HUDSON FK790 MA-6, 161 SQUADRON, 5/6 JULY 1944

Gibraltar Farm, known as RAF Tempsford was home to the Special Operations Squadrons, including those who were part of the Dutch BBO (Bureau Special Assignment. From here they could drop in supplies and persons to help the local resistance in the occupied Low Countries.

A month on from the D-Day landings in Normandy, resistance groups across Europe were busy with any means to assist the Allies and hinder the German forces. Special Operation FIVES 1 was to parachute four Dutch agents, in teams of two, behind enemy lines and join the local resistance.

It was bright moonlight when Hudson FK7901 MA-R flew low to avoid radar over the North Sea towards Nijkerk, Holland. Radio silence was observed on the journey, but the Germans knew they were coming. A miscommunication meant that the night fighters in the area never got the order not to shoot the aircraft down; the German hierarchy wanted the agents alive to question about their activities and connections. It is not known how the Germans knew of the aircraft and its cargo. The aircraft crashed at Ijsselmeer, near Makkum, Holland.  All the crew and agents were killed.

Crew and passengers: (see more on the Losses Database)

NAVIGATOR                       FO  Kenneth Bunney                                      136328                    IBCC Panel 138

REAR GUNNER                  SGT Eric Eliot                                                 771810                      IBCC Panel 160

PILOT                                    FL  John Menzies DFC                                    108868                  IBCC Panel 211

WIRELESS OP                     SGT Dennis Withers                                        1737508                 IBCC Panel 268

AGENT                                  Jan Bockham (Codename Halma)                                                IBCC Panel 132

AGENT                                  Pluen Verhoef   (Codename Raquet)                                            IBCC Panel 257

AGENT                                  Pieter Jacob Kwint (Codename Fives)                                         IBCC Panel 195

AGENT                                  Johannes Walter  Bockma (Codename Bowls)                           IBCC Panel 259

Pilot, FL John Menzies was the son of John Menzies, of the business empire of that names. He was aged 28 when he was lost, and his body wasn’t found until 1997 and upon identification he was buried with the rest of the crew.

Sergeant Dennis Withers was the youngest member of the aircrew and been married just three weeks previous.

FO Kenneth Bunney was born 1913 in Lewisham, south London. He had already completed two tours (62 sorties) and served with Air-Sea Rescue when he was lost.

Sgt Eric Eliot, at 32, was the oldest member of the crew and had an eight-year-old son. He had served at RAF Karachi, before being posted back to England.

Agent Johannes Walter was born in East Java, Indonesia and had served in the Dutch Navy before joining the Dutch BBO. He was married and his wife was expecting when he was killed.

Agent Pluen Verhoef had escaped Holland when it became an occupied territory and had made his way to England. He served in the Dutch Army before joining Special Operations and then Dutch BBO.

Agent Pieter Kwint had escaped Holland after refusing to swear a German oath of loyalty. He travelled via Paris and France, but was arrested in Spain, only being released in March 1944. The Dutch Consulate put him on a boat bound for Liverpool.  He was interrogated and asked to join SOE, and to return to his home country. After completing his training, he was given the rank of Second LT, just three days before his death.

Agent Jan Bockma was the son of a resistance leader. He had travelled to England in 1942 via Spain and the French Foreign Legion. He had served in the Dutch Navy before joining SOE.

(All photos courtesy of

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The Last Flight

Crew photo
The last flight is the story of Avro Lancaster LM621 (HW-C) of 100 Sqn. Sent in by Mark Hanson
At 21:00 on 30th June 1944, Pilot Officer Bill Kay and his crew took off from RAF Grimsby (Waltham) to attack the railyards at Vierzon. This was a major junction for German reinforcements heading for Normandy to counter attack the invasion. It never got there. About 40 miles from the target near Vouzon it was attacked by a night fighter, possibly Rudolf Morenz (5./NJG 2) in a Ju88 with upward firing cannon called Schrage Music. A fire was started in the port wing and quickly moved to the fuselage. Bill gave the order to bail out. The Flight Engineer, Sgt Harry Dale (my Grandad), stayed with the pilot. He helped Bill out of his seat and they both jumped. The last to jump was the Wireless Operator, Ernie Harrop, surrounded by fire.
The mid-upper gunner, John Sharpley, had just returned to the crew after being given a few days leave. He had met his best mate in Ormskirk, who was on leave from the Navy called Hearn. At the end of the meeting, Hearn cheerily said “see you in three months”. Ominously, John replied “I’ll be dead by then”. Unfortunately, he was right. He was severely injured in the attack. It is unknown whether he managed to jump or went down with the aircraft, but villagers found him and helped him, but unfortunately to no avail. John died of his injuries just a few days after his fateful words. He is buried in Vouzon Communal Cemetery in Military Plot 1. The only military casualty in the cemetery.
Of the six that managed to survive the crash, Dale was captured the next day near Orleans. Harrop had injured himself in the landing and was hidden by the locals in a hut in the woods. During this time he was brought part of the scalp of John, where he identified his crewmate. After 5 days in the hut, he moved into a farmhouse and stayed there until 17th August when he developed appendicitis. He was rushed to Allied lines, operated on, and transported back to the UK.
The other four were picked up by the Resistance over the next few days and transported to the Maquis resistance HQ where they stayed until 11th July. They asked to be involved in the sabotage operations, but were refused. On the 11th July they decided to head off and find their way home. The rear gunner Bill Struck and bomb aimer, Jimmy Frink decided to head towards Normandy. Bill Kay and navigator, Fred Fulsher headed toward Paris.
Struck and Frink managed to reach Le Mans where they split up, Frink meeting up with the Allies soon after. He begged to be allowed to go back to Le Mans and get Struck, but was refused. Struck was picked up later and the two were reunited.
Kay and Fulsher reached Paris with the help of the resistance. On 19th July they were taken out of Paris, but were betrayed by a double agent (possibly Jaques Desoubrie), and handed over to the Gestapo. They were interned in Fresnes Prison along with 166 other airmen. The Gestapo labelled them “Terrorfliegers” – Terror Flyers, and were not treated as Prisoners of War. On 15th August, the 168 airmen were transported in overcrowded cattle trains to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. They would become known as the “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald”. They identified Squadron Leader Phil Lamason as their senior commander and behaved like the military they were, which seriously upset the camp guards. They managed to sneak a letter out of the camp to the local Luftwaffe office detailing their fate. This letter went up to the highest levels of the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe were furious that airmen had been treated like this and ordered their release. Unfortunately 2 airmen, one RAF and one USAAF died in Buchenwald due to sickness. The other 166, including the two from this aircraft, were released on 21st October into the care of the Luftwaffe, three days before they were due to be executed by the Gestapo. They were transferred to Stalag Luft III (famous for the great escape).
Crew photo – Left to right – P/O W Kay (Pilot), Sgt H Dale (Flt Eng), Flt Sgt FH Fulsher (Nav – RCAF), Flight Officer JD Frink (Bomb Aimer – USAAF), Flt Sgt JE Sharpley (Mid-Upper Gunner), Sgt W Struck (Rear Gunner – RCAF).
John Sharpley with his family
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Francis Reginald Law

Francis Reginald Law – The Story Behind the Stone

Born in Chadwell Heath, Romford Essex on the 10th December 1911, the oldest of 3 children, a brother Richard served with the Transport Police and a sister Nancy who served as a driver with the ATS.

Francis married in 1937 to Dorothy Chasney, they had no children and on the outbreak of war Dorothy returned to her home village of Rock near Kidderminster

Francis enlisted on 10th July 1940. After all the initial training he joined 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore on the 14th July 1941. From there he was posted as an AG/W-Op to 50 Squadron at Swinderby on the 13th October 1941.

He flew his first Op with pilot, Ivor Mapp, on the 20th October 1941, his first 7 Ops were as AG all with Ivor Mapp – though other crew members were changed. On the 30th November for his 8th Op he moved to the W/Op seat for a bombing run to Hamburg, the crew for this op was Mapp, Webber Law and Lane and this was the crew for the next 6 ops – taking Francis to 13 ops

The 14th Op, 21st February 1942 saw another crew change – Ivor Mapp as pilot, Hector Thompson as navigator – his first op with 50 Sqn having been posted from RAF Wigsley, Francis flew as Wireless Op and Philip Sydney Ballard flew as Air Gunner – his 12th Op, he was posted from 16 OTU RAF Upper Heyford on the 29th October 1941.

Flying in Hampden AE394 (for the first time) They took off from RAF Skellingthorpe at 18.40 on a bombing op to the Rhine Valley, Coblenz.

The run to target was trouble free and weather conditions good. Problems started on the return journey – the navigator fell ill and the pilot set the course for home. As they approached the English Coast the icing conditions got bad and one engine cut from lack of fuel. Unable to find an airfield and as the second engine cut the pilot gave the order to bale out.

Philip Ballard left the aircraft but his parachute failed – he died near the Haxby Road York and is buried at Chartham in Kent

Ivor Mapp baled and made a safe landing – he survived a second tour and the war.

Hampden AE394 crashed on Haleys Terrace York at about 2.20am on 22nd February 1942, Hector Thompson and Francis Law were still on board and died in the crash.

They rest in a joint grave at St Germaine Thurlby – just a couple of miles east of Swinderby

Francis is remembered on the memorial at Rock (on the A456)as Frank Law

Francis was my mothers brother – killed before I was born. I grew up knowing that he had died – but nothing else was said.

I started my search for more details when CWGC went online in 1996 but searches for the crash site were unsuccessful until I discovered the online ORBs at the National Archive – this gave me the aircraft serial number and led me to the crash site. On the journey to find these details I acquired a lot of general knowledge about Bomber Command and this included the work of the IBCC – which I visited in October 2016, 75 years since the date Francis joined 50 Squadron. A permanent stone at the IBCC seemed a good marker for his life.

It reads “Sgt FR Law – 50 Squadron – Lest We Forget”

The family inscription on his grave reads – “He Gave His Life For Freedom”


Air Ministry Squadron Operations Records

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WW2 Rationing

World War II rationing began with bacon, butter and sugar on 8 January 1940, and lasted until 4 July 1954, when restrictions on meat and bacon were finally lifted. Fourteen years of making do and becoming inventive with the food, that was available.

The government realised that they were importing 50 million tons of food by marine conveys. This dropped to 12 million as the German U-Boats (the Wolf Packs) began attacking the Atlantic conveys with great loss of life and goods. Food shortages were to become the norm for the population.

National registration began with everybody being issued with identity cards and ration books.

BUFF                     Adults

GREEN                  Pregnant or nursing women, and children under the age of five. (These groups got first choice on food supplies)

BLUE                      Children aged 5 to 16. (Made sure they got fruit, a full meat ration and half pint of milk daily).

A typical weekly allowance (for an adult):

Bacon/Ham                                                        4oz

Other meat or two chops

Butter                                                                   2oz

Cheese                                                                 2oz

Margarine                                                           4oz

Cooking Fat                                                         4oz

Milk                                                                       3 Pints

Sugar                                                                     8oz

Preserves                                                              1lb (every two months)

Tea                                                                         2oz

Eggs                                                                       1 fresh (and dried egg)

Sweets                                                                   12oz  (every four weeks)

Imagine trying cooking with these ingredients. Thankfully, bread was not rationed. Neither were fruit and vegetables. Many people grew their own in back yards and on allotments, as well as keeping rabbits and chickens for extra meat. Much public land was used for the use of growing of these, including parks and cricket pitches.  People were encouraged to ‘Dig For Victory.’

People had to register with local shops, there were no supermarkets at this time, only small individual shops. So queueing and shortages were common and a part of wartime life as people travelled between shops searching for their allowances. Once they had collected their goods, the items would be crossed off by staff or ripped out of the ration book, so that they couldn’t be used again.

Tinned goods, dried fruit, cereals and biscuits could all be obtained via a points system. People living in rural areas found it easier to obtain items such as eggs and butter.

Because of shortages, people ate out if they could afford it. There was no rationing but the menu could be a bit limited. Workers often ate in the works canteen for the same reason.

Rationing allowed everybody to have equal amounts in a time of restriction. It allowed those of lower income to be able to get food, and to stop the practice of hoarding. Even so there was a well-used Black Market for those who wished to use it.

Items such as clothes, soap and petrol were also rationed for most of the war. People accepted what was required of them, and though they missed much. There was food and they became very resourceful and inventive. Recipes can still be found online or in books.

If you would like to try your hand at some wartime recipes, look at our book, Dig For Victory




Wartime Childhood

The 1940s were a very different and difficult time for children. It was a childhood without the distraction of social media or 24/7 television. So many-a-day was spent trying to entertain themselves, but all this changed when World War 2 broke out and transformed their lives forever.

Even before war was officially declared on 3 September 1939, children were aware of the world changing around them. They had begun air raid practices at school and knew to carry their gas mask with them at all times. Many of these masks had Mickey Mouse or a cartoon character on them to make them a little less scary.

By the end of August 1939, the British government issued orders for children to be evacuated from the dangers of the cities and into the relative safety of the countryside. Operation Pied Piper became the mass movement of almost two million children. Most went to the countryside, though many were sent to the Commonwealth such as Canada, South Africa Australia and New Zealand.

They arrived at the nominated departure points wearing their name and details on a tag about their necks, and also pinned on. Most had no idea whether they would stay together with their siblings or where any of them would end up. For their journey and new home, they were allowed to take their gas masks, a change of underclothes, night clothes, plimsolls and slippers, socks, a comb, soap, toothbrush, basic clothes and a warm coat.

Away from the noise and bustle of the city and the only home and way of life many had known; homesickness was common and often lonely with only an occasional letter from home. It was all new to them. Many came from the poorer inner city areas; with a father away on service and a mother now conscripted to work. Urban poverty often resulted in bad nutrition and hygiene from poor amenities, sharing a bed with siblings or the whole family, and even old world diseases such as rickets.

Life in the country away from the urban sprawl they were used to could be a big adventure, for some it was not. Farms were things they had heard of but never seen. They were often isolated and without amenities, and the children often had to work for their keep, but at least they were away from the dangers of the bombing. During the Blitz, 7739 children were killed.

By January 1940, about 60 percent of the children had returned to their homes in the cities due to the ‘Phoney War’. The start of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz saw evacuation begin again. When the V1 and V2 weapons began to target the home counties, another 100,000 children, women and elderly moved out of the range.

School became disrupted because of air raids, and the loss of teachers and staff. Classes could be held outside, but soon there was a decline in attendance. School buildings became requisitioned for military use and supplies became scarce.

Most children left school aged 14, and until the age of 17 boys could join the Home Guard. They also worked in agriculture, manufacturing and farming. From 1941, boys aged between 16 to 18 could do National Service before being ‘officially’ called up for military service. It was not uncommon for boys to lie about their age so that could serve King and Country. They understood it was their duty and did it with pride.

Six months after the end of the war over 5,000 children were still living in the countryside. Despite all the dangers and rationing, especially the sweet rationing, the fear and separation from family in this country and those serving overseas for six years, children survived. Six years that must have felt like a lifetime to those so young. They have carried those memories and stories through the generations that have followed. Their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have stories of a time they can only imagine.

Stories that have been written and filmed.

Books:  When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Films:    Hope And Glory

Goodnight Mr Tom

The Book Thief

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The Blitz

“It was Hitler’s belief that the war from the air would terrorise London into defeat. He was wrong. The city’s inhabitants on the contrary; took a perverse and particular pleasure from being the frontline of the war: ‘We can take it’ became the catchphrase of the blitz.”

Jon. E. Lewis: London – The Autobiography

7 September 1940 was a warm late summer’s afternoon that saw the end of the wartime life that people had become accustomed to.

At 4pm, German bombers flying in a formation that was 20 miles wide, crossed the English Channel. Their approach was plotted by Fighter Command at Bentley Priory and the fighters were scrambled to meet the enemy. It was the middle of the Battle of Britain, but this time the Luftwaffe turned away from the airfields and headed towards to London. It was to become the first night of the Blitz.

After months of watching dogfights over their city, Londoners came out onto the streets at the sound of the engines of the approaching aircraft. Many watched in disbelief and listened as the first air raid siren sounded. There had been warnings before, but this time the bombers had appeared.

348 German bombers came in the first wave following the River Thames towards the ‘U-shaped’ bend that marked their target.  The docks were London’s economic lifeblood and were surrounded by the heavily populated East End. People watched as the bombs fell on the docks and the surrounding industries. Soon the sky turned orange and began to fill with thick black smoke blotting out the day.

Soon the docks were alight with 200 acres of timber burning out of control at Surrey Docks. 1000 pumps were brought in from as far away as Birmingham, Bristol and Brighton. Sadly 20 firefighters, known as ‘Heroes with grimy faces’ were killed in the firestorm that erupted.

Just after 6pm, the all-clear was sounded and people emerged from the shelters to a scene of destruction with fires still raging. But it was the lull before the storm, as the sirens sounded again two hours later, and the second wave of bombers approached led on by the fires from the first attack

300 bombers dropped high explosives and incendiary devices onto the already devastated East End and docks. During this time, Fighter Command shot down 60 German aircraft with the loss of 30 fighters and 15 pilots.  Many of them had flown multiple operations on this day and were exhausted by the size of the attacks.  The Luftwaffe was able to bomb with a sense of freedom.

To people in the shelters, hiding under the bridges, down the underground or in an Anderson shelter in their back garden the night must have seemed terrifying and never-ending. London had seemed safe until this night.

1000 people were sheltering in Columbia Road, Bethnal Green, east London when a bomb went straight down the air shaft and exploded killing 40 people. The Keeton Road School in Bermondsey was struck killing 38 people – half of whom were children. Whole families were lost.

Buildings collapsed. Windows shattered, exploding as the skyline lit up as bright as the sunrise that was still hours away. The noise was deafening. Dust filled people’s eyes and nose making sight hard and breathing difficult. The terror of the Blitz had begun.

By 4.30am the all-clear finally sounded and there was a silence as the population began to emerge from their hiding places shocked to find their city devastated and knowing that this night wouldn’t be the last.

430 people had been killed, and nine fires were still burning. The sky glowed in the aftermath visible up to ten miles away.

The bombing of London was a massive turning point in the war. The Luftwaffe and the German leaders wanted to bomb Britain into submission.

“From the flames rose a defiance and determination not to bow before the enemy – which helped Britain win the war.”

In turning their aircraft away from the fighters and their airfields, Germany gave Britain the space, time and opportunity to rebuild the RAF, and thus began to turn the tables.

By the end of September, 5300 tonnes of high explosives had been dropped and a third of the capital lay in ruins.

The Blitz saw London bombed every night and day (except one) for eleven weeks. Other cities felt the force of the Luftwaffe bombers including Coventry. On the 14 November 1940, it saw the biggest raid resulting in 4330 houses being destroyed, 200 fires and 554 people being killed.

The last night of the Blitz was 10-11 May 1941, but it was also the worse. The whole of London was in the German bombers sights as they used the river and the full moon to find their targets including the House of Commons and Westminster Abbey both of which were badly damaged. It was one of the most destructive raids but still the city was still standing and defiant.

The raid lasted seven hours from 10pm through to the all-clear at 5.50am. The raid was the last major raid of the Blitz and saw the highest number of casualties with 1436 Londoners killed.

For now, the worst of the raids were over as Germany turned its forces east towards Russia and the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. Few who were there and survived would forget the 244 days and nights that saw their city defy the odds and rise again.

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F/O Tom Downing

F/O Tom Downing RAFVR  

Operation: Milan

Date: 15/16th August 1943 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit: No. 61 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: W5002

Code: QR-L

Base: RAF Syerston

Location: Rugles, France

The Crew of W5002 QR-L:

Pilot: Sgt. P. Victor Matthews 658607 RAFVR Evaded (see note 1)  Victor Matthews passed away 22nd March2017 

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Kenneth Thomas Brentnall 1477508 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Nav: F/O. Tom Downing 131604 RAFVR Age 21. Missing – believed killed

Air/Bmr: P/O. Conrad Larnach 149693 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Gordon Arthur Angwin 1386110 RAFVR Age 21. Missing – believed killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. John Edward Walden AUS/425386 RAAF Age 27. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. James John Griffin 1153700 RAFVR Age 23. Killed


The Crew from left to  right:  Sgt. John Waldren, Sgt. Gordon Angwin, Sgt Vic Matthews, Sgt. James Griffin, Sgt. Conrad Larnach and Sgt. Kenneth Brentnall


This is a record of the loss in action of my late uncle, Flying Officer Tom Downing, RAFVR. The actual circumstances of his loss were always something of a mystery and a source of great wonderment for me as I grew up in post-war Hull. Although I was born eight months after he was reported missing, some of my earliest memories are of a loving family desperate to believe he might somehow return one day, there being not the slightest trace of his passing. I have shared in these thoughts and feelings, with an enigmatic affinity that has remained with me over the years, though this has faded with time. As there were no remains or identification ever found for Tom Downing or Sgt. Gordon Angwin, they are simply commemorated on the Royal Air Force Memorial, Runnymede. I was taken on a to visit to the new Memorial by my maternal Grandparents when I was eight years old, and this certainly has had a profound and lasting effect on me.

My father Herbert served as a Corporal with the RAF Police during the war. After the pilot’s safe return to the UK in November 1943, my father had somehow managed to contact him. They had a brief meeting, but the pilot was unable to provide any further information at the time, other than that which he had officially reported. He told of how he had been rendered unconscious on baling-out of the burning aircraft, and had no knowledge of his crew’s fate.My Grandmother Eliza, was heartbroken. She never seemed to recover from the loss of their youngest son, and she died in 1949. From as young as I can remember, until about ten years old, I spent almost every weekend with my Grandparents. I slept in Tom’s old room, with many little reminders of him; photographs and books, even one or two of his old toys remained in the cupboard over the stairs. I treasured these, especially a delicate silk-covered model aircraft, which I was allowed to handle, with the greatest care.

In 1986, I wrote to the RAF, Air Historical Branch 5, at the Ministry of Defence, to inquire if there were any RAF records, which might provide some information as to what had happened more than forty years earlier. I received a very polite reply confirming the identities of the aircrew, the location of the crash site and the aircraft number, W5002, coded QR-L with 61 Squadron, RAF. Further enquiries resulted in correspondence with RAF Air Historical Branch 3, which erroneously listed Tom as the Bomb Aimer. (This was later corrected). They confirmed the location of the graves of the four crew buried at Rugles, France. I was advised to contact RAF Personnel Management Centre at Gloucester for any further information and for a copy of Tom’s Service Record.

Whilst awaiting a reply from Gloucester, my Mother-in-law told me of a letter published in the Hull Daily Mail dated 27 September 1990, from a Monsieur Albert Lecocq of Rugles, France, and she sent me a cutting. The compilation of these records and communications are a direct result of that chance letter reaching me, 200miles away, in Berwick upon Tweed. In April 1991, I had the privilege to meet Victor Matthews, the pilot. He and his wife Rosemary visited us in Berwick, following further correspondence with Albert Lecocq. Later that year, my wife Pat and I accompanied them to Rugles, for a formal reception by the civic authority with other relatives of the crew, and to place an engraved plaque at the crew graves. It was a very poignant and moving time for all concerned. We were presented, in Tom’s name, with a posthumous Médaille de la Ville de Rugles and an illuminated Certification. I felt privileged to have had the chance to visit the site of the crash, and to talk with the local people, who had not only witnessed the events of August 1943, but had survived to tell others.

      At the crash site Raymond Lavier talks with Vic Matthews (right) and Albert Lecocq 1991.

Recently, my researches concluded with the confirmation of the loss of Lancaster W5002 (QR-L) as being credited to Leutnant Detlef Grössfuss DKG, (see note 3), of Luftwaffe 2/JG2 Richthofen Geschwader. He was later wounded in action, on 5th July 1944, but survived the war, as Oberleutnant, leading 9/JG2. He is credited with 30 victories, and was awarded the DKG (German Cross, in Gold), the Ehrenpokal Goblet and Iron Cross First Class. Originally, my intention was simply to arrange this information into an appropriate format, which could be retained within the family. I now feel satisfied that I have been able to eliminate any doubts concerning my Uncle Tom’s loss, and I have prepared the following narrative, drawing directly on the official records and my experiences in France. The records and transcripts are appended.

F/O Tom Downing RAFVR:

Tom was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, on 19th October 1921, the youngest son of Herbert and Eliza Downing, and younger brother to my father, Herbert. There had been three earlier children, but they had all died in infancy. He was always known as Tommy, and was educated at Malet Lambert High School, having attained a scholarship there, and entered the Police Service as a cadet in 1940.

After attending No.5 Aircrew Selection Board, he was recommended for training as Observer/Pilot and he joined the Royal Air Force on 20th July 1941, aged 18. Tommy reported to No.1 Aircrew Reception Centre on 27th October for initial kitting, preliminary drill instruction and his introduction to service life. Posting to No.1 ITW (Initial Training Wing) followed on 29th November, for basic flying theory, service protocol, etc.

Promoted to LAC on 23rd January 1942, he continued to No.1 (EAOS) (Elementary Air Observer School) on 14th February. On 17th May he embarked for Canada, to join No.32 Advanced Navigation School at RAF Charlottetown, where he qualified as an Observer/Navigator. (Until 1942, observer training, comprised of the four disciplines of navigation, wireless, gunnery and bomb aiming. After 1942, training was confined to the individual ‘trades’.) This advanced course earned him the qualification of the coveted “Flying O” brevet, and an appointment to a commission in the rank of Flying Officer, effective from 24th September 1942, as a Navigator. Then it was on to No.33 Advanced Navigation School, followed by parachute training, finally returning to No.4 Air Observer School before embarking for the UK to arrive at No.19 Operational Training Unit, RAF Kinloss. Posting to No.1661 HCU (Lancaster Heavy Conversion Unit) at RAF Winthorpe, Lincolnshire (A satellite of RAF Swinderby) followed on 12th May 1943. It was at this stage of training that the process of ‘crewing-up’ would start. A given number of individual trades would be assembled in a hanger to voluntarily form up into a specific number of crews. On completion of this course, Tom was posted to No.61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire, to commence operational flying on 24th June 1943. It was the culmination of almost two years intensive training.

The records show the other members of the crew, (all NCO’s), were also posted in to 61Squadron on 24th June 1943 from 1661 HCU, and presumably the seven had formed up as a crew there, prior to their first operational posting. Sgt Matthews first flew as U/T pilot (under training) with Plt.Off. W.C. Parsons as Captain (pilot in command) to Gelsenkirchen on 25/26 June. On 28/29 June he had his own command for a raid on Cologne, with his new crew and Sgt.Dudley as navigator. On 1/2 July, the same crew flew a minelaying operation, but with F/O. H.L. Hewitt as navigator. Two nights later, on 3/4 July, a further raid on Cologne, but again with a different navigator, Sgt. S.G. Palk. (see note 2) After a short break of four days, on 8/9 July an operation (unspecified) with yet another navigator, Sgt.J.K.Forrest. The next night, 9/10 July, saw a return to Gelsenkirchen, again with yet another navigator, Sgt. L.R. Lovett.

For the first time operationally, on 2/3 August, the ‘full crew’ of Sgt Matthews (captain and pilot), Sgt. Brentnall (flight engineer), Sgt. Larnach (bomb aimer), Sgt. Angwin (WT/ air gunner), Sgt. Waldren (air gunner), Sgt. Griffin (air gunner) and Tom as navigator, flew on an operation to Mannheim in Lancaster W5002 (Q-RL). The next night (10/11 August) they again flew together, in the same aircraft, raiding Nurnberg. A one-day break, then on 12/13 August, (again in what they then considered to be ‘their’ aircraft, now named ‘London Pride’), for the long haul of eight and a half hours to Milan and back. The reason for Tom not being with other members of the crew for their first five trips together is not known.

On the night of 15/16 August, the crew were briefed for a repeat raid on Milan, flying exactly the same route, Syerston – Selsey Bill – Cabourg – Lac du Bourget – Milan. The bomb load comprised of 1 x 4000lb ‘Cookie’, 3 x 150 x 4lb Incendiary bombs and 2 x 16 x 30lb incendiaries. The Lancaster BIII took off from Syerston at about 2230 hours in good weather and a full moon. Course was set at 2300 hours and the Pilot climbed on track to the English coast. The French coast was crossed at 16,500 ft., at Caen, dead on track and time. Just after crossing the coast the Rear Gunner reported an unidentified aircraft on the starboard quarter. The Pilot executed a steep diving turn to starboard and the aircraft passed to port and was identified as a Beaufighter. During this incident Monica, set to give warning at 600 yards, functioned perfectly. The pips increasing in speed as the fighter approached and decreasing in speed as she overtook. The Rear Gunner remarked on the excellence of the device.Sgt. Matthews turned back on to course and two or three minutes later, without any warning from Monica or either Gunner, the Lancaster was attacked by a fighter with cannon and machine gun fire. The attack appeared to come from astern and red flashes, which may have been tracer, filled the cockpit. There was a tearing sound in the fuselage, the whole aircraft vibrated violently and Sgt. Matthews could hear shells impacting and exploding behind him. He immediately executed a very steep diving turn to starboard. Three or four seconds later a wall of red flame shot up from the vicinity of the forward escape hatch and enveloped the Pilot and the Flight Engineer who was sitting beside him. Sgt. Matthews pulled down his goggles and then tried to regain control, but the cockpit was now filled with thick white smoke, which blotted out everything and he was quite unable to see his instruments.

The Lancaster now appeared to turn on its back as Sgt. Matthews has a strong recollection of being thrown against his safety harness. He had heard nothing from any other member of the crew and knowing that he had little hope of regaining control he gave the order to bale out. Flames were still coming up into the cockpit and realising that he had little chance of reaching the hatch, Sgt. Matthews, who was wearing a seat type parachute, opened the cabin window on the port side. At that moment, the aircraft turned over on its back. He undid his safety harness and believes that he was immediately thrown against the roof, and the aircraft was in an inverted spin. One arm, however, was through the open window and he managed to grasp the frame and got his head through. He then placed his foot against the arm of the Pilot’s seat and grasping the window frame on both sides with his hands managed to force himself through. As soon as he fell free he pulled the ripcord and when his parachute opened he lost his left boot. He has a vague memory of floating down through cloud and seeing the incendiary load burning on the ground, but no sign of the Lancaster. He then lost consciousness and only recovered when he hit the ground. He was lying in a field some 3km west of Rugles, about 25 miles S.W. of Evreux. The Lancaster was by then burning furiously about 400 yards away. Sgt. Matthews had been wearing two pairs of gloves and the outer of these was completely burned. So were his helmet and oxygen mask, which he had not removed, and he had considerable burns on his face.

The next day Sgt. Matthews was told the Germans had said they had found five bodies in the wreckage. A few days later he was told the bomb aimer had been found by the Germans, some distance away, with his parachute open but very seriously wounded. They had shot him, placed the body in the wreckage and announced that six bodies had been found. Local people who had been the first on the scene of the crash, and two carpenters who were later to make up the coffins, reported human remains being found in the field nearby. Being unrecognisable as anything other than fragments, they had buried them, out of respect (and to prevent them being found by dogs and birds). There had also been other remains found within the aircraft fuselage. Four of the crew were given a formal military funeral and buried at the Communal Cemetery of Rugles, but local people were forbidden by the Germans to attend. Amazingly, the following day the graves were completely covered in flowers, left by the locals, who had clearly braved the curfew to pay their respects overnight.

M Robert de Villain, who was only in his teens at the time, related to me how he had watched a German Luftwaffe officer at the crash site in the early morning, over the next few days, standing quietly to attention before saluting and then moving away. Sgt. Matthews reported, on his safe return to the UK, of how he recovered himself, bundled-up his parachute and walked to a nearby wood. He pushed the parachute under some bracken and covered it with his Mae West and twigs. His face was badly burned and he said he felt like giving himself up, to get medical attention. On hearing some shouting nearby, which sounded like German, he decided then that he would not surrender without a struggle. He had lost one boot and walked to the best of his ability away from the voices, keeping in the shadow of hedges. Within half an hour he saw some farm buildings and, on closer inspection, discovered a haystack under a barn roof, which seemed to offer the possibility of a hide-out. This was the farm of Château La Chaise, at St. Antonin.

He hid here throughout the day of 16th August. Having observed the people in the farm and decided that they would probably be friendly (he could hear the BBC news in French), he finally decided to make his identity known. He was given food and shelter and allowed to remain overnight. On the 18th August one of the farmer’s sons, Andre Aubrie, brought a woman to see him, who was from some nearby village or farm. She brought a dictionary and appeared prepared to help him. She gave him one or two suggestions about the best route to follow through France to get away through Spain.

On the morning of Friday 20th August, a man appeared who seemed to have been informed that Sgt. Matthews was there, and from this point on, he was helped on his way by the French Resistance. He returned to the UK early in November 1943.

Also lost during the same operation from 61 Squadron:

Lancaster III DV186 Flown by 21-year-old, P/O. Ronald Steer 147998 RAFVR from Keynsham, Somerset, England – killed with all 7 crew.

Lancaster III ED722 Flown by 21-year-old, P/O. James Henry Miller 155221 RAFVR from Tottenham, Middlesex, England killed with 4 other crew, 2 taken PoW with one other evading capture.


 (1) Arrived back in UK at RAF Tangmere on a Lysander – Operation ‘Oriel’. 12th November 1943. Lysander flown by Fl/Lt. R.W.J. Hooper DFC. The ‘Oriel’ operation was to land three Lysanders – dropping off ‘ agents’ and picking up evaders. Due to very muddy conditions only one Lysander was able to make the landing – dropping off two agents – eventually the skilled pilot managed to take off with two French Officers and Sgt. Mathews on board – landing back in the UK in the early hours. During the evasion Sgt Mathews had in fact been helped by M. Fiquet who had taken him to Paris on the 20th August where he had to remain in several ‘safe houses’.

(2) P/O. Stanley George Palk 155927 RAFVR from Merton, Surrey, England was posted as ‘missing’ on the 18th August 1943 – Lancaster I ED661 lost on an operation to Peenemünde with all eight crew.

(3) This was the 3rd claim by Lt. Detlev Grossfuss of 2./JG2 – 3 on this operation alone – Lancaster DV186 also from 61 Squadron and Lancaster ED498 from 207 Squadron. It is understood that he shot W5002 down whilst at 4,000 mtrs at 23:20 hrs. He survived the war despite being shot down by USAAF P-47’s on the 5th July 1944 at St. Andre. He is credited with 7 Night kills with a further 13 during day operations.

Burial Details

Sgt. Kenneth Thomas Brentnall. Rugles Communal Cemetery. Grave 2. Son of Cyril F. B. Brentnall and Ethel M. Brentnall, of Rangemore, Staffordshire, England.

F/O Tom Downing. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 124. Born on the 19th October 1921 at Hull, the son of Herbert and Eliza Downing, of 5 Whitby Avenue, Whitby Street, Hull, England.

P/O. Conrad Larnach. Rugles Communal Cemetery. Grave 3. Son of Conrad and Elizabeth Ann Larnach, of Willington, Co. Durham, England.

Sgt. Gordon Arthur Angwin. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 140. Son of Ernest and Maude Blanche Angwin, of Westminster, London, England.

Fl/Sgt. John Edward Walden. Rugles Communal Cemetery. Grave 4. Born on the 22nd August 1915 at Burketown, Queensland, Australia, the son of Robert John and Kathaleen Annie Walden, of ‘Derveen’, Woombye, Queensland, Australia. Prior to service worked as a Cane Farmer. Enlisted in Brisbane.

Sgt. James John Griffin. Rugles Communal Cemetery. Grave 1. Son of Llewellyn and Florence Annie Griffin, of Bath, Somerset, England.

The Graves, Rugles 1943

 The Graves, Rugles 1991

Fragments recovered from the crash site

Originally researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew by Brian Downing and submitted to Aircrew Remembered in August 2016.  (

Acknowledgements: Sources used  in compiling this report  include: Bill Chorley – ‘Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions’, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie – ‘Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2’, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt – ‘Bomber Command War Diaries’, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker – Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie – Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński – ‘Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945’, Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek – ‘Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii’, Norman L.R. Franks ‘Fighter Command Losses’, Aircrew Remembered databases and  archives.

We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3, RAF Records, and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world. Also, a great many thanks to Gary Kostka, and  to Denis Matthews, brother of the pilot, both of whom submitted further information and photographs to Aircrew Remembered in May 2017.

 Tom’s name is on panel 30 and is also remembered on a stone in the Ribbon of Remembrance

To see the details of other losses that night see the IBCC Losses Database here



RAF Valley Mountain Rescue

RAF Valley Mountain Rescue – Flt Sgt Johnnie Lees GC BEM and Cpl Stanley (Vic) Bray

During the 1950s the RAF Valley Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) covered North Wales, particularly Snowdonia. The team’s prime function was to carry out search and rescue missions looking for missing RAF aircraft from all Commands in this area. The team was lead by FS Johnnie Lees and his number two was Cpl Vic Bray, both highly accomplished in their art of search and rescue spending most of their spare time training with the team in the Welsh mountains and from time to time searching for lost aircraft, missing walkers, and generally helping climbers in distress.

Today mountain rescue teams are assisted by helicopters, often able to strap an injured climber to a stretcher and being whisked into the sky and away to hospital; it was not like that in the 50s. Helicopters did exist but they were still fairly new and not used in the mountains.

If the team was detailed to find a missing person they walked. If they needed a stretcher high up on a hillside, they carried it up and down again with the casualty.

If they had to search for a missing aircraft that might have crashed in the mountains they walked, sometimes for days, equally likely, if it had plunged into the sea, they walked the coastline, not stopping until the search was called off. The team was usually not called until late in the day, often after night had fallen by the time their expertise was needed.

This was the case in December 1957 when the team was called to a young man who was stuck on the near vertical rock face alongside Aber Falls, a very spectacular waterfall in the area, and in full spate at the time. The police and the fire brigade had already tried to rescue him.

Vic Bray was the one who climbed down the wet rock under extremely difficult conditions at night with only the occasional light from a flare. Vic managed to reach the casualty and attached him to his own rope, then, with tremendous physical effort he managed to swing them both away from the waterfall and brought the man down safely to the waiting stretcher.

He was awarded a Bronze Medal for his bravery by the Royal Humane Society.

In January 1958 the team was called again late at night, Major Hugh Robertson had fallen whilst ice climbing in Snowdonia and was delirious with a fractured skull. When the callout came Johnnie Lees took Vic Bray and three others with him as a fast, advance party to assess the situation.

Both Johnnie and Vic knew the particular climb well. It is a 900-foot rugged buttress of rock covered in ice and set in a huge amphitheatre; before they set off they knew that they would need plenty of rope so each of the 5 carried 2 x 120 foot ropes. The rest of the team followed on with other equipment.

The quickest route to the scene was to walk right up and over the mountain to the top of the buttress and climb down until they reached the injured man.

Johnnie’s immediate decision was that the casualty would die before they could get a stretcher to him, so making a rope version of a European device known as a Tragsitz (A harness that allows you to carry another person – the team did not have one of these) he instructed them to strap the casualty to his back, attach ropes to both of them and to lower them from there to the foot of the cliff.

The distance down was a guess of about 200 feet so it would need at least 2 ropes tied together. Lees used his hands and feet on the rock where possible, but his main job was to protect the casualty from further damage against the rock face. Vic Bray was the anchor at the top of the mountain controlling and supporting Johnnies weight, communications were difficult in the cold dark night and anxiety of the knots in the ropes lashed together possibly snagging in the rocks was running high. They got down safely. The rest of the team was waiting with a stretcher and exhausted they carried the casualty for 2 miles over boggy difficult terrain to meet the ambulance. Robertson recovered in hospital and later bought the Team a Tragsitz as a mark of gratitude for saving his life. Johnnie Less was awarded the George Cross for his role in this rescue, demonstrating his mastery in mountain craft and the great faith he placed in the hands of his teammate, Vic Bray. This is the only medal of this highest honour awarded for a mountain rescue. Neither Johnnie Lees nor Vic Bray spoke in length of these events, save only to correct someone if they had the facts wrong. They always saw these rescues as Team efforts.

Johnnie Lees was an RAF Physical Training Instructor; a qualified mountain guide by 1955 and became one of the very few to receive the guiding qualification in winter mountaineering.

He took part in television’s first climbing outside broadcast with the route chosen of the “suicide wall” in Cwm Idwal – then, arguably, the most difficult rock route in North Wales. The leader was Joe Brown, and the Everest climber George Band was intended to second him. In the event, despite wearing rock-shoes, Band had to retreat, and Lees, in boots intended for nothing more technical than mountain-walking, eased his way up the tiny holds of the vertical face, in front of the cameras, with great skill.

Lees left the RAF as a Flight Sergeant in 1961 and was awarded the British Empire Medal. After working for Outward Bound, and mountain-guiding in the Lake District, he became a Warden Service Officer, and later Ranger Training Officer, for the Peak District national park. He retired in 1985.

Vic Bray was an RAF Airframe Engineer having joined up in 1947 and completed a 3-year apprenticeship at RAF Halton. After his time in the RAF including the RAF Valley MRT he went on to become a climbing cameraman involved in climbs such as the Twin Towers of Paine in Patagonia with Don Whillans and Chris Bonington. After his climbing days were over he worked in the aviation industry including as part of a small team building replica aircraft such as a WW1 Fokker Triplane in the famous Red Baron markings. He also built the wood structure of an Issacs 7/10 scale Firy biplane in his garage at home in Weymouth; this airframe was sold and later completed, made airworthy and flew in the UK.

The picture shows Johnnie Lees (left) and  Vic Bray at the RAF Valley MRT Reunion 1993

New volunteer, Sam McMillan, is Vic Bray’s step son and has ordered a stone on the Ribbon of Remembrance to honour both gentlemen.  If you would like to honour someone with a stone please find out more here




Portrait of Andree De Jongh


“My name is Andrée … but I would like you to call me by my codename, which is Dédée – which means ‘Little Mother’. From here on I will be your little mother, and you will be my little children. It will be my job to get my children to Spain and Freedom.”

Born in 1916 in Schaerbeck, in German-occupied Belgium Andrée Eugénie Adrienne De Jongh, would become to be known as “Dédée.”Brought up during World War I, she knew of occupation and conflict, and learnt the story of British nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by the Germans for spying. Cavells’ sacrifice became the beacon for Dédée’s resistance service.

10 May 1940 saw Germany invade Belgium again, 26 years after they had invaded in World War I.  This time Dédée was a young woman working as a commercial artist, and soon volunteered to train as nurse, like her heroine Edit Cavell

Small, petite and feminine, Dédée looked much younger than her years, making it easier for her to slip unnoticed past the German occupiers. She began working for the resistance as a courier, and was given the name “Postman”, and then joined the Cométe Line helping downed aircrew evade the Germans. As a courier, she helped them through occupied Belgium and France and over the Pyrenees into neutral Spain, where a local courier would take them to Gibraltar and home to the UK.

The Cométe Line had over its years, 2000 volunteers, of whom 700 were arrested and 290 executed. The journey was 1200 miles long and dangerous for all involved, but the aircrews put their lives in the hands of this young girl sent to get them home. Their disbelief at whom they relied, was summed up by one airman: “Our lives are going to depend on a schoolgirl,” but trust her they did.

She taught them to walk behind her and apart from each other, to not smile or speak to anyone, to hide behind a newspaper while travelling or to messily eat an orange on a trip; nobody liked a messy eater.

Between August 1941 and December 1942, Dédée escorted 118 people, including 80 airmen to freedom through German patrols, past collaborators and over mountain passes.   On 15 January 1943, on her 33rd trip, Dédée was escorting three airmen when she was betrayed to the Germans. Arrested, the Gestapo interrogated her over 20 times, and yet she never broke. Their disbelief that she ran the Cométe Line was mainly because she was ‘a little girl.’  Sadly, her father who was arrested with her was not so lucky and was executed as the leader of the escape line.

Dédée managed to survive her captivity at Ravensbruck Camp and was released in 1945.

Her lifelong duty to help people saw her work at leper colonies in the Congo and Ethiopia for over 28 years, before returning to home to Belgium, where she became a Countess.

Dédée died 30 October 2007, aged 90, and during her lifetime had been awarded:

The George Medal     1946

Medal of Freedom     USA

Legion d’ Honneur      France

Order of Leopold        Belgium

Croix De Guerre          Belgium

Not bad for a ‘schoolgirl.’

Andrée De Jongh is featured in the first-floor gallery of the IBCC’s exhibition.  To book your tickets click here


Operation Dodge saw the repatriation of Allied troops and POWs from the Mediterranean arena, as well as the transportation of staff.  Many flew via Italy, on a trip a six-hour flight to bring them home.

103 Squadron participated in Operation Dodge from the embarkation centre at Bari Airfield, southern Italy. The Lancaster could carry up to 22 passengers, but on this trip there were six crew and 19 nursing staff.

On the 4th October 1945, the weather was poor with low cloud hampering flying conditions.  They took off from RAF Glatton, Cambridgeshire just after midnight to collect their passengers. Folding canvas seats were hung the full length on the fuselage, but there was no heating or parachutes, and with no oxygen supply for the passengers the aircraft had to fly at 2000ft.

It is believed that the aircraft may have been struck by lightning or suffered engine failure, as a large bright flash was seen at 4.40am as it was heading towards Corsica. Nothing was heard from them, and despite extensive searches no wreckage or bodies were found.

The disappearance of Lancaster PA278 from 103 Squadron on 4 October 1945 saw the biggest single loss of female service personnel in World War II.


PILOT                                    FL Geoffrey Taylor                                           189687                                   Panel 251

FLIGHT ENG                        Sgt Richard Steel                                              1818104                                Panel 247

NAVIGATOR                       FS Jack Reardon                                                1626816                                Panel 230

WIRELESS OP                     FS Norman Robbins                                         1894110                                Panel 233

AIR GUNNER                      Sgt William Kennedy                                      2208930                                Panel 193

AIR GUNNER                      FL John (Johnnie) Whymark DSO DFC       53481                                    Panel 264

PASSENGERS  Auxiliary Territorial Service unless stated otherwise..

L/CPL                                     Williamina Allan                                                W/23244                           Panel 122

PRIVATE                               Phyllis Bacon                                                      W/77415                             Panel 125

CPL                                         Heather Cosens                                                W/184715                             Panel 148

PRIVATE                               Stefania Courtman                                          W/Pal/203386                    Panel 149

PRIVATE                               Barbara Cullen  MiD                                        W/252761                            Panel 151

NURSING SISTER              Jane Curran                                                        236425                                Panel 151

(Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing)

PRIVATE                               Anges Edwards                                                 W/258692                           Panel 159

PRIVATE                               Rhoda Fraser                                                      W/155281                           Panel 166

PRIVATE                               Bessie Goodman                                              W/143732                             Panel 171

CPL                                         Jill Goring                                                            W/237256                          Panel 171

PRIVATE                               Joan Larkin                                                          W/154454                         Panel 196

PRIVATE                               Alice Lillyman                                                     W/74459                            Panel 199

L/CPL                                     Shelia MacLeod                                                W/170036                            Panel 203

L/CPL                                     May Mann                                                          W/236937                           Panel 204

PRIVATE                               Betty Precious                                                   W/147946                            Panel 228

L/CPL                                     Enid Rice                                                              W/144264                         Panel 231

SENIOR MATRON             Gertrude Sadler                                                254580                                  Panel 237

(South African Military Nursing Service)

STAFF SGT                           Jessie Semark  MiD                                          W/7326                                Panel 239

PRIVATE                               Marion Taylor                                                    W/99752                              Panel 251

To find out more about the crew and nurses use the IBCC Losses Database here

The ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) was founded in 1938, originally just offering such positions as chefs, orderlies, stores persons or drivers.  The range of jobs was expanded allowing men to be released onto front lines duties.  More than 250000 women served in the ATS.

More stories like this can be found on our Blog Space here

Home on the Hill

Home on the Hill

Home on the Hill

Home on the Hill: The IBCC at Canwick Hill in Lincoln is the home for all our lost Bomber Command loved ones…..58 thousand of them, all shown on the Walls Of Remembrance. But what we know about their lives is just a drop in the ocean – or perhaps I should say – a star in the sky. This is just a small contribution to eight of those brave young men…..

Home on the Hill

The crew of 57 Squadron Lancaster JB 529. DX-P lost on 2nd December 1943


SGT. IVOR FRANCIS GROVES. 1576028 (Wireless Operator)

This young man was one of four sons born to Florence and Harry Groves, a lovely family who lived in Greet, near Birmingham. All four boys joined the forces, two in the Army and two the Royal Air Force.

When Ivor left school in 1937 he went to work at Cadbury Bros. in Bourneville and was also a member of the ATC and Home Guard.

 One particularly bad night during a blitz on Birmingham, Ivor, a very brave and caring young lad, helped to dig our two men, buried under a fallen building. He was first on the scene , closely followed by his father and other residents, but after saving one of them the German ‘planes turned their guns on the streets. Ivor could hear the second man , a much loved favourite with the local youngsters, calling for help but  was unable  to rescue him in time. Shortly after this, Ivor enlisted in the R.A.F. and after several months of training at No.4 Signals School and then at a Gunnery School, met up with his future crew members.  They were posted to 57 Squadron, then still stationed at Scampton, in July 1943 but he tragically  lost his life at only twenty years of age. It was his 22nd operation, destination Berlin, 2nd of December 1943. 

P/O  DOUGLAS PARK. 162548 (Navigator)

Douglas was born in Beverley, Yorkshire in 1923, the fourth of six children born to Sarah and Joseph Deakin Park . After leaving High School he took up an apprenticeship  with a large engineering works until January 1942 when, aged 18, he joined the Royal Air Force. He underwent his navigator’s training at Paignton, Devon, and later met up with his future crew members in March 1943. After several more months of training together they were posted to 57 Squadron, stationed at Scampton, on the 7th of July.

This much loved young man was only 20 years old when he lost his life on the 2nd of  December 1943  on a mission to Berlin, their 22nd operation. Very sadly,  Douglas was due to marry his young fiancée Mary, just a few days later. 

P/O ERNEST HAROLD PATRICK  162550 (Bomb Aimer)

Ernest was 25 years old, born in Stamford Hill, London and was the eldest of two sons born to Mabel and Juan Patrick. On leaving Technical college he began working for his father in the engineering trade, later, in a munitions factory in Gloucester, before volunteering for the Royal Air Force. After initial training, he was shipped out to South Africa for a bomb aimer/navigator course. On returning to England and further training, Ernest joined up with the crew before they were sent to 57 squadron in July 1943.

On the 2nd of December 1943, on an operation to Berlin, Ernest sadly lost his life along with the rest of the crew. It was their 22nd operation.

His young brother Alan, who was ten years his junior, was devastated at the loss of his big brother of whom he was so proud, and until the day he died he kept, as a memorial, a ten shilling note that Ernest had given him on his fifteenth birthday. 


Harold was from a large farming family in Clanwilliam, Manitoba. His parents, John and Ethel had nine children and both Harold and a younger brother Calvin, were posted to England after training, to fly with the R.A.F.

Harold had originally enlisted as a Tradesman in 1941 and trained under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He later re-mustered as an air gunner, graduating in December 1942 at MacDonald, Manitoba. Arriving in England in January 1943, Harold met up and trained with other members of a crew who were later posted to 57 Sqn at Scampton on July 7th.

It was on the crew’s 22nd operation that Harold so sadly lost his life. It was the 2nd of December 1943 to Berlin and Harold was only 23 years old.

One of the many small lakes in the north of Manitoba has been named “Moad Lake” in his memory.

His brother Calvin, who flew from R.A.F. Skellingthorpe was shot down in the October of 1943  and made a  prisoner-of-war. He eventually returned home after several years in captivity. Within two years of his homecoming he had married but had also lost his life in a traffic accident. 

P/O ROY ARTHUR LEWIS  161699. (Mid-Upper Gunner)

Roy was the only son of Walter and Elsie Lewis, born in 1922 in Eastleigh, Hampshire. The family moved north in 1937 when his father went to work for the Manchester Ship Canal. Roy finished his schooling at Chorlton Grammar School where he enjoyed playing rugby and then on leaving school he became an apprentice as a garage mechanic also at the Ship Canal.

Roy met his future wife Moya at a Scouts’ church parade and they later married at that same church on the 31st July, 1943. He had enlisted in the Royal Air Force in early 1942 and after basic training in the UK was sent out to Bulawayo, Rhodesia for his gunnery training. He returned home in April 1943 and in the June, was at the Heavy Conversion Unit in Winthorpe where he joined up with the other crew members. On the 7th of July, they were all posted to 57 Sqn. which was then stationed at Scampton, Lincolnshire, later being transferred to East Kirkby. Tragically on the 2nd of December that year, the crew all lost their lives on their 22nd operation which was to Berlin . Roy and Moya had only been married for four short months. 


Ernest was the middle son of Albert Edward and Mary Ann Eliza Tansley of West Ham, Essex, born on 22nd January 1914. His elder brother, Albert was in the Merchant Navy and the younger, Fred was a captain in the Royal Artillery, 1st Airborne Division. On leaving college, Ernie started working for a Shipping Agent in London, later joining the Dock Industry at King George  V docks. He was transferred to Gourock, Scotland when war broke out and it was whilst there that he enlisted in the Royal Air Force in March 1941.

He was sent out to America in the November to train as a pilot under the Arnold Scheme, leaving behind his young wife Irene, a son Peter aged five and  an eighteen month old daughter Anne.

 He didn’t return to England until October 1942, by which time his wife and children  had returned  back south to Essex to be near their families. They managed a very short re-union in Bournemouth at No,3 Personnel Reception Centre before Ernie was sent off for a further period of training which eventually enabled him to fly the Lancaster Bomber. He and his crew were posted on the 7th of July 1943 to 57 Sqn at Scampton and later to East Kirkby. It was from here, on the 2nd December 1943 on his 22nd operation to Berlin, that Ernie and all his trusty crew so tragically lost their lives when shot down by a JU 88 over the small town of Trebbin.

Three months later his second son Bob was born who was never to see his daddy.


The above crew stayed together from beginning to end but on the night of the crash there were two new young faces who had only joined them that day. 

SGT LEONARD BROWN  1615648 (Flight Engineer)

This young man born in 1923, was only aged 20, one of two sons born to William Charles and Ellen Brown who lived in Bermondsey, London. His younger brother Victor William was born in 1924.

Len didn’t have a very easy time in training because his first pilot, on a ‘second dickie‘ trip, lost his life on the Peenemunde raid so he and the rest of the crew had to then retrain with a new pilot.

After being posted to 57 Squadron, now flying from East Kirkby, this new crew found themselves pilotless once more. Len carried out a couple of missions  before joining the above experienced crew on the 2nd December 1943. It couldn’t have been easy for this young man flying with new faces for the first time  and regrettably , the crew didn’t make it back home. On this operation, which was to Berlin, they were attacked and shot down south of the target by enemy aircraft with sadly no survivors. 

P/O JACK PROCTER DALTON.  161782  (second ‘dickie’ Pilot)

Jack was born in 1921 in Burnley, Lancashire, the son of Arthur Rushton and Mabel Dalton. He also had a younger sister, Jean. On leaving  the local grammar school Jack went to work for his father, a well known shirt manufacturer and owner of two Men’s Outfitters.  He also ran a mail-order business where Jack worked until 1941 when he enlisted in the Royal Air Force.

On completion of his pilot training he was posted to Upper Heyford  before eventually ending up at the Heavy Conversion Unit prior to arriving at 57 Squadron at East Kirkby on the 29th of November 1943.

Jack was flying as a ‘second pilot’ with this crew to get experience before being allowed to fly his own aircraft. Sadly, he was never to do this as on the 2nd of December on this, his first operation, the aircraft was attacked by enemy aircraft and shot down south of the target, Berlin. Tragically, none of the crew survived.


All eight of these young men are buried side by side in the Berlin War Cemetery and also each remembered by a stone in the Ribbon Of Remembrance in the IBCC gardens. Their home on the hill.


If you have memories of loved ones or friends who were in Bomber Command then please pass them on to ‘The Home On The Hill’, before it is too late.


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Sophie Scholl


“Stand up for what you believe in, even if you are standing alone.”

In war-time Germany, there were voices of disquiet that the Nazis tried to silence, violently. One such voice was Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Resistance Group.

Born in 1921, Sophie was the fourth of six children, whose father was a fierce critic of Nazi rule. Politics and beliefs that influenced his children to stand up and raise their voices against the brutal regime.

Sophie had a carefree childhood, but in 1932, joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls). The strict rules opened her eyes to Nazi doctrine and their treatment of other peoples, and she became disillusioned with German education. She also served six months in the Auxiliary War Service, but this only strengthened her resolve against the Nazis.

She joined her brother, Hans and his Munich University friends when they formed a passive resistance group called ‘The White Rose’. Their actions against the regime included peaceful demonstrations, painting anti-Nazi slogans and distributing leaflets. It was the leaflet distribution that led to their arrest. They were observed by a university janitor collecting those which had not been taken, he denounced them.

They were arrested on 18 February 1943, whereupon the German found the manuscript for their next leaflet. The Gestapo believed that Sophie was too young, and as a girl, to be involved with the Resistance Group, but she willingly admitted to her involvement, and  was convicted of high treason, and was executed at Standel Heim Prison in Munich by guillotine.

A guard who witnessed her execution, said she showed no fear  and walked bravely to her fate. Her final words reflected her innate strength.

“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

On 22 February 2003 a bust of Sophie was placed in the Walhalla Temple, Bavaria. She and Hans were named as the fourth and fifth all-time most important Germans. Her  life has been remembered in books and on film.

Image courtesy of

The IBCC has recorded and preserved 100’s of first-hand accounts of life during the War, they are available for free for everyone on the IBCC’s Digital Archive.

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ACM Sir Arthur Longmore

ACM Sir Arthur Longmore

Considered by some as one of the Fathers of the RAF, and one of the “Big Six” of Britain’s Airforce during WW2, Sir Arthur Murray Longmore started his service career in the Royal Navy in 1901. He worked his way up from midshipman to acting Lt Commander and in 1911 he volunteered for pilot training and was one of only four successful applicants, out of 200, to gain his Air Certificate. Longmore joined the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in 1914. During that time, he saw action in the Battle of Jutland and spent time as an instructor at the Navy’s Central Flying School where he taught Major Hugh Trenchard, ‘Father of the RAF’ to fly as a military pilot. He took Winston Churchill on a fact-finding flight searching for submarines and was a pioneer of both flight and aviation warfare, launching the first torpedo from a British aeroplane in July 1914. He was decorated many times over in WW1, by the UK, Belgian, French and Italian Governments.

After taking up commission in the RAF (the world’s first independent air force) in 1920, he served in Iraq and Bulgaria. In the 1930’s, Sir Arthur was AOC at RAF College Cranwell, Coastal Command, Training Command and Commandant of Imperial Defence College. He was also appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Lincolnshire in 1938/39. He was one of a group invited to watch German service manoeuvres in 1937.

At the outbreak of WW2, Sir Arthur was an ACM in charge of RAF Training Command. On 2 April 1940, he was appointed Air Officer Commanding in the Middle East, enhancing his reputation for leadership and, as he always, insisted on piloting his own aircraft, he was extremely popular with his men.

In the 2nd week of June 1940, the Italians joined the war and very shortly afterwards Sir Arthur launched an attack on their airfields, taking them completely by surprise.

In the House of Commons Dec 1940, Churchill said: We have seen the spectacle of a whole Italian Division laying down its arms in front of a far inferior force, and the work of our Air Force, against three, four or five to one has been attended with continued success … I must not forget the work that has been done in this battle by Air Chief Marshal Longmore, who at the most critical moment in his preparations had to have part of his force taken away from him for Greece. Nevertheless, he persevered, running additional risks, and his handling of the situation and his co-operation with the Army has been of the highest value”.

The Army, too, acknowledged a great part of their success in North Africa was due to Sir Arthur’s well-calculated and consistent plans for bombing enemy aerodromes.

In March 1941, King George Vl bestowed the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.

With the loss of Greece, however, he lost the full confidence of Winston Churchill who disapproved of Sir Arthur’s constant demands for reinforcements. Churchill hated pessimists and senior commanders who complained about their lack of resources and he accused Longmore of failing to make proper use of the manpower and aircraft he had. Sir Arthur was relieved of his command in May 1941.

Sir Arthur was a big supporter of the Air Training Corps. He helped establish the Grantham ATC with Lady Longmore – he was the chair and she was secretary.

He was in favour of a flexible air force where personnel were not tied to one role, but available for employment where most needed at the time.

During the war Sir Arthur experienced the loss of his son Wg Co Richard Longmore who was KIA while serving in Coastal Command.

He subsequently became the Inspector General of the RAF before his formal retirement in 1942. In retirement he was Vice Commissioner of the Imperial (Commonwealth) War Graves Commission.

Sir Arthur stood as the Conservative candidate at the Grantham by-election in 1942. It was a two-horse race between the Conservative Longmore and the Independent, Kendall, with Longmore receiving a joint letter of endorsement from all the leaders of the parties in the coalition. Support for Kendall by the Grantham Labour party was withdrawn but Kendall campaigned and won as the first Independent to defeat a government candidate since the beginning of the war.

Later in the war, Sir Arthur served as a Major in the Home Guard and skippered a Naval support vessel which acted as a tender to the invasion fleet during the ‘D’ Day landings. His crew had an average age of 60.

Longmore’s memoirs, ‘From Sea to Sky 1910 -1945’, were published in 1946.

Tony Worth, who was the force behind the IBCC, was Longmore’s Grandson. He was, understandably proud of the place Arthur held in history.  Read more about Tony’s journey here

To support the IBCC’s work with veterans, preserving the heritage of Bomber Command and education, please donate here

Image courtesy of the AWM


Operation Exodus

Operation Exodus


Towards the end of WW2 in 1945, a very different use was found for the familiar Lancaster Bomber.  Instead of being seen as causing death and destruction over Europe it now became a sign of life and hope for our own loved ones. Between 3 April-31 May 1945 the operation flew missions to bring PoWs home.


By April 1945 there were more than 354,000 ex-prisoners of war stranded in Europe, having been liberated from PoW camps hundreds of miles from their homeland. They had travelled to collection points all over Europe but had no means of coming home. Many of these young men were sick, starving and wounded so it was obvious that they needed help and quickly.


A massive air operation would be required and the Lancaster was one of the aircraft thought most suitable for this kind of use.  She was adapted to carry small groups of between 20 to 25 people. Firstly, flown out to Belgium where our men were gathered in the various collection bases, awaiting transport home.


Bomber Command flew over 3,500 sorties to collect our ex prisoners of war from overseas and bring them back home. Most of the aircraft landed in the South of the country where the rescued men, many thousands of them arriving each day, were then sent on to British receiving centres.


There were two thousand nine hundred missions from the Belgian bases alone, arriving in England in just 23 days. At the height of this operation the repatriation aircraft from Europe were arriving in England at a rate of 16 aircraft per hour, bringing home over one thousand of our young people each day.

What a wonderful and extraordinary feat!

More stories like this can be found on our blog space.

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Violette Szabo (George Cross)

Violette Szabo

Violette Szabo (George Cross)

As a petite, headstrong tomboy, Violette Szabo was destined to be remembered.

The only daughter in a family of five children, was born in Paris 1921 to an English father. Her father had served  in WWI where he met her French mother. Time was spent in France, where she stayed with an aunt until the age of 11 before returning to the family home in South London.

Violette’s war service began in 1940 when she joined the Land Army and then worked in an armaments factory.  It was also in 1940 when she met her future husband, an officer in the French Foreign Legion, named Etienne Szabo.  Marriage followed, and a daughter was born in 1942, but Etienne was killed at El Alamein, never having seen her.

Devastated, Violette wanted to assist the Allies in France, being bi-lingual, she joined the SOE (Special Operations Executive).  Tough training saw her become a field operative and courier. Her mission in France was to investigate the arrest of over 100 Resistance fighters and to find how they had been betrayed.

Her second mission was 8 June 1944, two days after D-Day when she parachuted into Limoges, France to help reinstate resistance lines that had been lost to the Germans.  She was trying to evade a roadblock, and in the ensuing gunfight twisted her ankle, leaving her unable to escape.

Violette was taken to Paris before being transported to several camps including Ravensbruck. There she was tortured and kept in horrendous conditions in solitary confinement before being executed on 5 February 1945, just twelve weeks before peace.

Her service and bravery behind enemy lines was recognised, and she was posthumously awarded the George Cross. Her daughter Tania collected it from George VI on 17 December 1946. She was also awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1947 and La Medaille De La Resistance in 1973. “Carve Her Name With Pride” tell her life in books and film.

The IBCC has recorded and preserved 100’s of first-hand accounts of life during the War, they are available for free for everyone on the IBCC’s Digital Archive.

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The Debroy Brothers

PO William Edmond Dubroy and SGMN Joseph Leonard Dubroy (Courtsey of Find a Grave)

The Debroy Brothers

11 February 1944 saw the loss of two of the Dubroy brothers, tragically in one fateful accident.

PO William Dubroy was born in Ottawa, Canada on 15 January 1917, brother Joseph followed in 1922.  Sons of Louis and Mary Dubroy, they were two of 14 siblings.  Three other brothers served during World War II, and survived.

William felt it was his duty and enlisted in 1940, training as a Wireless Operator before joining 425 (Alouette) Squadron, RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force). Joseph, like his brother, enlisted in 1942 and joined the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals.

On 11 February, Joseph was on leave from his unit and joined William for some time together. He was given permission join his brother on, what should be, a training flight. The Halifax aircraft took off RAF Tholthorpe, North Yorkshire, on a “Bulls Eye Exercise” over the English Midlands.

During the flight, the port outer engine failed, and despite the best efforts of the crew crashed on farmland near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Debris was scattered over four miles, as the aircraft fell on its back and caught fire. All on board were killed instantly.

William and Joseph are both buried in Persephone Cemetery,  Worcestershire and are remembered on a memorial in St Marys Church, near Hanbury.  Both their names are cut into IBCC panel 157.


PO Joseph Albert (RCAF)               J/88332                                 Bomb Aimer                       Panel 121

PO Joseph Aubin (RCAF)                J/85928                                 Pilot                                       Panel 125

SGMN Joseph Dubroy                    C/100506                             Signaller                               Panel 157

PO William Dubroy (RCAF)           J/85409                                 Wireless Op                        Panel 157

PO Joseph Fleury (RCAF)               J/98477                                 Air Gunner                          Panel 165

SGT Joseph Mayville (RCAF)         J/141896                              Air Gunner                          Panel 206

FS Harold Mitton (RAFVR)            1319639                                Navigator                            Panel 213

SGT John Shannon (RAFVR)         1801992                                Flight Engineer                  Panel 239

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The Walls of Remembrance at the International Bomber Command Centre carry the names of 37 boys who were under 18 years old and were lost during World War II.

Aged just 14 years old, Cadet Peter Bond, is the youngest name to be remembered. Along with Cadet Desmond Fox and Cadet 1st Class Ernest Hall, both aged just 17 years old, all were lost on 8 September 1943.

All the boys were members of Chapel-en-Le-Firth Flight of 1180 (Buxton) Squadron, and had helped to raise money via “Wings For Victory” for two Lancasters stationed at RAF Elsham Wolds.

Lancaster JB153, of 103 Squadron was due for a cross-country air test after completing nine operations, including Peenemunde, the month before.  The three cadets were allowed on board so that they could experience a flight in a WWII heavy bomber.

The aircraft took off and was seen flying circuits of the RAF station at about 400ft before turning to port.  Something caused the aircraft to go into a spin. The plane tumbled violently for 250 yards as it hit the ground, colliding with a tree and bursting into flames killing all on board. It crashed south-east of Wymeswold Airfield, Leicestershire.

An inquest was unable to establish the cause, so the crash was recorded as an ‘accident’.

The three cadets had a joint funeral attended by almost 800 people, and with full military honours, were interred in a communal grave.

The crash of Lancaster JB153 was the biggest loss of Air Cadets, as well as the loss of the youngest.



Cadet Peter Bond                             ATC 1180 Squadron                                                        Panel 10

Cadet Desmond John Fox             ATC 1180 Squadron                                                        Panel 37

Cadet 1st Class Ernest Hall            ATC 1180 Squadron                                                        Panel 44

FS Alfred Buxton (RAAF)                406992                                  Pilot                                       Panel 16

FS Gordon Daldy (RAAF)                409668                                  Air Gunner                          Panel 26

SGT Norman Kidd (RAFVR)           1554620                                Navigator                            Panel 59

SGT John Leeming (RAFVR)          1684485                                Flight Engineer                  Panel 62

SGT Gerald Sweeney (RAFVR)     1367821                                Air Gunner                          Panel 104

SGT William Whalley (RAFVR)     1473130                                Wireless Op                        Panel 114

You can search our walls and find out more about each person remembered there in lock down on our Losses Database.

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ED 702

On the night of the 23 September 1943 the crew of Lancaster ED 702, piloted by P/O Cyril T Anderson, were lost without trace whilst on an operation over Mannheim.  Reports of the night from returning crews reported heavy numbers of German Night Fighters over the target.  This was their 22nd operation as a crew. That night Bomber Command lost 18 Lancasters, 7 Halifaxes and 7 Wellingtons and all their crews.

It is believed that ED 702 was shot down by Lt Heinz Grimm and that the crash happened near Insheim.  The local Catholic Priest, Revd Jakob Storck and local residents buried the bodies in a local churchyard.

Jakob remembers:

” In the night from 23/24 September at about 23.30 o’clock a horrific bombing raid started over Ludwigshafen and Frankenthal. Flying back from the strike, over 30 allied bombers were shot down. One of them also crashed here. It came down over our church not very high crashing next to the church of Insheim. I will never forget the view of its fire-tail…All of those men in that plane died. Two of them bailed out, but also died. Those who stayed inside were found hacked to death and terribly burned. They were registered by the Wehrmacht, and because there were so many of them found in that night, also in Herxheim, Flemlingen…etc, the mayor asked me to bury them-there should be a priest with them the mayor said. So I did it. Five of them on Sunday the 26th of September and the other two aircrew men on Tuesday the 28th of September. The following nights there were some more disturbing. But in October everything was quiet… ”

In April 1948 the crew were moved to the Rheinberg British War Cemetery.

L to R: Jock Paterson, Jimmy Green, Doug Bickle, Arthur Buck, Cyril Anderson and John Nugent

Below are some eyewitness statements, kindly provided by Katja Bauer


I was 16 years old at the time and had night care work that night.  The bombers and bombs could be heard in the village, although the cities of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim are about 50 km away.  I think it was around midnight when I saw bombers on the return flight.

One of them was deep and burning.  He flew towards Offenbach and went lower and lower.  It was the Lancaster ED 702 with its crew, which I have now learned.


That night was terrible again, I was 14 years old and we, me and my family were hiding in the basement because we had a flight alarm.  We heard the bombers fly over us.

The next day, September 24, 1943 was a wonderfully warm autumn day.  We made our way to the field and in the wangert to work.   On the way there we heard rumours that a bomber crashed in Offenbach during the night.

On the way to our field work we discovered a body in a tree hanging on a parachute.   It was a man, he was dead.  The older residents spat and insulted him.  You could see that it was not a German.   In his uniform he had a letter for Canada.  So, we assumed it was a Canadian.

The men cut the young man off the tree, looking for items the man could use.   The women set about the parachute, which you could use.  Liessel takes pity on the young man.  Maybe he was just 20 years old, the same age as her brother who was still at war.

The older residents blamed the unknown for everything that they had to experience at the moment.

After cutting the body free, it was first brought to the morgue in Ottersheim.  A day later, after it was clear that it should have been an inmate of the crashed bomber in Offenbach, the body was brought to Offenbach to the others of the crash.

During various visits by eyewitnesses over the night, or field workers from September 24, 1943, I presented various photos of men.  Everyone was certain and pointed to Jimmy independently.

“It was He, I will never forget this young face,” said another eyewitness.

Our thanks to both Katja Bauer and to Dom Howard from for his valuable research and continued support of the IBCC.

The crew are all remembered on the Walls at the Centre and in the IBCC Losses Database

Les Rutherford’s ‘Big Bash’

Les Rutherford

Les Rutherford spent Easter 1945 as a POW, but it was a different type of imprisonment from what we are experiencing at this time.

Les had been captured after his plane has been shot down over Germany, and in January 1944 he was marched to the infamous POW camp, Stalag III where he remained for the rest of the war. Trading three bars of chocolate for a Red Cross diary, he was to record and document life in the camp.  A compelling record that is full of drawings, poems, recipes and anecdotes.

Supplies were eaten sparingly in general during in Stalag Luft III. Deliveries were sporadic and often late, meaning food had to sustain the prisoners for longer periods than it was intended. Luckily, in March and April 1945, they were receiving regular supplies from the Americans and the Red Cross. Les and Frank were able to save up and have a “big bash” on that Easter Sunday.

Les and Franks Easter Sunday “Big Bash”, 1945


2 slices of fried bread topped with half a tin of sardines, one slice of spam, a small potato and a Rose Mill Pate cake. Served with a side cup of boiled barley.


1 cup of soup followed by a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.


1 and a half day’s potato ration served with half a tin of spam. Accompanied by a side of 4 slices of bread. Homemade trifle for dessert.


Les and Franks Trifle Recipe

Cut a Kilm tin in half, this will act as the container for your trifle.

First a layer of coffee cream, topped by a layer of chocolate cream.

Mix together biscuit, margarine, sugar and chocolate- this will act as the cake layer.

Next layer on a chocolate and raisins mixture.

Top this with whipped cream and a thin layer of pineapple cream. Yummy!


Les Rutherford’s POW diary has been preserved in the IBCC Digital Archive, you can read more about his experiences here.

Visit the IBCC blog page to find out more about Bomber Command.

National Liberation Skirt

National Liberation Skirt

The Dutch National Liberation Skirt

The National Liberation Skirt, Nationale Bevrijdingsrok or Feestrok, was the brainchild of Dutch resistance fighter and feminist, Mies Boissevain-van Lennep.  Mies and her family had been involved in efforts to house and protect Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. For four years they hid fugitives and gave them false identities. In August 1943, Mies and her three sons were arrested by the Gestapo. her two eldest sons were executed two months later.

Mies and her remaining son, Frans, were imprisoned in the Herzogenbusch concentration camp. Here, Mies worked as a nurse in the hospital and managed to escape the gas chambers on many occasions. During her imprisonment a patchwork scarf was smuggled into her. It was created from textiles with personal significance to her, including a pieces from her children’s clothing. This was a treasured item laced with special memories and a symbol of hope and love.

After the liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945, Mies became a member of a women’s committee. They decided to create a new garment that represented ‘unity and diversity’, ‘new from old’, ‘building from the broken’ and ‘one garment creates unity’ and rebuilding the Netherlands after the devastation of the war. The feestok was born.

National Liberation Skirt

The National Liberation Skirt

The National Liberation Skirt design took direct inspiration from that precious piece of cloth smuggled to Mies during her imprisonment. The skirt was constructed by sewing colourful fragments of material onto an old skirt, making the old skirt ‘vanish’ and creating a colourful new ‘garment’. At the front of the skirt there had to be a triangle with ‘5 mei 1945’ embroidered (5th May 1945 was Liberation Day in Holland).

Each skirt that was created was registered and the name, address and date of birth of the maker noted, both in a national archive and on individual cards. The skirt was given a special number, which was also often stitched onto the skirt itself. Women would also stitch on other important dates relating to the maker’s family or national celebrations. 4,000 skirts were registered, but it is likely that many more were made and worn.

Picture from

The feestrok  has been described as “a female mode of political expression … [which] explicitly linked gender to the reconstruction of a ravaged country and the general striving for ‘breakthrough’ and social renewal.” (Withuis, Jolande (1994). “Patchwork politics in the Netherlands, 1946-50: women, gender and the world war II trauma”. Women’s History Review)

We will be sharing more blogs about World War II in the Netherlands in honour of the 75th Anniversary of Operation Manna this month, visit our blog space to find out more.

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Operation Manna

Operation Manna began on the 29th of April, when 242 Lancaster’s flew to six different drop-zones in the Netherlands, on what was the first airborne humanitarian relief in history; and crews from across Lincolnshire were heavily involved in this operation.
This mission was launched in the last days of the Second World War, after German occupation and the consequences of the War in Europe had left the Netherlands without food or supplies that were necessary to survive.
On that first day, almost 535 tons of food was dropped, and this continued for a further 10 days, dropping nearly 7,000 tons of food in total, over parts of the Netherlands.
Approximately 20,000 people had died through starvation, with a further 980,000 classed as malnourished. Desperation had lead to many having to survive by eating small animals including pets and tulip bulbs, some of which were poisonous.
Scooping out the remains at a soup kitchen
Negotiations for a truce to be agreed between the allies and Nazis had already begun in the winter of 1944/45, after pressure had been placed on Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt by Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. This agreement would allow the humanitarian relief for the starving Dutch people.
Queues at a food kitchen
There was much work to be done to enable this rescue mission to take place.  Key amongst these was the arrangement for a ceasefire to enable the safe transit of the food aid. Food had to be sourced and mechanisms for dropping it safely had to be researched and trialed.  The dropping of the food followed a huge logistical programme which was masterminded by Air Cdre Andrew Geddes. He was also responsible for negotiating the ceasefire with the Axis forces. The Dutch call him the Man of Manna.
Sacks being loaded onto a Lancaster at Elsham Wolds
The RAF  had wanted to launch the Operation on April 28th however, bad weather prevented the heavily laden bombers from taking off and so it wasn’t until the following day that the first wave of aid was delivered.  The first of the two test flights was carried out by a Lancaster nicknamed “Bad Penny” whose crew of seven included five Canadians including the Pilot, Bob Upcott.

The Dutch authorities had only one day’s notice in which to arrange for the actual collection of the food once it had hit the ground, and to arrange for its transportation from the fields.  There were six designated drop zones: Valkjenburg airfield (Katwijk) , Duindigt Racecourse and the Ypenburg Airfield (The Hague), Waalhaven Airfield and Kralingse Plas (Rotterdam) and Gouda.  To each of these an air corridor had been agreed under the terms of the ceasefire.

Food being transported from the drop site to The Hague

It was reported by a member of the first crew that flew, that at Terbregge in the Rotterdam area, not even a horse drawn cart could enter the enormous field and thousands of men had to manually collect and carry the food by hand. First Aid posts were also set up across the country as there was a real fear of food parcels actually striking and injuring the people in the fields, who were awaiting the arrival of the aircraft. The Germans decided that anti-aircraft guns would be placed at certain drop sites as a precaution. The idea was that they could react immediately if it turned out that the Allied aircraft dropped paratroopers instead of food!

Leaflets like this were delivered to alert the population, help was on its way

Food packs included tinned items, dried food, tea and coffee and chocolate.  After much testing of different packaging, hessian sacks were used, some of which were sourced from the US Army.

The ceasefire was signed on the 30th April.  Operation Chowhound, the US Army Air Forces aid drop, started on the 1st May and delivered a further 4,000 tons of food.  This was followed, on the 2nd May, with a ground based relief mission, Operation Faust.  It is estimated that these drops saved nearly a million Dutch people from starvation.

The Dutch showed their gratitude for the drops in a number of ways.  Here marked with empty food bags

Three aircraft were lost during the operation, two in a collision and one suffered an engine fire.  Despite the ceasefire, several aircraft returned with individual bullet holes, assumed to have been fire from individual German soldiers.

For more images from Operation Manna click here

Hear an account of the Op by Norman Wilkins here and an interview with the world’s leading expert on Op Manna, Johannes Onderwater here

Brothers Lost

Flying Officer Donald Garland VC was one of 4 brothers who lost their lives serving the RAF during WW2.  He was born to Patrick and Winifred in Ballinacor, County Wicklow, Ireland in 1918, the youngest of 5 children.  His siblings were Patrick (1908 -1945), John (1910 -1943), Sheila (1912 -1988) and Desmond (1916 – 1942).

He was a Pilot flying Fairey Battles with 12 Squadron .  On the 12th May 1940 he was on a daytime operation to take out a bridge over the Albert Canal, in Belgium.  The mission was extremely risky and the Squadron lost all but one of the 5 Fairey Battles taking part.  His aircraft was shot down close to the target which was heavily defended both with Anti Aircraft Guns and German Fighter planes.  He was only 21 when he was killed.  He and his Observer, Sgt Thomas Gray, were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery.  Please see the citation below.

Donald was originally buried in secret by local civilians and was then re-interred by the Allies in 1945 and is now buried in Heverlee War Cemetery, near Lovain, Belgium.

Link to the IBCC Losses database entry for Donald Garland

VC Citation for Donald (London Gazette 11th June 1940):

Flying Officer Garland was the pilot and Sergeant Gray was the observer of the leading aircraft of a formation of five aircraft that attacked a bridge over the Albert Canal which had not been destroyed and was allowing the enemy to advance into Belgium. All the aircrews of the squadron concerned volunteered for the operation, and, after five crews had been selected by drawing lots, the attack was delivered at low altitude against this vital target. Orders were issued that this bridge was to be destroyed at all costs. As had been expected, exceptionally intense machine-gun and anti-aircraft fire were encountered. Moreover, the bridge area was heavily protected by enemy fighters.

In spite of this, the formation successfully delivered a dive-bombing attack from the lowest practicable altitude. British fighters in the vicinity reported that the target was obscured by the bombs bursting on it and near it. Only one of the five aircraft concerned returned from this mission. The pilot of this aircraft reports that besides being subjected to extremely heavy anti-aircraft fire, through which they dived to attack the objective, our aircraft were also attacked by a large number of enemy fighters after they had released their bombs on the target. Much of the success of this vital operation must be attributed to the formation leader, Flying Officer Garland, and to the coolness and resource of Sergeant Gray, who in most difficult conditions navigated Flying Officer Garland’s aircraft in such a manner that the whole formation was able successfully to attack the target in spite of subsequent heavy losses. Flying Officer Garland and Sergeant Gray did not return.”

Link to the IBCC Losses Database for Desmond Garland

Desmond was a Pilot serving with 50 Squadron, flying the Avro Manchester.  On the 15th June 1942, his crew took off from RAF Skellingthorpe on a nighttime mine-laying mission in the Gorse Region.  The aircraft never returned and only one member of the crew survived.  He became a POW and later told that the aircraft had been shot down and crashed into the sea just off the French coast.  He was 27 when he died.

John Garland served in the RAFVR was killed on the 28th February 1942.  He was 32 when he died.  He is buried in Midhurst Cemetery in Sussex.  It is thought that he was a Medical Officer

Patrick Garland served as a Pilot in 2 Squadron Tactical Reconnaissance Unit and was flying a Spitfire XIV on an operation to Gilze-Reijen.  His aircraft bounced on landing, stalled and crashed upside down.  He died on the 1st January 1945, aged 36.  He is buried in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery

Article covering the Patrick’s death

More stories like this can be found on our Blog Space.

60 missions back to back

During WW2, very few Bomber pilots flew 60 missions back to back.

One such pilot was Flying Officer Leslie Valentine CdeG. Whose story is quite inspirational.

At the start of the hostilities in 1939, he was called up for military service and joined the Highland Light Infantry as an infantryman.  In the ensuing months he was landed in France as a combatant shortly after the Dunkirk Evacuation. His time in France was short lived, and he returned to home shores some 10 weeks later.

A notice was posted on the Battalion notice board asking for volunteers for aircrew, as there was a shortage of pilots and navigators in the RAF.

                                 F/O Leslie Valentine CdeG


Valentine, being a mathematician readily volunteered. Only two were accepted, one a 2nd Lieutenant and Pvt Valentine. Unfortunately the 2nd Lieutenant broke his arm and so Valentine went alone through the selection process and was duly installed as a student Pilot in the RAF.

His initial pilot training took place in England, where he was to be introduced to flying in a Tiger Moth. This phase of his training completed, he was shipped off to Canada, to undergo Twin Engine training at Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, where he gained his “wings” and the coveted brevet of a fully fledged pilot.

Training completed, the newly qualified bomber pilot was shipped back for active service training to 13 Operational Training Unit in RAF Bicester in Oxfordshire. Training firstly on the Bristol Blenheim, and then over to RAF Finmere 2 miles away to complete operational training on the aircraft that was to be his ‘Partner’ for  the next 18 months of conflict. This was the Douglas Boston IIIA, a tricycle under-carriaged light bomber that was both fast and manoeuvrable.

The squadron Valentine was posted to was No.88 Sqn, 2nd Tactical Air Force, Bomber Command. The operations for this squadron were conducted mainly in daylight and in close formation, against targets, where disruption of supply lines was paramount in the halting of enemy reinforcements, road bridges, rail marshalling yards, road transport convoys, submarine pens and V1 rocket launching sites.

Such was the abilities of the Boston that it was the operational choice to undertake the hazardous task of laying smoke over the beaches, to protect the invading UK forces on D Day 6th June 1944.

Entrusted with this, the RAFs most critical role on D-Day, Valentine took his 88 Squadron Boston ‘E-Easy’ down to 50 feet above the D-Day beaches, laying smoke to protect the invasion forces from enemy fire. Above and over his aircraft arched the trajectories of shells from the 14” guns of the capital ships of the Royal Navy 8 miles off shore, and the German 88 heavy guns firing back from just inside enemy lines.  Not only was there the chance of being hit by those shells, but, as the UK forces on the ground were unsure who the aircraft flying so low above them were, they also let fly with small arms fire

                     Boston IIIA E-Easy

Two aircraft were lost on this mission, but Valentine returned safely, (if somewhat shaken) to 88 squadron’s base at RAF Hartford Bridge.

Before and after D-Day Valentine flew many sorties against tactical targets by both night and day. He flew two tours back to back, (60 operations in all), in the first tour 36 operations and in the second tour 24 operations with only a 4 week leave between tours. A feat accomplished by only a select few pilots in Bomber Command.  He was awarded the Criox de Guerre with Silver Star by the French for his efforts in the battles for their liberation.

In 2013 he was one of the guests of honour at the launch of the International Bomber Command Centre which was held at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Lincolnshire.

Unfortunately he passed away in April 2014, at 94 years of age. He had been living in Hethe, Oxfordshire, which is only 4 miles from where he was trained in 1943 at RAF Bicester and RAF Finmere.

Last November, accompanied by his son, he visited the Bomber Command Memorial in London and on his visit was afforded the unique opportunity of being hosted at 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron spent some time with Flying Officer Leslie Valentine and presented him with the WW2 Defence Medal, which he had never received at the time of issue.

His son Sqn Ldr Dudley Valentine has granted permission for Lesley’s log book and personal papers to be included in the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive to ensure that his story can help educate people for generations to come.

PM David Cameron presents Flying Officer Valentine ensure that his story can help educate people for generations with the WW2 Defence Medal.

There are not many of our WW2 Bomber Command heroes still with us, and at this time, we should set aside a thought in our hearts for those brave aviators who gave their lives for our freedom, and we should give those still with us, our very best regards.


SL Jan Blazejewski


Sqn Ldr Jan Blazejewski  was born 4th February 1904 at Winnica, Polode.  He attended the Aviation Cadet School at Deblin where he trained as a pilot, graduating on 15th August 1933. He was assigned to 6th Air Regiment as an observer and completed his training by 1934 at Pilot school at Sadkow.

When the Germans Invaded Poland, Jan escaped via Romania to France and then onto England, where he joined 304 (Silesian) Squadron. He had the rank of Kaptain in the Polish Air Force, and by the time of his death had been awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for courage and exemplary leadership during 20 bombing operations over France, Germany and occupied Europe – a total of 120 hours.  He was also awarded the Polish medals, VM 5th Class and Four Times FW.

On 16th December 1941, Wellington R1064 took off from RAF Lindholme to the docks at Oostende at 16.57. A distress call was heard at 19.05 close to Manston, and then nothing. The aircraft was seen to plunge into the sea believed to have fallen victim to a night-fighter.

 CREW OF WELLINGTON R1064-NZ: click on the names to see their entry in our Losses Database

Sgt Boguslaw Golabek                                                  P79367                  Air Gunner                          Panel 40

F/O Jan Komlacz                                                             P.0301                   Observer                             Panel 60

Sgt Hubert Rutkowski                                                    P.781201              Air Gunner                          Panel 93

Sgt Kazimierz Suwalski                                                   P.780356              Air Gunner                          Panel 103

F/O Marian Szczodrowski                                               P.76740                Pilot                                     Panel 104

Jan is buried in Dunkirk Town Cemetery, France; Plot 11, Row 3, Grave 2.  

Photo courtesy of Polish War Graves

There are more stories about those who suffered and served with Bomber Command on the IBCC Blog Space