Tag Archives: Lancaster

Victor Comic and me (5)

On the front and back covers, Victor would always have the story of a brave man, or a number of brave men. I can well remember this edition of Victor, Number 25, arriving at our house. It tells the story of the courageous South African, John Nettleton VC, who led a brave daytime attack on the MAN Diesel works in Augsburg. Seven of the Lancasters were shot down, and at least 37 men were killed:

The drawings are seldom completely regular in Victor. The top of the next row is often visible in the frame above.

Here is the next frame, thumbs up, and everybody happy to set off on their desperate mission:

The bombers flew low and this is emphasised by the old cliché of horses being frightened. Sometimes, hats are blown off, but not today:

The agility of the fighters compared to the bombers is often emphasised by the different angles at which the two aircraft are flying. The sinister nature of the German fighter pilot is underlined by his lack of kindly eyes. Instead his evil eyes are masked by his goggles. Nobody in the RAF ever covers his eyes with his goggles:

In real life, operations like this one were always costly in lives. And a bomber pilot could take more than two years to train and it was an extremely expensive process. The story, though, makes the reader feel better by mentioning heavy German losses among the fighter pilots. That ignores, however, the fact that each bomber had seven men in it, and on average, when there was a terminal situation in a Lancaster, fewer than two of that seven would survive. And the fighter pilot, if he were shot down, would parachute down onto German soil. With luck, he could be back flying only three or four hours later:

This is the worst bit of a raid, flying straight and level just before the bombs were dropped:

This type of attack seldom had great effects and the effects it did have were seldom long lasting. The American bombing of the ball bearing works at Schweinfurt and of the oil wells at Ploesti in Rumania would fall into this category and people still argue about the Dambusters raid:

A thousand feet is not very high. And one or two of those Lancasters at the back seem to be morphing into B-24 Liberators:

It would have been one hell of a long way back, with, presumably, all of the German fighters knowing that the surviving Lancasters would be coming past any time soon:

And now came the question which is always asked around the time when the bombers are scheduled to arrive back at base. “How many are left?”

The British and the Americans always seemed to overestimate vastly the effect of their bombs on these specialised missions, especially early on in the conflict. Investigations after the war revealed that at Augsburg only 8 machine tools were destroyed out of 2,700. Of 558 cranes, just 5 were destroyed:

What cannot be denied is the bravery of every single crewman and the huge effect that this raid had on morale. Nettleton toured widely, addressing meetings both in Britain and in North America. Here is a news film of the time about the raid:

John Nettleton was killed on his way back from Turin after a bombing raid on July 13th 1943. Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled as the returning bombers passed over Brittany in the early hours of daylight. It is believed that an Fw190 shot his Lancaster down over the sea. Nettleton’s body has never been found. Much to my amazement, the Nettleton School in Braeside, Harare, in Zimbabwe, still exists. I need to be less cynical.

 

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A young German dies (1)

Death in war is very strange.  As kindly old Uncle Joe Stalin used to say, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” He would frequently ease his constantly untroubled conscience with wise old peasant maxims like that one.

The Russian means “Glory to the Great Stalin!”

Let’s just take a look at a million deaths and a single death.

This account isn’t quite a million deaths but it makes a good contribution to the overall total. These are the statistics about a single night during the Second World War. They are taken from “The Bomber Command War Diaries and Operational Reference Book 1939 to 1945” by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.” This is one of the best, if not the best, reference work about the activities of Bomber Command. It is not in the slightest bit gung-ho. It is factual and leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind. And it relates the death toll both in the air and on the ground.

“April 22-23, 1944.  Düsseldorf bombed by 596 aircraft….323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitoes.  29 aircraft… 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.9% of the force.”

In those 29 bombers, a minimum of 134 men were killed.

“2150 tons of bombs were dropped in this heavy attack which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. Widespread damage was caused on the ground. Among the statistics in the local report are: 56 large industrial premises hit, of which seven were completely destroyed, more than 2000 houses destroyed or badly damaged”:

“Casualties recorded by 2 PM on April 25th were 883 people killed, 593 injured and 403 still to be dug out of wrecked buildings ; at least three quarters of this last figure would have been dead.”

For my single death, I will go to the programmes of Norm Christie, one of my very favourite presenters of historical programmes on TV:

Christie always presents the Canadian point of view, which is very often different, and may well be a lot less favourable to the British ruling classes than, say, the BBC one.  One of his best programmes contained a portrayal of Arthur Currie, the leader of the Canadian forces in World War One and a man from very humble origins. He changed the face of warfare at the time. I realised that Norm Christie would have some interesting ideas when he contrasted a photograph of Haig’s Generals with one of Currie. Do you see what makes Currie a man apart?

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And Norm Christie is not directly related to an officer involved in masterminding the carnage of the First World War. At least one regular television presenter can’t say that and I refuse to watch any programmes he has made. To be continued.

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To bale out or not to bale out? (8)

Last time, I  told the story of how, on November 3rd 1943, Lancaster LM360, O for Oscar, took off from its base at RAF Syerston, piloted by 21 year old Flight Lieutenant William Reid. He and his crew were intending to bomb industrial facilities near Düsseldorf.

During the operation they were attacked at first by a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter:

And then a Focke Wulf Fw 190 single seat, single engined night fighter:

During the latter attack, Flight Sergeant John Alan Jeffreys, the Navigator, was killed outright.

As I told you, for his bravery, Bill Reid received the Victoria Cross. Here is the citation which I hope will not upset too many people by my quoting it, albeit in shortened form:

“Air Ministry, 14th December, 1943.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

.
Acting Flight Lieutenant William REID, No. 61 Squadron.

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Reid was pilot of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.
Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. The rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately but after a brief delay he managed to return fire and the Messerschmitt was driven off.
During the fight, Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were out of action. Reid ascertained that his crew  were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.
Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. The enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator and the wireless operator were killed. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though wounded, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.
Reid refused to turn back and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. Reid had memorised his course continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer knew nothing of his captain’s injuries. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.
Steering by the pole star and the moon, Reid set course for home. Weak from loss of blood, the oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He became semiconscious. The flight engineer and the bomb-aimer kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.
The North Sea was crossed and an airfield was sighted. The captain recovered, resumed control and prepared to land. Ground mist obscured the runway lights and he had lots of blood getting into his eyes. He made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed.
Wounded twice, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator and wireless operator dead, the aircraft crippled, Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating 200 miles into enemy territory to attack such a strongly defended target, every mile increasing the hazards of the long and dangerous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

On July 31st 1944, Bill was busy on a different mission, flying with his crew at 12,000 ft over the target, a V-weapon storage facility at Rilly-la-Montagne, not too far from Rheims. He was in an Avro Lancaster Serial Number ME557, Squadron Letters KC-S. At this point, Bill had left 61 Squadron and was flying with the glamorous 617 “Dambusters” Squadron. On this occasion, they were using Tallboy, 12,000 lb, bombs. Here’s one I photographed earlier:

Suddenly, Bill’s bomber was hit by another Tallboy bomb, released by an aircraft some 6,000 feet above him. It hit his Lancaster in the fuselage, causing catastrophic damage. Bill gave the order to bale out. That was not a straight forward action for Bill as the G-forces initially pinned him down in his seat. Just in the nick of time, he baled out, but because of the low altitude, he hit the ground with some force and broke his arm. A group of German soldiers had seen the whole thing, including the Lancaster’s spectacular splitting in two in mid-air, and they took Bill prisoner.

Not everybody escaped the Grim Reaper, however:

Flight Sergeant Donald George William Stewart, the Flight Engineer, was buried in Germaine Communal Cemetery some 25 miles north west of Chalons en Champagne. This was close to where the aircraft fell. Donald was just 27 years old and before the war, he had worked for Southern Railways, cleaning locomotives. He too, though, had answered the Call of the Skies, being a keen member of Redhill Flying Club.

The navigator, Flying Officer Joseph Ovila Peltier, a French Canadian was 26 years old. He was the son of René and Emilie Renaud Peltier from Windsor in Ontario and the husband of Lillian Ilene Peltier also from Windsor. He was buried in Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery at Hautot-Sur-Mer.

The bomb aimer, Pilot Officer Leslie George Rolton was the son of Olander Rolton, and of Elizabeth Rolton from Romford in Essex. He was only 22 years old, and was buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery on the northern periphery of Paris:

The wireless operator, Flying Officer David Luker became a prisoner of war in two different camps, Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, the same camps as Bill Reid.

The mid-upper gunner, Flight Sergeant Albert Arthur Holt was 31 years of age and the son of Henry Holt and Florence Elizabeth Holt. He was the husband of Gladys Maude Holt from Douglas on the Isle of Man. He was buried at Clichy, in the same plot as Leslie Rolton but not absolutely next to him as far as I can ascertain.

The rear gunner, Warrant Officer John William Hutton was also buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery. His grave is next to that of Albert Holt.

Bill Reid died in 2001. His family sold his medals at auction where they realised a record price for a Victoria Cross of £335,000. They included a 1939-1945 Star, an Air Crew Europe Star, a War Medal, a 1953 Coronation Medal and a 1977 Jubilee Medal:

 

 

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To bale out or not to bale out? (7)

In a previous post in this series, “To bale out or not to bale out? (3)”,  I told the story of Harold Pronger who baled out of a Lancaster bomber when the aircraft looked likely to crash because of mechanical problems. But like the rest of the crew, Harold survived. And so did the pilot, Flying Officer B.C. Fitch, who stayed with the aircraft. It was as if Lancaster LM360, like a living being, seemed to have made a sudden recovery from all the problems that had previously beset it:

And so, Fitch was able to land without incident at RAF Winthorpe, despite repeated episodes of losing height, an inability to climb, the mid-upper turret out of commission and an engine on fire. Here is RAF Winthorpe today:

What the members of the crew did not necessarily know was that this Lancaster, LM360,  somehow was aware that it had a glorious destiny in its future, and it was making damned sure that it survived to achieve it.
That day, or rather night, of destiny began for Lancaster LM360 on November 3rd 1943, when O for Oscar took off from its base at RAF Syerston, piloted by Flight Lieutenant William Reid. He and his crew were tasked with bombing industrial facilities in and around Düsseldorf.

On the way, just after they crossed over the Dutch coast, at 21,000 feet, they were attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter:

The Luftwaffe fighter caused enormous damage to the front gun turret and the aircraft’s steering system, but most importantly, the pilot’s windscreen was smashed and it was no longer able to protect the crew from the cold of a November night at 20,000 or so feet above the ground.

What a pity that the aircraft’s heating system had not been working before the attack, so that the rear gunner, his hands frozen and stiff, had been unable to open fire on the German aircraft or even to warn the pilot over the intercom about the night fighter’s arrival. The stricken Lancaster lost more than 15,000 feet of altitude but Bill recovered, fortunately, just before they hit the ground.

Bill was badly wounded but said absolutely nothing about his own injuries. The intercom system was not working and the compasses were unusable. The decision, though, was made to carry on to the target:

The Lancaster was then attacked for a second time by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 single seat fighter which raked them with cannon fire from nose to tail. The navigator was killed outright and the wireless operator received severe wounds. Bill was hit for a second time and so was the flight engineer. The starboard section of the tailplane had been shot off, the bomber’s communication system didn’t work and there was no oxygen supply.  The flight engineer, wounded in the arm, found a bottle or two of oxygen and held them up for Bill to breathe from. Bill, who, as always, had previously memorised the course to fly for the mission, still kept to the plan. He reasoned that turning round now would entail crossing through a bomber stream of 600 aircraft, which would have been rather dangerous, and that their aircraft would then have become a vulnerable unprotected lone sitting duck. Here is a tiny part of a bomber stream:

So on they went for the next 50 minutes and 200 miles and they bombed their target at Düsseldorf successfully. It was a ball bearing factory which Bill actually recognised.

And then, they turned for home. By now Bill was weak from loss of blood, lack of oxygen and the cold icy blast coming through the broken windscreen. That cold icy blast was actually freezing the blood from his head wound as it seeped into his eyes.  There was a very real risk that Bill would not be capable of lasting all the way back to Syerston. The flight engineer and bomb aimer took over control of the plane, when Bill lapsed into semi-consciousness. But on and on they flew, despite the heart stopping moment when all four engines stopped but then just as quickly restarted. Heavy anti aircraft fire over the Dutch coast missed them. Minute by minute, mile after mile into the darkness. The first moment of happiness, the English coast. And then as they flew over Norfolk, the crew noticed the lights of the airfield at Shipdham, 5 miles south-south-west of Dereham:

Despite vision limited by blood in his eyes, Bill revived somewhat and he carried out a fine landing, although the landing lights were hidden by fog rising in the early morning. The Lancaster’s undercarriage gave way on one side and they skidded down the runway. The wireless operator was taken immediately to the medical centre, but, unfortunately, he died there of his injuries. The story of Bill Reid’s bravery is repeated many times on the Internet, but this was the website I used as the skeleton.

I must have looked at more than 20 websites. Only one named the rest of his crew. They were:

Flight Sergeant J.A. Jeffreys (Navigator)

Flight Sergeant L. Rolton (Bomb Aimer)

Flight Sergeant J.W. Norris (Flight Engineer)

Flight Sergeant J.J. Mann (Wireless Operator)

Flight Sergeant D. Baldwin, D.F.M. (Mid-Upper gun turret)

Flight Sergeant A.F. ´Joe´ Emerson (Rear gun turret)

Flight Sergeant John Alan Jeffreys, the Navigator, was killed outright during the attack by the Fw 190 night fighter. He was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and he was 30 years old.  He came from Perth in Western Australia, and he was the son of John Alfred Jeffreys and Amelia Jeffreys. He was the  husband of Florence Isobel Jeffreys. John was buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

Flight Sergeant John James Mann was the Wireless Operator who sadly died in the medical centre at Shipdham. He was only 22 and he was the son of James Mann and Dora Mann, of Liverpool. He was buried in Bootle Cemetery.

Here’s the Lancaster that brought them back, looking a little the worse for wear :

 

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Victor Comic and me (2)

Victor Comic normally began with a war story in full colour on the outside covers of the comic. The story was always true, although I don’t think that that ever really registered with me:

This particular story may not have been 100% true but I think that this is because Douglas Bader was still alive at the time and they didn’t want any law suits:

And anyway, what’s an arm or a leg between friends?

Good Old One-Armed Mac was back doing what he did best. Killing Germans:

Good Old One-Armed Mac used to fly a Hawker Hurricane, but the squadron leader chose to ignore totally the aircraft’s fuel tank capacity when he announced one day that they were going to go and attack Germany. Perhaps they went just a little way up the Rhine on an aircraft carrier:

No, I don’t see an arrestor hook there. But they’re very good, aren’t they?

Victor always had completely 100% fictional wartime characters such as Sergeant Matt Braddock VC. He usually flew a Lancaster or a Mosquito but he could turn his hand to anything. Nobody knew that Matt and his navigator George were the adopted sons of Biggles and Ginger:

Here’s the text if you can’t read it:

Given the hair brained nature of some of the things they did, I’m not too surprised that Matt and George were based at the fictional RAF Rampton. Here’s the Terrible Twosome and a nice illustration of what they do best:

Braddock might have been a double Victoria Cross winner, but he was not cut out for training young recruits:

He was not very good either at passing on the idea of “the calm pilot who was always in control” :

He was never really very interested in the concept of patience and understanding:

Occasionally, in the stories featured in Victor Comic the odd cliché would crop up. The clichés were never really a genuine source of negativity though and they were never meant in a nasty way.

And race hatred was something that just did not ever crop up. No higher respect could have possibly been paid, for example, to those great warriors, the Gurkhas or indeed, any other non-white soldiers in the British Army.

Characters from the Middle East could even star in their own series. And, yes, the hero does look a little bit blonde haired with possibly a hint of blue eyes:

But what about “the traditional Jesus” ?  Very few people will ever have been struck by the markedly Jewish appearance of Jesus in illustrations . Here’s Jesus the Viking:

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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:

Metheringham_Gymnaxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the building used to practice dropping bombs accurately:

Bombing_Trainxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxer

And here is the beautifully maintained Memorial Garden:

1280px-RAF_Metheringham_Memorial_Garden

Frank was the Flight Engineer in an Avro Lancaster Mark III. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was NE150.
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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John David Fletcher: Part 3

Flight Lieutenant John David Fletcher was buried in Cambridge City Cemetery on the Newmarket Road. As well as John Fletcher, four other casualties were buried in this cemetery, the rest being taken back to the cemeteries near to their homes.

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Henry Stewart van Raalte of the Royal Australian Air Force was one of the four to be buried in Cambridge City Cemetery. Aged just 31, he was the beloved son of Henri Benedictus Salman van Raalte and Katherine Lyell van Raalte. He was the much loved young husband of Mrs Mary Ellen van Raalte. They all lived together in Albany in Western Australia:

van rxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is Jimmy’s funeral in Cambridge Cemetery. His brother is labelled in the foreground:

van

Flight Sergeant Maurice Durn, the Flight Engineer, is buried in the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s Church in Marsden. He was only 21 years of age, the beloved son of Norman and Clara Durn, of Marsden, and the much loved husband of Mrs Dorothy Durn, who lived in the same village in West Yorkshire, seven miles west of Huddersfield.

Pilot Officer David Gethin Williams was the navigator. He was the beloved son of Gwilym and Dorcas Ann Williams, of Blaengwynfi, a village in the Port Talbot area of South Wales. He is buried in Plot T, in unconsecrated ground, in Rhondda (Treorchy) Cemetery.

David Williams’ nephew can still remember him:

“My uncle David Gethin Williams was the navigator in Van Raalte’s airplane. My father who was 14 when his brother was killed remembers that it was a sealed coffin that was returned home for burial as they could not be sure if it was David Gethin that was in it. My grandmother was always haunted by that. My father remembers the Van Raalte brothers coming home to Treorchy with David Gethin when they were on leave. The rear gunner Royston George Davies was also from Treorchy and both gravestones are in sight of each other which is very poignant!”

rhonfdd cemete

The Bomb Aimer, Warrant Officer Alfred Leonard Lambert of the Royal Australian Air Force was 25 years old when he died. He was the much loved son of John Leo and Rhoda Lambert and the beloved husband of Stella Irene Case Lambert, of Eastwood in New South Wales, Australia.

lambert

His daughter, later to marry and become Maree Pollard, was only eleven months old when her father was killed. She said:

“It has always been a big black hole in my life. I personally feel that LARG have done a fantastic job and I just can’t thank them enough. I find it very humbling.”

Maree never met her father, because she was living in Australia when he died. Alfred is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery:laambert

Flying Officer Alan Arnold was the Second Bomb Aimer, He was also a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and was aged just 26 at the time of his death. Alan was the much loved son of Edward and Lillian Evelyn Agnes Arnold, of Pascoe Vale South, Victoria, Australia. He was apparently flying as a visual air bomber. He too is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

arnold

Flight Sergeant Eric Henry Peace was just 21 years of age. He was the wireless operator, the beloved son of Ernest and Ethel Maud Peace of York. He too is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

The mid-upper gunner was Royston George Davies, aged just 22, and the much loved son of Gerildis and Gwenlian Davies, of Treorchy. He was the husband of Phyllis Mary Davies, and they lived in Cwmparc, Treorchy. Just like the navigator, David Gethin Williams, Royston is buried in Rhondda (Treorchy) Cemetery, both graves in sight of each other.

The other Lancaster involved in the catastrophe was ND981, also of 97 Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Edward Leslie John Perkins:

third time livcky

His friend Patrick Turner, the flight engineer in another Lancaster in 97 Squadron, recounted how the men enjoyed time to let off steam:

“One of the pilots, Flt Lt Perkins, had a small car and the whole of the flight lifted this car onto the top of an air raid shelter. After the accident we had the job of getting it down.”

Only one man was to escape alive from this horrendous collision, everybody else being killed.

Flight Lieutenant Perkins, the pilot, was buried in Cambridge Cemetery, but I have been unable to trace any further details whatsoever about him.

The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Frank Ernest Coxhead, aged 20, of Somercotes in Derbyshire. He was the much loved son of Frank Percy and Martha Coxhead. Frank is buried in Lea Brooks Cemetery in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

The Navigator was Flight Lieutenant William James Hunt who was only 22 years old. He was the beloved son of Sydney Herbert and Maud Adeline Margaret Hunt, of Romford, in Essex . The inscription on his grave in Romford Cemetery reads, “Tranquil you lie, Your memory hallowed, In the land you love.”

The bomb aimer was Flight Sergeant John Fairbairn, aged 30, the much loved son of Frank and Ada Fairbairn, of Knottingley in West Yorkshire. John was the husband of Ivy Fairbairn, of Ferrybridge near Knottingley. He is buried in the cemetery at Knottingley. He had had a lovely wedding, perhaps at the very same Northern church:

fairnbairn%20wedding%20day

The wireless operator was Flight Sergeant Coman, with the first name John or Joseph, depending on where you look. Of him, more later.

The mid upper gunner was Warrant Officer Denis Gilbert Partos. He was 23 years old, and the much loved son of Francis Ferdinand and Pauline Partos, of Southgate, Middlesex. John is buried in Southgate Cemetery. Denis died without knowing that he had been awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal. The news only came through in the London Gazette on June 27th.

This death may have been the final moment of despair for Francis Ferdinand and Pauline Partos, of Southgate, Middlesex. Their other son, John Emil Partos, a Bomb Aimer with 427 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, had already been killed on February 27th 1943:002810029-vickers-wellington-iii

He was flying in a Vickers Wellington bomber which had taken off from RAF Croft at 1848 hours. This was ZL-C with the serial number BK268, piloted by Flight Sergeant  George Taylor. They were one of seven Wellingtons sent to bomb Cologne. Five aircraft returned safely. Flight Sergeant Taylor bombed successfully, but on the way home he crashed at R.A.F. North Luffenham, near Woolfax Lodge, and he, and four of his crew, were killed, including John Partos. Flight Sergeant William Harwood and his crew were also posted missing from this raid. The whole story can be found on the website of the Canadian 6th Group:

What makes these events, back at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, even more tragic and twisted is that Denis Partos was not even a normal member of the crew of this doomed Lancaster. The normal mid-upper gunner was Flight Sergeant M.H.McBride, but he could not fly on this particular day because he was on a charge and had been grounded for his bad behaviour.  So too was the other gunner in the crew, Flight Sergeant J.K.Russell. Flight Sergeant M.H.McBride went on to survive the conflict as far as I can trace. So too did Flight Sergeant Russell. They must have thought, though, that they had used up all of their good luck for the entire rest of the war! Here is the Operations Room of 97 Squadron

opr room

I cannot trace a rear gunner for ND981 on this particular occasion. Some sources give it as John David Fletcher but that is clearly an error. Perhaps the aircraft flew with just six crew members.

The only man to survive the crash was Flight Sergeant Coman who was the wireless operator of Flight Lieutenant Perkins’ Lancaster. Coman jumped out of the stricken bomber as it broke up and managed to get his parachute open. He was badly burned by parachuting down almost into the burning wreckage of the two aircraft. He owed his survival, it is thought, to the fact that he was conceivably blown upwards by the force of the explosion of the burning wreckage on the ground and was, therefore, able to open his parachute and come down safely.

After his almost miraculous escape, poor Flight Sergeant Coman left the squadron and, in actual fact, was to die of tuberculosis not too long after he left the RAF. According to at least one website, he was so traumatised that he was never flew again after the tragic events of Friday, June 23rd 1944. (not surprisingly, you might think).

Old Nottinghamian, John David Fletcher had intended to make his living by farming poultry when he left the RAF.

Sixty years after the tragedy,  at a commemorative ceremony, Roy Sturman, from the Nottinghamshire country village of Collingham, spoke about his feelings all those years ago. He was only ten when his brother-in-law, John David Fletcher, was killed in the crash. He said:

“I thought he was great. He was a hero to me. I’m so glad I came along to the ceremony, because this is history and it needs to be remembered.”

This stained glass window is dedicated to the memory of the brave young men of 97 Squadron:

97 msq windowxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Needless to say, as I was not a witness to all of these dreadful events, this article could not have been written without using the series of excellent books by W.R.Chorley, and a number of other websites.

The final part of this sad tale to follow in the near future.

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