To bale out or not to bale out? (6)

Last time, I talked about a Lancaster from 61 Squadron, Serial Number EE176, Squadron Letters QR-M. They took off from RAF Coningsby to attack Nuremburg.

Absolutely the place to attack, the black, beating heart of Nazism:

On the way back, the Lancaster was struck by lightning and the pilot was blinded. He ordered the crew to bale out but only Len Darben and Harold Pronger, as we have seen, obeyed his order. They both perished and their sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial:

The Grim Reaper was not happy with that kind of situation though. He is always very, very, greedy during times of war, so on June 25th 1944, he organised his best friend, Disaster, to help him seize the men who had not been killed by the lightning strike of March 29th 1944. Here they are:

Forrest. Kemish. Macfie. Newman. Wood.

Their days were numbered:

And so he put his plan into operation…….

On June 24th 1944, at 22:37, an Avro Lancaster III, serial number LM518 and squadron letters QR-C, took off from RAF Skellingthorpe to bomb V-1 flying bomb launching sites at Prouville, some 15 miles north of Abbeville in Normandy. They were attacked and shot down by a night fighter, and they crashed at Bienfay in the Somme Department. It would be nice to know who fired the bullet but there are just too many Lancasters and “4-mot. Flzg” on the list of Luftwaffe fighter victims to differentiate one from another, especially as most of them were shot down in Normandy:

The pilot, John Augustus Forrest, only 21 years old, was killed. He was the son of Matthew Augustus Campbell Forrest and Clarice Irene Preston Forrest. The family lived at Busselton in Western Australia. It has a beautiful beach and a wonderful pier to walk along:

Busselton is a city in the south west region of the state, some 140 miles south of Perth, with an estimated population of 36,285 in 2015. (Wow! Some wild guess!)

The navigator, James Rankin Stratton Wood, aged 34, was killed. He was the son of James and Jessie Wood and the nephew of Barbara G. Wood. They all came from Stonehaven in Kincardineshire in Scotland.

Edward James Kemish DFM was the wireless operator/air gunner. He was the son of Benjamin and Ellen Rose Kemish, of Enfield in Middlesex and was only 23 years of age when he was killed. On his grave his parents had inscribed:

“To the world he was just an airman, to us he was all the world. Dad and family”

Now working as a flight engineer rather than a bomb aimer, Donald Cecil Newman, aged only 22, was killed. He was the son of Cecil Newman and Kitty Newman from Bristol.

The man most probably working as a rear gunner was John Macfie. He was only 21 and he was killed. He was the son of Andrew B. Macfie and Frances Macfie, of Glasgow.

All four were buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension along with 2098 other casualties from the two World Wars. Here is quite a famous picture from its early years back in 1919:

That very same night, a second Lancaster from 61 Squadron was lost. It was also a Mark III, serial number ND987 and squadron letters QR-B. Six of the crew were killed and we have already met one of them before in this blood soaked story. He was Sergeant Norman Harold Shergold, the Flight Engineer, who was buried in the London Cemetery and Extension at Longueval, eight miles east-north-east of Albert, a town made famous in another blood soaked story:

Let us not forget, though, in the same aircraft, the sacrifice of Pilot Officer J Kramer of the RCAF, Flight Sergeant RW Burkwood, Flight Sergeant CW Greenaway, Sergeant P Donohue and Sergeant RF Coleman. Sergeant AN Avery survived and he became an evader.




Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

21 responses to “To bale out or not to bale out? (6)

  1. So the Grim Reaper didn’t get all his own way, although being captured was the beginning of another ghastly nightmare. Hopefully Sgt Avery made it back to Blighty safely.

    • He did as far as I know. He is not listed on the Commonwealth Graves Commission website as a casualty, so I presume he got back OK. Of the seven men in a Lancaster it was, on average, only 1.7 men supposedly who escaped either by parachute or by getting out of the crashed plane. If my maths is right, that’s just five men in every three crews.

      • Not good odds at all John. You have to admire their bravery!

      • Are you hoping to track down the story of his return to base?

        REPLY: Not really. I had a quick look for him on Google but I couldn’t find him. At the moment I’m working on research about the 105 young men from the school where I used to work who perished during the war so that takes most of my time. The only way I can think of is either the 61 Squadron website or another one which carries war records of Allied servicemen, but I am not a member yet.

      • Neil Grantham

        Avery did indeed make it back. His grand-daughter posted a message in the Friends of 50/61 Squadron Facebook page, trying to find more information on the crew, as her grandfather didn’t speak much about it. I’m trying to assist her.
        Trying to find the location of the crash and hopefully pictures of the crew.
        You make reference to already having reference to Shergold – can you point me in the direction of that?

      • You need to look at “To bale out or not to bale out? (1), “To bale out or not to bale out? (2)” and “To bale out or not to bale out? (6)” and yo look at the link to the RAF Forum page as well.

      • Why have you sent your question again? I replied to it within 13 hours which isn’t bad as it was overnight. And after all, it’s not as if you could manage a “please” in your request.

      • Neil Grantham

        Thanks for the reply.
        As far as I know I only posted once, but clicked the links in emails to confirm my post.

  2. More excellent research. I have been to the Abbeville cemetery, perhaps I walked past their graves. I wonder if a researcher in Germany somewhere knows the details of the pilot that made the kill? That would be interesting.

    • I checked the list via the link and, surprisingly, there isn’t an obvious candidate for this particular nightfighter. The Germans are doing a lot more research about the war nowadays and there may well be somebody who can identify the man who fired the bullet on this occasion but there are a lot of problems in this area, not least the fact that many Luftwaffe records were deliberately destroyed. I think it is significant that there is no book I am aware of which links a particular fighter and a particular bomber together, even though research has gone on for decades.

  3. Chris Waller

    Quite incidental, but this afternoon (2nd June) at about five to four a Lancaster bomber flew over my house heading due south. I would estimate its altitude to be abut 1,500 feet. Presumably it is the one from the BoB Memorial Flight which I believe is based at Coningsby.

    • You were very lucky! As far as I know it can only be the BoB Lancaster because the Canadian one, Vera, went back to Canada a long time ago. I think it’s happened to me a couple of times, most memorably as I was birdwatching at Eyebrook Reservoir on what must have been the 50th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. It’s certainly a big aircraft!

  4. So many young lives lost.

  5. Sue Broomfield

    You have not acknowledged the death of Edward James Kemish DFM who was also part of the crew (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) and is buried in the same cemetery.

  6. Neil Grantham

    This is a fascinating blog. My apologies for omitting please, and I honestly didn’t consciously post the question twice. Perhaps it was clicking confirmations in the emails?
    I have read the 3 Bale out posts. In this one you mention Harold Shergold, but articles 1 & 2 mention a different Shergold (Frederick) a year earlier. Perhaps brothers?

    Avery evaded following the crash of ND987 – the only survivor – on 25th June ‘44 and made it back to Blighty on the 5th September ’44 via Beauvais.
    It seems unusual that the tail gunner was the only survivor
    Keep up the good work.

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