Category Archives: Bomber Command

Warren Herbert Cheale

Warren Herbert Cheale, who lived with his family in Burton Joyce, moved to the High School in January 1944 to work as an Acting Pilot Officer with the School Flight of the Air Training Corps. He was a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve:

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On Thursday, September 7th 1944, while away at camp at Wenlock in Shropshire with the boys from the High School A.T.C., poor Warren was killed in a flying accident. He was only 44 years of age.  He left a widow and a teenage son and daughter. Despite his short stay at the High School, one of the boys described him as “one of the nicest people we had ever met”.
Warren, who was born in the first three months of 1900, seems to have been quite a colourful character. He lived originally at a house called Redhill in St. Helen’s Crescent. Hastings, in Sussex and the first mention of him that I can find seems to be at the age of three when, on November 28th 1903, he played the important part of Bubbles in a local production of Little Red Riding Hood:

little_red_riding_hood_and_wolf1

Not very long afterwards, Warren joined up for the Great War and eventually found himself in the Royal Flying Corps.

During this era, British pilots were not allowed to wear parachutes, so Warren must have thought his death was imminent when he was involved in a mid-air collision at an altitude of over two thousand feet. The two planes must have either spun or perhaps fluttered down to earth, though, because Warren escaped with his life. That life, however, was perhaps affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to some extent. It is difficult to imagine that anybody could go through an experience like that and remain completely unaffected.

Fokker-DVII-Crash

On July 29th 1925, Warren married Alice Elisabeth Unwin at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London.

Warren then seems to have remained in the new Royal Air Force, because the next mention seems to be in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer (Hastings, East) for June 28th 1930. Listed as a mechanic, he appeared in the local magistrates’ court, along with a young friend, who lived in the School House, North Street, Hornchurch. Both were found guilty of damaging a crop of rye in a local farmer’s field, a rather bizarre mark to leave on the pages of history, perhaps.

Certainly from 1931-1934, Warren continued to live in Hastings and St Leonards, presumably with his wife. It was a lovely place:Hastings_english_school_xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx1

Warren played local cricket, both as a batsman and a bowler, although life did not always go well. For whatever reason, his wife Alice Elizabeth filed for a divorce at the London Divorce Courts in 1936. The divorce may not have gone through, because the report contains the annotation, [wd] which may well have meant “withdrawn”.

Perhaps the family then moved northwards to Nottingham as a new start, hoping to put their marital difficulties behind them for the sake of the children.

Alas, we will never know, because 21 PAFU ORB reported on that fateful September evening:

“Flying accident at Wheaton Aston. An Airspeed Oxford LX509, with Flight Lieutenant Harrison as instructor, and Pilot Officer Cheale (Air Training Corps) took off for a night flying test from Wheaton Aston and was seen to dive into the ground shortly afterwards. Both occupants were killed instantly as a result of injuries sustained.”

Here is a general map showing the location of Wheaton Aston airfield:

wheaton aston

At the time, the Airspeed Oxford was considered to be, potentially, a rather dangerous aircraft to fly:

Airspeed_Oxford

Although designed as a twin engined trainer, and supposedly extremely docile, it could be, in actual fact, a rather unforgiving aeroplane.  Many aircraft used in RAF Training, of course, were well past their sell-by date and poorly maintained. These factors may well all have been contributory to the deaths of these two men. In actual fact, in the North Midlands, during the course of the Second World War, the majority of fatalities occurred in either Airspeed Oxfords or another old stager, the Vickers Wellington bomber. To help the situation, Oxford trainers were painted a conspicuous yellow:

Airspeed_Oxford_V3388_yellow

The crash location on the Accident Card for this particular incident is given as:

“At Colonels Covert?, Hatton Grange, Ryton. Map Reference OS765036, just south of Hatton Grange, to the north of Ryton and just south west of RAF Cosford”.

Here is a map which shows Hatton Grange:hatton

The verdict of the official  inquiry was that:

“It is not possible to form a conclusion. Investigation has not revealed the cause of the accident.”

The crew of the Oxford were:

“Flight Lieutenant Sydney Donald Harrison, aged just twenty one. He is buried in (St Ediths) Churchyard, Church Eaton, Staffordshire. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on February 5th 1943.

Sydney  was the beloved only son of Mr and Mrs Donald Harrison, Two Trees, Hernes Road, Oxford and the grandson of Mr and Mrs T E Clarkson, The Villa, Rancliffe, near Goole.

Pilot Officer Warren Herbert Cheale (177869), RAFVR, was aged forty four. His death is commemorated at the Nottingham Crematorium. No next of kin was given at the time.”

When application for a ‘Grant of Probate’ for Warren’s will was made, his address was listed as 123 Church Drive, Burton Joyce, Nottinghamshire. This is the Main Street in that lovely village:

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Interestingly, when Probate was granted on February 13th 1945, it was not to Alice Elizabeth, his presumed wife from the 1930s, but to “Rose Cheale, widow”. Perhaps that divorce had actually gone through in 1936, and this was Warren’s new wife.

Two men had paid dearly, therefore, for the High School Flight of the Air Training Corps’ week long stay in Shropshire for their annual training.  They had been accompanied by at least one member of the academic staff, Mr D.C.Whimster, who was a Master at the school from 1939-1945. He was Form Master of the Fifth Form A, and may have been a teacher of English. In reminiscences published in the school magazine, the writer says, talking of drama productions:

“I wish the Society would tackle “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” again, with its greater resources and experience. Mr. D. C. Whimster’s production was interesting and creditable.”

The High School cadets were also accompanied by a person named in RAF reports as Pilot Officer Alder (Air Training Corps). This may have been somebody who normally worked at Wenlock, but I strongly suspect that this is a mis-spelling of the name of a second member of staff, namely Mr S.Allder who worked at the school from 1940-1946. As his name was “Stanley”, the boys, ever inventive, apparently called him “Stan”.

And so Warren Cheale’s extraordinary luck came to an end. In the Royal Flying Corps in 1918, he had somehow managed to avoid what must have seemed to him, as he fell earthwards for thirty seconds, perhaps a minute, a horrific and unavoidable death.

But this time, almost thirty years later, the Gods of the Air had claimed him as their own:

aerspeed

 

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

The Avro Lancaster at Duxford, January 28th 2009

A few years ago, when I was still a teacher, along with four other teachers and more than a hundred members of Year 9, we all went in two coaches to Duxford near Cambridge to see the Imperial War Museum.  Look for the orange arrow:

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None of you will be surprised that the very first plane I rushed to see was the Avro Lancaster. The planes are rather crowded together, but there it was:

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There were trolleys and a little tractor to transport the bombs to the bomb-bay:

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The bomb-bay is enormous, and eventually would be capable of taking a ten ton bomb, the “Grand Slam”:

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The green cylindrical bomb in  the background in the below photograph is a blockbuster bomb or “cookie” and weighs 4,000 pounds which is around two tons. Quite often two of them were strapped together to make an 8,000 pound bomb. On occasion three of them would be bolted together to make things go with a real bang:

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This is the mid-upper turret, armed with two .303 Browning machine guns. The gunners were seldom particularly happy that a target was provided underneath for the Luftwaffe night fighters to aim at:

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This is the radome, behind the cockpit canopy. On more than one occasion my Dad would stand there. looking out, as the bombers all taxied out to the end of the runway for the take-off. My Dad was abundantly aware of the enormous casualty rates in Bomber Command, and more than once he wondered to himself how many of the aircraft he could see slowly making their way to the runway to take off would be coming back in the morning:

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Overall, Bomber Command lost 8,325 aircraft to enemy action. A total of 55,573 young men, all of them volunteers, were killed, a casualty rate of 44.4%. Of every hundred airmen, 55 were killed, three were injured on active service, 12 became prisoners of war, two were shot down and made their way back to England and 27 survived. One of the two reasons my Dad was one of those 27 fortunate young men was the fact that he flew in Lancasters. “A Lanc will always get you back” he told me on more than one occasion. I owe my own existence, therefore, to the excellence of the Avro Lancaster.

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Sooooo….when the moment was right, a fat old man quickly jumped over the rope, walked up to KB889, gave it a good pat and said “Thank you for my life”.
There will, however, always be some idiot child who is seduced by the flighty, undependable glamour of fighter aircraft and who will stand there taking photographs of Spitfires until the bus leaves. Just look at him in this photograph here:

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A few days after D-Day (5)

In my previous article, I revealed that it is now known that one member of the crew of that Lancaster Z-NH, serial number ME150, brought down by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, did not perish, but survived the crash, only to be then killed, proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.

For many years the tale had been told that the mystery aviator was an American fighter pilot who had been shot down, but in recent times, around 2008, the real truth has come to light. The mystery flyer was Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.
I found the full, detailed story prominently featured on Channel Nine News:

“For sixty years his family had thought he died on D-Day in a relatively straight forward situation when his plane was shot down over occupied France by enemy fire. “We knew that he had been in a crashed plane and we always thought that he died there and then,” his great niece Elissa Liggins said. But Sergeant Black survived the crash, and was taken in by a brave French family for the night.
After a good stiff drink and a sleep Sergeant Black asked to be taken to the nearby village of Graignes where he met a group of American paratroopers. Their orders were to defend the village. Even after a plane crash, Sergeant Black was determined to help.”

graignes
“Aided by the villagers, the paratroopers and Sergeant Black set up a perimeter around Graignes.
After a couple of days, the Germans attacked. The allies successfully fought them off the first time but the Germans successfully attacked again.
The S.S. then executed many of the survivors. It is not clear exactly how Sergeant Stanley Black died but he was probably killed on June 11th. He was just 21 years old. The little village never forgot their “Australian hero”.

Decades later an English lady who lives in the village, Liane Ward-Cleaveley, felt frustrated his name was not on the plaque commemorating the battle. She contacted a Lancaster enthusiast in Australia, Graeme Roberts, who tracked down Sgt Black’s relatives.

“We got a phone call from a gentleman called Graeme who had read a message from an English lady living in France,” Ms Liggins recalled.
“She had a bee in her bonnet because this Australian who had battled hadn’t got his name on a memorial.”
Accompanied by members of the RAAF, Ms Liggins flew to France for the unveiling of her great uncle’s name on the village plaque.

ryinedchurch

“I don’t think any of us appreciated how big it was going to be for the family – certainly not for me – it’s quite life changing,” she said.
Flight Lieutenant Mark Schmidt describes it as “an amazing experience”.
“It’s an incredible story and then to go to the village and connect with the villagers there… he’s a hero to those guys they call him ‘the Australian who fell from the sky’,” he said.

Every single evening at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a single Australian who died for his country is honoured. And recently, Sergeant Stanley Black was the chosen hero.
The Last Post was played and the Eternal Fame flickered. Ms Liggins and her family laid a wreath for their uncle. It was a poignant moment she will never forget:

“I sort of feel like I have a connection with him now, that just wasn’t there before, and I know his story intimately… it’s pretty powerful stuff,” she said.

A powerful story, to share with generations to come.
And what a story. The forces of darkest evil opposed by brave, brave men, women and children.

French villagers, French children, American paratroopers, British flyers and one very, very brave and determined Australian.

Here is a film of Graignes today.

 The church has been left exactly as the cowards of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division left it.

There is another excellent film on the Channel 9 News site. It is well worth watching.

If you are feeling brave, then try this website. It has a picture of Madame Marthe His, one of the only surviving witnesses of this Nazi war crime.

marthe-his-temoigne-au-memorial-de-graignes

She watched what the SS did when she was only 12, and now, 73 years later, and a very young looking 83, she is determined that it should not be forgotten.
In a video lower down the page, she tells her story in French where, at the least, you should be able to recognise a few words.

Here is roughly the same story in French for you to read as homework:

“À 12 ans, Marthe His a vu soldats américains et civils se faire massacrer par les Allemands à Graignes. 71 ans plus tard, elle est revenue pour témoigner.

Derrière ses petites lunettes rondes, les yeux bleus de Marthe His ont gardé toute leur vigueur. Au moment de témoigner, hier après-midi au mémorial de Graignes (Manche), un voile de tristesse a peut-être atténué leur éclat pendant quelques minutes. C’est tout en pudeur que ce petit bout de femme, âgée de 83 ans, a revécu en souvenir les massacres de Graignes en juin 1944.

Des 200 Américains qui débarquent dans la maison familiale, au sauvetage de 23 soldats. Elle replonge dans cette histoire tragique du débarquement dans la Manche.
Un épisode sanglant où 43 soldats Américains et 30 habitants de Graignes trouveront la mort des mains des Allemands.”

memorial

And don’t forget Flight Sergeant Stanley Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.

He didn’t need to do what he did.

But he did it nevertheless. A true hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few days after D-Day (4)

I wrote a previous article about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln, at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt the German transportation of troops.

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was one of two hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two subsequent articles told the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who ever managed to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland:

DRYLIE PHOTO

This is the second article of the two, and tells the extraordinary story of Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was the bomb aimer, only 21 years of age and the beloved son of George and Lillian Eliza Black, of North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia. He had been awarded a Military Medal on January 1st 1941, although I have been unable to trace the circumstances of this award.

mm for black

On June 7th 1944, Stanley survived the crash, and, in fact, was virtually unscathed. He soon met some American gentlemen, however, and then a very dark and grim tale indeed began to unfold.

These American gentlemen turned out to be the élite troops of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American Army. Just after two o’clock in the morning of June 6th 1944, twelve planeloads of them had been dropped in error some eighteen miles from their correct drop zone. Wandering more or less at random around the marshes near Carentan, they were now very close to the village of Graignes:

Pathfinder_Plane15

At daybreak, the village mayor of Graignes, Monsieur Alphonse Voydie, woke up and suddenly noticed that the grass field behind his house was absolutely full of American soldiers.  As Mayor, he called an immediate emergency meeting of everybody in the town. The brave townspeople decided unanimously to feed the American soldiers, despite the very real risk that the Germans would shoot them all, both villagers and soldiers. Under the forceful command of Madame Germaine Boursier, all the women of the village began cooking around the clock to serve the Americans with at least two hot meals every day. At the same time, teams of villagers, men, women and children, began filling any wheeled vehicle with lost American equipment and then bringing it back to its rightful owners.

Militarily, though, the situation was hopeless. The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the brave, helpful French villagers were completely surrounded by German troops including, among others, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen under the command of SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge.

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In view of what was about to happen, the fact that these Nazi troops were from the 17th SS Panzergrenadiers was supremely ironic. The unit had been raised near Poitiers in south-central France in October 1943.
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It consisted mainly of conscripts, many of whom were Rumanian Germans with a good number of French Fascist volunteers.

The SS duly attacked the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were by now entrenched in the village. It took the Germans until June 11th to overwhelm the village, with just the church left to be captured:

church

The Americans had, by this point, claimed perhaps five or six hundred dead Germans, with the roughly the same number wounded.

To forestall all those who would defend those apologies for human beings who made up the Waffen SS, I would like to quote the Wikipedia account pretty much in full about what happened next. I have also added some extra details from a website about the battle in Normandy in 1944:

“The 17th SS stormed the church and found Captain Sophian’s medical aid station. They forced the Captain and all of the wounded outside against a wall. The men were divided into two groups and marched away. One group was marched down to the edge of a shallow pond behind Madame Boursier’s café. At the edge of the pond, the SS bayoneted the wounded men and threw them into the water one on top of the other. The other group of 507th paratroopers was forced to march to a field near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other.

Other Germans began a round-up of the French civilians.  The SS men knew that the church’s belfry had been used as an observation point to direct mortar fire accurately onto their attacking troops. The SS soldiers therefore burst into the church rectory, dragged Father Leblastier and Father Lebarbanchon into the courtyard and shot them both to death. They then discovered Madeleine Pezeril and eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin. Overwhelmed with fear, the two old ladies had been cowering in their quarters ever since the end of the battle. The Germans shot and killed both women in their beds. Meanwhile, forty-four villagers had been rounded up and were being interrogated. They were threatened with immediate execution if they did not divulge the names of any villagers who had actively assisted the Americans. Not a single one of the villagers turned in a single name. And none of them revealed either the role that Alphonse Voydie had played in the Graignes drama. Had the Germans known what Voydie had done, they would most certainly have executed him too.

On Tuesday June 13th, the Germans burned the village. They poured gasoline over the bodies of Father Leblastier, Father Lebarbanchon, Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril and then set them on fire. The ensuing blaze was allowed to burn out of control, destroying 66 homes, the boys’ school, Madame Boursier’s café and the 12th-century church. Another 159 homes and other buildings were damaged either as a result of that fire or the fighting. Before the June 11th battle and the German retaliation that followed, the village of Graignes had consisted of just over two hundred homes and other structures. Afterward, only two houses survived unscathed.”

In the words of “morice”:

« A leur départ, l’école et l’église de Graignes n’existent plus, le village n’est qu’une ruine fumante. C’est un autre Oradour et un autre Maillé, la signature des SS aux abois en 1944 dans le pays. Au total, ils laissent derrière eux 63 morts. Seul le clocher du XIIème siècle resté debout défie toujours l’occupant. »

On July 6th 1986, a ceremony was held in the ruins of the church at Graignes during which eleven villagers were presented with the Award for Distinguished Civilian Service for their role in assisting the men of 3rd Battalion/507th. Six of those awards were posthumous.

Only one member of the SS was punished in any way for this incident, the rather unlucky Erwin Wilhelm Konrad Schienkiewitz who went to prison for life. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for 17th SS Panzergrenadiers, there is a shortish list of the war crimes for which some of them received prison sentences.

For the most part, they were to do with killing concentration camp prisoners, but they also executed the Mayor of a German town who wanted to surrender to the Allies and avoid unnecessary deaths. And they murdered a Jewish dentist. What bravery from the élite troops of the Master Race.

Like so many members of the Waffen SS, however, their commander,  SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge, lived out a full life and died peacefully in a warm bed on June 18th 1982.

And why am I telling this great long-winded tale, other than the fact that it deserves to be told anyway?

Well, because it is now known that one member of that crew of the 106 Squadron Lancaster Z-NH, serial number ME150, was killed proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.
For many years, the tale had been told that there was an American fighter pilot involved in the fighting, but only in recent times, around 2008, has the real truth come to light. The mystery fighter pilot was none other than Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black, bomb aimer of the Royal Australian Air Force.

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I will bring this tale to a conclusion in the near future.

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, ME150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

 

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A few days after D-Day (3)

I have written two previous articles about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt German transportation of troops:

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, a town near Coutances, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two articles will tell the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who managed, eventually, to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland. “Jock” Drylie is known to be on this photograph of a Short Stirling bomber and its crew, but the names of the individual flyers remain unknown:

DRYLIE PHOTO

I found John’s story on a forum, one of what must be hundreds devoted to the aircraft of the RAF in the Second World War.

The tale of John Drylie was posted by Michel Tardivat in 2014:

“When the aircraft crashed, five members of the crew were either unconscious or dead. He buried his parachute and hid in the deep bushes of Normandy for two or three days, he did not know how long. Driven by hunger, he knocked on the door of a farm near the village of Saint-Fromond. The owner of the farm was Arthur Michel who carefully checked John’s proof of identity with the local French Résistance. At this time, it was only too easy for German agents to pose, for example, as British soldiers, or downed flyers, in order to penetrate the Résistance network. Brave Monsieur Michel kept John at his farm, pretending, as the Scot could speak no French whatsoever, that he was a deaf and dumb farm worker.

All of the crew members from ME150 were initially reported as missing in action. His family, and especially his young fiancée, Margaret, were devastated. She was working at Stirling Castle as a radio operator for the Army.
In actual fact, John was already on his way back home. Arthur Michel continued his heroism by driving John to Bayeux. Again, the Germans had only one penalty for people caught helping Allies soldiers, and that was death. After that, the equally brave men and women of the Résistance network continued the process, and Flying Officer Drylie was back in Britain by July 19th 1944.

In the late 1940s, Farmer Michel took a wife and she was able, in the era of rationing and postwar shortages, to wear a silk wedding dress made from the material of John Drylie’s parachute. Arthur Michel and his lucky wife had just one daughter who was the village teacher at Saint-Fromond all her working life. At the moment, she lives in the family farm, which has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast establishment.

During the 1950s, the Drylie family would visit their French friends and their son Peter, would play around the wrecked fuselage of the Lancaster bomber which remained virtually untouched in a field near the village for many, many years.

Nowadays, in the cemetery at Saint-Fromond, brave Arthur Michel rests in peace. On his tomb is fixed a medal. It was placed there by the grateful RAF.”

John Drylie seems to have been very greatly affected by the events of June 7th 1944. He hardly ever spoke about what had happened to him in that doomed Lancaster. He never wore his wartime medals. He never attended any official ceremonies connected with that terrible night.

DRYLIE PHOTO

Just once,though, he came with three generations of his family, his children and grand-children, to visit the most famous places from D-Day, namely, Saint-Lô, Bayeux, Sainte-Mère-Église  and Colleville. It is unknown whether he visited the cemetery at Saint-Fromond or at Bayeux, but I would be very surprised if he did not. He was certainly seen to be very deeply moved as he stood silently at the places he visited

“Jock” Dryloie was a chartered-accountant for all of his life. He travelled extensively between workplaces in Paris and in Scotland. He passed away in September 1990, in his house, “Balguthrie”, in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland:

balguthrie

He was buried in the local churchyard with his wife Margaret and his son Peter.

Personally, I would posit that John Drylie, who hardly ever spoke about what had happened, never wore his wartime medals and never attended any official ceremonies, was a classic sufferer from Survivor Guilt.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Stephen Joseph, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, has said: “There were three types of Survivor Guilt: first, there was guilt about staying alive while others died; second, there was a guilt about the things they failed to do – these people often suffered post-traumatic ‘intrusions’ as they relived the event again and again; third, there were feelings of guilt about what they did do, such as scrambling over others to escape. These people usually wanted to avoid thinking about the catastrophe. They didn’t want to be reminded of what really happened.”

I am sure that, by now, Jock will have met up with all his old pals in Heaven and they will have told him that he should feel no guilt. In Bomber Command, death was so often decided by blind chance, nothing more:

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To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, ME150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

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A few days after D-Day (2)

Last time, I spoke about Frank Corner, and how he had been killed on June 7th 1944, when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, as a huge raft of bombers tried to bomb railway lines near Coutances and bridges around Caen in preparation for D-Day.

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The young pilot of Avro Lancaster Mark III, squadron letters Z-NH and serial number ME150, was Pilot Officer Merrick George Munday Warren.

The Wireless Operator/Air Gunner was Sergeant Norman Charles Vezey Rooker, the beloved son of Charles Vezey Edward and Jessie Rooker, of Bournemouth in beautiful Hampshire. He was only twenty years of age.

Sergeant Maurice Hardy Wigham was a little older at thirty three. He was the mid-upper gunner, the much loved son of Thomas N and Eleanor Wigham of Shotley Bridge near County Durham. Maurice was the loving husband of Margaret Wigham of Parkestone in Dorset.

Sergeant Ralph Lionel Puckett was the rear gunner. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website reveals, unusually, virtually nothing about this man.

Other members of the crew included the navigator, Flying Officer John Drylie who actually  survived the crash and became what is classified an “evader”. This is somebody who is not captured by the enemy, but who, by one means or another, is able to return behind his own lines. In the case of Flying Officer Drylie, he was back in Britain  by July 19th 1944.

The final crew member was Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force:

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He was the Bomb Aimer, and he was only twenty one years of age. He too survived the crash, and came out of the wreckage virtually unscathed.

I will tell the two very differing stories of these two young men in the very near future.

The five members of the Lancaster crew who died with their aircraft, including Flight Sergeant Corner, were originally buried in the cemetery of the little village of St Jean de Daye.
The brave citizens of St Jean de Daye managed to find a British flag and a Tricolore to drape over the coffins, and the five flyers were all given a full military funeral. All the little children of the village planted British flags around their grave.

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There were lots of German troops around at this time, so this act by the villagers was an unbelievably brave thing to do. Had the Germans, particularly the SS, found out, they would quite simply have shot all of them without hesitation. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of French villagers massacred by the Germans between June 6th and the time the Nazi invaders all left French soil for good:

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It should also be put on record that 106 Squadron lost one other Avro Lancaster III during this operation. It was ND680, ZN-P, which had also taken off from Metheringham in Lincolnshire. The runway is still there today, albeit in poor repair:

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Most of the crew parachuted out of the stricken aircraft:

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The pilot, Squadron Leader Eric Sprawson, the Navigator, Flying Officer Richard RC Barker and the Bomb Aimer, Flying Officer EL Hogg, were all sheltered by French families in the outskirts of Caen. When the town was liberated after a five week wait, at the end of July, they were able to rejoin their squadron. Sadly, both gunners were killed. These were Pilot Officer Philip Sydney Arnold and Sergeant Edward Ernest James Wiggins. The Flight Engineer, Sergeant K Anderton and the Wireless Operator, WD Low, became German prisoners, both in Stalag Luft 7. in Bankau, Silesia, Germany. Anderton became Prisoner 288 and Low was Prisoner 465.

StalagLuft1Barth

This account, apparently taken from a newspaper of the time, takes up the story of the pilot, Squadron Leader Eric Sprawson DFC:

“A Lancaster bomber pilot from London, Squadron Leader E. Sprawson, D.F.C., wearing patched blue overalls and a dirty scarf told a Reuter correspondent of his adventurous introduction to the old Norman city and of his five weeks visit there with friendly French civilians before British troops arrived and threw the Germans out:

I was shot down by a fighter over Caen on D-Day. Five of us baled out, I don’t know if the two gunners made it or not. French civilians who had just got out of the centre of Caen to avoid bombing happened to be in the field where I landed. They had me out of uniform into these clothes within twenty minutes of my landing. They were very brave people with plenty of guts and determination. They had realised what would happen if I was caught, I would have been taken prisoner and they would be shot for hiding me. We went back into their house in the town and they treated me as a member of the family. I had no rations, so they insisted on sharing theirs with me. We were lucky and lived on the produce from a little allotment, the milk from a couple of cows and the very limited rations distributed daily to the townspeople. I got two square meals a day. My chief worry was to know what to do. Allied broadcasts advised us to evacuate the town, but I could see myself trickling into Switzerland by about 1946 and decided to stay where I was in the hope that our troops would arrive before long.

Another idea was to move into open country out of the way of concentrated bombing and shelling. But being British and individual, I thought I would have much more trouble concealing my identity. There was only one really bad bombing. I was right in the middle of it. I walked through Caen twice when it was full of Germans:

caen

Though I speak French and could make myself understood I could never have passed myself off as a Frenchman. One night when we were in the cellar of the house in Rue de Moulin, jutting on to the main thoroughfare of Boulevard Des Alliés, a great deal of scuttling about by the Germans took place. They had lots of armed patrols slinking along the streets while the crowd jostled south. For the last fortnight civilians in Caen had been living for this day. We heard the Allied Soldiers were two miles away, and then one mile. But there was still no sign until this morning. A 12-year-old boy rushed in to me and said very excitedly, “Here are the Allies!” I went out and saw a British sergeant. I told him I was British, but it was difficult for him to believe me. I. showed him my identification papers and told him to put me under arrest if he had any doubts. He put me in the charge of an officer who took me to the colonel of the regiment.

My friends in Caen had spread the tale that I was a Frenchman who had lost everything and was so shocked that I was unable to speak. Until this morning other French civilians with whom I had come in contact daily did not know I was English. There were collaborationists about who would have reported me at once if they had heard me talk. Most of the French in Caen were definitely for us. They realised that the bombing was necessary, and were determined to accept it as worthwhile, although after some of the heaviest raids it was understandable they would occasionally let slip a few nasty things, And now I am longing to be in uniform again and have another smack at Jerry.”

Here is Eric Sprawson himself:

Squadron_Leader_E_Sprawson

 

 

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A few days after D-Day (1)

Frank Leonard Corner attended the High School just  a few years before before the Second World War. He spent at least one season as the young scorer for the School’s First XI cricket team:

P1300886 1938

Of the three cricketers behind young Frank Corner, the one on the extreme right is George Brown. Playing for the School cricket team, George was a real asset with his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”. On a forgotten Saturday in July 1944, however, now Lieutenant Brown, he was killed in action during the aftermath of the D-Day landings. He was just 24 years of age. Lieutenant Brown was in the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (3rd Infantry Division) and on that day, the blast of an exploding German mortar shell was even more devastating than his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”.

Young Frank Corner, though, left the High School and its cricket team, on the faintly ominous date of July 31st 1939. First of all, he worked briefly for the Notts War Agricultural Committee. Around this time, he had also played rugby for the Old Nottinghamians’ Wartime XV.

Frank, though, like so many hundreds of thousands of other young men, was soon to feel the “Call of the Skies”. He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was soon promoted to be Flight Sergeant Corner.

In due course, Flight Sergeant Corner joined 106 Squadron, stationed at Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, just south east of Lincoln itself. Here is the old gymnasium, still left after all these years:

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Here is the building used to practice dropping bombs accurately:

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And here is the beautifully maintained Memorial Garden:

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Frank was the Flight Engineer in an Avro Lancaster Mark III. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.
Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the bomber took off from Metheringham at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. It was tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy.

Just give you an idea of the numbers involved, the “The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book” by Chris Everitt and Martin Middlebrook reveals that:

“there was a total of 1,065 aircraft, made up of 589 Lancasters, 418 Halifaxes, and 58 Mosquitos.  They were to bomb the lines of communication behind the D-Day battle area. All of the targets were in or near French towns. 3,488 tons of bombs were dropped on targets at Achères, Argentan, Caen, Châteaudun, Conde sur Noireau, Coutances, St Lô, Lisieux and Vire. Every effort was made to bomb accurately but casualties to the French civilians were inevitable. Cloud affected the accuracy of the bombing at many of the targets and, at Achères, the Master Bomber ordered the raid to be abandoned because of cloud and no bombs were dropped. 10 Lancasters and 1 Halifax were lost in these raids; 6 of the Lancasters were lost in the No 5 Group raid at Caen, where the main force of bombers had to wait for the target to be properly marked and then fly over an area full of German units and guns at bombing heights below 3,000ft. Some details are available of the effects of the bombing. At Argentan, Châteaudun and Lisieux, much damage was done to railways, although the towns, Lisieux in particular, were hit by many bombs. Important bridges at Coutances were badly damaged and the town centres of Caen, Condé sur Noireau, St-Lô and Vire were all badly bombed and most of the roads through those towns were blocked.
….19 aircraft were minelaying in the Brest area, and 26 aircraft on Resistance operations. No aircraft lost.

Total effort for the night: 1,160 sorties, 11 aircraft (0.9 per cent) lost.”

lanc crash

Alas, young Frank Corner was one of that minuscule 0.9%. His bomber was shot down and crashed near the tiny village of St Jean de Daye:

dAYE

On June 11th 1944, the Wing Commander of 106 Squadron actually sent a report to the Air Ministry, explaining that the crew of Z-NH had been told to bomb bridges in Caen. This is thought possibly to explain why the aircraft finally came down near St Jean de Daye. They had been hit by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber.

Frank was just twenty one years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents were Captain Leonard Leslie Corner and Florence Edna Corner, of Whiston, Yorkshire.

Frank is buried in the War Cemetery in Bayeux, in Calvados, Normandy, France along with 3,805 other war casualties. He has paid with his young life the price of our freedom:

ddday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Criminology, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School