Wojciech Kołaczkowski shown here wearing Squadron Leader rank badges

The first operational flight came on the 24th June when Sgt Stanislaw Belza took P8522 to Martlesham Heath as part of “B” Flight which had been tasked with fighter escort duties protecting bombers on a raid over occupied Europe. This operation proceeded to plan except for haze over the target area.  

Belza again took P8522 on ‘Escort Duties’ the following day but this time, the Squadron encountered severe flak and were engaged in a number of dog fights with ME.109s. The first sortie of the day was at 06:10 Hrs for an hour, landing back at 07:10. Sgt Belza was again airborne in the Melton Spitfire at 11:40Hrs for another escort sortie, landing back at base at 13:40Hrs.

Sgt Stanislaw Belza

Later in the day, P8522 was again airborne for her 3rd sortie of the day, again escorting bombers. This time Kolaczkowski was at the controls and took off at 15:40Hrs and returned to base at 17:25Hrs.

On the 26th June, B Flight moved to Martlesham Heath at 07:30Hrs. P8522 was piloted again by Kolaczkowski for the 35 minute flight.

They had gone to Martlesham Heath to take part in Circus operations where bomber attacks with fighter escorts took place during day time. The attacks were against short range targets with the intention of occupying enemy fighters and keeping their fighter units in the area concerned. 

Kolaczkowski took off in P8522 at 11:00Hrs escorting 23 Blenheim bombers on a raid to Comines power station. The weather conditions over Commines made bombing impossible due to 10/10 cloud over France so the bombers turned back and the fighters encountered no opposition and returned to base, landing at 12:25Hrs. 

The 27th was a rather hectic day for 303 Sqn, with weather conditions making a morning circus impossible so the Squadron went on a mass Rhubarb operation resulting in various Messerschmitt’s being damaged or destroyed on the ground.

A Rhubarb operation is when sections of fighters or fighter-bombers, taking full advantage of low cloud and poor visibility, would cross the English Channel and then drop below cloud level to search for opportunity targets such as railway locomotives and rolling stock, aircraft on the ground, enemy troops and vehicles on roads.  

P8522 was not involved in the days Rhubarb taskings, but later in the day Kolaczkowski was at the controls of P8522 again for escort duties, initially going to Manston at 1600Hrs. At 20:30Hrs he took off as part of B Flight providing escort duties for 23 Blenheims as part of the Circus 25 operation to bomb the steel works at Lille. Minor skirmishes took place with one enemy aircraft being damaged by F/O Zumbach, but no action for P8522. 

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 1951) Circus Raid by Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 18 Squadron RAF, Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211308

Kolaczkowski was again flying P8522 on the 28th providing escort high cover for 24 Blenheims attacking Comines as part of the Circus 26 Op. Just West of Comines, he was in a dog fight with 5 Messerschmitt Me-109s. In his combat Kolaczkowski  report stated:  

After a prolonged dog-fight with with 5 ME 109’s west of Comines, I had come down low and near Desvres was joined by Sgt Belc. Flying across the aerodrome I fired a short burst at a Me.109 which was mounted on trestles. The aircraft collapsed amid a cloud of smoke. 

Rounds fired:  7 rounds each of 2 cannon, 15 rounds each of 4 M/G” 

On the 30th, P8522 RF-W was again part of the fighter escorts with F/L Jankiewicz at the controls providing escort for another Circus bombing trip for 18 Blenheims atacking the Pont-a-Vendin Power Station in France, but this time there was nothing special to report. 

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 1926) Vertical aerial photograph taken during a ‘Circus’ operation by No. 2 Group aircraft, showing smoke rising from direct hits on the generating plant of the power station at Pont-a-Vendin, France, during an attack by 18 Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs drawn from Nos. 18 and 139 Squadrons RAF. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211305

Kolaczkowski was back in control of P8522 on the 1st July when they carried out a couple of evening bomber escorts over France with all aircraft returning safely. 

The second combat victory for Kolaczkowski and P8522 occurred on the 2nd July 1941 when 303 & several other Fighter Sqn’s were on escort duties again from Martlesham as part of a Circus Op to the Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille. No opposition was met until they were over the target area and a series of dog fights developed. Some fighters stayed with the bombers whilst others became involved with the fighters. 

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 1944) Annotated vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight raid on the Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille, France, by Short Stirlings of No. 3 Group. Bombs can be seen exploding on the east side of the works (‘1’), while other bombs fall to the east and south-east (‘2’). For a short period in July 1941, Stirlings, with a heavy fighter escort, were used in ‘Circus’ operations with t… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023064

The Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille was to be the target of several attacks carried out by the RAF and USAAF bombers during the war.

The Operations Record Book entry for the 2nd July states “F/Lt Kolaczkowski attacked two Me’s who were attacking the bombers; one was destroyed by the Blenheim and the other by F/Lt Kolaczkowski. F/O Zumbach shot down 1 Me in flames and damaged others. P/O Lipinski attacked and probably destroyed another Me109. Sgt Wojciechowski was wounded in the shoulder but returned to Martlesham suffering from loss of blood. It transpired later that he had shot down one Me109 in a series of dog fights. S/Ldr Lapkowski was missing from this operation and it was thought that he had collided with another Spitfire belonging to Sgt Gorecki. This transpired to be incorrect as Gorecki was picked up three days later after 74 hours in Channel. There has been no further news of S/Ldr Lapkowski.” 

According to the personal combat report that Kolaczkowski submitted, the attack took place in an area from Lille to mid-channel at around 12:45Hrs.

Luftwaffe fighters and 303 Sqn Spitfires engaged in a dogfight over the English Channel. (Photo Gary Eason)

“As soon as we had reached Lille Me.109’s began to engage our Squadron and the other escort Squadrons, and the dog-fights continued until we had reached mid-channel.  During the many engagements which took place between 15,000 and 10,000 ft, I saw two Me.109Es diving towards the bombers and after the first E/A had had a wing shot away by a Blenheim, the second pulled up and I followed him. I was able to fire 3 short bursts from my cannons and M/Gs from astern at 150-200ydsand the Me.109 rolled down emitting black smoke.  The pilot was seen to bale out but the aircraft went down out of sight. I fired 26 rounds from each of 2 cannons and 100 rounds from each of 4 M/Gs.” 

On the 3rd July, the Squadron took part in two sorties over France.  In the second, ten Spitfires took part, 7 from “A” Flight and 3 from “B” Flight of which P8522 piloted by Flt Lt Jankiewicz was one, taking off at 10:30Hrs and returning at 12:55Hrs as part of Circus 30 escorting Blenheim bombers from No 139 Sqn attacking Hazebrouck marshalling yards.

The following day (4th July), was a heavy day for 303 Squadron with uneventful operation trips, convoy patrols, night flying practice and a variety of aircraft tests. P/O Marciniak took P8522 on a Sector Recon sortie in the late morning followed by an operational sortie for bomber escort duties just before midnight with Sgt Belc at the controls. 

It was similar on the 5th when Plt Off Daszewski took P8522 on a training flight (practice formation flying) in the morning with Flt Lt Zak taking P8522 on an uneventful patrol after lunch. 

Zak again took P8522 the following morning when they were tasked with providing top cover for three Stirling bombers attacking Le Trait shipyards.  Several more uneventful bomber escort mission were undertaken by P8522 on the 10th & 11th July. 

Formation of 3 Short Stirling bombers

On the 12th July, the Squadron was once again involved in escort duties over France and was involved in a few minor skirmished with the enemy.  It is thought that Flt Lt Zak flew P8522 in the afternoon of the 12th on bomber escort duties but cannot be confirmed due to the illegibility of the ORB records. 

The 12th of July was the last operation flight of the squadron before leaving Northolt for Speke in Liverpool.  There are no more records of P8522 flying with 303 (Polish) Squadron after the 12th July. 

After five months of operations, No. 303 Sqn was rested on 13th July moving to Speke near Liverpool, in 9 Group, Fighter Command.

No 65 (East India) Sqn Crest

According to the aircraft transfer record card, P8522 Melton Mowbray & District was transferred on the 15th September to No 65(East India) Sqn at RAF Kirton Lindsey.  It is thought that P8522 was allocated to “A” Flight with the code ‘YT-D’ to replace K9907 YT-D which had been shot down a few months previous..  

65 Sqn Spitfire MkIa K9907 YT-D

No 65 Squadron was in the process of re-equipping with the MkIIb Spitfires and as a result, was involved in quite a lot of training flights.  It was on the 18th September when Sgt Grantham took P8522 YT-D on an “Air Firing” sortie.  The ORB entry for the day states “1 section of three aircraft proceeded to North Coates from where a convoy patrol was carried out without incident.  2 sections of 2 aircraft proceeded to Sutton Bridge for air firing (canon testing) on re-equipment of squadron with Spitfires Mark IIb.  There was also 1 dusk patrol of 5 aircraft.  Practice flights were carried out during the day.” 

The 19th was a “nothing of interest to report” day for 65 Sqn and the only aircraft to fly was P8522 YT-D at the hands of P/O Mitchell who took ‘D’ for a training flight calling at Digby, Wittering, Colley Weston  and back to Kirton. 

The next day was another day of training with 2 aircraft from “A” Flight and all aircraft from “B” Flight proceeded to Manby for air firing due to testing of canons on re-equipping to MkIIb Spitfires.  That day, Sgt Chandler was the first to take ‘D’ off to Manby and back on an air firing sortie, leaving Kirton at 11:55Hrs.  Sgt Oldnall did the same in the afternoon departing at 14:30Hrs. 

P/O Mitchell was back in control of P8522 when on the 22nd; the Squadron left Kirton for Detling, about 3 miles NE of Maidstone in Kent to take part in an offensive sweep.  The aircraft returned to Kirton in the afternoon on the account of “unfavourable weather conditions”.  P/O Mitchell and P8522 were one of two aircraft tasked later that day in taking part in an operation sortie from Kirton, the other being F/Lt Grant and P8576. 

65(East India) Squadron were next involved on operation flying on the 24th, with 2 sections of 2 aircraft undertaking operation patrols but this didn’t include P8522.  However, Sgt Chalmers did get airborne in YT-D when he was tasked with a local practice flight involving formation flying.  Sgt Warden did the same on P8522’s next trip on the 26th September when they were tasked with formation flying again. 

Sgt Chalmers took P8522 up twice on the 1st October and again on the 2nd taking part in Army Co-Operation “Bumper” Exercises at RAF Oulton in Norfolk.  He returned to Kirton on the 3rd

Bumper exercises were undertaken in East Anglia during October and November 1941 to test the ability of British forces to destroy a German Army after invading Great Britain. Two Army Headquarters and four Corps participated. The total number of divisions taking part was twelve; three of these were armoured. Two army tank brigades and corps troops in large numbers were also involved. The force engaged amounted in all to about a quarter of a million men.

65 (East India) Squadron must have done a good job on the Bumper exercise as the post exercise report stated ” Air Support. On the air aspect, the C.-in-C. mentioned the following
points. (A) Don’t use your air support ” in penny packets. (B) The fighter appears to present a serious menace to troops and transport on the move. (C) The Air Support Control should be at Army HQ if this is as far forward as it ought to be. It does not follow, however, that it should not be sent to some lower formation’s HQ if the main weight of air support is being directed to this formation’s area.” To read the full report, click here.

The 4th October saw P/O Hewlett getting airborne first in P8522 on a weather test followed later in the day by P/O Mitchell taking P8522 to North Coates for Shipping patrol duties. 

It wasn’t long before P8522 was re-allocated again, when on the 6th October 41 she went to 616 (South Yorkshire) Sqn due to 65 Sqn converting to the Spitfire MkV. 

No 616 (South Yorkshire) Sqn Crest

616 were currently at RAF Westhampnett, near Chichester in West Sussex and the Squadron ROB states:  “We heard today, with mixed feelings, that we were to move up to Kirton Lindsey on the sixth to replace 65 Squadron.  It will be remembered that at the end of February we came down to Tangmere to take the place of 65 Squadron after a stay of over 5 months at Kirton Lindsey.  The reason why our feelings are mixed is because we shall be sorry to miss all the operational activity, which only No 11 Group Stations can offer, although naturally this decreases as the long nights set in.  Also, when we go to No 12 Group, we find that the squadron has to do many more duties for the Station, making it sometimes difficult to obtain a sufficient number of men to service the aircraft.  On the other hand Kirton is nearer to most of the homes of the airmen and the accommodation is better than down South.” 

The ORB entry for the 6th Oct states “The main party travel up to Kirton.  The pilots could not fly up owing to rain and low clouds.  Four New Zealand Sergeant pilots join the Squadron, i.e. H. A. Chandler, G.L.Davidson, J.H.Davidson and G.H.Lattimer.  They were with 65 Squadron and as they were not trained they were transferred to us.  Sgt Pilot A.H. Gunn (Rhodesia) posted to us from 56 O.T.U Grangemouth. 

The 7th goes on to state “As weather was still bad the pilots came up by train.  Once again we are bitterly disappointed with the dirty conditions of the aircraft, dispersal huts and billets which we took over from 65 Squadron. (see entry of February 26th 1941).  Even the ammunition and canon barrels were rusty.  The engineer officer insisted on the Squadron being made non-operational for at least 10 days in order to overhaul the aircraft (old Spitfire IIBs).  136 Squadron (Spitfire IIB) and 121 Squadron (the second Eagle Squadron) Hurricane IIBs are at Kirton.” 

It would appear that 616 Squadron moved to Kirton Lindsey on or around the 6th October leaving their Spitfire MkVs at Westhampnett and re-equipped with the older  MkIIs  inherited from 65 (East India) Squadron, who moved South to Westhampnett on the 7th and re-equipped with the newer MkV version, possibly those left behind by 616 Squadron.  

No 611 (West Lancashire) Sqn Crest

P8522 was transferred from 616 to 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron who were based at RAF Drem, East Lothian Scotland.  611 Sqn had been based at RAF Hornchurch carrying out offensive sweeps over occupied northern France since January 1941, but had moved North to RAF Drem for ‘rest’ in November 1941 where they stayed until June ‘42.   

The first sorties with 611 Sqn took place on the 5th December 1941 when Flt Sgt Wright took her on a couple of shipping convoy patrols, the first at 08:15Hrs and returned at 09:30Hrs closely followed by another patrol at 10:25Hrs till 11:25Hrs.

On the 8th December, a dull and windy day by all account, two Spitfires from 611 Sqn were sent to Patrol Burnt Island in Fife. Flt Sgt Wright took P8522 and Sgt Johnstone in P7385.

The Squadron was tasked with operating out of Montrose for 3 days from the 12th December and 6 aircraft from B Flight proceed up to Montrose in the early afternoon. The Melton Spitfire however remained at Drem and at 17:00Hrs was on patrol over Eyemouth with Sqn Ldr Watkins in control.

Only 2 aircraft flew on the 15th from Drem, Flt Sgt Wright in P8522 and Sgt Haggas in P8468 were patrolling St Abbs Head. It was a bright day with high winds and bitterly cold. The Squadron was visited by 10 press reporters from various parts of Lancashire. the pilots ‘put on a good show’ and the visitors who were wined and dined by the Sqn left in a contented state of mind.

More patrols were undertaken by Flt Sgt Wright in the Melton Spitfire on the 16th December and then the aircraft didn’t fly again until the 28th when Sqn Ldr Watkins took her on a convoy patrol.

At lunch time on the 14th February, the Melton Mowbray Spitfire was 1 of 4 aircraft involved in a lunch time ‘scramble’ when the alarm bells sounded as an enemy aircraft (later identified as a Heinkel He111) approached the camp, flying at 30,000feet. The Spitfires gave chase but could not get within firing range before the enemy aircraft was lost in cloud.

P8522 flew twice the following day with Sgt Johnson at the controls. The first on a patrol around May Isle then at 11:30Hrs she was scrambled with Sgt Johnson again at the controls along with W3628 piloted by Flt Lt Winskill. Sgt Jones was at the controls when again she was scrambled on the 16th to intercept enemy aircraft approaching.

On 21st February 1942 P8522 was involved in an accident and was transferred to Scottish Aviation at Prestwick where the Melton Spitfire was ‘Repaired In Works’ on the 26th Feb and on the 7th March it was re-classified as a ‘Repaired Aircraft Awaiting Allocation’.  

On the 13th March 1942, P8522 was transferred to No 37 MU at RAF Burtonwood in Cheshire.  The role of 37MU was to receive brand new aircraft direct from the manufacturers and prepare them for squadron service and to incorporate all the latest modifications and armaments. The aircraft were then put into storage to be issued to the squadron as and when needed. 37 MU also operated an Aircraft Repair depot (ARD) repairing aircraft that had been battled damaged, or had crashed etc. P8522 remained at RAF Burtonwood until 21st April 1942. 

The next unit to operate P8522 was No 1 Coastal Artillery Co-operation Flight (CACF) located at RAF Detling, 3 miles North East of Maidstone in Kent.  On 1st January, 1942, No.1 Coast Artillery Co-operation Flight became No.1 Coast Artillery Co-operation Unit, and transferred from No.70 Group to No.35 Wing Army Co-operation Command. 

Within a couple of weeks of arriving on No 1 CACU, the Melton Spitfire was involved in another incident when Fg Off H L D Tanner made a heavy landing at RAF Weston Zoyland putting the aircraft out of action until the 15th May 42 when she returned to her home base at RAF Detling following repair.
 
Early in 1942 the Unit took part in various exercises with the Army and Royal Navy.  A number of practice shoots were carried out with 540 and 520 Coast Regiments at Dover, but no operational flying was requested during the first four months of this year.  Operational sorties were carried out from May onwards, mainly reconnaissance of shipping and targets for the long range guns.  A number of “Rhubarbs” were successfully carried out during the Autumn of 1942.  

On 16 July, Plt Off P F Sewell 47422 was flying P8522 on a non-operational (local flying) sortie when it was involved in an accident on landing.  Due to the amount of damage sustained, the aircraft was categorized as Flying Accident Category B  (FACB).  A Cat B accident is classed as beyond repair on site by station personnel but personnel from No 88MU were drafted in to carry out the repair which started on the 20th July 1942 and was completed with the aircraft being handed back to No 1 CACU on 7th August. 

The accident record card states: “Pilot made normal landing and starboard tyre (possibly punctured on take-off) deflated during run.  When passing over depression in the ground, the aircraft lurched causing Port u/c to stress at the anchorage and collapse, following which the starboard u/c collapsed. AOC: Pilot not to blame.” 

In August 1942, Sqn Ldr D J Hamilton was bringing the Melton Spitfire into land when he made a ‘wheels up’ landing on the airfield. The aircraft was repaired and a month later on the 29th September Hamilton was again flying the Melton Spitfire on a sortie tasked with spotting form the artillery when it collided with birds. On landing, the aircraft was damaged further when it tipped on its nose. Again it was repaired and declared operational on the 2nd October.

Example of a Spitfire on its nose.

On 23rd November, the training Flight returned to Detling with all aircraft and equipment.  Towards the end of 1942, night flying practice in Spitfires was carried out with 520 and 540 Coast Regiments at Dover in an effort to ascertain if spotting with Spitfires was feasible at night, but this was found to be impracticable. 

P8522 was involved in another accident on the 22nd October when flying over enemy territory France at very low level and collided with birds at 1045hrs. The pilot, Fg Off Robert James Gee managed to get her back home and the damage was classed as Cat AC – repair beyond unit capacity.  Again P8522 was repaired on site and was handed back to No 1 CACU on 17th April 1943. 

The Melton Spitfire remained No 1 CACU 19th June 1943 when it was re-allotted and taken on strength by the Tactical Air Force.  

On the 23rd October 1943 P8522 was transferred to No 61 OTU at RAF Rednal near Shrewsbury to train new pilots for Fighter Command.

ROYAL AIR FORCE FIGHTER COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 6448) A newly-qualified pilot is introduced to the Supermarine Spitfire, a Mark IIB, P8315, by his instructor at No. 61 Operational Training Unit, Rednal, Shropshire. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210218

It stayed until 11th August 1944 when it was transferred yet again to No 45MU at RAF Kinloss in Scotland where it stayed until it was eventually struck off charge on the 26th April 1945 due to it being deteriorated beyond repair. 

The Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire P8522 served the country well being utilised on the front line. As she became superseded by newer advanced versions of the Spitfire, she carried on serving her country in various other roles.

P8522 had been engaged in combat with German bombers and fighters, escorted allied bombers over enemy occupied territory, took part in Rhubarb and Circus Operations, help train the British Army in the Bumper exercises, escorted shipping convoys and carried out patrols to protect the UK from attack, helped train the Coastal Defence units and latterly assisted with training newly qualified fighter command pilots on the Spitfire.

All in a days work for The Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire that was paid for by the generosity of the people of our market town and surrounding villages. We should be proud of our achievement.

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

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

Sgt Leonard Ashby Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RAF Coastal Command Crest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWGC Schedule A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkby war memorial

He is also commemorated on the Leicestershire War Memorials Project

28 – First fatal accident involving a Saro Lerwick flying boat

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

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

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

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

Chelmsford Chronicle 01 March 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

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

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

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