Category Archives: Bomber Command

The Sandiacre Screw Company (10)

The brave young men from the High School who died defending their country have left relatively little behind them. Sometimes we have a  few blurry photographs of school plays (the “woman” next to the teacher, and the boy in the middle of the very back row);

And sometimes we have a few blurry pictures of them in their uniforms:

We have some nice pieces of writing in the Nottinghamian magazine from Frank Corner and from John Walker. In the School Archives, John Grain’s school cricket blazer has hung on a hook there since 1936 and will hopefully continue to hang there until “towers cave in and walls collapse”. Whenever I saw it, I always thought that John could not possibly have imagined such a lonely fate for his blazer. No, he thought that one day in 1980. when he was 61 years old and a fat old man, he would come up to visit his old school and get them to dig out his old blazer and he’d then try it on. He’d say:

“Look! It almost fits me!”

And everybody would laugh and say:

“Why!  You can’t even get it over your shoulders! You must have grown a lot of muscles in the last forty five years! Perhaps the army made you fitter!”

And then he’d go back to his grandchildren and tell them where he’d been that day, and what it was like when he was at school.

We have a couple of Keith Doncaster’s poems.

In addition, we also have a lovely picture of the Officers Training Corps in 1937, with Keith on the left hand end of the very front row, looking extremely youthful and nowhere near his calendar age:

Keith Doncaster though, is the only casualty from the Second World War, of around 125 men, of whom we have a cinefilm. It was originally for sale on the internet but it can now be watched for free on BFI-Player, courtesy of the BFI, the British Film Institute. The four-minute film is silent and rather blurred, but everything is recognisable.

The title is “Shenstone and Longmoor Farm May-July 1943” but most of it clearly shows Keith in the garden of the family house in Sandiacre, relaxing on leave in the early summer of 1943.

Keith is in full, impeccable, RAF uniform, his hair shining with the traditional Brylcreem. He is a very slight young man, looking much younger than his actual age:

And then you can turn it into a close-up:

Then we see him walking towards the camera:

Then he’s on the lawn scratching the cat’s ears,:

He’s walking around the lawn, and then sitting down on a garden bench:

His sergeant’s stripes stand out in a pale grey world. What must be his father is there, wearing his office suit and smoking a cigarette:

A very old couple is there too. They could be Grandma and Grandad, but equally, they may well be the gardener and the cook:

There are shots of what must be Longmoor Farm with cows. One of them is very tame and Keith can scratch the back of its head and neck just like a dog:

Back at Sandiacre, the humans are still a mystery. Keith is with an elegantly dressed woman that may be his mother:

Certainly Dad is there, this time without the hat:

Back on the farm there is a herd of cows in a field, then two calves are let loose in a field to scamper and chase each other like two dogs:

But who are the two men? The cowmen? Alas, we will certainly never know:

And one of the stills I produced is quite lovely:

One more blog post, before Keith Doncaster fades back into history.

The home movie is available at

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943-1943-online

and of slightly lower standards of presentation, at

https://www.macearchive.org/films/doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943

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Stories about my Dad (3)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  gave up his exciting job as a Brylcreem Boy of Bomber Command and signed up to be for what was called at the time “emergency training” as a teacher. It has always intrigued me as to how many veterans of Bomber Command became teachers. And I have my own ideas about that! Fred finished up getting a job quite near to his home, at a school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. The school was built in 1898 for 420 children. Fred taught there until the mid-1950s.

Here’s a modern map of the area. The Orange Arrow points to where Hastings Road School used to stand before it had to be demolished in the late 1950s, lest the subsidence problems made it collapse completely with the teachers and children inside :

When my Dad, Fred, worked there, the vast majority of the children were the sons and daughters of miners, both of coal and of clay. They were all what you would call “rough diamonds”.

Most of them, therefore, were far from sophisticated, either in their knowledge or their behaviour or, indeed, their hygiene. Fred used to tell the story of having a boy in his class called “Stinky Roberts” . At the beginning of the school year, Fred was given the helpful advice by his colleagues never to let this particular boy sit next to a hot radiator under any circumstances. If he sits next to a radiator, then make him move!

Whether it was because Fred did not believe the other teachers, or whether it was because, in the absence of any particularly obvious hygiene problem, he quite simply forgot their advice, remains unclear.  But on one unfortunate day, when “Stinky” did get to sit by that scorching radiator, the wisdom of his colleagues became manifest, as the unbelievable stench of long unwashed filth and ancient, uncontrolled urine wafted inescapably around the room. In this way, Fred learnt one of the most important basics of teaching, namely that no boy is ever given a nickname without very good reason.

At one point, Fred had a bet with another teacher that he could leave his class working quietly while he went down to Lloyds Bank in Swadlincote to draw out some money. The pupils were told to behave themselves properly while he was away, and to continue with their work. This they duly did, and Fred won the bet.

In another variation of what was obviously the same story, Fred did not go down to the bank in Swadlincote, but instead, went to post a letter at the Church Gresley Post Office, a destination considerably nearer to Hastings Road School, and, from the point of view of unsupervised children, a much shorter, and therefore, perhaps, a more plausible time to be away.

One of Fred’s more pleasant jobs was the fact that he ran the school football team. He was partnered in this by his young friend, Vernon Langford. We do actually have a misty photograph of the staff at Hastings Road. Here it is :

The teachers are (back row), Mr Morris, Mr Roberts, Mr Baker, Mr Picker, Mr Goodall and Mr Knifton. The front row comprises Miss Rowe, Miss Smith, Mr Handford, Mrs Errington and Mrs P Middleton.

Fred’s teaching career at Hastings Road reached its pinnacle when he was conducting a lesson in Physics. At this time all secondary school teachers, even those who were trained to teach Geography, were expected to be able to turn their hand to more or less anything.

Fred’s brief was to demonstrate the effects of air pressure, so he took a pint glass, filled it with water, and then put a sheet of card over the top. He then explained that in a moment, when he turned the glass upside down, the contents would not spill out, because the air pressure on the card, which was equal to hundreds of pounds, was pressing down and keeping it in place. This news was received by the children, of course, with immense scepticism.

When Fred turned the glass over, however, perhaps as much to his surprise as anybody else’s, the rather unlikely result was that the card did actually stay in place, and the water did not spill out. The children’s reaction was astonishing. They were all totally amazed. One boy stood up, and shouted at the top of his voice, “A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ” And then he ran out of the room and around the school, still shouting

“A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ”

I believe that this incident was the closest that Fred ever came to being regarded as divine. Here’s a video of a mere mortal man trying out this trick:

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (9)

There is a rather beautiful stained glass window to the memory of young Ivan Keith Doncaster in St Giles’ Church in Sandiacre in Derbyshire.

It has a wonderful representation of St George with his sword and shield. Notice how he is flying, totally in keeping with an RAF casualty :

Lower down, Lincoln Cathedral is included:

There is also a superb illustration of an airman kneeling in prayer under the Tree of Life. To the right is the badge of the RAF with “Per ardua ad astra” and the badge of 166 Squadron, with its bulldog and its motto of “Tenacity” :

In the Long Eaton Advertiser, in Keith’s obituary, the local newspaper said that he was “thoughtful, quiet and unassuming, with a great love of the land and the country people”.

On his gravestone, Keith’s parents had the following inscription:

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die”.

The wireless operator, Edward Ellis Jones, had slightly more direct feelings expressed:

“He gave his life that others might live. God bless him”

These sentiments are echoed by the words on the gravestone of Roy Elkington Ault, the bomb aimer:

“He died so that England might live”.

Similar feelings to these were expressed by Keith in his “Last letter”, the letter which is left behind, sealed, and may only be opened by parents or wife in the event of the writer’s death:

“These ops are what we have been training for, for many months. Now is our chance to make this earth a place for decent people to live in. I hope that the seven of us can flatten a large number of German homes as well as factories during our tour of ops. If I do have to go then I only hope that I can have a good chance to do some damage over there first. If that happens I shall die in the way that any Englishman would want to—fighting for his country.”

There are two more blog posts in the future to round off this tragic tale. And by the way, the pictures of those beautiful stained glass windows were originally put on the internet by “Berenice UK” in 2015.

Here’s Keith at the High School again:

Here he is in the RAF……..

And here he is at home as Sergeant Doncaster, mid-upper gunner…..

 

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (8)

Ivan Keith Doncaster was lost on a raid on Kassel by 166 Squadron on October 22nd 1943.  He 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 morning after “Z-Zebra” had crashed, and most of the crew had been killed, including Keith Doncaster,  the flight engineer, Arthur Pilbeam, had the appalling task of identifying the four corpses which had so far been found. He thought that they all had been killed by the exploding bombload or had been unable to pull their ripcords after they jumped because they were unconscious.

I have been unable to identify any likely German pilot who might have pulled the trigger. When so many black painted aircraft were shot down in the pitch black, there were so many claims that hardly any of them can be verified:

Let’s take an example from the night of October 22nd-23rd 1943. Oberleutnant Hermann Bertram claimed a four engined aircraft “35 km N Kassel” at an altitude of 4,200 metres. How do we know if it was a Halifax or a Lancaster? Was he definitely “35 km N Kassel”? Did he see it crash? And so on.

Oberleutnant Bertram is not a liar. He is a young man who cannot possibly be 100% certain of what happened. And the same would apply to a very long list of night fighter pilots who might possibly have shot down “Z-Zebra”. These men claimed to have destroyed a Lancaster or a Halifax or a “4-mot flugzeug” and they mentioned Kassel in their claim. No doubt the list is incomplete:

Horst-Rüdiger Blume, Fritz Brandt, Franz Brinkhaus, Victor Emanuel, Leopold Fellerer, Erwin Glass, Ernst Haase, Alfred Heldt, Johannes Hiedlmayer, Werner Hoffmann, Horst John, Otto Kutzner, Hans Leickhardt, Richard Lofgen, Erich Metz, Manfred Meurer, Klaus Möller, Hans von Niebelschütz, Günther Nord, Heinz Oberheide, Ruprecht Panzer, Erhard Peters, Günther Radusch, Lothar Sachs, Josef Sallmütter, Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, Eduard Schröder, Helmuth Schulte, Paul Streuff, Gustav Tham, Kurt Welter, Gerhard Witt, Achim Wœste, Josef Wolfsberger and Fritz Yung.

And here are four of them:

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Eventually, all six of the crew of “Z-Zebra” were found. They were buried in Schwalenberg Cemetery on October 25th 1943. On September 18th 1947, they were all re-interred at Hanover War Cemetery. They occupy five graves that must be next to each other.

Keith Doncaster occupies Grave No 16.E.1, Edward Ellis Jones occupies Grave No 16.E.2, Roy Elkington Ault occupies Grave No 16.E.3, Victor George Deacon occupies Grave No 16.E.4 and Charles Neville Hammond occupies Grave No 16.E.5. The sole American, John Murray Walton, was reburied in the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium on an unrecorded date.

The Lancaster’s pilot, Charles Neville Hammond, received a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and self-sacrifice as he struggled to fly the stricken Lancaster straight and level so that its crew could all escape the burning aircraft.

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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:

 

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Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (6)

Keith Doncaster took off on his last mission with 166 Squadron at 18:12 hours on October 22nd 1943 from RAF Kirmington, 11 miles south west of Grimsby in Lincolnshire. Here’s what RAF Kirmington looks like today:

Keith was in “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the serial number EE196 and the squadron letters AS-Z . During the course of the war, because of the astonishing levels of bomber losses, nine different aircraft in 166 Squadron were to carry those letters of AS-Z, “Z-Zebra”. That means, over time, 63 different young men as crew, of whom a minimum of 54 would have experienced disaster of some kind, up to, and including, their own deaths.

There were also nine different aircraft for AS-E, “E-Edward”, (63 more young men’s lives risked) and for AS-F, “F-Freddy”, (63 more) and for AS-N, “N-Nuts”, (63 more) and for AS-S, “S-Sugar”, (63 more). Those five different letters, then, E, F, N, S and Z, accounted for 45 Lancaster bombers and 315 young men all put into extreme danger.

In an Avro Lancaster, if the aircraft was shot down, only one man of the seven crew, on average, escaped with his life. That makes 54 young men killed in the nine different aircraft which carried the letter “Z”. And overall, those five different letters, E, F, N, S and Z, accounted for 270 young men, all of them in all probability, killed.

The members of the crew all had a financial value and cost. The Head of Bomber Command was Arthur Harris, aka Bomber Harris, aka Butcher Harris (to his men). Harris always used to reckon that to train just one member of a Lancaster crew cost as much as sending six men to Oxford or Cambridge for three years. Whether that is true or not, we do know that the actual figure was £10,000, although the website did say that that total is expressed in 1943 prices. Allowing for inflation, in today’s money, the cost becomes £500,000 per man.  And the crews of those five different letters, E, F, N, S and Z, therefore, were trained at a cost of around £135,000,000.

 

That all created some startling casualty figures for Bomber Command. A total of 51% of all bomber crew were killed on operations, 12% were killed or wounded in non-operational accidents and 13% became prisoners of war.  Just 24% survived.

Those five letters, E, F, N, S and Z, also stood for enormous sums of money. In the early 1940s, Lancasters cost, in today’s money, around £2,000,000 each. Those 45 aircraft would therefore have cost £90,000,000. Here’s “Z-Zebra” and its crew, possibly with the members of the ground crew ho kept if flying…….
Never forget, though, that there is a difference between “cost” and “value”. Let’s look at two sentences……
“What is the cost of just one of those aircrew to the RAF?”
“What is the value of just one of those aircrew to his family?”
Here’s the crew of Z-Zebra, and, presumably, five of the ground crew who kept them flying……..

Tonight, the target was Kassel, a city to the northeast of Frankfurt. No satellites in those days meant that accurate weather forecasts were very rare and the bombers frequently encountered unforeseen meteorological difficulties.

And so it was on this occasion, when 569 bombers, including 322 Lancasters and 247 Halifaxes, set off for Kassel. Twenty of them encountered heavy rain, ice formed on the aircraft and they were forced to turn back. Other various problems forced 39 more bombers to turn back. Eventually, 444 aircraft arrived at the target, 78% of the original force.

Kassel was a prime target because of the Fieseler aircraft factory, the Henschel & Sohn factories producing Tiger tanks, an engine factory, a motor vehicle factory, and the headquarters of the organisation responsible for all railway and road construction in central Germany as well as two military headquarters and the regional supreme court. Kassel housed the headquarters of Military District 9 and the local satellite camp of Dachau provided slave labourers for the Henschel factories.

The 444 survivors from that original force dropped 2,000 tons of bombs and an amazing 460,000 incendiaries. Native speakers were used, broadcasting from special Lancasters, to give the German night fighter pilots incorrect orders over the radio or to countermand their previously given orders. A diversionary raid on Frankfurt, by 28 Lancasters and eight Mosquitoes caused further confusion.

The main target was marked exceptionally well and the bombs fell extremely accurately, creating a minor firestorm, made all the more severe when the main telephone exchange and the city’s water supply were put out of action.

4,349 blocks of flats containing 26,782 individual family flats were demolished. The bombers damaged 6,743 more blocks, containing 26,463 individual units. 120,000 people became homeless. There were 1,600 major fires and a thousand smaller ones. Overall, 160 industrial premises were flattened, along with 140 government buildings. At this time Henschel were manufacturing V-1 missiles, so this severe damage impacted hugely on the date of the first launchings against England. Two German spectators watch the spectacle :

Kassel was devastated and burned for seven more days. Casualties were dug out of the hot rubble for weeks. 5,600 people were killed and 3,300 just disappeared, cremated in the firestorm and its week long aftermath. After the previous raid of October 3rd-4th 1943, up to 90% of the city centre was now destroyed. There were only two more significant raids on Kassel during the rest of the war. One on the Henschel motor transport plant, and the RAF’s final farewell on March 8th-9th 1945. The RAF really had done an enormous amount of damage:

All of this success had its price though. That night, 241 men were killed as 25 Halifaxes and 18 Lancasters were destroyed. On the way to Kassel anti-aircraft fire accounted for three bombers, and night-fighters claimed a couple more. The anti-aircraft fire at Kassel, aided by 70 searchlights, brought down five more bombers. Searchlights could be a formidable opponent, especially if they had a cathedral to defend:

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The night-fighters then struck as they returned home. No 10 Squadron lost 21 men, with further losses from No 12 Squadron (eight men), 35 Squadron (two men), 49 Squadron (nine men), 50 Squadron (one man), 51 Squadron (seven men), 57 Squadron (ten men), 61 Squadron (six men), 76 Squadron (eight men), 77 Squadron (ten men), 78 Squadron (six men), 100 Squadron (five men), 102 Squadron (eight men), 103 Squadron (19 men), 158 Squadron (14 men), 166 Squadron (12 men), 207 Squadron (nine men), 408 Squadron (seven men), 419 Squadron (five men), 427 Squadron (26 men), 428 Squadron (one man), 429 Squadron (11 men), 431 Squadron (seven men), 434 Squadron (22 men) and 467 Squadron (seven men).

In addition to these 241 men killed, 71 became prisoners of war. This constituted a completely unsustainable loss rate of 7.6 %. In other words, at that rate, nobody would live to carry out more than fourteen missions.

Not many of the young men in this photograph will be over thirty:

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (5)

Young Keith Doncaster, whom we have met already four times, was a mid-upper gunner, who sat in a perspex dome half way along the bomber’s fuselage. He protected the aircraft from attacks originating from above the horizon, mostly diving attacks from the rear. His turret was rather like an upturned goldfish bowl and could become extremely hot on occasion. That occasion was quite rare, and cold, particularly at altitude and at night, was a far more frequent problem:

An ex-Lancaster gunner, Russell Margerison, listed the clothes he wore for each mission:

“Women’s silk stockings, woollen knee-caps, woollen long johns with sleeves and a high neck, a shirt, trousers, ordinary socks and over those, long woollen ones. Then a thick pullover, a battle-dress top, a heated suit, an outer suit of kapok, electrically heated slippers, fur-lined boots, silk gloves, heated long gloves, and leather gauntlets. And anti-freeze ointment on any exposed flesh.”

If the perspex was shot away, temperatures might drop to 60° below.

Margerison said that the gunners hardly ever fired their guns. If anybody spotted an enemy aircraft, they would shout: “Corkscrew port !!” or “Corkscrew starboard !!” and the supremely agile thirty ton bomber would embark on its famous twisting and turning manoeuvre which no German fighter could possibly keep up with, especially in darkness:

Keith would have been familiar with this life. Ruled by superstition, clothes were always put on in a set sequence and mascots such as lucky dolls or toys were always taken along. And there were “chop girls”, young ladies whose boyfriends kept getting killed and whom nobody would date any more, no matter how pretty they were. And then there was the constant hunt for fuel for the metal stove in the middle of an icy Nissen hut:

The crew were the most important people in Keith’s life. Outside these seven men, you were a fool to make other close friendships when life expectancy was six weeks with just four weeks for a rear gunner. Only your family counted for more than your crew:

Before D-Day, 65% of crew members were killed before they completed their “tour” of thirty missions. Each mission carried a 4% chance of being shot down. Overall, the casualty rate was around 45%, and eventually 55,573 men would be killed. The death rate in the US Eighth Air Force was considerably lower. This was because they wore their parachutes during missions. Those silken life savers were not stored away from the owner. And the Eighth Air Force flew in daylight when it was easier, theoretically, to get out of the plane:

 

 

 

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (4)

This is the fourth episode of the tragic story of Keith Doncaster, whose grandfather and father owned the huge “Sandiacre Screw Company.”  Keith was an Old Nottinghamian, but after leaving the High School on July 30th 1940, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, immediately after his 17th birthday. The RAFVR was the usual way to apply for aircrew entry to the RAF. Keith would have sworn an oath of allegiance to become a member of the RAFVR. The oath was very like the oath sworn today:

“I, Ivan Keith Doncaster, swear by Almighty God  that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George VI, His Heirs and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, and of the air officers and officers set over me. So help me God.”

And then he could wear an RAFVR silver badge to indicate his status. There were two distinct types of badge on the internet. This one is a lapel badge:

And this one isn’t. Is it to hold your tie in place? :

There was a wait of varying length before volunteers were able to begin aircrew training. In the meantime, Keith took part in farm work, helping a local farmer.

He probably continued with his ATC attendance, proudly wearing his silver badge on his lapel. Here’s the Long Eaton ATC today:

Once he was eighteen in 1941, Keith finally made it into the RAF. He would not be a pilot, as most boys dreamed of being. Instead, Keith joined 166 Squadron as a mid-upper gunner in an Avro Lancaster:

The squadron used both Mark I and Mark III Lancasters which were apparently indistinguishable externally. The Mark III had Merlin engines built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit in Michigan in the United States.

At the Lancaster factory the aircraft were constructed in the normal way and either type of engine was fitted according to availability, although they were never mixed on the same aircraft. Eventually, 3,425 Mark Is were constructed and 3,469 Mark IIIs or Mark Xs, the latter aircraft being constructed in Canada. The engines’ performance was hardly different, although the Packard Merlin was more likely to overheat on take-off and landing, which meant that training units used it less frequently. The propeller blades were Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made “paddle blade” types. Mark Is had de Havilland “needle blade” propellers. Here are some “paddle blade” types :

And here are some “needle blade” propellers:

The Lancaster was still the same. That huge, huge bomb bay, thirty three feet long and completely uninterrupted, capable of accommodating 4,000lb, 8,000 lb or 12,000 lb blockbuster bombs. Or perhaps fourteen x 1,000 lb bombs. General Purpose or High Explosive. Instant explosion or with a wait of six days.

Or perhaps Monsieur would prefer 3,304 incendiaries this evening?

It was a Devil’s Menu where  Satanic Chefs could choose exactly what kind of disaster they would like to produce. And each combination had its own codeword: “Arson”. “Abnormal”. “Cookie”, “Plumduff”, “Gardening”. “No-ball”. “Piece”. “Plumduff Plus”, “Usual”.

What “a lovely way to spend an evening”, as the hit song of the day used to say…..

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (1)

This is the first of  twelve posts which will tell the story of Keith Doncaster. They will appear over the course of, probably, a year, and I would encourage you to read them all. Keith was just one of the 119 young men from Nottingham High School who perished in the fight to save England and freedom during World War 2. I have found out more about Keith than any other casualty. What I did find is a wonderful advertisement for the evils of war, as what may well have been just one cannon shell from a night fighter, ultimately, deprived thousands of people of their livelihoods, in one of the very few large factories in a small town in Derbyshire called Sandiacre.

Ivan Keith Doncaster was born on October 17th 1923. His father was Raymond Doncaster who was an engineer. Ray’s father was Sir Robert Doncaster, the founder of the Sandiacre Screw Company, one of the biggest firms in the Nottingham area, with enormous and extensive premises on Sandiacre’s Bradley Street:

Here’s one of their adverts:

And a map shows how big the factory was and how many people it must have provided with employment. The orange arrow points to only some of the pale brownish area occupied by the factory. Nottingham is to the east:

The Doncaster family lived in a very large house in Longmoor Lane in Sandiacre, a small town of some nine thousand inhabitants, almost equidistant from Derby and Nottingham and to the east of Junction 25 of the M1.

Keith’s mother was Evelyn Mary Fell. Keith’s father Ray Doncaster served in the army during the First World War, eventually becoming a Lieutenant in the Army of Occupation of the Rhine. His elder brother, Robert Ivan Doncaster, had been killed in action on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916, only 50 days after he arrived in France. He is buried in Authuille, three miles north of the town of Albert.

When he returned in 1919, Ray became Assistant Works Manager of his father’s company. He then became Works Manager, eventually replacing his father as Managing Director. He retired during the 1960s. It does not take a fortune teller to work out that, had he lived, Ray’s only son, Ivan Keith Doncaster, would himself one day have acceded to that position and the factory would have gone on, providing money, food and accommodation for countless numbers of people not just in the town, but from the densely populated area around. Instead, Keith did not come back from his war in Bomber Command and, during the 1960s, the company just disappeared, taking perhaps thousands of jobs with it. And just one cannon shell would have been enough to bring Keith Doncaster’s Lancaster down.

Here and there a few red brick buildings remain. And a few walls. They are all that is left of the Sandiacre Screw Company nowadays:

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