17 – Decorated RAF Airmen killed in crash near Great Dalby

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.

Oboe Navigation illustration

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.

Pathfinder Mosquito leading Lancaster heavy bombers

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.

Fg Off Geoffrey Bowen
CWGC Headstone of Fg Off Geoffrey Bowen

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 Aubrey Edward Henderson Cattle

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.”

McIver Casualty Record Card

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.

McIver Burial return

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.

CWGC Headstone of Flt Lt G G Halestrap DFC

12 – Hotel Cecil – the birthplace of the Royal Air Force

As we commemorate the birth of the Royal Air Force in April 1918, let’s take a look at the Hotel Cecil, the birthplace of the world’s first independent Air Force.

Hotel Cecil was named after the former London home of the powerful Cecil family, Cecil House (also known as Salisbury House) which once occupied the site, it opened in 1896, three years before the nearby Savoy, and stretched from the Strand to the Thames.

Hotel Cecil

Designed by architects Perry & Reed in a “Wrenaissance” style, the hotel was the largest in Europe when it opened. The proprietor, Jabez Balfour, later went bankrupt and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.  It had 800 spacious rooms – a staggering number when one considers that the Savoy today has just 268. Public areas included a bright and airy courtyard, a vast Palm Court ballroom (perfect for afternoon tea during the day and dancing at night) and three restaurants capable of feeding a total of 1,150 diners.

It was, by the start of the First World War, a fashionable venue for London Society.  In 1917, the hotel was requisitioned for the war effort in 1917, and became the recruiting office for the Sportsman’s Battalion, later absorbed into the Royal Fusiliers.

The origins of the Royal Air Force lie in the increasingly-effective German air raids of 1917 and worries that the army’s Royal Flying Corps and the navy’s Royal Naval Air Service were competing for scarce resources. South African General Jan Christian Smuts was brought in by the British War Cabinet to review the nation’s air power position.

Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts statue London

In August 1917, Smuts submitted his report to Lloyd George’s war cabinet, in which it was recommended that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service be amalgamated into one single independent force.

The report recommended, among other things, the creation of an Air Council and an air service independent of the Army and Navy.

Following the passage of the Air Force Constitution Act in November 1917 (debates on which included an unsuccessful attempt by pilot and notable scoundrel Noel Pemberton Billing to name the new force the ‘Imperial Air Force’), the new force came into being on 1 April 1918 with a strength of over 20,000 aircraft and 300,000 personnel, including the Women’s Royal Air Force.

Royal assent was received from the King on 29th November 1917, and on 1st April 1918 the Royal Air Force was officially formed at the Hotel Cecil, which served as its headquarters for the remainder of the war up to 1919.

In 2008, to mark the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy unveiled a green plaque proclaiming: The Royal Air Force was formed and had its first headquarters here in the former Hotel Cecil 1 April 1918.

The Hotel Cecil was largely demolished in Autumn 1930, and Shell Mex House was built on the site. The Strand facade of the hotel remains and is now occupied by shops and offices, with, at its centre, a grandiose arch leading to Shell Mex House.

Unveiled in 1931, Shell Mex House, the former London headquarters of Shell-Mex and BP, is an imposing masterpiece, boasting 49,900 square metres of floor space and crowned with the biggest clock face in London (wags dubbed it “Big Benzene”). 

Shell Mex building today

During World War II, the Shel Mex building became home to the Ministry of Supply, which co-ordinated the supply of equipment to the national armed forces. It was also the home of the “Petroleum Board”, which handled the distribution and rationing of petroleum products during the war. It was badly damaged by a bomb in 1940.

The building reverted to Shell-Mex and BP on 1 July 1948, with a number of floors remaining occupied by the Ministry of Aviation (latterly the Board of Trade, Civil Aviation Division) until the mid-1970s. During this time, until the department’s move to the present location in Farnborough, the building was also the headquarters for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

On the Thames embankment, outside of the Shell Mex you will find the Cleopatra’s Needle. This obelisk, which dates back to 1450 BC, was given to London by the ruler of Egypt and erected beside the Thames in 1877.

Either side of the obelisk, you will find the Sphinxes and if you look closely you’ll see shrapnel holes on one of the sphinxes caused by a German First World War bomb.

Sphinx with WW1 bomb damage
Sphinx Plaque

A few meters from Cleopatra’s Needle you will also find the Royal Air Force Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the casualties of the Royal Air Force in World War I (and, by extension, all subsequent conflicts).

RAF Memorial

A committee to erect an RAF memorial was first established in February 1919, and relaunched in January 1920.  Led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and Lord Hugh Cecil, a descendant of the Cecil family that owned the original building that stood where Hotel Cecil was located, (the eighth and youngest child of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, three times Prime Minister of the UK). Lord Cecil served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

The memorial designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield was unveiled on 16 July 1923 by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII).  It became a Grade II listed structure in 1958 and was upgraded to Grade II* in 2018. It is considered to be the official memorial of the RAF and related services.

07 – Flt Lt Richard William Wicks – Tragedy at Saxelbye

Flt Lt Richard Wicks

Richard William Wicks was born on the 3rd May 1905 at the family home, No 4 Springfield Road, Preston, Nr Brighton, Sussex. His mother was Ellen Louisa (Nee Offen) and his father, whom he was named after was Richard William Wicks who was a photographer.

At the time of the 1911 census, the family were residing at 2 Manwood Road, Grafton Park, Lewisham, London SE. Richard senior was listed as a photographer and also in the household was Ellen, the mother, Nellie (aged 9), Nora (aged 8), Richard junior now aged 5 and Minnie, aged 2.

Just a few months before Richards sixteenth birthday, he joined the Royal Navy on the 10th February 1921 as a Boy II Rating serving on HMS Ganges, the Royal Naval Training Establishment at Shotley, near Ipswich, where he stayed until 11th April 1922.

Following completion of shore training, Richard was transferred to HMS Queen Elizabeth, the dreadnought battleship that was the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet as a telegraphist.

HMS Queen Elizabeth during WW2

After completing just over 2 years on the Queen Elizabeth, Richard was assigned to HMS Victory I at Portsmouth, another shore training establishment from 17th May 1924 to 30th June 1924. He was then re-assigned to HMS Champion from 1st July to 14th August 1924, after which he returned to Victory I until 1st July 1925.

On the 2nd July 1925, he was transferred to HMS Effingham, a Hawkins class heavy cruiser. He remained part of her company until 11th November 1926.

HMS Effingham

After his stint on Effingham, he returned to Victory I until the end of the month, due to being Commissioned wef 1st Dec 1926. As a trainee Officer, Richard undertook a variety of courses at HMS Victory, RN College Greenwich, HMS Vivid and HMS Defiance.

Following completion of his training in Dec 1927, he was assigned to HMS Emperor of India an Iron Duke Class battleships serving with the Atlantic Fleet. He remained part of this ships company until 29th September 1928.

On 12th July 1928, he had expressed an interest in transferring tot he Fleet Air Arm and his Captain responded as follwos: “C.O. states he is unable to grant W/K Best. at present owing to his small experience of upper deckwork. Has done very well and shows excellent promise. Capt W F Sells.

Whilst serving on the Emperor, Richard married Hilda Bowditch on the 28th July 1928 at the Lewisham Registrar Office.

His service records show that he passed the RAF medical test on the 3rd Sept 1928 which was followed by him being attached to the RAF, under AFO 307/28, with effect 30th September 1928 and transferred to RAF Base Gosport on 13th May 1929.

Richard remained at Gosport until 5th Jan 1930, when he was assigned to HMS Furious which was a modified Courageous Class battlecruiser converted into an aircraft carrier. Her usual compliment of aircraft consisted of one flight of Fairey Flycatcher fighters, two of Blackburn Blackburn or Avro Bison spotters, one Fairey IIID spotter reconnaissance and two flights of Blackburn Dart torpedo bombers, each usually of six aircraft.

On the 16th Jan 1930, he passed his final deck landing and became qualified as a pilot.

On the 15th April 1930, he was assigned to HMS Glorious which was recommissioned on 24 February 1930 for service with the Mediterranean Fleet, but was attached to the Home Fleet from March to June 1930.

HMS Glorious

According to his service records, he was injured in air accident on on 15th Jan 1931, his injury was recorded as not serious but there is no mention of what the aircraft was.

The Flight Magazine of 4th Jan 1934 contained the list of RAF half yearly promotions and it confirmed that Richard William Wicks (Lieut RN) was promoted from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant.  This is also confirmed in the Royal Navy List issued 1st Oct 1935 which shows his promotion wef 1st Jan 1934.

RN List October 1935

On the 2nd March 1937, The London Gazette contained the following entry “Lieut. Richard William WICKS, R.N., is re-attached to the Royal Air Force as a Flight Lieutenant with effect from 19th Feb.1937 and with seniority of 1st Jan. 1934.” 

On the afternoon of Monday 15th March 1937 at 4:30PM, Melton Mowbray & District was enveloped in darkness.  A severe blizzard and low, heavy clouds formed a complete blackout.  Ten minutes later it had ceased snowing and the sky was bright again.

During those ten minutes, two RAF planes, passing over Melton, lost their bearings in the storm.  They were flying low.  A few seconds later, one of the machines was a complete wreck.  The engine and cockpit were buried some eight feet in a field near Saxelbye, and the head of the pilot, who must have been killed instantly, could be seen protruding through the mass of debris.  He was bare headed and around his neck was a red, white and blue scarf.  The deceased pilot was Richard Wicks.

The aircraft were Blackburn Shark II’s from the RAF 11 Fighter Group at Gosport.  The only piece of fabric that had survived the impact bore the identification number K43453.  A wheel of the undercarriage was lying some thirty yards away while it was obvious from the stench of petrol that the tank had burst when the machine crashed.

Blackburn Shark Torpedo Bpomber

Mr T Morris, of Manor Farm, Saxelbye, heard the machines and saw that one was in difficulties.  Later he saw it nose dive into the field.  He dashed to the scene and realising that it was hopeless to make any attempt to extricate the pilot, he telephoned Supt. Fotheridge, informing him of the tragedy.  PC Neal was immediately sent out from Asfordby to investigate, being joined some fifteen minutes later by Supt Fotheridge and Sgt Jones.

The plane was a complete wreck, the engine, cockpit and pilot being embedded in a confused mass well below the surface of the ground.  Although spades were brought, digging operations were too heavy a task to be worth even attempting.  Until the arrival of suitable mechanism, all that could be done was to gaze on in despair.

The difficulties of recovering the pilot’s body were added to by darkness, thick fog, and the saturated condition of the land.  Later in the evening, a breakdown gang from the Midland Garage was brought to the scene and under considerable difficulties driven to within a few yards of the wreckage.  In the glare of its headlights and the feeble light shed by hurricane lamps brought from neighbouring farms, a twelve foot tripod, fitted with block and pulley was erected and with the assistance of some hundred villagers, attempts were begun to haul the wreckage out of the ground, to enable the pilots body to be released.  For over four hours, this herculean task was carried out.  Parts of the machine were raised with the pulley and lengthy tow ropes, manned by villagers who had flooded to the scene, pulled the wreckage clear.

When the heaviest of the debris had been removed, Sgt Jones was able to recover from the clothing of the pilot documents from which it was hoped means of identification would be obtainable.  The pilots body was eventually released on the instruction of the Melton Coroner to the Melton War Memorial Hospital mortuary with identification “Lieut. R.W.Wicks RAF Base Southampton”.

At the subsequent inquest, Herbert Walter Brook, the NCO in charge of C Flt Training Squadron RAF Station detached at Southampton said that on the morning of 15th March 1937 he instructed the mechanics to do an inspection on the aircraft K4353, Lieut Wicks machine, and it was certified as airworthy.  This was carried out and the engine ran satisfactorily on the ground test.  “I myself certified the machine as airworthy after the inspection” he said.  In reply to the coroner, he said that when the machine started at 10:10am he was satisfied that it was perfectly airworthy.  It was not a brand new machine, but had been reconditioned in October.  Corroborative evidence was given by William Shellick, an aircraftsman and one of the mechanics who examined the machine.  Evidence was given that the machine was replenished with petrol and oil at Brough in company with 5 other machines.  They left the aerodrome, one after another at about 4 o/clock.

Anthony John Trumble, Pilot Officer, Royal Air Force Base, stationed at Southampton, detached from Gosport, said that he left Brough in a similar machine about five minutes after Lieut. Wick’s machine had gone and joined it in formation over the Humber.         “About 35 minutes after leaving Brough we ran into a thick snowstorm”. “I remember passing Newark but as we were flying in formation I was not doing navigation.”  Trumble told the coroner that the snowstorm was intensely thick and that there were three of them in the first case, but they became separated. They were only flying together for a minute after entering the snowstorm- probably less.  He went on to say “I did not know there had been an accident until the next morning”.

The pilots widow, Mrs Hilda B Wicks, of Timsbury Somerset, gave evidence of identifying the body.  She told the inquest “Her husband was 31 years of age.  He was a Flt Lt in the Fleet Air Arm of the RN. I last saw him on 11th February when he was home on leave”.

Richard Wicks was given a funeral with full military honours and was buried at Thorpe Road Cemetery, Melton Mowbray.  The coffin was draped in a Union Jack and was carried to the cemetery on a Royal Air Force goods trailer.  The standard bearer party consisted of six RAF Sergeants from Grantham, and the service was conducted by Canon P. Robson, Vicar of Melton Mowbray.

The funeral was attended by the widow Mrs Hilda B Wicks, Miss M Wicks (sister), and Mr & Mrs H P Morris.  The Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Coastal Command, was represented by Lieut.V.C. Grenfell, R.N.  Others present were Lieut Commander Shattock, R.N. (Gosport), Group Capt Iron and Flight Lieut. Langston of Grantham RAF Depot.

05 – Flt Lt Richard Arthur Branson

Sgt Richard Arthur Branson

Richard was the son of Frederick Hartridge Branson, and Muriel Virginia Branson, he was born in Leeds and was the youngest of 3 siblings.  The eldest sibling was Eileen Constance, born 18 Feb 1913, followed by Peter Orchard born 25 Jul 1916, then Richard on 8th May 1918.

At the time of the 1939 Register being taken, Richard was living at home at Kenilworth, Allwoodley Lane, Leeds with his parents and brother and sister.

His father Frederick was listed as the Managing Director & Chairman Wholesale Drug & Surgical Company Limited. His mother Muriel was listed as Unpaid Domestic Duties with Eileen listed as a Qualified Dispenser on Medicines and both Peter and Richard listed as Electrical Instrument makers.  The register also noted that Peter was an ARP and Richard was in the RAF but not yet called up.

On the 1st May 1940, the Eastbourne Gazette reported a motoring fine “Excessive Speed – For exceeding the speed limit with a motor car in Willingdon Road on 6 April Sergt-Pilot Robert H Pinkerton was fined £1 at the Police Court on Monday. His licence was endorsed. For exceeding the speed limit with a motor cycle in Seaside on April 6 Sergt-Pilot Richard A Branson was fined £1.”

In May 1941 Richard was serving as a Sergeant Pilot with No 261 Squadron based at RAF Hal Far in Malta.  Shortly before midday on the 6th, four HE111s of II./KG26 approached the island escorted by elements of both III./JG27 and 7./JG26 consisting of 30 – 40 Me109s.

Richard Branson and his colleagues from C Flight were scrambled to intercept them.  He was involved in an aerial combat with Luftwaffe Ace Oberleutnant Joachim Müncheberg of The Red Hearts 7 Staffel/Jagdgeschwader 26, known as 7./JG 26 or the Staffe.

Müncheberg claimed his 43rd victory by shooting down Hurricane II Z3059 piloted by Branson.  Branson’s aircraft was lost about 1KM SW of Hal Far, but he managed to escape from his Hurricane. Hid suffer minor burn injuries to his right leg but managed to bail out successfully and landed in the sea and was back on the Squadron later that day.

Following service with 261 Sqn, Richard also served with 185 Sqn and the Malta Night Fighter Unit (MNFU).

The picture shows Richard as a Warrant Officer and wearing the Malta Night Fighter Unit “Maltese Cross” silver badge. 

These badges were locally manufactured during the siege of Malta and only given to RAF personnel who flew in defence of the island.

Engraved on the obverse with MNFU  (one letter on each arm of the cross) and on the reverse with the owners initials RAB.

The 185 Sqn diary recorded the following event: “Sgt Branson, ex-185, now in the MNFU, did some very low flying along the Sliema front for the benefit of a Girlfriend. Unfortunately, the AOC was also an interested spectator and decided that Branson could do some more low flying – along the banks of the River Nile. Apart from the injustice of the punishment, it puts ideas into people’s heads – if you want to get off the island, low fly along the Sliema front!”

The MNFU was formed in July 41 and led by former Battle of Britain flight commander Flt Lt George Powell-Sheddon. The unit was based at Ta Qali and operated a special fleet of 8 Hurricanes painted all in black.

The London Gazette published on 25 January 1944 recorded his promotion to Plt Off  (on probation) for 754270 Richard Arthur Branson (162939) 4th July 1943.

His promotion to Flying Officer was recorded in the London Gazette published 19 May 1944 “R A Branson (162939) 4th Jan 44”.

This was followed by a further promotion to Flight Lieutenant on 4th July 1945 which was published in the London Gazette on 7th July 1945.

On 31st August 1945, Flt Lt Richard Branson and Fg Off Harry Batcheler were part of No 12 Ferry Unit RAF Melton Mowbray and were tasked with a ferry flight onboard Beaufighter RD725.

As they were taking off, the starboard engine cut out resulting in the aircraft going out of control and crashing 1 mile South West of Little Dalby, sadly with the loss of both crew members.

His death was reported in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 0m 07 September 1945.

“Leeds RAF Man Killed – Flight Lieutenant Richard Arthur Branson (27), son of Mr. and Mrs. F Hartridge Branson, Winsterica Ghyll Head, Windermere (late of Alwoodley, Leeds), has been killed in a flying accident in Melton Mowbray.  An old boy of Roundhay School, he was junior director of Reynolds and Branson Ltd, wholesale chemists, Briggate Leeds, and had served in the RAF for more than six years.”

Richard is buried in Sec. W. Grave 4174, Thorpe Road cemetery, Melton Mowbray.

CWGC Headstone of Flt Lt Richard Arthur Branson

“THERE IS AN OLD BELIEF THAT ON SOME SOLEMN SHORE BEYOND THE SPHERE OF GRIEF DEAR FRIENDS SHALL MEET ONCE MORE”

His crew mate in the Beaufighter was Fg Off Harry George Walter Batcheler, 190812, serving as a Navigator with 12 Ferry Unit at RAF Melton Mowbray

Harry was born in July 1910 and was the son of Harry Thomas Batcheler and Olive Edith Batcheler, of Earlsfield, London; husband of Marie Louise Batcheler, of Wolverhampton.  father Harry worked for the London County Council as an Electric Tram Car Conductor.

Harry married Marie Louise Walters in 1935 in Wolverhampton.  He later joined the RAF in the NCO ranks and made his way to Warrant Officer.  He was subsequently commissioned on 24th November 1944 when his promotion to Plt Off on probation (emergency) was ‘gazetted’ on 13th March 1945.

Harry is buried in Plot H/3. Grave 106 at the Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.

CWGC headstone of Fg Off H G W Batcheler at Botley Cemetery

“IN SACRED MEMORY OF HARRY BELOVED HUSBAND OF MARIE

FOLD HIM IN THINE ARMS O LORD, TILL WE MEET AGAIN”

04 – A Mech 3 William Ernest Plumb

William Ernest Plumb was born 20th March 1899 in Oakham and his parents were Alfred and Harriet.  At the time of the 1901 census, William, his elder brother Cecil and their parents were living at No 6 Roseberry Avenue Melton Mowbray.

He was baptised on 25th December 1904 at Thorpe Arnold Church. By the time of the 1911 census, the family had grown in size. William was now aged 12, his elder brother Cecil was a plumbers apprentice and they, along with their 2 younger siblings, John (4) and Edith (1) were now living at 11 Stafford Avenue Melton Mowbray with Alfred and Harriet.

After leaving school, William became a joiner (Carpenter Apprentice) working for Mr. Waite.  Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, William enlisted in the Army on the 17th April 1915, being appointed as a bugler with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

On the 22nd February 1918, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of Air Mechanic 2nd Class and was  promoted again to Air Mechanic 3rd Class on the formation of the Royal Air Force on the 1st April with the merge of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.

According to the RAF Nominal Roll, Williams service number was 145257 and his trade on joining the RAF was Rigger (Aero.) and he was earninmg 2s 0d per day.

RAF Nominal Roll

On the 4th May 1918, he was assigned to No 8 Training Depot Station at Netheravon, where he stayed until 31st May when he was re-assigned to No 207 Squadron.

As part of the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, No. 7 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service became No 207 Squadron Royal Air Force.

To ‘celebrate’ this occasion, on the last night of March 1918 preparations were put in hand for a raid in the early hours of 1 April against Bruges Docks and Thourout railway junction, involving four Handley Pages from 207 Squadron, (HPs 1459, 3128, 3119 and 1462), and five from 214 Squadron. The raids were carried out between 0330 and 0430 hrs and a total of seven tons of bombs were dropped.

It was the last raid to be flown by 207 Squadron for the moment because on 22 April the unit was withdrawn first to Cappelle and then to Netheravon, England, later moving to Andover on 13 May, in order to re-equip with new Handley Page 0/400s and to train replacement air and ground crews.

Handley Page 0/400

At the time, it was the largest aircraft that had been built in the UK and one of the largest in the world. It was built in two major versions, the Handley Page O/100 (H.P.11) and Handley Page O/400 (H.P.12).  The O/400s could carry a new 1,650 lb. (750 kg) bomb which was aimed with the Drift Sight Mk1A bombsight. In service, they were deployed in force, with up to 40 aircraft participating in a raid. 

Following re-equipping, the Sqn commanded by Maj G L Thomson DSC, returned to France, arriving at Ligescourt, from where it recommenced operations under the control of the 54th Wing, IX Brigade RAF.

Following the Armistice on the 11th November, the Squadron moved forward to Carmin aerodrome near Lille on the 1st December 1918, and then to Merheim, Cologne, on the 1st January 1919 where it was placed at the disposal of the Army’s 2nd Brigade for duty with the Army of Occupation.

Shortly after his arrival in Germany, William contracted bronchial pneumonia and died on 20th January 1919 at the age of 19.  He is buried in the Cologne Southern Cemetery in grave I.C.3.

His death was announced in The Melton Times on the 14th February 1919 and in the Weekly Casualty List (dated 20th Feb 1919) issued by the War Office & Air Ministry.

Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry ) – Tuesday 25 February 1919

William is commemorated by name on the World War 1 Memorial inside St Mary’s Church.

St Mary’s Church WW1 Memorial

In addition to the memorial at St Mary’s Church, he is also commemorated on the towns main war memorial at Egerton Lodge memorial Gardens plus on a 3rd memorial at St Mary the Virgin Church Thorpe Arnold.

02 – The Hanbury Brothers

Welcome to my first history blog on my new website HistoryFare!

In this blog I will be telling the story of two brothers, Reggie and Theo Hanbury of Melton Mowbray who both lost their lives whilst serving in the RAF during World War 2.

Reginald Lewis Hanbury and Henry Theobald Hanbury were two sons of Charles and Ethel May Hanbury (née Cranham), of 84 Burton Road, Melton Mowbray.  The other brothers and sisters were: Charles Henry (B. 1908), Kathleen May (b.1909), Elizabeth (b.1926).

Reginald, or Reggie as he was known, was born 7 Aug 1913 at Asfordby Lodge and lived at 84 Burton Road with his wife Norma Ruth Hanbury. Norma’s maiden name was Hart and she was born in 1920 in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, Canada.  She arrived in England on 28 Nov 1943 aboard the “S.S. Manchester Shipper” and arrived at the port of Manchester after setting sale from Halifax in Nova Scotia. 

Reggie joined the RAF as a ‘Halton Brat’ Number 563974 and served his apprenticeship in the 20th Entry.  In 1940 he was promoted to Flt Sgt pilot and was commissioned on 1st April 1940 to Pilot Officer (43690), followed by further promotions to F/O in 1941, Flt Lt in 1942 and Sqn Ldr in 1943.

Reggie was a Sqn Ldr Pilot serving with No 254 Sqn at RAF North Coates, the same Sqn that was stationed at Melton almost 20 years later as a Strategic Missile unit.  On 7th June 1944, the day after D-Day, he took off at 23:08 Hrs in Beaufighter X QM-S with F/O W Ogston as his Observer for an anti-shipping patrol with their duty to ‘PERCULATE F1’.  At 04:15Hrs, the Sqn took ‘Overdue Action as the aircraft had failed to return.

Just a few minutes earlier, Wg Cdr R E Burns DFC took off in QM-T with F/O R M Vimpany as his Observer, again on an anti-shipping patrol, but this time their duty was to ‘PERCULATE E’.  At 23:56Hrs, the aircraft was reported to be on patrol at 51˚54̍N, 01˚38̍E. At 01:17Hrs, they picked up a distress message from an aircraft and came of patrol at 01:53Hrs and reported ‘Nothing Seen’.

As the bodies of Reggie and his crew mate were never found, they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Runnymede RAF Memorial

Henry Theobald Hanbury also joined the RAF, apparently before the war serving in the ranks reaching the rank of Sgt 527016.  In 1943, he was commissioned to the rank of Plt Off (52166) and was further promoted through the ranks and reached Flt Lt on 20th May 1945.  Henry was also aircrew, but served as a Flight Engineer with 511 Sqn.

On 20th November 1946, he was aboard 511 Sqn Avro York MW205 when it crashed 50 miles southeast of Cairo on a return journey from England to India with the loss of all 6 crew members aboard.

The telegram sent by a Squadron Leader of the same Squadron as Flt Lt Hanbury states that he was buried with honours on Wednesday at Shallufa, Egypt. Flt Lt. Hanbury joined the RAF just before the war and flew with Bomber command as a flight engineer. A telegram informed Mr and Mrs H.T. Hanbury of 84 Burton Rd, Melton of the tragic death of their son.

Jack Cook who served in the RAF was a Flt Sgt Wireless Operator on Lancasters and served with 100 & 104 Squadrons.  Jack remembers the incident as follows:

“On the 20th November 1946, I was stationed with 104 Squadron at RAF Shallufa (Egypt).  On that day Henry Theobald Hanbury, the younger of the 2 Hanbury brothers was flying in a York aircraft, with five other crew members.  The aircraft crashed south of Cairo and there were no survivors.  On the following day, we searched for this crashed aircraft along with other aircraft from our Squadron.  According to my flight log book on that day, we took off at 0620 Hours in a Lancaster VII aircraft No NX740 to help with the search.  After an unsuccessful sortie taking 9 Hours 45 Minutes, our aircraft returned to base.  The York was found, though I cannot remember the date.

Volunteers were asked to act as Pall Bearers and I along with two other members of my crew readily obliged.  The funeral took place with Full Military Honours and the York crew was buried together in one large grave.”

Thanks go to Jack and his crew mates for giving Theo a fitting & deserved burial.

Suez War Memorial Cemetery

Theo, as he was known, is buried in grave 5A4 in the Suez War memorial Cemetery.  There are now 513 Commonwealth casualties of the First World War and 377 from the Second World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. A few, known to have been buried here or elsewhere but whose graves could not be located, are commemorated by special memorial. The cemetery also contains war graves of other nationalities and non-war graves.