The Sandiacre Screw Company (7)

Six young men were killed in Keith Doncaster’s bomber, which was lost on a raid by 166 Squadron on Kassel on October 22nd 1943. Keith was the mid-upper gunner in  “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the squadron letters AS-Z and the serial number EE196. The fact that he was engaged in a raid on Kassel does actually establish a rather tenuous link with my own father, Fred Knifton, who, at the time, was with 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. My Dad had been involved on the raid on Peenemünde in an effort to prevent the Germans developing the V1 and the V2. All of the participants, in all of their different briefing rooms, were told…..

“If you don’t destroy thr target tonight, you’ll have to go back the following night. And the the night after that and the next night, until the target is destroyed.”

Keith Doncaster’s raid on Kassel was a kind of a follow up to my Dad’s efforts. This time the bombers were after the Fieseler aircraft works which were heavily engaged with developing and manufacturing the guidance gear used to keep both the V1 and the V2 on the right track. And the raid was successful. Kassel was, to all intents and purposes, “flattened”.

The pilot of “Z-Zebra”was Charles Neville Hammond, the son of Thomas Neville Hammond and Doris Hammond from Llanrug in Caernarvonshire, and the husband of Mary Hammond of Odiham in Hampshire.  This is Llanrug, a quiet little town:

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Charles was 23 years old. He had begun his RAF career as a Leading Aircraftman before receiving an emergency commission. He had previously attended the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, a grammar school which numbered Paul McCartney and George Harrison among its old boys. What a school photograph this is:

The navigator was Master Sergeant John Murray Walton who was 21 years old. John was serving with the 12th Replacement Control Depot of the USAAF.  He was the son of an American couple, Melville R Walton and Mabel Walton although he was born in Ontario in Canada. He was a Canadian citizen by reason of his birth and an American citizen by reason of his parents’ nationality. John had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force but then, like thousands of others, he flew with the RAF. He was the navigator and one of the very few men in World War 2 with a Distinguished Flying Medal, an Air Medal and a Purple Heart:

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The bomb aimer was Roy Elkington Ault, the son of Reuben John Ault and Olive Eugenie Ault from Sidcup in Kent, although Roy was born in Stamford in Lincolnshire. He was 22 years old. He too, began as a Leading Aircraftman before receiving an emergency commission. Here’s Stamford, another quiet little town, with all the buildings of that warm yellow-orange colour:

The wireless operator was Edward Ellis Jones, the son of Evan Jones and Mary Ellen Jones. He was born at Ammanford, a tiny community in Carmarthenshire in South Wales. He was the husband of Margaret Jones who lived in Wembley in Middlesex. Edward was 32 years old. He had originally been a sergeant before receiving an emergency commission:

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Keith Doncaster, the mid-upper gunner, was 20 years and 5 days old.

The rear gunner was Victor George Deacon, the son of George Victor Deacon and Edith Elizabeth Deacon. Victor came from Brixton in Surrey. Here’s Brixton and a distinctive building Victor might have been familiar with:

Victor was 35 years old and his wife was Lilian Elizabeth Ruskin who lived in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. They had a son called James Deacon. Long Eaton is only three miles from Keith’s house in Sandiacre and Keith had been a member of the Long Eaton Air Training Corps. Did these two young men ever travel home together on leave? Did they visit each other’s families? Did Keith ever look wistfully at little James and wish that he had a son of his own? Long Eaton Air Training Corps are still in business today:

The flight engineer was the only survivor. He was Arthur Iden Pilbeam from Kent. His father, also called Arthur Iden Pilbeam, was a baker and lived at 66 St Mary’s Road in Tunbridge Wells, which I found on that all-seeing google application:

His mother was Mary Pilbeam and his wife was Irene Lilian Pilbeam née Abbott. After being captured, Arthur became Prisoner of War No 261472 at Sagan, then Belaria and finally at Mühlberg (Elbe). After the war he became a fruiterers’ manager and a member of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. Arthur lived to a ripe old age, passing away in Chichester in Sussex at the age of 92. Good for him!

Keith’s aircraft had been shot down by a night-fighter, around sixty miles short of Kassel. It crashed at Brakelsiek, roughly 110 miles from Düsseldorf and to the NNW of Kassel. The only survivor, Arthur Pilbeam, has actually supplied an account of what happened. A night-fighter attacked without warning and one wing of the Lancaster burst into flames. The pilot struggled with his damaged controls to give everybody time to escape, but the stricken Lancaster went into a spin after one of the bombs exploded, hit by a cannon shell from the night-fighter. Seconds later, the whole aircraft blew up. Here’s a nice old building in Brakielsk:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

21 responses to “The Sandiacre Screw Company (7)

  1. Again, how terrible. And as an ex-teacher (and ex-Australian Army) who tried to tell the story of WWii I am still amazed that we all – with a few exceptions – forget so quickly. And I think you mentioned earlier that the comparison between 1942 and 2022 is that the Russians have extremely accurate weapons and if civilians are hit it was probably done on purpose.

    • Yes, the Russians know exactly what they are doing, and they are targeting hospitals, schools and “soft” targets in an effort, I believe, to discourage the Ukrainians from carrying on fighting. They have already practiced their tactics in Syria, helping President Assad preserve his tyranny.
      I must admit, though, I’m not so sure that the Ukrainians are all hearts and flowers. Our local news yesterday showed two refugees from the Ukraine who were a lesbian couple. They said that to hold LGBT marches they had to be escorted by large numbers of police because otherwise they were always attacked by the crowd who opposed such marches with physical violence.

  2. A sad but excellent article.

  3. Such an important series keeping at least their memories alive. So sad to read.

    • It’s difficult to know when the remembering is bound to stop. The Second World War, though, was a struggle against such evil that we would do well to remember it for longer than the Boer War and the already forgotten Korean and Falklands wars.
      We all know what happens to people who take no notice of history, and the parallels between Hitler and Putin are beginning to look somewhat frightening.

  4. GP

    I can see how much you researched for this article. Excellent article to help all of us to remember. Knowing their families definitely puts it into perspective (and reality).

    • To be honest, this series of blog posts is a less detailed version of what I found out about Keith Doncaster for inclusion in the books I wrote about the High School’s war dead. Even so, I was very surprised recently to find out two unknown things about Keith, both completely by accident.
      The first is the detail about the V-1 and V-2 rockets, and the second is the fact that a young man I taught in the mid 1970s used to live in a house opposite the house owned by Keith’s parents. He remembered them as a nice couple, although they always seemed to be sad. He never knew the reason why, although, of course, he does now.

  5. So many young lives ended before their time 😦

    • Well, as far as Bomber Command, it was 55,573. Every single one a tragedy that was significantly different from all the rest, and may well have lasted the entire lifetime of the closerelatives. My wife’s aunt never remarried and spent the rest of her life, some fifty or sixty years, helping look after other people’s children as a favour, rather than have a child of her own.

  6. We often forget they each of those men in a bomber had families back home, who were thinking about each one night after night wondering if they were coming home that night. Ordinary people doing very difficult jobs.

    • It must have been sheer hell for the people back home, particularly if they knew that their son or husband was flying in a heavy bomber.
      My Dad kept his mother in the dark. He told her he had a safe job working in the stores, handing out uniforms to new recruits. Just after he told her that, his father, who served two years in the trenches of the Western Front, took him to one side and said, “Now, Fred, what are you really doing?” and the truth came out.

      • That’s fascinating John. You can understand your father’s reasons for doing so. Did his dad ever tell her he knew the truth or what it was?

      • That I don’t know I’m afraid. I would think that both father and son had the good sense to keep her in the dark. After all, when he came into the house one evening in1941, and proclaimed proudly “I’ve joined the RAF!!” she slapped him across the face. She wouldn’t therefore, have been best pleased if she had ever found out the real truth.
        Her reaction was totally understandable in actual fact. In the days when medical care was pretty much beyond the means of the working class, she had had a number of miscarriages, and Fred was her only baby to survive.

      • I totally understand his predicament and her feelings.

  7. Thank you for sharing!!.. not only to show the courage and sacrifice of the young men (and perhaps women) but also to show the needless suffering and pain a war or conflict brings… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

  8. You are the first to describe so perfectly what I am trying to do here….to “show the courage and sacrifice of the young men” and “the needless suffering and pain “. Thank you, therefore, for your kind words. They were exactly what I wanted to remind me of the job I have given myself, as the election candidate of the “no more war” party.
    Incidentally, as regards the women involved in the courage, the sacrifice, the needless suffering and the pain”, very few casualties came in direct warfare. Mostly they died in raids on British airfields or cities and in plane crashes. That, of course, does not diminish the great value of their sacrifice any the less . However many women died, it was that number too many.

  9. John, I really admire and respect the way you personalize the war in the way you focus on those who gave their lives needlessly (IMO). How you weave the little towns and personal tidbits into this story also is admirable. You know how I feel about war and at times really struggle reading what you write. Yet, none of us should ever forget the tragedy and loss every single war brings. Too many people thoughtlessly forget.

    • You are absolutely right, Amy. I am trying to make people realise that war has no glory to it, and that a great many people die for little or no reason, and a great many more may have their lives ruined when their father or son or husband is killed. And above all, you are right that “Too many people thoughtlessly forget”.
      Only if we remember how many pointless losses there are in every war, will we stand a chance of not having any more wars.

      • I believe I told you my husband is a Vietnam Vet and to this day, he is a troubled man. He was subjected as an 18 year old kid, atrocities no man, much less a child, should ever ever witness or experience. You are doing a good thing, John. Bless your heart!!!

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