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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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
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 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.
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
As you wander around the Leicester Gilroes cemetery, you can’t fail to notice the Cross of Sacrificeoutside 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.
Also, scattered around the cemeteryare 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 memorialsas 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.
Loving Memory of
Beloved Husband of
Died July 14th 1927 Aged 53
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
Died January 22nd 1948 Aged 74
Beloved Son of the Above
Died July 1st 1977
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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’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.
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.
Staff Navigator: Plt Off Sydney Jack Guiver 174686
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.
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 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.
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.
Again on the 17th & 20th Aug, RAF Market Harborough wrote to the father. The letter on the 17th reads:
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
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.
Group Captain Commanding
RAF Market Harborough”
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 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.
Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts is buried in the Non-Conformist Cemetery at Buckley.
Navigator: Sgt William Marshall Thomas 1652484
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).
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.
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 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.
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 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 is buried in Grave 374 Section. T of the Alverthorpe (St Paul) Churchyard.
W/Op: Sgt Robert McCudden 1822819
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).
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eighty years ago in the Summer of 1940 the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force were in almost daily combat with the German Luftwaffe in the skies over our country and surrounding waters. Initially the Luftwaffe were set on trying to destroy our airfields in preparation for an invasion, but on the 7th September they changed their plans and swapped from destroying the airfields and the RAF to bombing our cities which subsequently became known as the Blitz.
The Battle has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle’s duration as being from 10th July until 31st October 1940.
“Never In The Field of Human Conflict Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few” was to become the famous words mentioned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his wartime speech that he delivered to the Nation on the 20th August 1940. By the time of Churchill’s speech, RAF fighter pilots had been in almost daily combat with the German Luftwaffe and those who flew combat missions during the battle have forever since been referred to as “The Few” and has been immortalised in posters just like the one below.
In this bog, I look at two very different war memorials that can be found in All Saints Church at Hoby near Melton Mowbray. Both memorials commemorate members of the Beresford family, one of which commemorates “One of the Few”.
War memorials can be found in all sorts of shapes, sizes and designs as mentioned in “Blog 19 – Protecting our War Memorials”. The memorials in All Saints Church take the form of a wooden Roll of Honour listing the names of 48 men from Hoby who served during World War One, a bronze tablet commemorating eleven men of the Parish who fell during the Great War, a stained-glass window commemorating the members of the extended Beresford family who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One and a stone tablet commemorating another member of the Beresford family who was “One of the Few” and made the ultimate sacrifice during World War Two.
The memorials themselves are interesting, but they are more than just a name on a window or plaque, it is the stories behind those individuals names that make the memorials even more interesting providing links to not only military history, but also social history.
Flt Lt Hugh Richard Aden Beresford – One of The Few
On the Chancel wall opposite the Stained Glass window, is a plain stone tablet commemorating three members of the Beresford family, the Reverend Hans Aden Beresford, his mother Annie and the Reverends Son, Flight Lieutenant Hugh Richard Aden Beresford who was “One of The Few” and is the only Hoby casualty from World War Two.
Hugh Richard Aden Beresford was born 8th November 1915 and was the son of the Rector of Hoby & Rotherby, Hans Aden Beresford and his wife Dorothy Lydia Royston.
He was known by the family as ‘Tom’ and was educated at Rossell School in Fleetwood Lancashire. He was a keen sportsman and fine cricketer playing in the first XI team for four seasons and became team captain in his final year at the school.
Hugh joined the RAF on a short service commission in 1935 and after completing his training he was posted as a pilot to No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, arriving at Port Sudan as an Acting Pilot Officer on 23rd March 1936. Port Sudan is the Capital of Sudan and is located on the Red Sea coast. The aircraft operated by the Squadron was the Bristol Bulldog, until it was replaced by the Gloster Gladiator. Just over a year later, he was posted to the No 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Biggin Hill on the 12th April 1937.
On the 4th October 1937 he was appointed Personal Assistant to Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Gossage, Air Officer Commanding No 11 Group at RAF Uxbridge and on the 16th January 1938, Hugh was promoted to Flying Officer. Whilst at Uxbridge, in December 1939, Hugh married his wife Cherry Kyree ‘Pat’ Kemp, the daughter of a RAF Officer Walter Ernest Kemp.
On the 17th May 1940, No 257 (Burma) Squadron was reformed at RAF Hendon initially being equipped with Spitfires. Beresford joined the Squadron from HQ No 11 Group as Senior Flight Commander. The CO was Squadron Leader David Bayne who lost a leg in a flying accident whilst serving on No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, back in July 1935 when his Bristol Bulldog crash landed at RAF Duxford. This was the same Squadron that Hugh joined after leaving school.
During May and June, the Squadron was involved in training missions including bringing new pilots up to speed on Spitfires, Interception Exercises, formation flying, gunnery practice, night flying, high altitude (25000 feet) flying and dog fights.
On the 10th June, it was announced that the Squadron would be re-equipped with the Hurricane fighter, meaning more re-training for the pilots. The first eight Hurricanes arrived the next day with a further eight the day after. Training continued through June with the Hurricanes and on the 30th, the Squadron were informed they would be moving from RAF Hendon to their new base at RAF Northolt on July 4th.
Although the Battle of Britain hadn’t officially began (10th July), after settling in at Northolt on the 4th, the Squadron were put on Standby the following day at ¾ Hour before Dawn on the 5th. The Squadrons first scramble came on the 9th when Flt Lt Hall, PO Frizell and Sgt Forward were ordered into the air and Sgt Forward engaged a Do17 at 22000 feet.
Hugh had an aristocratic bearing which gave the men of his squadron much needed morale. He was affectionately known by his fellow pilots as “Blue-Blood Beresford” which was a reference to his aristocratic good looks and up-bringing.
Allegedly he was privately very nervous and vomited under the daily intense stress of the Battle of Britain. With exhaustion taking its toll on him, he was known for obsessively pacing up and down the dispersal hut continually asking “What’s the time?” and “I’m sure there will be a Blitz soon”. On 18th August, Hugh and Sgt Girdwood shared in destroying a He111 from III./KG 53 flown by Uffz Gustav Gropp which came down in the sea with all crew killed and a few days Hugh later claimed a Me110 on the 31st.
On 22nd July, the CO Squadron Leader Bayne was posted to HQ Fighter Command with Squadron Leader H Harkness taking over as Commanding Officer. Apparently the Squadron had poor leadership and was held together by two well respected Flight Commanders, Flt Lt Hugh Beresford and Fg Off Lance Mitchell.
Hugh Beresford and A Flight had patrolled Martlesham twice during the morning of the 7th followed by a 3rd patrol around Colchester at 11:15Hrs, landing at 12:20. At 14:15 the whole Squadron was called to 15 minutes readiness but were not ordered off.
Beresford in Hurricane P3049 along with 11 other Hurricanes of Yellow, Red, Blue and Green Sections of 257 Squadron left Martlesham Heath at 16:53Hrs to patrol Chelmsford area at 15,000 feet. They were vectored to the Rochester area under the Command of Squadron Leader Harkness when at 17:50Hrs they intercepted a formation of about 50 enemy bombers flying up the Thames estuary.
The large formation of enemy aircraft flying up the Thames were intent on sustaining the continuous bombing of London. An escort of Luftwaffe fighters above dived towards the squadron as they attacked.
The CO, Yellow 1 (Squadron Leader Harkness) passed the information about the enemy aircraft to “Kiwi 1” and the Squadron climbed up to their level, turning North. As they were coming from the Colchester area, they didn’t have the advantage of attacking out of the sun and must have been seen by the Me109s which were circling above the bombers at about 18-20,000 feet.
Yellow 1, followed by the Squadron, did a head on attack on the port section of three enemy aircraft. When Yellow 1 broke away to the right, Yellow 2 (PO Gundry) followed him without firing. Yellow 3 (Sgt Robinson) when following Yellow 2 in line astern, doing a steep turn to the right was thrown over on his back, losing control of his aircraft and dropped about 8,000 to 10,000 feet as a result of ant aircraft fire all around him.
Red 1 (Flt Lt Beresford) “A” Flight Commander followed Yellow Section into the attack and slightly to the right, is believed to have been unable to attack the bombing fleet head-on as his line of fire was obstructed by the leading Hurricanes. He climbed to about 500 feet in a clockwise circle above the bombers and turning to attack them from astern. At this point, Red 2 (Sgt Fraser) noticed at least four Me109 fighters with yellow noses swooping down on the section from astern.
Hugh Beresford tried to warn the other pilots of the danger over the radio by issuing a frantic warning “ALERT squadron – four snappers coming down now!” to the squadron about the attacking fighters, stating that he could not attack as another Hurricane was in his line of fire. (ALERT was the radio call sign for 257 Squadron). Then there was silence. In his final few moments of life he had used his last breath to save others.
None of the squadron saw what had happened to him, but a River Board worker inspecting the water ditches which criss-crossed the flat Isle of Sheppey, was watching the dog-fight developing above in a crescendo of engine noise and rattling of machine guns. He saw a lone Hurricane break away and dive vertically into the soft estuary ground alongside a ditch at Elmley Spitend Point, Sheppey.
There was no fire or explosion, just a small crater with a black stain and slashes either side where the wings had cut through the grass. No time could be spent during the weeks of the Battle of Britain to mount salvage operations and as the aircraft was deeply buried it was eventually forgotten.
From the combat action in the 7th, three pilots failed to return, Hugh Beresford, the other Flight Commander Lance Mitchell and Sgt Hulbert. Later, the Squadron received news that Hulbert was OK and had crash landed near Sittingbourne. None of the other pilots could provide any info on what had happened to the two Flight Commanders and enquiries were made with other RAF airfields, Police HQs and Royal Observer Corps observation posts but nobody saw what happened.
Hugh’s wife, Pat, rang the Squadron in tears on the evening when he failed to return. The Squadron Adjutant spoke to her and telling her that he might have been picked up by boats in the sea and not to give up hope. It was as if she new his fate as she asked if she could pick up his clothes.
Hugh Beresford was classified as missing in action and an Air Ministry telegram was sent to Pat telling here that he had failed to return from an operational flight and they would contact her again as soon as possible when they received further news. No news came forward, and one year after he went missing, he was officially presumed dead.
Shortly after his Hurricane had plunged into the marshy ground, RAF personnel from nearby RAF Eastchurch came to the crash site and as little could be done, they reported it to No 49 Maintenance Unit who covered the South East of England
Ten days after Hugh’s disappearance, Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Gossage wrote to Reverend Hans Beresford, explaining that Hugh had once been his personal assistant and that he had become very fond of him. His letter also said that he wanted to make sure that no possibility of him being alive before he wrote with his sincere and heartfelt sympathy.
For decades no one knew the exact spot where he laid buried. 39 years later, in August 1979, there was renewed interest by aviation enthusiasts in locating and excavating the wrecks of wartime planes. Hugh Beresford’s Hurricane was discovered and on 29th September 1979 the entire wreckage was recovered with Hugh’s body being found still in his aircraft. Hugh Beresford and his tattered identity card were recovered.
Forty years to the day he was shot down, on the 7th September 1980, BBC2 Television documentary series Inside Story screened a programme “Missing” all about Hugh Beresford and the remarkable story of him being reported as missing in 1940 and the discovery of his Hurricane fighter with his remains still in the cockpit.
He was laid to rest with full military honours in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, with the Band of the RAF and the Queen’s Colour Squadron providing the honours. Hugh’s sister, Pamela who lived in Hoby village attended his funeral along with a few other residents from the village.
His headstone bears the inscription “NO ONE SO MUCH AS YOU LOVES THIS MY CLAY, OR WOULD LAMENT AS YOU ITS DYING DAY” which is the opening verse from the poem “No One So Much As You” by World War One poet Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917).
No one so much as you
Loves this my clay,
Or would lament as you
Its dying day.
You know me through and through
Though I have not told,
And though with what you know
You are not bold.
None ever was so fair
As I thought you:
Not a word can I bear
Spoken against you.
All that I ever did
For you seemed coarse
Compared with what I hid
Nor put in force.
Scarce my eyes dare meet you
Lest they should prove
I but respond to you
And do not love.
We look and understand,
We cannot speak
Except in trifles and
Words the most weak.
I at the most accept
Your love, regretting
That is all: I have kept
Only a fretting
That I could not return
All that you gave
And could not ever burn
With the love you have,
Till sometimes it did seem
Better it were
Never to see you more
Than linger here
With only gratitude
Instead of love-
A pine in solitude
Cradling a dove.
For more details about his burial at Brookwood Military Cemetery, see his CWGC Casualty Record.
Additionally, the CWGC E-Files archives holds a series of black and white images showing CWGC staff erecting his headstone, levelling it off, applying soil to the border, cleaning it and finally with the plants in place around it. To view the images, visit the CWGC archive site and enter Beresford in the search box.
South Chancel Window (Beresfod Memorial Window)
Opposite the Memorial to Hugh, his father and grandmother, you will see the stained-glass window, appropriately named the South Chancel Memorial Window, and as its name suggests can be found in the South Chancel and was installed in the early 1920s. It was gifted to the Church by Hugh’s grandparents, Rev Edward Aden Beresford and his wife Annie Mary Beresford and their initials appear at the very top of the window.
The Beresford family have been Rectors for Hoby cum Rotherby for many years since Reverend Gilbert Beresford became Rector in 1838. He married Anne Browne, the only daughter of Rev Henry Browne of Hoby, in 1805. The last Beresford to hold the post was Hugh’s father the Reverend Hans Aden Beresford.
The bottom panels of the window lists the members of the extended Beresford family who were killed whilst serving their country during the First World War and as such, it is classified as a war memorial by the War Memorials Trust and the Imperial War Museum.
The Beresford’s commemorated on the window are all descendants of, or married to descendants of, Rev Gilbert & Anne Beresford.
The inscription on the light windows reads:
THOMAS BERESFORD OF FENNY BENTLEY, DIED MARCH 20TH 1473 IN PROUD AND LOVING MEMORY OF THE DESCENDENTS OF THOMAS BERESFORD WHO DIED IN THE GREAT WAR LT COL PERCY WILLIAM BERESFORD D.S.O ASSISTANT PRIEST OF WESTERHAM DIED IN FRANCE OCTOBER 25 1917 – ALSO OF MAJOR BERESFORD A.J. HAVELOCK OF THE NORTH STAFFS REGT KILLED IN ACTION SEP 14 1918 AT BAKU, CASPIAN SEA. ALSO OF MAJOR WILLIAM C. BERESFORD DIED OF WOUNDS IN WEYMOUTH HOSPITAL AND OF HAY FREDK DONALDSON, K.C.B./ DROWNED IN H.M.S. HAMPSHIRE JUNE 5TH 1916 THIS WINDOW IS DEDICATED BY EDWARD ADEN BERESFORD RECTOR FROM 1855 AND HANS ADEN BERESFORD BORN 1884
Who were these members of the extended Beresford family that made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One?
Lt. Col. Percy William Beresford D.S.O
Percy was born in 1875 and was the son of Frank Gilbert and Jessie Ogilvie Beresford. He was baptised 2nd Dec 1875 at St Phillip and St James Church at Whitton near Richmond upon Thames. He was educated at Rossel School and Magdalen College, Oxford.
After graduating from Magdalen College he had hoped to enter the Church, but the ill health of his father, a Wharfinger on the Thames, meant he had to join the family business.
In 1900, he was promoted from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant whilst he was serving with the 4th Volunteer Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment,
In 1902 he moved to Westerham in Kent where he set up the first parish cadet corps in the country – the Westerham and Chipstead Cadet Corps, which was attached to the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment. He apparently felt that military training acted as a sort of national university.
On the 10th October 1903, The London Gazette announced that Captain R. Galloway resigns his Commission with the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) and Lieutenant P. W. Beresford to be Captain.
In 1905 he went to Kings College London where he studied Theology, after which his earlier wish was fulfilled, and he was ordained as a Deacon. The following year he was ordained as a Priest by the Bishop of Rochester and was fortunate enough to be appointed as curate to the Rev. Sydney Le Mesurier, vicar of St. Mary’s, Westerham, where he was working when war was declared.
On 1st April 1908 it was announced that Captain Percy William Beresford of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) is appointed to the 3rd Battalion, City of London (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment; with rank and precedence as in the Volunteer Force.
In the London Gazette, his promotion from Captain to Major in the 3rd (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) was published on 16th August 1910.
Following the outbreak of World War One, he was initially sent to Malta after which he saw a lot of action across the Channel in France and Flanders. He was wounded in April 1915 and was gassed at Loos in September the same year and allegedly it was reported that, within a week of him being gassed, he was back with his battalion where he officiated at a celebration of Holy Communion, though hardly able to speak.
He saw action at Neuve Chapelle, Hohenzollern Redoubt. Bullecourt, Ypres & Givenchy, the Duck’s Bill, and Poelcapelle and on the 23rd May 1916 was appointed as an acting Lt. Col of 2nd/3rd Royal Fusiliers.
It was at Bullecourt in March, 1917 where he won his DSO: For conspicuous gallantry and ability in command of his battalion during heavy enemy counter-attacks. The skill with which he handled his reserves was of the utmost assistance to the division on his right, and his determination enabled us to hold on to an almost impossible position. He repulsed three counter-attacks and lost heavily in doing so.
He was killed in action during the 3rd Battle of Ypres on 26th October 1917 whilst commanding the 2nd / 3rd Battalions when a shell burst close beside him and he only lived a few minutes after being hit. He was known to his men in the Royal Fusiliers as “Little Napoleon”.
The Adjutant of his battalion was present when Beresford was mortally wounded gives a graphic picture of the last scene; and so, does Dr. Maude, who was in the same regiment with him. After being hit, he turned to the Adjutant saying, “I’m finished carry on”. A painful pause; then, to the field-doctor who went to see what could be done for him, “I’m finished; don’t bother about me, attend to the others”. A smile lit up his pale, handsome, and still boyish face. “Look after my sister. ..” A longer pause, and, “This is a fine death for a Beresford”, and he was gone.
He is buried in Gwalia Cemetery, Belgium (Near Poperinghe) where upon his gravestone is inscribed the following inscription “HE BRINGETH THEM UNTO THE HAVEN WHERE THEY WOULD BE”. See his CWGC Casualty Record for more information.
Major Beresford Arthur Jardine-Havelock
He was born on the 10th October 1889 in Bankura, India and was the son of George Broadfoot Havelock, late Bengal Police, and Annie Helen Beresford. He married Kathleen Margaret Smith on the 6th March 1916 and they had two children Patricia Margaret Helen and Beresford Aileen.
He joined Elizabeth College on the island of Guernsey in 1903, becoming a member of their Dramatic Society in 1904 and a prefect in 1906. He left in Dec.1906 when he went to the military college at Sandhurst, leaving in 1907.
He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion (Prince of Wales) 98th. North Staffordshire Regiment on 6th February 1909. Just over a year later he was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1st April 1910, (Army List), followed by Captain in 1915 then Major in 1917.
He was serving with the 7th (Service) Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment in Mesopotamia from 1914 – 1918. After Mesopotamia, he was sent to Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, most probably as part of the Dunsterforce “Hush Hush Army” to help support the City of Baku. Dunsterforce was named after General Lionel Dunsterville and consisted of about 1000 men and undertook a 220 miles journey in a convoy of Ford vans and cars from Hamadan near Quajar in Iran to Baku in Azerbaijan.
The Dunsterforce fought in the Battle of Baku from 26th August to 14th September 1918 between the Ottoman–Azerbaijani coalition forces led by Nuri Pasha and Bolshevik–Dashnak Baku Soviet forces, later succeeded by the British–Armenian–White Russian forces.
The Dunsterforce received orders to leave Baku as the Ottoman forces were bombarding the port and shipping with artillery fire. Two ships had been readied in the port for the evacuation of the force. Major Havelock and his unit, the 7th (Service) Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, were providing rear-guard cover during the night of the 14th/15th September allowing the main force to retreat to the port when he was killed on the 14th September 1918 aged 28. He was mentioned in dispatches and is commemorated on the Baku Memorial.
Major Cecil William Beresford
Cecil was born in 1875 and was the son of a Barrister of Law, Cecil Hugh Wriothesley Beresford and his wife Caroline Felicie Octavia. He was baptised on 24th June 1875 at the Holy Innocents Church, Kingsbury in Middlesex.
On the 10th December 1892, the South Wales Daily News announced his Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Volunteer Rifles the 1st (Pembrokeshire) Volunteer Battalion of the Welsh Regiment.
He was educated at Trinity Hall Cambridge University entering the college in 1895.
The London Gazette published on 14th October 1910 announced the promotion of 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Beresford to Lieutenant with the 10th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Irish Rifles).
His promotion from Lieutenant to Captain was announced on the 26th July 1912 in the London Gazette, along with his transfer from the 10th Bn to the 18th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Paddington Rifles).
He was subsequently promoted from Captain to Major remaining with the 18th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Paddington Rifles) which was announced in the London Gazette on the 6th April 1915. A few months later the Gazette announced his promotion to Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel on the 19th July 1915.
On the 10th April 1916, the London Gazette announced that he relinquished his rank as Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel due to an alteration in posting. It is not clear what happened next in his military career, but when he died, he was serving with the Royal Defence Corps (RDC).
The RDC was formed in March 1916 by converting the Home Service Garrison Battalions which were made up of soldiers that were either too old or medically unfit for front line service. The role of the RDC was to provide troops for security and guard duties inside the UK, guarding important locations such as ports or bridges and prisoner of war camps.
He died of wounds on 9th October 1917 at Burdon Military Hospital Weymouth and is buried at Weston Super Mare.
Hay Frederick Donaldson was born on 7th July 1856 in Sydney Australia and was the son of Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson, the first Premier of New South Wales, and his wife Amelia Cowper.
Although he was born in Australia, he studied mechanical engineering at Eton College, Trinity College, Cambridge, University of Edinburgh and Zurich University.
After leaving University, he was initially employed at the locomotive works at Crewe in Cheshire working for the London and North Western Railway locomotive works.
He married Selina Beresford on 15 July 1884 in Kensington shortly before moving to Goa in India working on railway and harbour construction until 1887. Whilst in India, the couple had 3 children: Amy Elizabeth, Stuart Hay Marcus and Ethel Adeline.
After India, he returned to England working on the Manchester Ship Canal from 1887 to 1891 followed by becoming the Chief Engineer at London’s East India Docks from 1892 to 1897.
At the same time as working on the Manchester Ship Canal and the East India Docks, he was also the Chief Mechanical Engineer at the Royal Ordnance Factories at Woolwich from 1889 to 1903. Whilst at Woolwich, he served as the Deputy Director-General from 1989-99. In 1903 he was appointed Director-General, a role in which he continued until 1915.
In 1909, he was awarded a CB, Companion to The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, followed by the KCB (Knight Commander) in 1911.
In September 1915, he resigned from the position of Director-General to take up the role of Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Munitions
In June 1916, he was selected as one of the advisers to accompany the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener on his mission to Russia. HMS Hampshire had been ordered to take Lord Kitchener from Scapa Flow on his diplomatic mission to Russia via the port of Arkhangelsk.
The Hampshire set sail from Scapa Flow at 16:45Hrs on the 5th June 1916 and due to gale force winds, it was decided that she would sail through the Pentland Firth, then turn North along the western coast of the Orkneys. Approximately an hour after setting sail, she rendezvoused with her escorts, two Acasta class destroyers, the Unity and Victor.
As the convoy turned North west, the gales increased and shifted direction resulting in the ships facing it head on, causing the escorts to fall behind the Hampshire. The Commanding Officer of the Hampshire, Captain Savill, believed it was unlikely that enemy submarines would be active in the area due t the weather conditions, so he ordered Unity and Victor to return to Scapa Flow.
About 1.5 miles off Orkney, between the Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, the Hampshire was sailing alone in rough seas when at 19:40Hrs she struck a mine laid by a German minelaying submarine. The mine was one of several laid by U-75 just before the Battle of Jutland on the 28th/29th May.
The Hampshire had been holed between the bow and the bridge, causing her to heel to starboard. Approximately 15 minutes after the explosion, the Hampshire began to sink bow first. Out of the crews compliment of 735 crew members and 14 passengers aboard, only 12 crew members survived. A total of 737 lives were lost including Lord Kitchener and all the members of his missionary party. He is commemorated on the CWGC Hollybrook Memorial at Southampton.
The ships crew are also commemorated on the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Winchester War Memorial outside Winchester Cathedral.
In 2010, the War Memorials Trust gave a grant of £150 for conservation works to the memorial window and its ferramenta. On the Beresford window at Hoby, the ferramenta had rusted and this was causing problems to the stonework of the church on the window which the ferramenta is fixed to and if left untreated could cause damage and cracking to stonework. To see more information about this grant, see the grant showcase.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
In blog No 15, I looked at the history of RAF Melton Mowbray during World War Two and its important role transporting aircraft around the world to support both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in whatever theatre of war they were engaged in.
In this blog, I continue the story of the former RAF station and skip ahead about 13 years after the end of World War 2 to the late 1950s when the country and the RAF was at the forefront of another global war – The Cold War and RAF Melton Mowbray became part of the countries vital nuclear defence network protecting our country.
Just over a year after the end of the Second World War, in November 1946, the Air Ministry issued an Operational Requirement, known as OR230, for an advanced jet bomber capable of carrying a 10,000-pound bomb to a target 2,000 nautical miles from a base anywhere in the world. The bomber needed to fly at an altitude of between 35,000 and 50,000 feet with a cruising speed of 500 knots.
A request for designs went to most of the United Kingdom’s major aircraft manufacturing companies including Handley Page, Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, Bristol, Short Brothers and English Electric. At the same time, another aircraft company, Vickers-Armstrong had produced a swept wing design, but this had been rejected as it did not meet the required specifications.
By the time the RAF’s strength reached its post war peak in 1956, the decision had been made by the Air Ministry and three companies that had made famous bombers during World War Two had been selected to produce the new jet bombers. They were Avro, producer of the infamous Lancaster bomber, Handley Page, producer of the Halifax bomber and Vickers, producer of the Wellington bomber. The three new aircraft that finally entered service were known as the Vulcan, the Victor and the Valiant respectively, becoming commonly known as the V Force. These aircraft were to be used as the country’s Nuclear Deterrent.
October 1956 saw the outbreak of the Suez War, and RAF aircraft were heavily involved in the crisis. The diplomatic debacle of the Suez saw a dramatic rethink in defence policy. The first manifestation of the new defence thinking was the infamous 1957 White Paper, in which Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Defence, forecast the end of manned aircraft and their replacement by guided missiles.
It was during he Suez crisis that the British Government began discussions with the American Government the potential for basing a nuclear missile force in the United Kingdom.
The US gained much of its rocket expertise from German scientists that had previously been involved in the V1 and V2 vengeance weapons projects run by Germany during World War Two. Apparently, there were over 500 rocket scientists that had voluntarily gone to the USA after the war to be employed in the aviation industry.
As a result of their experience, the USA already had two intermediate range missiles under development, one project run by the US Army named Jupiter (the bringer of Jollity) and the other by the US Air Force (USAF) named Thor (the God of Thunder).
The major problem the Americans were experiencing with both of these projects was the range of the missiles, which was limited to somewhere in the region of 1500 miles. This was nowhere near enough to strike at targets deep within the Soviet Union with missiles launched from within the US homeland. The only way the US could make practical use of the missiles was to deploy them in friendly countries nearer to the Soviet Union.
In 1957 an initial proposal from the USA was put to Britain to deploy Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) in the UK. The plan was to deploy four Squadrons of nuclear tipped missiles with each squadron comprising fifteen missiles at a single base. Two squadrons were to be manned by USAF personnel and the other two by RAF personnel.
The Thor missile was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile with a range of 1,750 miles, armed with a two megaton nuclear warhead, it stood 65ft tall with a base diameter of 8 ft and could travel at a speed 12 times faster than sound.
The proposal was regarded favourably by Britain’s new Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Negotiations took place following concerns raised by the British Government and the original concept of having two USAF squadrons and two RAF Squadrons had now changed to all four squadrons being run by the RAF with USAF support.
The negotiations also reconsidered the bases where the missiles would be located. The original plan included basing a squadron of missiles at RAF Brize Norton near Oxford, but this was rejected as the authorities could not contemplate the prospect of a Thor breaking up after launch and its war head and 100,000lbs of fuel falling on the population and historic spires of Oxford.
The advantage of basing Thor in the UK was that there were hundreds of airfields across Eastern England that had been built on land commandeered during WW2. The authorities clearly didn’t have the same concerns for the rural towns and cities across Eastern England and eventually for sites were selected to hose the Wing HQs and each base had four satellite stations around them.
The sites chosen for the HQ’s were RAF Feltwell, RAF Hemswell, RAF Driffield and RAF North Luffenham. Each HQ site had to be adjacent to an active airfield that could be used as the designated airhead so that the missiles and ground support equipment could be flown in as close as possible. The airhead sites chosen were RAF Lakenheath for Feltwell, RAF Scampton for Hemswell, RAF Leconfield for Driffield and RAF Cottesmore for North Luffenham.
Final agreement on the deployment of Thor in Britain was reached at the Bermuda Conference in March 1957, when Macmillan and Eisenhower met to discuss key issues.
On 1 April, Macmillan reported to Parliament that: “The rockets will be the property of Her Majesty’s Government, manned by British troops who will receive their prior training from American experts. The rockets cannot be fired by any except the British personnel, but the warhead will be in the control of the United States – which is the law of the United States- and to that extent the Americans have negative control; but it is absolutely untrue to say that the President and not the British Government will decide when these missiles will be launched and at whom. So long as we rely upon the American warheads, and only so long, that will remain a matter for the two Governments”.
The emphasis was still on the Nuclear Deterrent, and with the White Papers forecast of missiles replacing the aircraft, 1958 saw the delivery of the American Thor IRBM to the RAF. The missiles were flown into RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk in USAF Globemaster transport aircraft and then transported by road to the launch sites.
Project Emily was then born and twenty sites were chosen to house the new missiles. In 1958 No.144(SM) Sqn North Luffenham reformed with No 254(SM) Sqn being reformed at Melton Mowbray on 1st December 1959. The other satellite sites being No 130(SM) Sqn Polebrook Northamptonshire, No 223(SM) Sqn Folkingham Lincolnshire and No 218(SM) Sqn Harrington Northamptonshire. (SM stands for Strategic Missile). Each of the five stations were equipped with a Thor missile complex housing 3 missiles and came under the control of Bomber Command.
The HQ was at a permanent station, in this case North Luffenham, as well as being the HQ it was also responsible for the care and maintenance of the satellite sites and their missiles. The dispersed sites were erected in the middle of disused wartime airfields and the contract for the construction work was given to Monks Construction Company.
No 254 Squadron was reformed as a unit of No 3 Group Bomber Command on 1st December 1959 at RAF North Lufenham and its task was to operate the Thor missile from the disused former RAF airfield at Melton Mowbray. Following reformation, the Squadron became known as No 254 (SM) Squadron .
The crest for No 254(SM) Sqn shows a Raven, with its wings endorsed and inverted. The motto “Fljuga vakta ok ljosto” when translated means “To fly, to watch and to strike” refers back to when the squadron was initially formed in August 1918 at a Coastal Reconnaissance station and was employed on anti-submarine patrols.
No 151(S.A.M.) Wing, Fighter Command was formed equipped with Bloodhound missiles to provide anti-aircraft defence for the Thor sites. No 62 Sqn was reformed on 1st Feb 1960 at RAF Woolfox Lodge in Rutland, No 257 Sqn was reformed on 1st July 1960 at RAF Warboys, Hunts and the Wing HQ was based at RAF North Luffenham. These missiles which were the first to become operational in the Western world using continuous wave radar guidance systems, were intended to operate in conjunction with the Hunter and Javelin aircraft already operated by Fighter Command in the Air Defence role.
The squadron consisted of three Thor missiles, each on a launch emplacement and the Squadron establishment as follows: Sqn Ldr D F Liddle, Squadron Commander, and 5 Flt Lts, G A Boston, G F Craig, K G Shaw, J Waiting and W P Wallington.
Each of the Flt Lts commanded a launch crew consisting of one Flight Sergeant or Warrant Officer Master Aircrew as the Launch Monitor Console Operator, three technicians as Missile Maintenance Technicians, one Power Production Operator, four Firemen, four Cooks, eighteen Policemen and one Clerk, all of which were RAF personnel.
The RAF launch crews had to undertake training courses to maintain this new weapon system. Personnel who joined the Thor force had to undertake approximately 20 separate courses which were held in different parts of America and lasted anywhere between two and twelve weeks. The main locations were Tucsan in Arizona and Vandenberg in California.
Following the Sqn reformation, the first task for the RAF personnel was to undertake refresher training from 18th January 1960 to 8th March 1960 at RAF North Luffenham and RAF Feltwell. During this period, the contractors continued to install the equipment for the launch pads and where possible, Sqn personnel assisted when they weren’t on training.
The Thor sites were subject to a number of “Ban the Bomb” demonstrations by groups from the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. Melton was subjected to several such protests with one taking place on the 18th/19th June 1959 and another on the 27th February 1960, when a protest march was undertaken from Leicester to RAF Melton Mowbray. It is reported that the protest was ignored by the squadron personnel on advice from the civilian police and following a few speeches made by the protesters, it terminated peacefully.
The Newcastle Evening Chronicle published the following article on the Friday 19th June 1959 edition:
“Rocket site protest party stays
Miss Pat Arrowsmith and her companions of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War were today still picketing the main gate of the rocket site near Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire) where last night they demonstrated.
After the demonstrators had been warned they would be trespassing If they attempted to break In, Miss Arrowsmith the field organiser led her followers off along the road. Half a mile away they found a second unmarked gate.
Some of the demonstrators climbed over and with banners held aloft began marching towards the site. Five others stayed at the gate handing out leaflets. Police picked up the unresisting demonstrators who had sat down and carried them to the perimeter.
The demonstrators then pitched tents on the roadside verge. Today four members of the committee were still there. Miss Arrowsmith proposes to stay on until the workers knocked off at the end of the day.
The Torbay Express and South Devon Echo also published an article on the same day:
“Pat stays `on duty’
Miss Pat Arrowsmith, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. G. K Arrowsmith, of Torquay, and her companions of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, who last night demonstrated at a rocket Site near Melton Mowbray (Leics.) were to-day still picketing the main gate.
The demonstration started last might with pickets and police talking over cups of tea.
When the demonstrators started marching towards the site, Air Ministry and civil police moved round to block off their route and warned them to leave. Miss Arrowsmith and her followers promptly sat down.
Police picked up the unresisting demonstrators, and, with Miss Arrowsmith laughingly apologising for her weight, carried them to the perimeter. They then went back for the tents which the invaders had been carrying handed them over.
Local farmer Bill Johnston recalls one incident at Melton when he was in his tractor delivering a trailer full of manure to the airfield and when he arrived at the Crown Hill gate at the Great Dalby end of the airfield and protester Pat Arrowsmith was lying down in the road to prevent access to the site. The Police had to be called to remove her and allow him access to the site.
Bill used to help cut the grass on the airfield and remembers one day when he was a passenger on a tractor when they stopped off for a T break at the NAAFI Wagon. As they were sat enjoying their brew, Bill recalls how he was given a bar of chocolate from a black American serviceman.
During March 1960, the squadron took partial control of the equipment from the contractors and 24 hour watch keeping began on the 8th March 1960. The installation programme was completed by the 8th April and the RAF squadron personnel took full control. The squadron was represented by Flt Lt Wellington, Sgt Gibson, Cpl Techs Barron and Chatfield at the official handing over ceremonial parade at RAF North Luffenham on the 5th May 1960.
In June 1960, Flt Lt Waiting organised two large fire practices on the site involving both RAF personnel based at the site along with the civilian fire brigades from Melton Mowbray and Oakham so they could be familiarised with the site fire hazards.
The operational capability of the system was proven by carrying out a number of “Combat Training Launches”. The procedure for this was to remove an ageing missile from its launch pad, remove the nuclear warhead and fly the missile to America. A new missile would be positioned on the launch pad so that a full complement was always kept. The ageing missile would be set up on a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and fired down the Pacific Missile Range. Three of these launches were carried out by crews from the Luffenham complex. The first ‘North Luffenham’ Combat Training Launch was carried out in October 1960 by Flt Lt E G Shaw and his crew from 254(SM) Sqn RAF Melton Mowbray.
Any launch order, simulated or otherwise, had to be authenticated by the RAF and USAF officers at Bomber Command HQ, High Wycombe, where Seventh Air Division’s HQ was also located, using a special and highly secret code. Operation of the Thor required a lengthy countdown procedure, so in time of war the system required considerable warning of impending enemy activity; on average, the sequence required something like 15 minutes from receipt of the positive launch order. At that point the RAF launch Control Officer turned a phase sequence key to initiate a fully automatic sequence of events:-
Phase 1: All equipment and targeting data checked. Countdown sequence initiated
Phase 2: Shelter retracted and missile erected. Targeting data entered.
Phase 3: Missile loaded with fuel. Target data and missile valves rechecked
Phase 4: Missile functions transferred to internal power source and missile topped up with liquid oxygen (LOX) if required.
Another ‘North Luffenham’ Combat Training Launch was carried out in August 1961 and was rather unique. Back home in the UK, a campaign was underway by ‘Rutlanders’ to try and prevent their tiny county being overtaken by its larger neighbour Leicestershire. The launch crews were aware of this and slapped a “Hands off Rutland” sticker on the nose of the missile and as they watched the launch on TV, they saw the Rutland campaign go into orbit. The third launch was on 19 June 1962. All three launches were a success and proved the operational aspects of both the missile and the RAF crews.
On the 23rd November 1960, there was a security alert at the Melton Thor site when a light aircraft landed on the disused runway. The aircraft as rapidly surrounded by the duty police patrol and security alert measures were set in motion by the duty officer Flt Lt Wallington. The alert ceased when it transpired that the occupants of the light aircraft were two Frenchmen who were unsure of their position had landed at what they believed to be RAF Cottesmore.
At 05:30Hrs on the 4th December 1961, No 245(SM) Sqn received an issue of ‘Alert Condition 3’ from Bomber Command Operations Centre as part of the Bomber Command Exercise “Redouble”. When the alert was received, the Squadron was engaged in carrying out periodic maintenance inspections on the launch pads. One pad had power supply issues and a second was at Standby and brought to Exercise Ready state in seven minutes with a second following at 11:07Hrs and the third at 22:05Hrs. During the exercise, the Squadron carried out 5 countdowns and the exercise was terminated at 12:06Hrs on the 5th December.
Exercise “Redouble” was a Bomber Command twice yearly exercise testing the Thor force integration within the Bomber Command alert and readiness procedures. The exercise required all launch emplacements to be placed in Exercise Ready condition, meaning off duty crews had to be called back from leave, stand-down etc as the Launch Crews were doubled up and working 12 hour shifts.
Another method of testing the Thor force and its crews was the annual Exercise Mayshot which was the IRBM component of the Exercise Mayflight series. These exercises were designed to test the Bomber Command alert and readiness procedures, similar to that undertaken in Exercise Redouble. As the Thor force was already at constant alert at T-15. the only additional thing that could be tested was the time taken to augment the launch crews. However, Mayshot was a planned exercise with the Sqns having prior knowledge of when it would be executed and as such the crews did not see this exercise as a realistic test of their procedures.
Meltonian, Dave Page joined the RAF in June 1959 as a National Service Policeman. After doing his basic training at RAF Bridgenorth in Shropshire and trade training at RAF Netheravon, Wiltshire he passed out as a Cpl Policeman and was posted to RAF North Luffenham. Dave was pleased with his posting as he was born and bred in Melton.
While stationed at North Luffenham, Dave was responsible for the security of the Thor sites, including the satellite stations. When on duty at Melton, he lived at home with his parents. Dave recalls that the Thor sites were surrounded by two chain link fences with barbed wire tops. These fences ran parallel around the site with a 10m ‘sterile area’ between the two high coils of barbed wire were set up against the outer fence to prevent anyone climbing the fence.
While on duty he was armed with a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with six rounds. As well as guard room duties, he was duties involved mobile patrols of the perimeter fence, both on foot and in a Land Rover.
While on duty he was armed with a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with six rounds. As well as guard room duties, he was duties involved mobile patrols of the perimeter fence, both on foot and in a Land Rover.
One of the tasks for the RAF Police protecting the Thor sites was carrying out security checks on other sites where the police would pretend to be intruders and try and gain access to the sites. In August 1962, No 254 (SM) Sqn was subjected to one such attack and three potential ‘intruders’ were captured within the sterile area. Some of the intruder attacks were more successful than other. A few weeks earlier, B Crew were on duty on the 31st July when the site was attacked by the so called intruders. They admitted that they had managed to gain entry to the site and escape detection for almost half an hour but confirmed that they were unable to penetrate onto any of the launch pads or vital points due to the general busy activity by the site personnel.
The Cuba crisis in 1962 saw both the V-Force and the Thor Force at operational readiness. Across East Anglia, American pilots were strapped in their nuclear-armed aircraft at ‘cockpit readiness. RAF V-bombers were loaded with thermonuclear weapons and held on heightened Quick Reaction Alert at RAF Bases across East Anglia and Lincolnshire.
In addition to the V-force being put on readiness, the 60 Thor launch pads across Eastern England, had their launch crews doubled in strength and the missiles themselves were prepared for firing. On the 27th October 1962, No 254(SM) Sqn was called to Alert Condition ‘ Phase’ 3 with all of Meltons three missiles fully loaded with fuel, their target data and missile valves were rechecked and kept on hold at the end of Phase 3 with the hangars rolled back. It would have taken only a further two or three minutes to complete Phases 4 and 5. With the easing of political tensions, Bomber Command released the missile readiness state to Alert Condition 4 on the 5th November.
A Group Captain in charge of one of the Thor HQ sites recalled some 30 years later “Perhaps the worst thing was to realise that the station and dispersed sites would be hit and destroyed shortly after we had fired our own missiles, or before, if the Russians chose to make a pre-emptive strike. Although I chose not to think too much about it, while the crises was on, it was a great relief when the Air Officer Commanding Group rang to say the heat was off.”
Meltonian Ivan Farmer recalls his days on Thor missiles, although he was based at RAF Feltwell and not Melton: “The Cuban missile crises did change the atmosphere at RAF Feltwell and the other Thor bases. It was the same for everyone at the V-bomber bases too. You took it in your stride but there was a feeling that we may not be long long for this world. WE tried to keep up with it through the radio and the newspapers. We were put on 12 hour shifts and they doubled the number of safety officers to certify the launch codes. There was one lengthy ‘operational hold’ during the confrontation. It was a very tense period. In the local village, the local landlord complained that his pub was empty as no one came in during the crisis.”
Only the most rudimentary plans existed to protect the population and these relied on days of prior notice if they were going to be implemented effectively. Many years after the crises ended, it became clear that the Home Office had done nothing to activate the Civil Defence plans. I wonder how many of the local residents of Melton Mowbray, and other villages surrounding the missile base realised just how much danger they were in?
On the 25th July 1963 a party of 48 Air Training Corps cadets who were on camp at RAF Cottesmore visited the site. During their 2 hour visit, they conducted tours of the various areas of the Weapons System with he cadets watching a countdown demonstration on emplacement 57.
The Thor’s reign as the countries nuclear deterrent was a short one, and the missiles ceased to be operational in August 1963 which led to the closure of Melton. The Luffenham complex was the last to close when on the 15th August the site ceased to be operational and No 254 (SM) Sqn disbanded on the 23rd.
An order of the day to Thor squadrons and stations from Air Marshall Sir Kenneth Cross, AOC-in-C, Bomber Command said: “You have maintained a higher rate of readiness in peacetime than has ever been achieved before in the history of the armed forces of the Crown.” Mr. Hugh Fraser, Secretary of State for Air, also sent a message of appreciation to Bomber Command.
When the airfield was finally vacated by the RAF in 1964, most of the facilities including the hangars were dismantled, but the Control Tower survived although derelict until about 1970 when it was demolished.
Following the retirement from service of the missiles, the majority were returned to the US to be used in the space exploration program, either as single stage boosters or in combination with various upper stages, mainly in association with the Telstar, Pioneer and Discoverer programmes. However, you can still see two examples of the Thor here in the UK with one being on display in the Cold War display at the RAF Museum Cosford and the other can be found in the Space Centre at Leicester
The Thor missile site at the former RAF North Luffenham has been given a Grade II* listing as a reminder of the “knife-edge moment in history”. The site is one of two of the most intact examples of Thor missile bases in England, the other is at the former RAF Harrington in Northamptonshire – now mainly farmland -– which is Grade II listed. The concrete launch pads and blast walls still remain at the former Rutland RAF base, along with mounting bolts for the platforms that would raise the missiles into a vertical firing position.
For more information visit the Historic England site to see their listing entries for the former missile sites at North Luffenhamand Harrington
Tony Calladine, English Heritage’s designation team leader for the east of England, said: “Melton Mowbray wasn’t put on the list because it didn’t survive well enough. Only those which have survived most intact were selected.
“Oh Happy Days” – Melton resident Mike Mayfield has clear recollections of the missiles:
“I can clearly recall visiting my Grandma’s farm at the top of Cuckoo Hill, between Stapleford Lane and the road to Whissendine, and on many a summer’s evening whilst hay making or harvesting, looking across towards Melton Airfield from the high vantage point, and seeing all 3 missiles in an elevated position and floodlit. Quite a sight as darkness fell!
A more direct and intimate reminder happened in the summer of either 1964 or 65. I was a student at Leicester College studying Quantity Surveying, and being unable to get temporary work in the Building Industry in Melton during the summer holidays, I found employment with Mr. George Houghton of Leesthorpe, a well-known gentleman farmer and Leicestershire County Councillor.
George had the grass mowing rights at RAF North Luffenham, and for 6-8 weeks we would leave Leesthorpe every morning with about 6 or 8 Fordson Major tractors pulling either 1 or 2 four wheeled trailers- quite a sight driving over the level crossing and through the centre of Oakham with a ‘long train of trailers behind’.
Each morning we checked in at the Guardroom at the main gates, and whoever was first there would purchase the tickets for lunch in the Airmen’s Mess, at a cost of 3 shillings and 6 pence in old money!!
After a morning of mowing, turning and baling hay, followed by a huge lunch in the said Mess, half of the afternoon was spent lounging around on a stack of bales reading the Daily Mirror or similar newspaper.
To get to the point, we in fact worked round all the missile bases, dodging in and around the blast walls etc and avoiding the open duct ways. Needless to say the missiles had long gone, but there was still evidence of their former presence.
We also worked in the Airfield’s ammunition compound, where we had to open up, enter and lock ourselves in for the day.
At the end of each working day we would load up the trailers and wend our way back to Leesthorpe, needless to say 1 loaded trailer was enough to tow on the return journey. I can recall one of the drivers losing his load somewhere between leaving Langham and descending Three Step Hill.
Coming from a farming background it was a very happy and interesting experience that summer, accompanied by exceptionally hot weather as I recall. Oh Happy Days!!”
You are all undoubtedly aware of the sayings/speeches that are made at times of Remembrance and these are generally referred to as The Kohima Epitaph and The Exhortation.
The Kohima Epitaph is the epitaph carved on the Memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima (North-East India). It reads:
‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’
The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greeks who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.
The Exhortation is an extract from a poem written in mid-September 1914, just a few weeks after the outbreak of World War One, by Robert Laurence Binyon called “For the Fallen”.
The Exhortation is read out during Remembrance Ceremonies, immediately after the Last Post is played, and leads into the Two Minute Silence.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.”
Response: “We will remember them.”
But how do we remember them?
Away from the Remembrance Ceremonies, everyone has their own way of remembering their fallen relatives and one method, especially for the families of those who never returned was, and still is today, via the erection of war memorials.
What is a war memorial though?
A war memorial can be any tangible object which has been erected or dedicated to commemorate war, conflict, victory or peace. They can also commemorate casualties who served in, were affected by or killed as a result of war, conflict or peacekeeping; or those who died as a result of accident or disease whilst engaged in military service. This can also include civilian casualties and not just service personnel.
War memorials can come in many different shapes and sizes, such as:
Boards, plaques and tablets (inside or outside a building)
Roll of Honour or Book of Remembrance
Community halls, hospitals, bus shelters, clock towers, streets etc
Church fittings like bells, pews, lecterns, lighting, windows, altars, screens, candlesticks, etc
Trophies and relics like a preserved gun or the wreckage at an aircraft crash site
Land, including parks, gardens, playing fields and woodland
Additions to gravestones (but not graves)
I suppose you could say that one of the first national war memorials in this country was The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. In 1681, responding to the need to look after these soldiers, King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to care for those ‘broken by age or war’.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building and in 1692 work was finally completed and the first Chelsea Pensioners were admitted in February 1692 and by the end of March the full complement of 476 were in residence.
War memorials can be found in just about every town or village across the country. There are so many First World War memorials in this country that it is easy to stop seeing them. For the majority of people, they just walk past them as if the memorial is so much part of everyday street furniture without even giving it a second glance. Even direct descendants of those named on them don’t pay that much attention to them.
Probably the most iconic war memorial in this country, and the one that most individuals are familiar with is The Cenotaph, located on Whitehall in Central London. It is the countries national memorial to the dead of Britain and the British Empire in the First World War and conflicts that have taken place since and is the focal point of the annual service of remembrance.
The Cenotaph was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens OM, the foremost architect of his day and was responsible for many of the commemorative structures built in the years following World War One by the Imperial War Graves Commission, now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Another famous war memorial that people will be aware of, but not necessarily associate it as a war memorial is another of London’s iconic landmarks, Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square. The monument was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It stands, 169 feet 3 inches tall from the bottom of the pedestal base to the top of Nelsons hat.
There are four bronze panels around the pedestal each cast from captured French guns. They depict the Battle of Cape St Vincent (14th February 1797), the Battle of the Nile (1st – 3rd August 1798), the Battle of Copenhagen (2nd April 1801) and the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805), all battles in which Nelson took part in.
Prior to the 1890s, the majority of war memorials across the country only commemorated aristocrats, the rich and famous who became officers of the British Army and Royal Navy.
However, in 1899 and the outbreak of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), regular soldiers were in short supply and volunteers stepped forward into the breach by joining the local volunteers Militia.
Thousands of these so called ‘amateur’ Militia volunteers were killed during the campaign, and those that returned home following the end of the war, were hailed as heroes as they had survived conflicts like the Sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley.
Consequently, thousands of Boer War memorials were erected up and down the country ranging from brass plaques to large elaborate sculptures in town centers. Whatever their design, they all had the same purpose of commemorating not only those Officers from well to do families but also the ‘common’ soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice from either being killed in action or dying of illness contracted whilst serving in South Africa.
One such example of a Boer War memorial can be found in my local Parish Church of St Mary’s here in the market town of Melton Mowbray where I live.
On Saturday 20th December 1902, The Grantham Journal published the following article in their newspaper:
“Honour to Whom Honour is Due”—The memory of Meltonians who sacrificed their lives in the South African war is to be perpetuated by a splendid brass tablet, suitably inscribed, which is to be placed in the Parish Church, probably the nave. The names of the seven who fell, and which will appear on the tablet, are Privates John Lowe, Wm. Manchester, Wm. Redmile, and John Henry Green, Troopers Edward Dobson and Ernest Alfred Baker, and Bugler Albert Edward Peasgood, of Oakham, a member the Melton Volunteer Corps. The matter is in the hands of Mr. Willcox, who has collected most of the subscriptions for the purpose, a ready response being made in this respect. Work is in the hands of Messrs. J. Wippall and Co., of Exeter and London, and the tablet, which will be of an ornamental character, will be mounted a polished slab of black marble. The Vicar has kindly agreed to forego the fee of ten guineas which is entitled in respect of fixing of the tablet in the Church. It is expected that it will be ready towards the end of the month of February, and it will be unveiled at a special service arranged for the occasion, which will be attended by the local Volunteers and Yeomanry. A special effort is being made among the Volunteers in the matter of subscriptions the fund for memorial, and Sergt. J. Sutherland has undertaken to receive the same.
A special unveiling ceremony for the dedication of the memorial was held on Sunday 15th March 1903.
The brass plaque is described as “Containing a cross with red infill, encircled by a crown within nowy head & a cross at each corner fixing point, all infilled in black. An engraved single-line, inwardly radiused, at each corner, forms a border around inscription area, with a decorative open termination at top centre within nowy head.”
THIS TABLET WAS PLACED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION IN MEMORY OF THOSE FROM THIS TOWN WHO DIED SERVING THEIR COUNTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA PRIVATE JOHN LOWE DIED OF ENTERIC AT LADYSMITH 6th MARCH 1900 AGED 23 YEARS BUGLER ALBERT EDWARD PEASGOOD A NATIVE OF OAKHAM DIED OF ENTERIC AT KROONSTAD 27th MAY 1900 AGED 19 YEARS PRIVATE WILLIAM MANCHESTER DIED OF THROMBOSIS AT SPRINGFONTEIN 12th DECEMBER 1900 AGED 28 YEARS TROOPER EDWARD DOBSON KILLED IN ACTION NEAR WELVERDIERED 24th DECEMBER 1900 AGED 20 YEARS TROOPER ERNEST ALFRED BAKER DIED OF ENTERIC AT KROONSTAD 1st JUNE 1901 AGED 18 YEARS PRIVATE WILLIAM REDMILE DIED OF ENTERIC AT ALIWAL NORTH 14th SEPTEMBER 1902 AGED 18 YEARS PRIVATE JOHN HENRY GREEN DIED 12th SEPEMBER 1902 UPON HIS RETURN HOME FROM DISEASE CONTRACTED IN SOUTH AFRIVA AGED 22 YEARS
“WHEN THE PEOPLE OFFERED THEMSELVES WILLINGLY” “HONOUR TO WHOM HONOUR IS DUE”
As part of the unveiling ceremony, a parade of the Melton Mowbray volunteers took place including the Melton and Gaddesby troops of the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry, twenty-nine members of the Oakham detachment of “N” Company of the Leicestershire Volunteers, under Sergt. J. C. Kernick and the Church Lads Brigade and a regimental band from Leicester was also in attendance.
A large congregation assembled in the Church and the unveiling ceremony was performed by General Brocklehurst who raised a toast to the King and an appropriate dissertation was also read by the vicar, Rev R Blakeney.
After the unveiling, the Last Post, and the anthem ‘Blest are the departed’ by Spohr was sung by the choir.
Another example of a Boer War memorial is that which can be found in the Town Hall Square Leicester on the corner of Every Street & Horsefair Street. This memorial takes on a different for to the plaque in St Mary’s and is a low granite wall with bronze plaques containing the names of 315 of Leicestershire’s men who died in the war. It is made up of a central squat pedestal with bronze kneeling angel in flowing robes holding sword and olive branch, showing Peace. Figures of grief & war are also mounted on the end pillars.
I have been interested in war memorials for just short of 40 years now and this stems back to when I was a young cadet of around 13 or 14 years of age with No 967 Kirkham and South Fylde Sqn Air Training Corps.
I can’t remember the exact year, but as I said previously, I must have been around 13 or 14 when I was given the honour of laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday at my local war memorial at Wesham in Lancashire.
Believe me, it was an honour, as on that memorial is the name of my Uncle, Frank Coulburn, who was a Sapper serving with No 9 Field Company, Royal Engineers during WW2 and he was killed at Dunkirk on 2nd June 1940, last seen on the beach during the evacuation. Sadly, his body has never been recovered, or if it was, never identified and as such he has no known grave.
On what I think was the same year, I was also part of the Guard of Honour at the Kirkham War Memorial, being one of four cadets, one stood on each corner of the memorial during the wreath laying ceremony. The town Mayor and other local dignitaries laid the wreaths whilst us cadets stood there with our heads bowed and our Lee Enfield .303 rifles in the arms reversed position in an act of remembrance, a pose that is quite common with figures of military personnel on war memorials, just like the one at Wesham.
During my travels across the UK, and even overseas, when I come across a war memorial, I will always pay it a visit, read the inscription and take photographs of it. There are plenty of the memorials that are lovingly cared for and maintained by local authorities and communities. Sadly though, this is not always the case as it was slowly dawning on me that a lot of these memorials were either neglected or suffering from effects such as weathering, pollution, and in some cases vandalism.
Coming across quite a few memorials that, shall we say were not in the best of conditions for whatever reason, I decided several years ago to join the War Memorials Trust as a member and also as a Regional Volunteer to ‘do my bit’ and try to ensure that “We will remember them” and the individuals named on the memorial inscriptions are “Not Forgotten.”
Throughout the United Kingdom, there are estimated to be over 100,000war memorials. They were, and still are today, erected by communities and in the majority of cases via public subscription as a means for communities to focus their grief and provide a means of Remembrance because so many who died or are classed as missing were never repatriated or have no known grave.
As I have discovered during my travels, many memorials are treasured, maintained and cared for with maintenance plans in place, but others are sadly neglected, vandalised or left to suffer the effects of ageing and weathering.
This is where the War Memorials Trust comes in. They want to ensure that each and every memorial is preserved and the memory of the individuals recorded, whether they be from past or present conflict, civilian or service personnel, remembered.
Who are the War Memorials Trust?
Back in 1997 an ex-Royal Marine, by the name of Ian Davidson, went to one of the Committee Rooms at the House of Commons to report on the ‘scandal’ of Britain’s war memorials.
Ian Davidson shocked those in attendance with his report that although the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was doing a magnificent job caring for the graves and memorials to our war dead abroad (post 1914), no one – and no organization – took responsibility for the care of Britain’s war memorials at home, estimated to number more than 50,000 at the time.
As a fall out from this meeting, a new organisation known originally as Friends of War Memorials was formed, changing its name to War Memorials Trust in January 2005.
The War Memorials Trust works with communities, supporting them to provide care for their war memorials which remain a shared ongoing tribute and responsibility. They encourage best conservation practice giving the greatest chance of preserving the original war memorials as they were seen by those who lost loved ones. As current custodians we are acting today not just for ourselves but for those who went before, and will come after, us.
As a charity War Memorials Trust provides advice, offers grants and works with others to achieve its objectives. But it needs help as it relies entirely on voluntary donations to enable it to protect and conserve war memorials in the UK. Gifts, subscriptions, grants and in-kind contributions all assist the charity to achieve its aims and objectives.
The war memorial in the village of Great Dalby near Melton Mowbray commemorates 11 men of the village who died in the Great War and it was unveiled on 25 July 1920. In 2006 a project was undertaken on the memorial to restore it to its former glory. The fence surrounding the memorial needed to be repaired to ensure it was safe and the War Memorials Trust contributed £215 towards this work.
Egerton Lodge War Memorial Gardens are part of landscaped gardens surrounding Egerton Lodge, a grade II listed residential home for the elderly in Melton Mowbray.
In 2008, the War Memorials Trust gave a grant of £2,500 towards the restoration of the terrace. This included cleaning the balustrade and re-pointing the structure with lime mortar. Additionally, the tarmac surface of the upper terrace was replaced with stone paving. The York paving slabs had originally been used on the platform of the Great Northern Station on Scalford Road, Melton, until it’s closed in 1953. When the war memorial was restored in 2008/9, it was decided to use the stone labs on the upper terrace as it was deemed appropriate that those who gathered on the terrace to honour the towns fallen heroes would be standing on the same slabs as some of those who did not return may have stood during their embarkation when they went off to war.
The War Memorials Trust also relies on the efforts of volunteer Contributors to report on the condition of war memorials around the country. These volunteers used to be called Regional Volunteers and they looked after the memorials in their County but that volunteering scheme has now ended as more and more members of the public are also contributing.
If you want to get involved in any way, to help protect and conserve our nation’s war memorial heritage, you can join the Trust as a member. Members donate either an annual subscription of £20 or make a one-off payment of £150 for life membership.
Alternatively, you can get involved by volunteering and reporting on the condition of our war memorials. You can do this by registering online with their War Memorials Onlinewebsite and then submit photos and condition reports of any war memorials you come across.
On the 13th May 1944, another fatal crash occurred near Melton this time involving an Airspeed Oxford Mk.I DF517 from No. 1655 Mosquito Training Unit (MTU), killing all four crew members, of which two had been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
No 1655 MTU (which operated Mosquito Mk. IV and Oxford Mk. I aircraft at that time) was based at RAF Warboys in Cambridgeshire and was part of No. 8 Pathfinder Force. The purpose of 1655 MTU was to train Mosquito crews in the use of Oboe and they did this throughout 1944 and in early 1945.
Oboe training was a six week course for pilots and observers who were eventually sent on to No’s 105 and 109 Squadrons for Oboe marking duties, most were on their second tour. The Pilots at 1655 MTU had to learn how to fly a Mosquito whilst the Observers were being taught Pathfinder navigation and marking techniques.
Oboe was a British aerial blind bombing system in World War II, based on radio transponder technology. The system consisted of a pair of radio transmitters on the ground, which sent signals which were received and retransmitted by a transponder in the aircraft. By comparing the time each signal took to reach the aircraft, the distance between the aircraft and the station could be determined. The Oboe operators then sent radio signals to the aircraft to bring them onto their target and properly time the release of their bombs.
The system was first used in December 1941 in short-range attacks over France where the necessary line of sight could be maintained. To attack the valuable industrial targets in the Ruhr, only the de Havilland Mosquito flew high enough to be visible to the ground stations at that distance. Such operations began in 1942, when Pathfinder squadron Mosquitos used Oboe both to mark targets for heavy bombers, as well as for direct attacks on high-value targets.
DF517 took off from RAF Warboys on a training flight at 14.55 hours on 13th May 1944 and after coming out of cloud cover, the aircraft was out of control and disintegrated in mid-air, crashing at 16.08 hours, near the Great Dalby railway station.
It was assumed that loss of control had occurred through icing up of instruments on the aircraft, or turbulent conditions in cloud, and that the complete structural failure was a result of severe overstressing, although this could not be proved. All four members of the crew were killed in the accident, and the bodies of the RAF personnel were taken to Melton Mowbray Mortuary. The crew of DF517 was Fg Off GH Bowen, Flt Lt AEH Cattle, Flt Lt M McIver DFC and Fg Off GG Halestrap DFC.
Fg Off Geoffrey Hugh Bowen was the 1st pilot and was commissioned as Plt Off on probation within RAF(VR) GD Branch wef 27th Oct 1943 supplement to London Gazette 21 Dec 1943. Geoffrey was the Son of Percival and Mary A. Bowen (nee Smith), of West Cross, Swansea. He was educated at Tenby Council School and at Greenhill School prior to enlisting into the Royal Air Force. He is buried at Swansea (Oystermouth) Cemetery. Geoffrey is not commemorated on the main Tenby War Memorial, but at both his former Schools. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
Flt Lt Aubrey Edward Henderson Cattle was the 2nd pilot aboard DF517. He had previously served on No 214 (Federate Malaya States) Squadron. He had worked his way up through the ranks as According to London Gazette 28/4/1942, awarded rank of Temp WO wef 5 Mar 42 RAFVR GD Branch. He had completed 1,245 Flying hours across all types, of which 95.30 Hrs were on the Oxford. He is buried Sec. T. Grave 70. Southend-On-Sea (Leigh-On-Sea) Cemetery. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
Flt Lt Malcolm McIver DFC was one of the navigators aboard DF517. He was born in Toronto on the 4th Feb 1920 and was the son of Scottish parents Murdoch McIver and his wife Mary (nee Glenn). He had two brothers, Murdoch Glenn McIver, who served as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Infantry and John Samuel McIver who was a Sgt in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He also had four sisters, Catherine Margaret, Jean, Mary and Agnes Isabel.
Malcolm enlisted on the 20th May 1941 joining the No 23 Basic TC as part of the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) and was allocated Regimental Number B-610642. His occupation was listed as School teacher. On the 24th July 1941, he was struck off strength from the NRMA and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force and allocated service number J/11107.
He completed his initial training at Victoriaville, Quebec Trained at No.3 ITS, graduating on 7th October 1941. He then completed his Air Observers course on 19th January 1942 before moving onto his Armament Training Course at the No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School located at Jarvis, Ontario, which he completed on 28th February 1942. Next was learning how t become an Air Observer and so he moved to the No.10 Air Observer School at Pannfield Ridge for Advanced Air Observer training and graduated on 30th March 1942 with the award of his Observers Badge.
Malcolm had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross – No. 106 Squadron – Award effective 4 October 1943 as per London Gazette dated 15 October 1943 and AFRO 2610/43 dated 17 December 1943. DFC Citation “This officer has completed a tour of operational duty during which he has displayed outstanding ability and the greatest keenness and enthusiasm for his work. He has taken part in attacks on many of the major targets in the Ruhr Valley as well as the more distant objectives in Germany and Italy. He participated in a successful attack on Friedrichshafen and returning from North Africa materially assisted his pilot in the raid on Spezia. Flying Officer McIver has performed his navigational duties with skill, accuracy and steadiness, setting a fine example to the other navigators in the squadron.”
Flt Lt Malcolm McIver was buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery, at 15:00Hrs on the 19th May 1944. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
Fg Off Geoffrey George Halestrap DFC was also a Navigator and was the son of Fred Francis Henry and Gladys Mary Elizabeth Halestrap, of Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey.
His Distinguished Flying Cross award was Gazetted on 7th December 1943, there was no citation but the entry read: “Flying Officer Geoffrey George HALESTRAP (127308), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No 192 Squadron.”
Geoffrey is buried in Sec. W. Grave 4171 Thorpe Road Cemetery and his funeral took place at 15:00Hrs 18th May 1944 and according tot he RAF Melton Mowbray Operational Record Book, was attended by his next of kin. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of WW2 ending in 1945 and the celebrations begin with #VEDay75, the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe (more commonly known as VE Day) on the 8th May, I take a look at the story of RAF Melton Mowbray and its role during WW2.
As you go from Melton Mowbray to Great Dalby along the B6047 road, the airfield is on your right and the road was once part of the perimeter track. The airfield was built in the early 1940s as part of the Royal Air Force expansion during the Second world War.
The original plan for RAF Melton Mowbray was for it to become a Maintenance Command Station, but by the time it opened on 1st August 1943 control had been given to No 44 Group, Transport Command.
It was designed, with the intention of it eventually becoming an operational bomber station, as it was built with two bulk fuel installations. This was the usual provision for fuel installations on operational bomber stations. The two tank units, each holding the maximum 72,000 gallons was policy for operational units which had to store enough fuel for six weeks of intensive operations.
One of the first serviceman to arrive at the new unit was Flt Lt J Milton (Equip) who performed the duties of the Senior Equipment Officer, and it was his job to arrange for the supply of stores. Sqn Ldr R J Sanceau (G.D.) was posted in and became the first Commanding Officer of the new unit. Once the NAAFI was built and the camp had been certified fit for use by a Senior Medical Officer the Permanent Staff would be posted in.
During August 1943, the units strength of personnel increased to 12 Officers and 123 Airmen and Airwomen who were employed on routine work, preparing the station for the arrival of the aircraft.
The newly opened station was inspected on 6th August by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO. Back in 1941 when he was AOC in C Coastal Command, he used his knowledge of the sea and plotted the Bismarck’s likely course. This resulted in a Catalina being sent to search the area, successfully finding it resulting in the Bismarck sinking on the 27th May 1941.
The newly opened airfield was again inspected on 1st September, this time by The Air Officer Commanding No 44 Group, Air Commodore Kingston-McCloughly CBE, DSO & DFC.
The first unit to arrive was No 4 Overseas Aircraft Preparation Unit (OAPU) which handled various types of aircraft including Spitfires, Mosquitoes, Corsairs, Vengeances, Hellcats & Halifaxes.
Wing Commander B A Oakley arrived at Melton on September 4th and took over command of No 4 OAPU and the station from Sqn Ldr R J Sanceau.
John McCafferty was an airframe fitter who was posted to No 4 OAPU B Flight as an LAC after returning to the UK from a tour in West Africa. He arrived at Melton during November 1943 and he remembers that all new arrivals spent their first 7 days on duty crash crew at the watch tower, or to use its modern name the control tower, before proceeding to their respective flights.
As the title of the unit suggests, No 4 OAPU was responsible for prepping aircraft and dispatching them to overseas units. A large number of modifications were required to convert a Spitfire for tropical operations. These included the deletion of two lower engine cowling panels, the standard oil tank had to be replaced with one of a larger capacity, the air intake fairings were replaced, a tropical air filter was fitted and fixed fittings were installed to accomodate the additional fuel tanks known as either ‘overload’ tanks or ‘slipper’ tanks.
Slipper tanks came in various sizes, ranging from 30 gallons up to 170 gallons, and it was the 170 gallon tank that was fitted to Spitfires for ferry flights. The advantage of the 170 gallon tank was obvious, but it did have its disadvantages. The shear size of the tank, which was fitted to the underside of the fuselage behind the air intake caused an increase in drag, which subsequently made the aircraft very difficult to fly unless flying straight and level. Another problem was that the guns and ammunition had to be removed due to the extra weight that the aircraft was carrying, This subsequently meant that the ferry aircraft were prone to attack from enemy aircraft after the fighter escorts had left them at the Bay of Biscay. The guns and ammunition would be refitted when the aircraft reached its destination.
After carrying out the modifications to the aircraft as part of the preparation for overseas tours, John remembers the codeword ‘SNAKE’ being painted on the fuselage of the aircraft. Quite often, as the aircraft stopped off on route to refuel, resident squadrons that were short of aircraft acquired the newly arrived and modified aircraft for use by themselves and the aircraft never reached its final destination. The painting of the word ‘SNAKE’ was supposedly a deterrent to ensure that the aircraft arrived at its destination in the Far East, although some aircraft were still diverted from their original destination.
John remembers working on numerous different types of aircraft such as: Spitfires, Grummen Martlets, Grummen Hellcats, B25 Mitchells, A20 Bostons, P51 Mustangs, Wellingtons, Lancasters, Stirlings and Liberators. Many of the aircraft were flown into Melton by female ATA pilots who were not familier with the type of aircraft they were flying. To get round this problem of unfamiliarity, the pilots had a pad of pilots notes strapped to their right leg, just above the knee, from which they worked out the starting procedures. John recalls watching many aircraft perform ‘hairy’ take-offs which was another problem caused by unfamiliarity.
One incident that John remembers was when a female ATA ferry pilot had just delivered a brand new Wellington bomber from the Vickers factory. After landing the pilot had reported to the groundcrew that the elevator controls were the heaviest she had known. After lots of investigation by the groundcrew and various test flights, the controls were still heavy. Eventually someone had the idea of removing the fabric from the elevator control surfaces which revealed the problem – a complete tool kit in a canvas tool bag had been left inside the elevator when it had been manufactured.
Another aircraft that John remembers stationed at Melton was a Percival Proctor MkIII serial number Z7252 and this was the Station Commanders aircraft.
Sunday 26th September was the annual Battle of Britain parade and a detachment of RAF and WAAF personnel took part in Meltons parade.
During October, various new units were formed at Melton. Sqn Ldr I R Blair (T.Eng) arrived on 1st October on attachment from No 1 OADU to form a maintenance wing on the station. On the 7th October, Flt Lt N H Kellitt (G.D.) reported from Long Kesh by air in connection with the movement of No 306FTU from Long Kesh to Melton. On the 9th October Flt Lt W M Smedley (T.Eng) accompanied by Flg Off F R Mason (G.D.) and Flg Off P H C Pinnock arrived from Finmere in connection with the movement of No 307FTU to Melton. The advance party from No 306FTU consisting of 3 Officers and 68 other ranks arrived at Melton on the 14th October, and the advance party of 12 Officers and 217 other ranks from 307 FTU arrived on the 15th.
The role of the FTU was providing the newly formed bomber crews with all the training they required prior to them being posted to operational squadrons. The training usually lasted about 8 days in total. The short but intensive course consisted of 4 days ground instructional and 4 days flying, after which the aircrew would proceed overseas.
Prior to travelling overseas the aircrew should be fully innoculated, vaccinated and fit for overseas service before arriving at Melton. Quite often the aircrew would arrive at Melton requiring Yellow Fever, Typhus and TABC innoculations and vaccinations. This subsequently meant a frantic rush for the medical staff to get the aircrew fully fit without hindering the short flying programme and most of all not to hold up the delivery of aircraft overseas.
Even worse than arriving at Melton without innoculations was when aircrew reported sick immediately upon arrival at Melton with complaints, some of which they had been nursing for months. Sometimes the complaint was serious enough to be admitted into hospital for investigation, this meant removing the crew from their training course and subsequently the flow of aircraft overseas was interrupted. For the ‘genuine’ cases that did require investigation, the RAF Hospital at Rauceby realised the rush nature of Meltons problem and co-operated as much as they could.
Ron Acton was an Engine fitter posted to Melton during 1943 purely by chance. Ron was posted from his current unit to the top of Scotland and on his way to get his posting details from the clerk he noticed that postings to RAF Melton Mowbray were being advertised on the blackboard. Ron spoke to his clerk about swapping his posting who replied that it would cost him ten bob. Ron paid him the money which was equivalent to about a weeks wages and was posted to Melton which pleased Ron as he came from Asfordby Hill, on the outskirts of Melton.
Initially the new camp was not a good unit to be based. Ron began to wonder what he had let himself in for, getting posted to Melton. The first thing that he remembers about arriving at RAF Melton Mowbray was being issued with a pair of Wellington boots. Everywhere was ankle deep in mud and sludge as the footpaths had not yet been built. The accomodation was not that brilliant, John recalls being billeted in Nissen huts with coke stoves to provide the heating, although there was not enough coke available to heat them. Proposals were made to the Medical Officer to have all the ventilators in the sleeping accomodation blocked up due to the excessive amount of draughts and dampness that they caused. This was vetoed by the Medical Officer for the reason that the huts are heated by slow combustion stoves burning coke which are known to give off poisonous gases, adequate ventilation must be maintained.
The airmen had outside ablutions and the accomodation was situated miles from the dining hall, sick quarters and work. Due to the large area that the sites were dispersed over, the bicycle was a common and popular mode of transport. It also proved to be a popular cause of accidents, people quite often requiring minor surgery, sometimes major after having accidents with bicycles.
The water supply to the station was severely rationed following a breakdown at the pumping station on the 29th October. The supply of water was fully restored by the 31st.
Although the country was at war, and there was lots of work to be done prepping the numerous different types of aircraft for overseas duties, Ron recalls there still being time to relax and play a game of football against the hanger doors.
A discussion group was formed on the station, and for its first meeting which was held during October, the chosen subject was ‘Post War Housing’. An entry in the Daily Operations Record Book for Melton states that ‘most of the W.A.A.F.s appeared to be keenly interested in this subject.
This month also saw strenuous efforts being made in connection with entertainment after ‘cease work’. An ENSA concert party and the Hurricane concert party made appearances and a recently organised Station Concert Party gave a show at the Corn Exchange in Melton.
Ron remembers working on numerous different types of aircraft such as Spitfires, Lancasters, Liberators, Flying Fortresses and lots of different American aircraft. The aircraft would get fitted out with extra fuel tanks and painted in the appropriate colour scheme for whichever theatre of war they would be operated in. Once ready, the aircraft took off from Melton for Redruth in Cornwall where they stopped and refuelled. After taking off from Redruth they were joined by the fighter escorts who would escort them as far as the Bay of Biscay. Apparently there were a lot of losses after the escorts departed.
At the end of November airmen started to arrive at the station on posting to the Maintenance Wing.
On New Years Eve a station Dance was held in the Sgts Mess and was open to all ranks.
On 13th January 1944 No 304 FTU arrived from Port Ellen operating Beaufighters, Beauforts, Bostons and Wellingtons. By the end of January the 3 FTU’s had amalgamated and were to be known as No 304 FTU under establishment WAR/AT/134.
Jimmy Learmonth was stationed at Melton during 1944/45. He arrived at Melton during the first week of 1944 as part of the advance party for No 304 FTU which was transferring from the Isle of Islay. The party was flown down in Bombay aircraft which were stationed at Doncaster Racecourse.
After an overnight stay at Doncaster they took off again in the Bombay’s and headed for Melton. Jimmy remembers arriving at Melton and not being able to see ‘a single blade of grass’ due to the large amount of aircraft such as Halifaxes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Beaufighters and numerous other types that were scattered across the airfield.
On 17th January 1944 No 1 Ferry Crew Pool was transferred to Melton from Lyneham in Wiltshire, but only stayed two months and then moved on again to Pershore.
During January 1944 personnel had to frequently work overtime due to the shortage of staff through sickness. Several much appreciated concerts took place throughout January and were held on the Communal Site.
In February 1944 the compliment of station personnel had grown to 1830 Officers, SNCOs and Airmen with 295 WAAF Officers and Airwomen and again concerts were held in the Gymnasium on the Communal Site at least once per week.
The airfield was closed on 27th February 1944 due to heavy snow falls. The depth of the snow on the main runway varied between 6 and 12 inches and it took until 15.00hrs on the 27th to clear the main runway. It was not until 16.00hrs the following day that the other runways were cleared of snow and the airfield became fully operational again.
The AOC No 44 Group Air Commodore G R Beamish, CBE visited the station on the 17th/18th March and according to the resume written by G/Capt C F H Grace, the Station Commander, the AOC congratulated No 4 OAPU on their work, although he was not satisfied with much else that he saw.
Whilst at Melton, Ron remembers one of the Physical Training Officers that was posted in, it was the boxing champion Len Harvey, who arrived at Melton on March 1st. Whilst stationed at Melton, Len consented to coach the boys from No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn Air Training Corps (A.T.C.) at boxing and these coaching sessions turned out to be popular with the boys.
The following report appeared in The Melton Times on 30th June 1944.
‘ATC Boxing Champions in the Making?
The first of the boxing lessons given by F/O Len Harvey took place on Wednesday when over 40 cadets attended. It is of course too soon to predict whether there are any potential champions in Melton!’
On 31st March 1944, three American aircraft diverted into Melton as the runways at their own units were still closed due to snow and Melton was the first unit to clear its runways. Melton was quite often used as a diversion airfield for the aircraft that normally operated from places like Leicester East and Wymeswold. If the aircraft couldn’t make it back to their own base they would divert into Melton as it was in a direct line with their unit.
The month of March was a notable one as far as aircraft dispatches were concerned, with a record number of 105 various aircraft being dispatched from No 4 OAPU and No 304 FTU.
German and Italian Prisoners of War used to work the land on local farms around Melton. Ron remembers one particular day when a German PoW escaped from the farm and he was found on the airfield, in the cockpit of an aircraft trying to start the engines and escape.
Personnel based at RAF Melton were invited by Lt/Col Sparling, Officer Commanding Army Remount Depot stationed in Melton to take part in horsemanship classes. No charge was made for these classes and those personnel with experience at horse riding were allowed to ride without supervision and the classes proved very popular with all ranks.
There was a reduced number of aircraft dispatched during April. This reduction was partly due to the record output during March and the fact that the commitments have temporarily eased off. In spite of this No 4 OAPU managed to dispatch 53 various aircraft, their highest figure since the formation of the unit.
Even though the airfield had been open for approximately ten months, there was still a lot of building work going on around the station. Work by McAlpine Ltd. started at the beginning of April with the filling of spaces between the spectacle hard-standings and the construction of new aprons outside No 1 & 3 hangars.
The beginning of April saw the formation of the stations National Savings Group which proved very successful with a total amount of £919/2/6d being saved, an average of 10/8d per person.
The Stations new theatre was completed during May and fully equipped with up to date equipment. The first show given by the Station Dramatic Society lasted for 3 successive nights and was an outstanding success.
Flt Lt Carter, who was the Catering Officer, was also kept busy during May reorganising the stations messing facilities and fitting a lot of new equipment which had been painstakingly sought out.
The month of May saw the arrival of Meltons first fully equipped crash ambulance. It was an Albion ambulance with a crane and hook apparatus on the roof for attachment to parachute harnesses.
It also contained a fireman’s axe and two pairs of asbestos gauntlets for fire rescue. Inside the ambulance was an oxygen apparatus contained in a specially constructed wooden container secured to the wall, comprising an oxygen bottle, mask and flowmeter etc.
A large number of the stations airmen underwent training in stretcher bearing and loading ambulances during May. The station was ‘gearing up’ for the reception, housing and disposal of casualties arriving at Melton by air. The ‘Operational Record Book’ quoted that casualties could be disposed of at the rate of 28 per load per one and half hours. Three ambulances and four lorries equipped with Flint stretcher gear were made available. Sign posts were being erected at all prominent positions around the camp.
May ‘44 was again a quiet month as far as aircraft dispatches were concerned, approximately 60 aircraft were dispatched. Full advantage was taken with the lull in aircraft work when a lot of ‘self help’ work was done with the cleaning up and improving the general appearance of the station.
June was another month where aircraft dispatches were at a low. A total of 26 aircraft, of which 10 were Stirlings were prepared and dispatched.
It was becoming quite a frequent occurrence for personnel, in particular WAAFs, to report sick with complaints of nerves, rundown, insomnia and anorexia usually accompanied with emotional outbursts. The main reason for these complaints was the lack of leave. The best possible cure for all these complaints would be leave, but if the SMO started recommending leave then there was a great possibility of an epidemic breaking out with the illnesses, however leave was granted on compassionate grounds. The main cause of the ‘leave sickness’ as it was called, was put down to the inequality that existed on all stations. Personnel who lived within a reasonable distance of the station usually managed to get home during their 24 hours off duty, whereas those personnel who lived several hundreds of miles away were not able to get home at all.
On the 26th June, WAAFs stationed at Melton started attending Melton Mowbray Senior Girls School for cookery lessons.
Another airman that was stationed at Melton was Jack Williamson. Jack was awarded the nickname ‘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 13th August 1944. Jack remembers thinking ‘Whats 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, although to no avail as he was already dead from the fatal burns he had received.
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.
The dispatch of aircraft during August 1944 was reported as disappointing due to a problem with the Beaufighters. Apparently the rate of petrol consumption was too high to enable them to reach their destination in South Africa safely. A record number of aircraft were dispatched overseas during May 1944 when a total of 53 aircraft were transferred from Melton.
On 30th Oct 1944 a single Lancaster was secretly dispatched to Australia from Melton. G for George, an Avro Lancaster Mk.I serial number W4783 AR-G, operated by No. 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force. The aircraft flew 96 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.
On the 16th October 44, RAF Melton received another special tasking via Air Movement Order (AMO) regarding two special commitments, No’s 1075 & 1076 which had been issued by HQ No 44 Group. This AMO required both No 4 OAPU and No 304 FTU to prepare and deliver two specially modified Avro Anson aircraft. One for the King of Egypt and the other for the Regent of Iran. Sqn Ldr Gallaway piloted Anson NK150 to Cairo for the King of Egypt and Flt Lt Smith piloted Anson NK151 to Iran for the Regent. The aircraft were eventually dispatched in December 44 and January 45.
Bill Johnston of Ewetree Farm remembers being invited to a birthday party of an Airman’s son who lived in Gt Dalby. After the party, the airman took his son and Bill up to the airfield and let them sit in an American Grumman Hellcat fighter.
Bill recalls seeing lots of different types of aircraft such as Halifaxes, Bostons and Mosquitoes. The thing that he remembers most about the Mosquito is that they were white or silver in colour instead of camouflage. Another of Bills recollections is of the Airmen down in Gt Dalby village scrumping apples.
Jimmy Learmonth was a professional footballer before he joined the RAF and while stationed at Melton, naturally he was part of the RAF Melton Mowbray football team. The station team had just won the Loughborough Charity Cup in a local tournament. The CO at the time, Group Captain Pete Gomez, who was himself a football fan and proud of his team, invited them back to the Officers Mess for celebration drinks. The CO was doing his party piece and drinking a pint of beer down in one go when Jimmy said to his team-mates “Where’s he putting that, has he got hollow legs?” To Jimmy’s horror the CO heard his comment and spat out his drink in a burst of laughter and replied “Its better than that Jimmy” at the same time as tapping his leg. To the amazement of everyone, it was a false leg as he lost his real one in a flying accident earlier in his career. Jimmy immediately thought ‘I’ve gone and done it now’ but Gomez just laughed about it.
In addition to Jimmy Learmonth, the RAF Melton Mowbray FC team contained several other professional players such as Cpl Andy Bramley who was the team manager and came from Anstey, Bill Maclean was the Leics City trainer, Clem Stevenson played for Huddersfield.
Also serving at Melton was the England player Ivor Broadis, who won his first cap for his Country in 1952. He was a Flight Lieutenant navigator on Wellingtons and Lancaster bombers and had massed over 500 hours without going on a bombing mission. It is not sure if he’s on the team photograph.
Jimmy was an Armourer by trade and most of the time he worked in No 4 Hangar. He remembers one specific day when all the Beaufighters were being put into the hangar for storage. It was quite a common occurrence for the engineers to show people around the aircraft including the cockpit and controls. On this particular day, the engineer was showing the visitors the controls and how the machine guns operated.
The Beaufighters gun controls was a button which was located on the control column and protected by a flap/cover. All of a sudden, the hangar was filled with the deafening sound of machine gun fire. It turned out to be ‘friendly fire’ and came from the Beaufighter in which Jimmy’s colleague was showing the visitors around. Nobody was actually injured in this incident, except their pride. Normally the aircrafts ammunition was downloaded prior to the aircraft going into the hangar, but for some reason this aircraft was missed.
Another incident that Jimmy remembers began when he was walking his girlfriend (who incidentally is now his wife) home after an evening of dancing. At the bottom of Ankle Hill he was stopped by a couple of Service Policemen (SP’s) who questioned him about being out late at night. It turned out that he didn’t have a late night pass, so the SP’s took his details (Name, Rank and Number) and ordered him to report to the Guardroom immediately. Upon arriving at the Guardroom, Jimmy reported to the Orderly Corporal who told him to report back to the Guardroom at 06.30am the following morning for the Orderly Officers parade. The following morning, Jimmy arrived at the Guardroom only to find that it had been burnt down during the night.
A drunken Scots airman, who was known for being drunk and rowdy had been arrested by the RAF Police (RAFP), who were trying unsuccessfully to lock him up in one of the guardrooms detention cells. The tiny Scotsman who was only 5ft 3” tall managed to escape from the custody of the RAFP and his escorts and evict them out of the guardroom. He then locked him self inside and built a bonfire from all the paperwork, tables and chairs. When the fire was well ablaze, he went outside, started ringing the fire bell and shouted for assistance.
The RAF Fire Service could not attend as they were on airfield duties so the Melton Fire Brigade were called. Subsequently, the guardroom burnt down due to the building being constructed from wood. Upon arrival at the scene, the Scotsman was cooled down with a dowsing from a fireman’s hose and he escaped again, this time down Dalby Road towards town. He was arrested again at the picket post and taken to a more secure cell, this time in the local police station down town. Apparently the local police were not too keen on this as the same Scotsman had been detained in their cells on a previous occasion and had trashed them.
By 6th June 1944 No 304 FTU & No 4 Overseas APU (renamed as No 4 APU on 31st July 1944), both of No 44 Group were operating from Melton. Both of these units amalgamated on the 9th October 1944 and became No 12 Ferry Unit whose role was ferrying aircraft from Melton to overseas units and operated various types of aircraft which included Ansons, Beaufighters, Bostons, Oxfords, Proctors, Stirlings and Wellingtons.
Due to the closure of the APU, the station was able to accept part of No 107 Operational Training Unit whose parent station was Leicester East. The role of this unit was the training of Transport Command crews who were employed in glider towing and troop carrying. No 107 OTU operated Halifaxes and Dakotas along with a fleet of Horsa and Hadrian gliders.
No 1588 Heavy Freight Flight (HFF) was formed at Melton during September 1945 as ‘K’ Flight for service in India. The first of 1588’s Stirling V’s arrived in Bombay/Santa Cruz India on 10 October 1945. K flight was officially disbanded on 20 May 1946, although it actually ceased to exist in July 1946. 1588 was the last unit to operate Stirling’s and No 229 Group sent a signal on 17 July 1946 informing it that all its Stirling’s could be struck off charge and disposed of on site at Santa Cruz Bombay.
September 28th 1945 saw the formation of No 1589 ‘J’ HFF, again operating Stirling V’s. By 10th October 1945 all of the Stirling V’s belonging to J flight had moved to Cairo West, Egypt and the flight was disbanded on 30th April 1946.
November 1945 saw the departure of No 1333(T) SCU (formally No 107 OTU which was renamed in March earlier that year) and on the 7th No 12 Ferry Unit disbanded.
It was widely reported that there was a mass exodus from the RAF station following the Victory in Europe announcement and all duties at the camp had been suspended, dozens of bicycles were piled up at Melton railway station.
If anyone has any further recollections or photographs etc relating to RAF Melton Mowbray, please do let me know.