Flt Lt W F Martin DFC

W F Martin DFC Stone

Flt Lt W F Martin DFC – Story Behind the Stone

“On the night of 21 June 1944, Lancaster Mk III ND 471 “A-Able” of No 57 Squadron took off from RAF East Kirkby at 2302 as part of a raid on an oil plant at Wesseling, Germany.  It did not return, although its crew did, being forced to ditch in the North Sea in the early hours of 22 June, having completed their mission and taken flak returning over the Dutch Coast, which holed the fuel tanks and steadily cut the engines.  The Navigator was Flying Officer William Fisher Martin who, for his actions on this and other missions, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  The raid on Wesseling was one of 32 operational missions he completed with 57 Sqn, based at RAF East Kirkby. Having completed this operational tour he went on to be the Navigation Leader for 617 Sqn, based at RAF Woodhall Spa, and deployed to the Far East in early 1945 as part the Tiger Force effort preparing for War with Japan.

These are his memories of the night they ditched:

We huddled together in the rocking dinghy, seven very scared, very wet and very much at sea airmen.  We watched with a sense of loss the large starboard wing of good old A for Able sinking lower in the water.  She had carried us safely through our last 15 ops and she was now going down into the depths of the North Sea, leaving us on the surface, crouched miserably in our all too small dinghy, still only half realising our predicament.  It had all happened very quickly. One minute we were happily wending our way homewards, 5,000 ft, 175 on the clock and the contented feeling of another ‘job’ successfully completed”. 

“It had been a tough one, with four separate attacks by a rocket-firing night fighter and we had been very very thankful when we crossed, safely as we thought, the Dutch coast, and headed out to sea. Suddenly, for no accountable reason, A for Able swung round in a semi-circle and headed East again.”

The fuel tanks had been holed and both starboard engines had stopped.  The Flight Engineer soon found that fuel tanks which should have contained more than 200 gallons were now empty.  The port inner engine had also stopped and the last remaining engine was coughing badly.

“The Skipper’s voice came quietly to us over the intercom. “Prepare to ditch.” A few minutes while everyone collected their remaining wits about them and made their respective preparations.  I hastily fixed our position and passed it in message form to the Wireless Operator, who had immediately commenced distress signals.”

“All too soon came the dreaded order “Ditching stations!”  We took off our harnesses, inflated our Mae Wests and scrambled back to our crash positions.  “Escape hatches off!” “1000 feet”, “500 feet”, “200 feet”, “Prepare for impact!” – we braced ourselves for the crash – and then oblivion!”

“When I scrambled to my feet the water was up to my knees and ‘Snow’ the Bomb Aimer was thrusting the dinghy packs into my hands.  Automatically in pitch blackness I stumbled to the upper escape hatch and thrust them up to the awaiting hands – dinghy and radio followed and then I scrambled up through the hatch and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the Skipper crawling along the top of the cabin – good old Nick – were we all out then?  A quick scramble on to the wing – already awash – and then into the dinghy, steadying it to help Nick aboard (she was already floating) “all present?” “Jack?” “Geoff?” “Johnny?” – all correct! “OK, cut the line” – momentary panic as A for Able keeled over on her nose and stood threateningly above us, a huge mass in the darkness. “Paddle! Paddle for God’s sake!” It seemed hours until we worked our way by pushing on the wing and thrusting off from the clear wing tip and then we were left, watching her go down – our trusty old kite – damn Jerry anyway”.

“Slowly we quieted ourselves and tried to take stock.  The Skipper’s face was a mess, he was bleeding freely and was a bit dazed.  Someone fumbled in the darkness for the first aid kit.  Then we realised there was more water in the dinghy than we would like.  Snowy tore off his flying boot and we began to bale.  Eventually we got organised, rigging the mast for the portable radio transmitter and turning the handle, which gave us a ray of hope.  The occasional wave broke over us and soon we were cold and miserable and feeling very sorry for ourselves.  Dawn came slowly, after we had been in the water for nearly 3 hours”.

“At about 8 o’clock, we were roused by the sound of engines and saw, low and well to the South, a couple of aircraft speeding Eastwards, probably off to photograph the damage we had done the previous night.  Time dragged by until we heard engines again and saw a large aircraft below cloud and well to the South.  Miserably we watched it turn away and disappear.  Later we heard it again and I took the flare pistol from my battle dress.  As it turned some distance from us I fired off a cartridge. It carried on.  They hadn’t seen it!”

“Shortly before noon it reappeared and I waited until it seemed near enough and fired off another cartridge.  Again it turned away and we sat back, our hopes dashed.  Then it turned and, this time, seemed to head straight for us.  I reloaded hastily and fired again, and this time there was no mistake.  They had spotted us!  Scrambling to our feet we cheered and waved as they banked and flew over us. A bigger dinghy was dropped and inflated on impact. We paddled over to it and climbed aboard.  It was wonderful, the lift in morale, once we felt safe”.

“The aircraft kept station above us and signalled that help was on its way. Sometime later it headed away East, then swung round towards us again and soon after we saw the bow waves of a naval launch approaching. When it arrived we were helped aboard, given dry clothing and a large mug of naval rum. Never had a drink been more appreciated, and I remember little else until we docked at Yarmouth later, having been in a deep sleep”. 

“The Skipper and I spent a couple of nights in a naval hospital and then we were driven to the nearest airfield and flown back to East Kirkby, where the rest of the crew had already arrived. We learned that the base had lost 11 aircraft that night and morale was low, so that our arrival had brought a great boost to the Station as a whole, and I can well appreciate the hopes raised by our return”. 

Downed at 0210, and spotted by an Air Sea Rescue aircraft around midday, when they boarded the rescue launch they had been afloat for 12 hours.  An investigation revealed that their emergency calls had not been heard and that they had been lucky to have been rescued so soon.  The aircraft that spotted them was on a separate mission looking for dinghies that had been dropped the previous day, but once they were seen the air-sea rescue system swung quickly into action.

On the afternoon of the flight, the crew had carried out the usual pre-ops check flight, a short trip to make sure that everything was working correctly and flown early enough to allow the engineers to fix any snags.  It was a bright, sunny day, and the trip was uneventful.  After they had made their way back to their parking spot, the pilot made an unusual decision that was to prove vital to their survival that night.  He decided they should practice their ditching drill. Ignoring the hoots of derision from their colleagues and groundcrew in the June sunshine, they went through the ditching routine, even extracting the dinghy from the fuselage and carrying it out onto the wing.  The Skipper could not explain why he decided to run the drill but, when debriefed, the crew attributed their safe escape to the fact that they had just practiced for the event.  It was a message quickly passed to other bomber units.

The Wesseling raid itself was a disaster for 5 Group; of 133 aircraft that were airborne that night, 37 were lost, mainly due to night fighters that intercepted the bomber stream over Holland.  200 men lost their lives, 44 became prisoners of war and 9 evaded capture.  RAF East Kirby alone lost 11 aircraft that night;  A-Able’s crew was the only one of those to return.

Flt Lt William Fisher Martin’s DFC citation reads as follows:

This officer has participated in many operational sorties against a variety of targets. He has proved himself a most efficient navigator, and has always displayed outstanding courage and determination throughout his operational tour. His fine technical skill has largely contributed to the success of many  missions. In April 1944 his aircraft was detailed to attack Schweinfurt. On the outward flight it was attacked and damaged by an enemy fighter. The rear gunner was wounded and the inter-communication system and the elevator were damaged, both turrets also being rendered unserviceable. Flying Officer Martin calmly navigated the damaged aircraft to the target, which was bombed, and safely back to this country, where a successful landing was accomplished. Again, in June 1944, during an attack on a target in West Germany, his aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and the petrol tank was holed. On the return flight, owing to lack of fuel, the bomber was forced down on to the sea. After more than twelve hours in the dinghy, the crew were rescued. Despite slight head injuries, Flying Officer Martin’s cool courage and cheerfulness were a source of inspiration to the rest of the crew”. 

Happily, Bill Martin survived the War and, although he died not long after retirement in 1980, he was able to meet up with the rest of his crew in 1979 at the first reunion of 57 and 630 Squadrons. He had 3 daughters, Margaret, Sheena and Alex. His granddaughter Wendy joined the RAF in 1991 and is still serving today (2022).

“In June 1944, my Mother Mary was six months pregnant with me.  Safe at home on her parents’ farm in Scotland her world was shattered on 22nd June by the arrival of a telegram advising that my Dad was missing following operations on the night of 21st June.  The thought that he may never return nor see his first child must have been devastating.  On 23rd June however, a second telegram arrived bearing the joyful news that Dad had been safely rescued at sea.

I arrived on 1st December, 1944 and it was several months before we met due to his continuing wartime service.  From the time that he was demobbed until his death in 1980 we enjoyed a loving and special father and daughter relationship.  He was indeed a remarkable man and he taught me much about the natural world, patience and kinship.”  Margaret Rothery née Martin

“My Dad was my hero. Not because he was a war hero, just because he was my Dad. He WAS a DFC, MiD, Goldfish Club war hero, but we heard little about that growing up as, like so many other survivors, he didn’t talk much about his wartime service. However, I knew there was something important about him, that he had a medal –  once, when I was about 9 or 10, I “borrowed” his DFC & took it to school for show & tell, but didn’t tell anyone. Of course, my mother chose that day to clean the china cabinet ………. !

Growing up, he was just like every other good dad – our mentor,  our teacher.  He taught me about the night sky, without me realising at the time that was how he had navigated his Lancaster Bombers. He once got me up, again in the night, to see the Northern Lights on a rare occasion they were visible where we lived.

My dad passed away when I was 26 & pregnant with my first child, so he never met my children. But I KNOW he has watched over them. My first born regaled us with tales of his “dreams” until he was in his early teens. In those dreams, my father came to play with him & took him in his plane, showed him his navigator’s station (and my son described it in accurate detail, which even I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw it for myself in Just Jane some 30 years later).

To us he was, and will always remain, quite simply our much loved, always missed, ever-present hero dad.”  Sheena Cowan née Martin

“I arrived in 1964 when my dad was 50!  I only had him in my life for a very short 16 years…never had him walk me down the aisle.  So my memories of my hero my dad are short and limited however he was the most lovely caring softly spoken Scotsman that I will never forget.” Alex Martin

“I was just 12 when my Grandfather died in 1980, but was fortunate enough to be present with my parents the previous year at East Kirkby at the inaugural gathering of the 57/630 Squadrons Association when he was reunited with the other 6 members of his crew. I recall there was a lot of laughter that weekend as memories were recounted and stories told of derring do.  Although I did not know then that I would join the RAF some years later, I remember thinking what a marvellous organisation it must be! The horrors that my Grandfather’s Crew endured would only become apparent many years later as I researched their 32 operational missions.  The stories my Grandfather told undoubtedly left their mark and provided the inspiration for me to follow in his footsteps and join the RAF, and here I am more than 30 years later. I have been attending the annual 57 and 630 Squadron Association reunions annually since 2010 and have been fortunate to have met many of the men and women who served at East Kirkby at the same time as my Grandfather: heroes one and all. Per Ardua ad Astra.” Air Commodore Wendy Rothery 


Mostly the same crew members as on the night of the accident although at the time training on a Wellington at RAF Hixon in Staffordshire in February 1944. The Canadian pilot P/O Stuart is on the left, our Father Sgt P Dunn, is on the right.

One story my Dad used to tell me is of one very lucky escape they all had whilst taking off for a mission in the early hours of July 18th 1944. 100 Sqd were tasked with bombing a strong point in the battle area near Sannerville. It was only five or six weeks after the D-Day landings and the German army were still resisting strongly so the allies were using air power wherever they could to try and weaken the German defences.

Dad and his crew were allocated a Lancaster 111, LM 643, HW-H. They started their take off run at 03.56 but nearing take off speed the aircraft swung out of control , crashed and soon after, exploded. Fortunately the crew managed to get well clear of the wreckage ahead of the detonation.

The crew were:

  • Pilot…… F/O C M Stuart
  • F/E…….. Sgt H Prince
  • Nav …….F/O R H Rix
  • B/A ……..Sgt P Burnett
  • W/Op… Sgt P Dunn
  • M/U/G.. F/O J P Insell
  • R/G……. Sgt S Kowal

That night 18th /19th July 100 Sqn lost 2 more aircraft over Scholven-Buer (oil plant) LM 569 HW-T and LM 620 HW-K. Both were crippled by Flak and crashed killing all the crew members on both aircraft. All the crew now rest in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

Dad survived 30 missions on that tour and was posted to the far East and Australia with 238 Sqn where he served to the end of the war, in fact his last mission was on 26/02/46 on Dakota KN605 from Darwin to Camden in Australia.

He died happily a few years ago in his late 80s in his beloved Australia!

Alfred Lanceman

Alfred was married to Eliza Jane Bonnie in 1935, they had 3 children, Eileen, Sylvia and Stephen, he enlisted on the 20th November 1940 aged 29.

In 1941 after completing his training he joined the 52nd Field Regiment which was attached to the 10th battalion Essex Regiment.  From April 1942 he was in the Royal Artillery and in July 1942 he was listed as being at RA Depot Deolali in India (This camp was the setting for the TV series It Ain’t half Hot mum).

From October 1942 he served with the 158th Field Regiment in Burma and from December 1945 he was with the 53rd Field HLDG Regiment before being discharged in May 1946.

Bio supplied by Alfred’s Grandson Stephen


MICHAEL (TAFF) THORNE – 12 JULY 1933 – 9 JULY 2019

Michael was born in Sheffield St Hospital, Strand, London in the parish of St Martins on 12 July 1933 and was baptised ‘Michael Harris-Thorne’ at St Mark’s Church, Tellington Park, London on 27 August 1933.

Due to his Fathers job he went to live in South Wales, initially with his grand parents and then with his uncle and aunt who eventually adopted him in July 1942. From that point onward he was known as Michael Thorne or more commonly by his RAF comrades as ‘Taff’ despite him actually being a cockney!

In his youth Michael attended Craig-Ry-Eos Infants school, Penygraig then Tai Junior Boys school and then The Rhondda County Grammar School for boys. He became a student at University College Cardiff but left after 2 years – not that unusual but at the time he left he was only 19 having started University at 16 years old.

He joined the RAF in August 1952 and served as an Air Signaller later converting to Air Electronics Operator.

Michael married Jean Anne Lander 10 August 1957 at Bethany Chapel Penygraig and had a son David Edward and a daughter Sarah Alison. Jean sadly died in 1975.

In 1976 Michael moved to Cornwall to serve on 42 Sqn. It was during this time he met and married Frances Mary Shazell and the family immediately grew as Michael took on the role as stepfather to Fran’s 2 daughters Lorna and Jacquie. Fran is part of a large and proud Cornish family and just as Michael had morphed from a Cockney to a Taff in his early years, he quickly changed his spots again to become more Cornish than the Cornish.

Michael Thorne Snr Falkland Conflict Air Cdr’s Commendation

A big part of Michael’s life was his Service to the Country in the Royal Air Force. The following are some of the extracts from his Valedictory Letter:

During his 36 years’ service Mr Thorne amassed more than 7,500 hours flying time and progressed through the ranks achieving the rank of Master Air Electronics Operator (Warrant Officer) in July l970. His roles included:

Coastal Command – Flying Lancaster, Stirling and Various marks of the Shackleton. He was a qualified Air Gunnery Instructor.

 Transport Command – Flying Hastings, Britannia and Comets 2 and 4.  During this tour with 216 Sqn he was assessed as being Well Above the Average and was selected to be on the Very Very Important Person’s Flight which was tasked to fly Royalty and other dignitaries around the world.  This included Harold Wilson and the team that negotiated the UK entry into the Common Market.  A highlight for his children was when he flew the television Blue Peter team to Singapore for which he got a Blue Peter Badge and was seen on TV.

Bomber Command – Training pilots to fly the nuclear armed Vulcan bomber at RAF Finningley.

Training Command – Instructing young aircrew both in the classroom and in the Varsity aircraft whilst airborne. In this role he was assessed as having considerable experience as and was assessed as an A2 instructor, well above the average.  He then served on the Command Examination Board at RAF Cranwell where he set and marked exams for all aircrew specialisations.

Michael Thorne Snr And Princess Margaret


Briefing room

I have been researching my Uncle and his crew for many years and have an awful lot of information, enough to write a small book! A lot of this information is in the public domain and easily obtained so I’ll keep it to a more personal level.

PB542 was the number allocated to the Lancaster flown by my Uncle, James ‘Jimmie’ Clark DFC AFC MID of 460sqn RAAF. from Binbrook, Lincolnshire. His crew were:-

Flying Officer Leon Milner RAFVR       Flight Engineer

Flying Officer Brian Reid DFC RAAF     Navigator

Flying Officer Stanley (Pat) Bethel RAAF Bomb Aimer

Flying Officer Christopher Sanders RAF Wireless Operator

Flying Officer Phillip Edwards RAAF      Mid Upper Gunner

Flying Officer John Scott DFM RAAF     Rear Gunner

Note that they were all Officers which I understand was a little unusual, but not unique. They were all highly experienced.

Jimmie, like many Australians, volunteered to serve in the war and enlisted in August 1940 in Sydney.  He was awarded the DFC while in the Middle East. He received the DFC at Buckingham Palace in February 1944  at the same time as Frank Whittle received his knighthood (according to my Auntie anyway!)

Jimmie met my Auntie Ivy (Cherrie) Cook who was my Dad’s sister, when he was posted to Home on Spalding Moor and they married in July 1943. Interestingly, three of the other four Australian crew married English girls, three of the four (including my Aunt) moving to Australia after the war.

Jimmie Wedding

Jimmie had his portrait painted by the war artist, Eric Kennington. The original was given to my Aunt several years after the war ended and she subsequently donated it to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Jimmie was acting Commander of 460sqn when he was shot down although this had not been gazetted at the time of his death. I believe he was the only commander (of 460)  to be killed in action whilst holding that post.

Their Lancaster was shot down over Essen on the night of 12th December 1944. All but one died. It seems that Leon Milner, the flight engineer somehow survived only to lose his life the following day (along with two other airmen) at the hands of German civilians. His story has been told in a book by Sean Feast & Marc Hall ‘Missing, Presumed Murdered’ published September 2018.

Whilst I have been researching, I have been in contact with all but one of the families of the crew and have become great friends with Trish Berghouse, the daughter of Stanley (Pat) Bethell, the bomb aimer. She lives in Australia but we have met several times. There’s another story there! If you would like any information on the rest of the crew, please let me know.

I found it very difficult to decide on the wording for the stone as I wanted to honour not just my Uncle, but all the crew so finally settled on the serial number PB542 in the hope that if family members visit the IBCC they will recognise that number and the date.

By Margaret Maxwell

M/Nav JH ‘Sam’ South

Sam South Stone

M/Nav JH ‘Sam’ South Re-Inv 0458 ROR

John South was a Londoner who volunteered for the RAF when he was 20 in 1942. He completed RAF Basic Training and then went to South Africa for his aircrew instruction, as an Observer and Air Bomber. When he returned to the UK he went to Operational Training Unit 17 at RAF Silverstone and later to Heavy Conversion Unit 1661 at RAF Winthorpe near Newark where they flew the ill-fated Manchester and then the Lancaster. By now the Crew team had formed and it would remain together throughout their Tour of Duty (30 Ops)

They were:

Freddie Secker, Pilot,

Jack Gillespie, Flt Engineer,

Jack Cave, Navigator,

Bill Currie, Wireless Operator,

Doug Hole, Rear Gunner,

Don Shortt, Mid Upper Gunner

John ‘Sam’ South,  Air Bomber and Front Gunner

They were posted to 619 Squadron RAF Woodhall Spa in October 1943 where they completed 5 Operations (sorties) in a variety of Lancasters before the Squadron was moved to RAF Coningsby. Here they were united with what was their lucky favourite Lancaster LL783 PG-C which they called ‘Cinders of the Clouds’ and they completed their Tour of Duty with it. Sam was unfortunately injured during this time and missed out on a few operations; however he re-joined the same crew at 52 Base Scampton after their Tour ended and later at 56 Base Syerston where they continued to test fly new Lancasters before sending them out to the other Squadrons

After the war Sam stayed on in the RAF and became a Warrant Officer Master Navigator flying Lincolns and Sunderlands. When these were stood down he joined Transport Command flying Ansons which funnily enough he started his pre-war training in. At age 45 he was retired from flying and he retrained as an Air Traffic Controller serving at RAF Cottesmore with the V-Bomber force, El Adem in Libya, Coningsby (now the home of BBMF) and later Scampton with Phantom Fighter-Bombers.

Alas, at age 55 the RAF retire you, but very near the end of his RAF career he was asked to land an incoming unidentified aircraft. It turned out to be Lancaster PA474 The City of Lincoln. The aircraft disobeyed parking instructions and pulled up outside the Control Tower where upon Sam’s boss told him that he was going to fly again as a retirement present. As Second Navigator he flew in the Lancaster from Scampton to Coningsby. It is recorded as his last flight in his Logbook



F/O Tom Waters

P/O Tom Waters

William Thomas de Rouffignac Waters, known as Tom, was born to parents Harry and Marie De Roffignac Waters in Newlyn West, Cornwall in 1917.  He married Mary Henrietta Mayne in London in 1938.

Tom was a married father of two from Cornwall.  He was part of the RAF Volunteer Reserve and served with 53 Squadron at RAF St Eval. In August 1941, Tom was awarded a DFC .  His citation in the London Gazette reads:

Pilot Officer William Thomas de Rouffignac WATERS (62342), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 53 Squadron.
In August, 1941, this officer was pilot of one of two aircraft detailed to search for enemy shipping in the Borkum area. A convoy of one large merchantman escorted by five destroyers was observed and both aircraft flew low over the water to attack. They were met by very heavy fire and, whilst taking avoiding action, a wing of Pilot Officer Waters’ aircraft struck the water and
the tip of the wing was torn off. He then flew into cloud without attacking but, finding that-his aircraft was flying correctly, he again searched for the convoy and, on finding it, attacked in a position which necessitated flying down the line of the enemy fire. Pilot Officer Waters displayed gallantry and determination in the face of strong opposition.

In late December 1941, now flying Hudsons, he was tasked along with around 20 crews, to fly out to Singapore as reinforcements against the Japanese threat after Pearl Harbour. He arrived in Singapore mid January at RAF Tengah as the Japanese bombing escalated.  He was now part of 62 Squadron, and was soon staged back to Sumatra to reduce the aircraft losses from the bombing raids.

On January 26th, he was one of 6 Hudsons tasked to attack Japanese forces landing at Endau on the Malay peninsula – the 3rd effort made that day. During the raid, his plane sustained damage, noted by his flight leader, Terry O’Brien, on the return journey. The details of the raid itself are murky, in part due to the chaos that surrounded the last weeks prior to the fall of Singapore. His plane crash landed on final approach to RAF Sembawang, and Tom was killed along with his full crew.

Details of Tom’s DFC are in Terry O’Brien’s book Chasing after Danger covers the exploits of 53 Squadron in England and 62 Squadron in the Far East in more detail. Pilot Officer Waters has a grave marker ay Column 413 at the Kranji War Memorial in Singapore. He is also now honoured at the IBCC along with his Bomber Command colleagues.

P/O Tom Waters
P/O Tom Waters

Lost with Tom were:

Sgt A L Maslen

Sgt D V Saunders

Sgt G H Horobin

In October 2024, the family visited the Kranji War Memorial in Singapore to pay their respects to Tom.

Terry Heighton

Heighton Stone

Terry Heighton by his son, Chris

Between 2012 and 2015, I was fortunate to work as part of the development team that established the International Bomber Command Centre, where I led the commissioning process for the Spire. Without doubt, something I was incredibly proud to be part of, and one of the most rewarding and memorable projects I’ve ever worked on.

In 2019, I re-visited the IBCC with my Dad, who at the time, was really quite seriously ill, and with a terminal diagnosis. We had always planned to visit the centre, and particularly the Spire, as it was something that Dad always wanted to experience for himself – Not least because of my connection to the project, as this was something we talked about a great deal, but also because of our shared love of all thing’s aviation, and particularly historic aircraft. Indeed, it was through talking about Bomber Command, the IBCC, my role in the project, and generally being two plane spotters, that we were able to find common ground between us, as we were quite different people, with different interests, and who followed vastly different career paths, yet we created some unbeatable father and son moments, that I am now in the process of repeating with my own son, who thankfully, also has the aviation genes!

Terry Heighton
Terry Heighton with Chris and the Vulcan XH558

On the day of our visit, Dad was now completely wheelchair bound, with oxygen cylinders, which presented some logistical challenges, however nothing insurmountable. Having explored the exhibition, we discovered the digital archive station in the foyer, and although I hadn’t come across a ‘Heighton’ or distant relative within the losses database in all the time I worked on the project, Dad was adamant that we should search anyway – His illness certainly hadn’t affected his stubbornness! To our amazement, we discovered Sgt. Hubert Heighton, who was a pilot, stationed at RAF Leeming with 10 Squadron, and who flew the Armstrong Whitely V Bomber.

On the night of 15th /16th May 1941, the Whitely V crews were one of a number of 10 Squadron crews tasked with bombing Hannover. They took off from RAF Leeming at 2217 and bombed the target area from 14,000 feet at 0117. Hubert’s Whitely V was attacked by an enemy aircraft at around the same time, however the crew fired a red signal flare and the enemy aircraft broke off its attack. The searchlights in which the aircraft was being held, were switched off. The crew were able to make a safe return to base at 0445 and a number of bullet holes were found in the aircraft.

Later that summer, on the evening of 7th/8th July 1941, Hubert, Sergeant Harris Black, Flight Sergeant Robert Thompson, and Flight Sergeant Owen Lucas, were flying back to Leeming in Whitely Z6816 from operations in Osnabrück, and according to the records I’ve discovered, the Whitely V unexpectedly crashed into the North Sea, off Flamborough Head, with no survivors and their bodies were never recovered.

The events that led up to the crash remain a mystery, certainly to me, yet this is a story that I have continued to explore and pursue, and one that continues to twist and turn, as it unravels.
Dad and I were speechless at our discovery, and proceeded through the doors, along the Ribbon of Remembrance to the foot of the Spire, where I turned Dad’s wheelchair to face the iconic view of the city, that we had talked about so many times. Dad was overwhelmed and overcome with emotion in a way that I have never seen before, which was quite remarkable, and he insisted on standing, or at least trying to stand by himself, to pay his respects to all who served. As he said himself, ‘I simply cannot be here, right now, with you, and stay sat down’. It was a huge effort for him, and took every last bit of energy that he had, but he managed to do it, and largely by himself.

We stood together in the silence for what felt like hours, until I noticed that Dad was really struggling and about to fall, so we quickly moved the wheelchair back into place, and we began to walk through the Walls of Names, talking about who these people might have been, the families they left behind, and whether their ancestors even know about their sacrifice?

We slowly walked around to Panel 45 and found Hubert, which was quite a moving experience for both of us, where we placed a poppy by his name, as so many families do throughout the year. Over lunch in the café, we talked for hours about the Chadwick Centre, the Spire, a very nerdy discussion about aircraft, and the Spire opening ceremony, including the now famous flypast from the Vulcan that caught the sun exactly at the right moment to create a shining Avro Delta Wing over the Spire -Something really quite incredible, that I will never forget.

Sadly, our day together at the IBCC would prove to be the last day we spent together, as my Dad passed away shortly afterwards.

My Mum and I are both IBCC annual pass holders, and each year, on the anniversary of Dad’s passing, we meet at the IBCC and sit on the benches looking out to the Spire, to remember and celebrate Dad’s life.

Our stone on the Ribbon of Remembrance is absolutely dedicated to Dad’s love of aviation, and indeed of the Spire, to create a space that we as a family can continue to return to, and hopefully, where Dad’s great grandchildren, can do the same, long into the future. However, it also captures, and preserves the stories of that remarkable day of discovery we spent together, Hubert Heighton’s story, the importance of the IBCC to our family, and to ensure these stories remain alive and kicking, and in the hearts of future generations of Heightons.

For me, I’ve been inspired to embark on a new writing project to tell mine, Dad’s and Hubert’s story, and how, in the most unlikely of circumstances, we were able to forge a now unbreakable bond, across generations of our family.

In many respects, my connection with the IBCC, after nearly 10 years since I first joined the project, has now come full circle.

To find out about Hubert Heighton, click here

Robert Cecil Gardner

Robert Gardner

Robert Gardner was an Air Gunner serving with 61 Squadron, based at Skellingthorpe.  On the 25th April 1944 he and his crew took off from the station in Lancaster LM359 QR-B on an operation to Munchen (Munich).  The reason for their loss is not known but the aircraft crashed on a farm at La Chappelle Thecle, near Lohane in the Burgundy region of France.  An eye witness account said that if the plane had not clipped a tree it is likely that there would have been more survivors.  Robert was just 22 years old when he was killed and had only been married to wife, Joan Valerie, two weeks before the crash.

Robert Cecil Gardner wedding picture
Robert Cecil Gardner wedding picture

The bodies of the six crew who died are interred at the Lyon (La Doua) French National Cemetery.  Robert’s Epitaph Reads:



Only one of the crew survived the crash, Sergeant C Ratner, who was the Wireless Operator.

In 1949 the Village of La Chappelle Thecle erected a Memorial on the site of the crash in memory of the lost crew.  The memorial includes a piece of the aircraft which was donated by the farmer.  A memorial service is held every year by the locals which was, from 1988 until 3 years ago, attended by Betty Bascombe, the widow of Sgt RCH Jones.  Since 1994 this service has been organised by the Swiss branch of the Royal Air Forces Association assisted by the Lyon branch.

Betty represented the War Widows at the turf cutting at the IBCC in 2014 and again for both of the unveiling ceremonies for the Spire and the Centre.

To find out more about Robert and his crew, please click here 


PETER JOHN HORSHAM joined the RAF as an apprentice and was a founding member of 619 Squadron which was formed on the 18th April 1943 At Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. He was previously a member of 97 Squadron when he flew a total of 12 Operations with the McLeod Crew. He was one of the 3 crews left behind by 97 Squadron when they moved and was post into 619 Squadron on the 19th April, 1943. His crew took part in 619 Squadron’s first raid to Dusseldorf on 11th June 1943, but due to problems with the aircraft had to return early. His pilot was F/Sgt McLeod. He flew 4 Operations with the McLeod crew, including one against Friedrichshaven, where the Air Bomber was killed by flak. The crew flew to Blida in North Africa and landed there. F/Sgt McLeod finished his tour of 30 Ops on 23rd June 1943, which meant that Peter and crew mates were split up to join other crews. He then joined the 619 Squadron Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Irwin J McGhie as his Flight Engineer, who he flew another 5 operations with, including the Peenamunde Raid on which they were shot down. Peter flew a total of 9 Operations with 619 Squadron with two crews.

Peter and crew took off on their last flight at 21.51hrs on 17th August 1943 in Lancaster EE117 PG-L, as part of Operation Crossbow, to attack Peenamunde German Army Research Centre where guided missiles and V-2 rockets were being developed. Their aircraft was sadly one of 3 shot down by Lt. Hans Meissnmer and his Radar Operator Untoffz Joseph Krinner in the space of 9 minutes. EE117 was believed to be the 38th of 41 aircraft shot down that night.

Peter John Horsham was 20 years of age when he was lost, he left behind a pregnant wife, a father and sister.  Peter’s entry on the Losses Database can be seen here 

Nimrod Ribbon Of Remembrance Dedication

On the 6th August 2021 approximately fifty relatives and friends gathered at the IBCC for the unveiling of the Nimrod Ribbon of Remembrance stone. The stone honours all those who served or supported the Nimrod Force and are no longer with us, but it especially recognises friends lost on three Nimrod accidents during it’s time in Service. Please click here for the background information on these accidents.

The short service was conducted by the IBCC Padre, the Revd Charles Thody, who by coincidence, had worked on the Nimrod whilst serving his apprenticeship at BAE Hatfield.

The unveiling was conducted by Mr Michael Bell, the brother of Gerard Bell who was killed on XV230. Michael is also well acquainted with the Nimrod, having flown as a Flight Engineer on the Fleet. Mrs Julie Matson also unveiled the Ribbon, as her husband was a well-liked and respected Chief Technician who served on 51 Sqn at nearby RAF Waddington, before his death following an illness.

A Roll of Honour was read out, before the Last Post and a Two Minute Silence was observed. Finally, a Wreath was laid in memory of all our friends.

F/O Kenneth Wilson 131566

Kenneth Wilson

F/O RAFVR in 78 Squadron, Group 4

On the night of July 29/30th 1943 a force of 757 aircraft left Bomber Command airfields in England to attack the port of Hamburg in Germany. The force was made up of 340 Lancasters – 224 Halifaxes – 119 Stirlings – 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquito Pathfinders. The mission was recorded as being successful. The losses suffered by the attacking force totalled 28 aircraft, 11 Lancasters – 11 Halifaxes – 4 Stirlings and 2 Wellingtons.

My late brother, 131566 Flying Officer K Wilson who was a Flying Officer RAFVR in 78 Squadron 4 Group Bomber Command, was flying as Navigator in Halifax JD 252 which was one of the Halifaxes that did not return from the raid. On the 30th of July 1943 a body was recovered from the sea near Bridlington by the Air Sea Rescue Services and was later identified as that of the W/O of Halifax JD 252 – 1111494 Sgt G.M Gibb who after identification was buried in Driffield Cemetery with full Military Honours on the 4th of August 1943 – Military Marker Grace 6227 – I have visited his grave and placed a floral tribute on it. The other six crew members of Halifax JD 252 were not found and it was assumed they lost their lives at sea and their names are commemorated on the panels at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.

When WWII ended in 1945 the MOD imposed a 30 year rule which prevented any research into missions flown by the RAF over enemy territory being undertaken which resulted in my Mother and Father going to their graves not knowing the fate of my brother ( the navigator of Halifax JD 252 ).

After the declassification of the missions flown by the RAF during WWII was activated in 1975 I decided to carry out research into the steps that my brother has taken from joining the RAF as a VR in 1939 until the loss of his aircraft Halifax JD 252 on the 29-30th of July 1943. I did not carry out my research with the intention of writing a book but it was to try and find out what happened to my brother 131566 Flying Officer Kenneth Wilson who was the navigator of Halifax JD 252. After the aircraft had been reported missing as both our parents had gone to their graves not knowing what had happened to the Official Secrets Act etc. It was ex RAF personnel who had read my research documents who persuaded me to try and turn my research and documents into a colour illustrated book (entitled No Known Grave) to record for future generations what it was like for a family to receive the so called “Dreaded telegram” during WWII and who have a loved one with no known grave as a result of the conflict.

At the time that I wrote the manuscript for the book people did not have computers and I did not have a typewriter or any experience in the field of writing so my manuscript was written with a pen on paper which I then sent to a professional firm to be printed as a manuscript before going to be published.

If I could have foreseen that when the book eventually published Her Majesty the Queen (the head of the three Armed Forces) – Dame Vera Lynn – David Jason etc would read it then I don’t think that I would have attempted to write it however some good has come out of it as I have received several letters from people in our country and countries abroad who have read the first issue of my book and who were asking if I could research the loss of their loved ones who sacrificed their lives whilst serving in the RAF to find out if their fallen loved ones have a Military Marker Grave as they have been unsuccessful in their efforts in doing so. I have been able to trace the final resting place of several of their loved ones and therefore I feel that I have been able to do for them that no one could do for my Mother and Father due to the war time restrictions etc. Although I have done these researches voluntarily they are very rewarding as I am in receipt of letters from them containing photographs of them standing by the Marker Grave that I have managed to trace for them also it has helped to keep my mind active in my old age.

Finally, I am in the process of writing an updated version of my book which contains many more photographs – documents – Her Majesty the Queens letter – Dame Vera Lynn’s two letter etc. If all goes well and the second edition is published I will forward a copy to you for the archives. The first edition, which sold out, raised much money for charity.

Yours Faithfully,

John Wilson (RAF Veteran)

78 Squadron Halifax II JD252 EY-W Sgt. Peter Snape Hamburg, July 1943

Operation: Hamburg, Germany.

Date: 29/30th July 1943 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit: No. 78 Squadron

Type: Halifax II

Serial: JD252

Code: EY-W

Base: RAF Breighton, Yorkshire

Location: North Sea


Took off at 22.30 hrs from RAF Breighton, Yorkshire to bomb the port and city of Hamburg joining 776 other aircraft on the third raid on this target within the last five days. 340 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 119 Stirlings, 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquitoes made up the force.

The idea was that the target be approached from the north to concentrate on the northern area of Hamburg which had not been bombed on previous occasions. The pathfinders dropped their markers too far east of the city. 707 aircraft got through to the target, dropping a total of 2,318 tons of bombs on residential areas – no figures are available as to the casualties on the ground for this raid although it is known that over 40,000 were killed during that week and over 16,000 residential buildings were destroyed.

The worst incident was when bombs hit a large department store in Wandsbek – the building collapsed and blocked exits from a shelter that was in the basement – 370 people died from poisoning by the fumes from a coke store nearby. An amazing 1,200,000 people fled the city after these raids.

The allies lost 31 aircraft on this operation with 176 aircrew losing their lives and a further 17 being made pow. Most of the aircraft were shot down by the Luftwaffe night fighters, although 14 were shot down by searchlight assisted flak over the target area.

No details or claims have been made for this loss. Another 78 Squadron was also lost on this operation:

Halifax II JB798 EY-P Flown by Fl/Sgt. Peter A. Fraser RAAF who along with his 6 other crew members were all killed and buried in Hamburg.

Some publications have the Bomb Aimer listed incorrectly as F/O. C.E. Burns.

All but one of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial (panel numbers below). Sgt. George Gibb‘s body was picked up by an air sea rescue launch and after identification was buried in Driffield Cemetery on Wednesday 4th August 1943.

Pilot Sgt. Peter Francis Snape. 1434323 RAFVR Age 22. Killed. Panel 165. Son of Frank and Harriett Evelyn Snape, of Rugby, Warwickshire, England.

Fl/Eng Sgt. Leonard James Dugard. 920070 RAFVR Age 27. Killed. Panel 148. From Brighton, Sussex, N.o.K details currently not available

Nav F/O. Kenneth Wilson. 131566 RAFVR Age 22. Killed. Panel 130. Son of Zachariah Wilson, and of Winifred Wilson, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.

Air/Bmr F/O. Charles Eric Burras. 135685 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (1). Panel 123. Son of Charles and Elizabeth Ann Burras, of Liverpool, England.

WOp/AG Sgt. George Muir Gibb. 111494 RAFVR Age 21. Killed. Driffield Cemetery. Grave 6227. Son of John Purvis Gibb and Margaret Muir Gibb, of Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland.

Air/Gnr Sgt. Edward George Nickels. 1811748 RAFVR Age 19. Killed. Panel 160. Son of George Edward and Florence Caroline Nickels, of Wood Green, Middlesex, England.

Air/Gnr Sgt. Cecil Raymond Langley. 1603246 RAFVR Age 20. Killed. Panel 156. Son of Mrs F. Langley from Hays End, Middlesex, England.

Page of Remembrance created for John Wilson (ex RAF) Brother of F/O. Kenneth Wilson and dedicated to the crew of Halifax JD252. With thanks to the following, Bill Chorley – ‘Bomber Command Losses Vol’s. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions’, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie – ‘Nightfighter War Diaries Vol’s. 1 and 2’, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt – ‘Bomber Command War Diaries’, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.





Nimrod Stone

The Nimrod Ribbon Of Remembrance stone has been placed at the IBCC to honour all those who served in the Nimrod Force, (Aircrew, Groundcrew & Support Staff), during the Nimrod’s time in Service, which spanned over forty years. It especially honours those friends and colleagues lost in three tragic accidents, which befell the Nimrod Force.

Nimrod was the RAF Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRMPA) which served on No 42 Sqn based at RAF St Mawgan, No 120 Sqn, No 201 Sqn and No 206 Sqn, all based at RAF Kinloss, and finally No 203 Sqn based at RAF Luqa in Malta. The role of the aircraft was primarily surveillance of the Russian Navy and their Submarine Force, but it carried out many tasks including Long Range Search and Rescue, and Fishery Protection duties around the United Kingdom. In more recent conflicts the Nimrod Mk2 took on more surveillance roles flying over the battlefield.

Three Nimrods were built for the special task of Electronic Reconnaissance and were designated Nimrod R, they served on 51 Sqn based at our local airfield of RAF Waddington. 51 Sqn was a Bomber Command Unit during World War 2 and served in No 4 Group flying out of RAF Snaith in Yorkshire.


On the 17th November 1980 XV256 was taking off from RAF Kinloss with a crew of twenty on board from 206 Sqn. The crew were converting from the Nimrod Mk1 to the upgraded Nimrod Mk2, and had instructing staff flying, hence the large crew onboard. Immediately after take-off the aircraft had multiple birdstrikes with Canadian Geese which were transiting between their overnight roost and their daily feeding grounds. The birdstrike caused damaged to three engines, the pilots were unable to maintain height and the Nimrod crashed into Roseisle Forest approximately 1300 yards from the end of the runway, and was engulfed in flames. The two pilots were killed, but the rest of the crew managed to escape from the aircraft, although some were seriously injured.


The aircraft from 120 Sqn RAF Kinloss, was performing an Air Display at the Canadian International Airshow in Toronto on the 2nd September 1995. The display was performed above Lake Ontario and during one of the manoeuvres the aircraft appeared to stall and crashed into the lake. All seven crew members on board were killed.


Exactly eleven years to the day, since the tragic events at Toronto, another 120 Sqn aircraft crashed in Afghanistan killing all the crew and two specialist operators from the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment. The aircraft XV230, which incidentally was the first of thirty-eight Nimrods to enter operational service, was on a surveillance mission on the 2nd September 2006, supporting coalition forces engaging the Taliban. Shortly after refuelling from a RAF Tristar a catastrophic fire broke out, the aircraft tried to make an emergency landing at Kandahar airfield, but exploded in mid-air killing everybody on board. This event culminated in the single biggest loss of life of Service Personnel, since the Falklands War in 1982.

Roll of Honour

17th November 1980 XV256 No 206 Sqn, RAF Kinloss

  • Flight Lieutenant Noel Anthony (Royal Australian Air Force)
  • Flying Officer Stephen Belcher

2nd September 1995 XV239 No120 Sqn, Toronto, Canada

  • Flt Lt Dom Gilbert
  • Flt Lt Glenn Hooper
  • Flt Lt Nick Brookes
  • Flt Lt Bernie Worthington
  • Sergeant Gary Moxham
  • Sergeant Richie Williams
  • Sergeant Craig Barnett

2nd September 2006 XV230 No 120 Sqn, Afghanistan

  • Flight Lieutenant Steven Johnson
  • Flight Lieutenant Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore
  • Flight Lieutenant Gareth Rodney Nicholas
  • Flight Lieutenant Allan James Squires
  • Flight Lieutenant Steven Swarbrick
  • Flight Sergeant Gary Wayne Andrews
  • Flight Sergeant Stephen Beattie
  • Flight Sergeant Gerard Martin Bell
  • Flight Sergeant Adrian Davies
  • Sergeant Benjamin James Knight
  • Sergeant John Joseph Langton
  • Sergeant Gary Paul Quilliam
  • Corporal Oliver Simon Dicketts (Parachute Regiment)
  • Marine Joseph David Windal (Royal Marines)

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Wing Commander A L Christian

Wing Commander A L Christian MiD* RAF – 1906 – 1941

Arnold Louis Christian was born in Hove, grew up in Birkenhead where his family operated their business, and educated as a boarder at Ruthin Public School, (founded in 1284 almost 150 years before Eton College).

After gaining Higher School Certificate he began work in the family business and, in 1929, went to Newcastle Upon Tyne to open a new branch of the business.  There, two significant life events occurred. He met the girl who was to become his wife and he entered a newspaper competition winning first prize – a half hour flying lesson.  Smitten by both, he left the business – much to the annoyance of the family – and was commissioned into the RAF in October 1930.

Upon completion of flying training at No 3 FTS, (Flying Training School), RAF Grantham, he was posted to No 54 Squadron, RAF Hornchurch.  As a member of 54 Sqn he participated in the famous Hendon Air Displays, hugely popular in the 1930’s, was married, and two of his three children were born, (both boys, they too were to join the RAF, followed by two of his grandsons).

Now a Flight Lieutenant, he was posted, unaccompanied, for eight months over 1935-36 to Ed Damer and Atbara in the British Protectorate of Sudan.  On return it was to 218 (Bomber) Squadron, RAF Upper Heyford, and selection for instructor training at CFS, (Central Flying School), RAF Upavon.  On the evening of 28th June 1937, whilst in the station cinema, a message was flashed onto the screen – ‘F/L Christian you have a baby daughter’ – home at Upper Heyford, his third child had been born.  From CFS it was briefly to No 6 FTS, RAF Netheravon, and then on to No 5 FTS, RAF Sealand, as a flying instructor.

Promoted Squadron Leader on 21 November 1938, there then followed 10 months at RAF Debden before a posting to RAF Bicester. Briefly to No 108 Sqn and then No 104 Sqn as Commander of ‘B’ Flight.  Both squadrons operated the Bristol Blenheim light bomber.

On 25th October 1939, as second pilot/navigator to Major Jim Cordes, chief test pilot for Handley Page, he flew on the maiden flight from Bicester of their new heavy bomber the ‘Halifax’.  In April 1940, 104 & 108 merged to form No 13 OTU, (Operational Training Unit), where he served as a Flying Instructor.

On 24th November 1940 it was to 105 Sqn, ( No 2 Group, Bomber Command), RAF Swanton Morley. Stuart R Scott, in his book Battle-Axe Blenheims No 105 Squadron at war 1940-1, records ‘Well known to many of the crews as an instructor, S/L Arnold Christian had arrived to become Flight Commander of ‘B’ Flight, and was ultimately to prove a very popular CO’.

One month later, on Christmas Eve, he was promoted Wing Commander and became the squadron’s commanding officer.

At this time the squadron was engaged largely on night operations against various industrial targets, and specific oil refineries, and these continued into 1941.  On 4th February, he led the squadron to attack docks at Ostend, Dunkirk and Dieppe and also on several airfields in Northern France.  All targets were successfully attacked without loss.

On 30th March, lifting off at 20.18 hours as part of a much larger mixed force, he led 5 Blenheims, from RAF St. Eval, Cornwall, to attack the port of Brest where the German battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, responsible for inflicting huge losses on British shipping, were docked.  All bombs were delivered in the target area and all crews survived the attack.  So too did the enemy ships!

On the 9th April the squadron received orders to convert to daytime operations and on the 13th the daylight anti-shipping role began.  The task for No 2 Group and its Blenheim squadrons was to seal the North Sea to enemy shipping.

The crews now had to learn a new skill and Arnold Christian was hugely instrumental in this, as  remembered by S/L David Bennett, who paid tribute in 2 Group RAF by Michael J.F. Bowyer:

Arnold Christian, an A1 Category CFS (Central Flying School) instructor, could fly a Blenheim better than most and inspired us all with his skill and leadership. He had been responsible for our rapid conversion from night bombing to daylight low-level operations in April 1941. Training was intense as Christian encouraged us to fly accurately over the sea at 50ft and lower. ‘The lower the better’, were his words, and ‘effective jinking manoeuvres near the deck (sea level) can get you out of trouble in the target area’. He was right. A Blenheim could be thrown around, and his example inspired us all. Our squadron commander was a stubborn never-say-die character with inborn leadership of a somewhat rebellious nature, traits possessed by so many 2 Group squadron commanders’.

‘Beat’ areas were established along coasts from southern Norway to the Low Countries and these were the Blenheim’s new hunting grounds.  Blenheim squadrons of 2 Group were detached, in around two weeks rotation, to RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, to operate Norwegian coastal beats.  On 5th May, 1941, it was the turn of 105 Sqn. 17 Blenheims moved from Swanton Morley to Lossiemouth for their rotational stint.

At 05.10 hours on Thursday, 8th May 1941, in Blenheim V5828:R, Wg Cdr Arnold Christian and his crew, F/Sgt Harold Frederick ‘Andy’ Hancock (Observer) and Sgt G. Wade (Wireless Op/Air Gunner), lifted off leading 5 other aircraft and headed for the beat 2 area off the Norwegian coast at Stavanger.

As recorded in Battle-Axe Blenheims by Stuart R. Scott, four of the aircraft saw no shipping and returned to base. Aircraft T2118:E (P/O Buckley) was at No 2 position (on the right) of the CO’s aircraft when, as further recorded,  a convoy of twenty vessels appeared at the entrance to Hafrsfjord, west of Stavanger. Two merchant ships were singled out one a merchantman, the other identified as an 800-ton flak ship.  When the first merchant vessel was last seen, it was down by the stern, billowing smoke high into the air. During his run-in for a beam attack on the flak ship, P/O Buckley realised that W/C Arnold Christian and his crew, had not re-appeared on his port side. Their Blenheim was last seen with the port engine on fire.

Herr Leidland, a fisherman, saw the aircraft crash into the water, and he later retrieved a flying boot from the sea; it contained a leather tag with F/Sgt Hancock’s name on it.  They had crashed south of the entrance to Hardangerfjorden, north of Stavanger.

The loss of the CO hit squadron morale very badly, and was well remembered by the then S/L David Bennett who paid the following tribute also in Bowyer’s 2 Group RAF, Arnold’s sense of fun and his good, dry humour, added to his superb airmanship, made 105 a good squadron!

 Photograph: Battle-Axe Blenheims – Stuart R Scott

From  Battle-Axe Blenheims, Sgt Geoffrey Rowland (WOp/AG) commented W/C Arnold Christian was one of the finest COs one could wish to serve under, and Sgt Wood (Pilot), we all remembered Arnold Christian joining in with the boys, playing rugger with the adjutant’s hat.

The above is the briefest story of a husband, a father, a regular officer in the RAF.  More than that, it is also the story of so many Bomber Command aircrew – 55,000 – who lost their lives in WW2.  Stuart Scott sums it up well in the introduction to his book, Battle-Axe Blenheims.  ‘The Blenheim crews suffered grievous losses throughout the war, but their resolve, their firm belief in the right of their tasks, and their absolute belief in their leadership, remained unswayed’.

105 Squadron’s motto Fortis in Proeliis  translates as Valiant in Battles’


There can be no more fitting epitaph for a Blenheim crew.

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Bernard ‘Pop’ Green.

Bernard ‘Pop’ Green.

There was the start of the forest, but in between was open ground covered in snow.  Thirty-two pairs of feet had left the exit to ‘Tunnel Harry’ and made the dash to the woods, when it was Bernard’s turn.

A miscalculation meant the tunnel exit had come up short by about ten feet, and was just beyond the perimeter fence.  Bernard was the thirty- third person to leave the tunnel, and at the age of fifty-six, the oldest of the seventy-six that would escape that night, in what became known as ‘The Great Escape’. 

Bernard was born in Bourne End Bucks in December 1887, and between 1903 and the start of the First World War, he served as a sapper in the 2nd Gloucestershire Royal Engineer Volunteers, the London Electrical Engineers and finally in the TA with the Royal East Kent Yeomanry.

This all took place whilst studying at Clifton College Bristol and reading Theology at Trinity College Cambridge. 

On the 24th June 1914 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in Buckinghamshire Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.  By 1915 he was serving in France and Belgium, when he was wounded by a German rifle grenade fragment at Ploogsteert and was sent back to England to recuperate.  On his return to France, he was promoted and seconded to different Machine Group Corps.

In 1916 he attended various Lewis and Vickers Gun courses both in France and England, where he met Johnny Dodge, who many years later, would also become a POW at Stalag Luft 3, and a fellow escaper.  On the first day of the Battle for the Somme, he was promoted to Captain, but again had to return to England to attended a course, and whilst home on his 29th birthday, he married Kathleen Dorothea Connell. 

At the beginning of 1917 he was Mentioned in Dispatches for action at the Somme and then fought at Passchendaele.  By 1918 he had further promotion to Major and the award of a Military Cross in the King’s Birthday Honours List.  In October, just one month before the Armistice, he was severely wounded in his heel, from either a bullet or shrapnel.

He returned to England for recovery and was given £120 compensation for his injuries. 

After the war, Bernard and his wife started a family, his son was born in 1919, followed by a daughter in 1921.  He worked at the family Paper Mill which he ran with his Brother-in-Law.  He fulfilled many roles including Managing Director and Senior Sales Representative, which gave him the chance to travel through Europe sourcing raw materials. 

With the Second World War looming, in December 1939 Bernard joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve, he was 52 years old.  He attended the Air Gunnery Course at RAF Aldergrove and was awarded his brevet.  Following this he was posted to No 44 Sqn flying the Hampden out of RAF Waddington, with the rank of Pilot Officer on Probation.

On the 20th July 1940, Bernard was on his first mission, which was a ‘Gardening’ sortie to Frederikshavn, basically laying sea mines which had the codeword ‘Vegetables’, in the busy shipping lanes.  The four-man crew consisted of the pilot Sgt Edward Farrands, Sgt Percy Nixon the observer, Sgt Reg Miller the second air gunner, plus Bernard in the rear turret.  Their Hampden L4087 took a direct hit from flax, which was protecting the port of Frederikshavn.  Edward announced he would have to ditch in Tannis Bay, as a fire was spreading across one of the wings, and sections of it were falling from the aircraft.

The belly of the plane hit the sea and part of the starboard fuselage was torn away.  Bernard threw himself through the hole and surfaced next to the sinking plane.  Floating next to him was the dead body of Sgt Nixon, whose neck appeared broken by the force of the impact.  Bernard was a strong swimmer and swam towards the roaring surf that was breaking against the shoreline and dragged himself onto the beach.  Within a few hours he would find himself in a Police Station at Skagen in Denmark, where he was handed over to the Germans and would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner.

Bernard was taken by train to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt am Main.  This was a reception camp before prisoners were transferred elsewhere.   It was here he heard the news that Sgt Farrands had survived the crash, but like Bernard, he was caught by the Danish Police, having broken into a summer villa.  The bodies of Nixon and Miller were washed up on the beach and they were buried in the cemetery at Skagen.

Between 1941-1942 Bernard found himself promoted twice, eventually obtaining the rank of Flight Lieutenant.  He was subject to various transfers between POW camps, including Stalag Luft II in Littmannstadt Poland, Stalag Luft I Barth Germany, a short visit to Stalag Luft III near Sagan and then Offlag XXI B, Schubin Poland.

By 1943 Bernard was back at Stalag Luft III to fulfil his destiny of becoming one of the ‘Great Escapers’.  Bernard was known as ‘Pop’ this probably referred to his age, being one of the older prisoners, or it could have derived from when he was Pilot Officer on Probation.  At Stalag Luft III, his role in the building of ‘Tunnel Harry’ was to be a ‘Penguin’.

He carried special pouches down his trouser legs, and walked around the compound dispersing earth that had been removed from the tunnel.

His escape on that cold winter’s night in March 1944 was short lived, he gathered with twelve other prisoners, all dressed as Czech workmen. They made their way to a railway station south of Sagan, boarded a train for about fifty miles, before alighting near Hirschberg.  As he approached a village he was forced to walk straight through the centre, because the surrounding fields were covered in deep snow, so he couldn’t bypass the village. He was captured by a German soldier and returned to Stalag Luft III, where he spent 14 days in the cooler.

 Of the original seventy-six to escape, three managed to make ‘home runs’, one landed in England, two managed to seek refuge in Sweden.  On Hitler’s orders fifty of the escapees were executed, they were chosen from different nationalities to send a chilling message back to the camps.

By 1945 the Germans started to evacuate the POW camps in the East, as the Soviet Army advanced.  Bernard and the fellow inmates were forced marched, half starving and inadequately dressed in atrocious winter conditions, with heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures, back into Germany.  Many suffered from exhaustion and exposure to the weather, and were shot by their captors where they fell.

 They were finally liberated from a camp, on the 2nd May 1945 near Lübeck, by the 11th Armoured Division British Army.  On the 7th January 1947 Bernard was Mentioned in Despatches for his part in the Great Escape.

After the war Bernard remarried following the death of his first wife and ran a taxi business in Chichester.  In 1963 he attended the Premiere of ‘The Great Escape’ at the Odeon Leicester Square, to benefit the Royal Air Force Association and the RAF Escaping Society.

Bernard died on the 2nd November 1971 aged 83 years old.

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Australian Ribbon Of Remembrance.

At the very end of the path that leads to the Memorial Walls, on the left hand side, there is a large Stone dedicated to all the Australian Air Force members who served in Bomber Command during WW2. Australian aircrew were trained in Australia, Canada and Rhodesia under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), before they arrived in the UK to serve in Bomber Command. The first ground instruction and flying schools opened in Australia in 1940 and by March 1941 the graduates were joining the UK based Squadrons.

Approximately 10,000 Royal Australian Air Force personnel served with Bomber Command and 3,486 were killed, 650 died in training accidents and 1500 became Prisoners of War. Many served on the eight RAAF Bomber Command Squadrons, namely 455, 458, 460, 462, 463, 464, 466 and 467 Squadron.

The first two Australian Squadrons formed were No 455 Sqn in June and No 458 Sqn in September 1941. By the end of 1941 both were flying regular missions against Germany. Although the Australian Government wanted to consolidate their airmen into RAAF units, there was never an Australian Bomber Command Group, compared to the likes of No 6 (Canadian) Group. Even the Australian Squadrons often had a small number of Australians on them, as the men tended to form into crews at the Operational Training Units, without regard for nationality, and didn’t wish to be broken up when they eventually arrived on the Squadrons. Some Commanders favored mixed nationality crews, so we find many Australians serving in various Squadrons throughout Bomber Command.

The arrival of No 460 Sqn RAAF to RAF Binbrook in spring 1943, caused quite a stir. The Squadron was transferring from RAF Breighton and the groundcrew were given the options of traveling by train or being transported in Horsa gilders, over 800 of them chose to travel by Horsa. Their different uniforms and accents also caused problems, with one local schoolboy running home to his parents and declaring the Germans had arrived! During the next two years of the war, 460 Sqn suffered some of the highest casualty rates in Bomber Command.

Depicted on the Stone is the badge of the Royal Australian Air Force and the Australian War Memorial which is in Campbell, a suburb in the  capital Canberra. This Memorial was unveiled on the 11th November 1941 and holds the Rolls of Honour which commemorates over 102,000 members of the Australian Armed Forces who have died during War Service, and since 1945, those killed in Wars and certain Peacetime Operations. The Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier is located here, along with an extensive National Military Museum.

Towards the bottom of the Stone, we have an inscription from a letter written by Fg Off Colin Kelvin Flockhart who served on No 619 Sqn. Colin was born on the 1st February 1924 in Ashfield NSW. He attended school in Sydney, completed his accountancy studies before gaining employment with the Commonwealth Bank. When old enough he joined the RAAF and qualified as a pilot in 1942. After completing his flying course, he was sent to Canada for further training before arriving in England.  He converted onto the Lancaster and was posted to No 619 Sqn based at RAF Strubby here in Lincolnshire. On the 1st December 1944 Colin wrote a three page letter to his parents to be delivered in the event of his death. He described how he was happy in the RAAF, his belief in what he was doing, his faith in God and his appreciation of his family.

I have been very proud to wear my uniform, keep smiling although your hearts are breaking.

These words were extracts from his letter home, a letter that would soon be delivered to his parents in Earlwood NSW. On the 7th January 1945 Flockhart and his crew were detailed to take part on a raid on München. Flying in Lancaster ND957 PG-M, they were returning from the target in bad weather and reduced visibility, when their aircraft disintegrated over St Pierre in France. It is thought a possibly collision occurred with a 49 Sqn Lancaster PB586, also returning from München. That accident caused the death of three Australians, FS Eric Smith from Sydney was Colin’s Wireless Op on ND957, and WO Frederick Miller from Canberra was the Wireless Op on the 49 Sqn aircraft. Those on board both aircraft were laid to rest in Villeneuve St Georges Old Communal Cemetery 18 Km South East of Paris. Fg Off Colin Flockhart was just 20 years old at the time of his death.

It wasn’t just the aircrew who made the ultimate sacrifice, Sgt Laurence Parker was born in Bundaberg, Queensland. He served as groundcrew on No 467 Sqn based at RAF Waddington. Most aircraft had nose art which depicted how many raids an aircraft and crew had completed. The nose art was normally a bomb, but Sgt Parker suggested using beer mugs to record the event, and painted these onto the aircraft he serviced. On the 4th December 1943 Laurence was killed when a Lancaster JB140 crashed on takeoff after two engines failed.  The aircraft swung violently, leaving the runway before the pilot managed to get it under semi control. Unfortunately, it hit a parked No 61 Sqn Lancaster before crashing into Sgt Parker and a Sgt Hobba. Ironically Laurence was killed by an aircraft he serviced himself, whilst Sgt Hobba survived with slight injuries. The following day FS Cecil Frizzell the Air Gunner on JB140, who hailed from Queensland, succumbed to his injuries.

The bravery, gallantry and sacrifices of all those who served in the RAAF in Bomber Command during the war is reflected in the medals awarded to Australian personnel. 2 Victoria Crosses, 62 Distinguished Service Orders, 1 Military Cross, 1609 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 3 Air Force Crosses, 1 Distinguished Conduct Medal, 6 Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, 1 Military Medal, 297 Distinguished Flying Medals and 3 Air Forces Medals.

Sgt E A Hall

Sgt E A Hall (462) –  10 Squadron

One of the pleasures of being a Volunteer Tour Guide at the IBCC is the chance to meet and chat with veterans or their relatives. One day whilst guiding I got chatting with David Hall and his twin sister Carol who were visiting the Centre. As we walked up the Ribbons Of Remembrance they stopped to show me a Stone they had laid in memory of their father, a father they hardly got to know, they were just 15 months old when he was killed in Norway.

Tirpitz was the second of the Bismarck Class Battleships built for the German Navy. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz it was armed with a battery of eight (15 inch) guns, housed in four twin turrets. In early 1942, the Tirpitz sailed to Norway acting as a deterrent against an Allied invasion. Whilst stationed in Norway, the ship was intended to be used to intercept the Arctic Convoys heading to Russia. Tirpitz was Churchill’s nemesis, it was a formidable ship and it would take a formidable effort to destroy it.

In between October 1940 and November 1944, 26 Operations were mounted to destroy Tirpitz.  During ‘Operation Title’ they used two Chariot Manned Torpedoes, but mechanical failure stopped the attempt, whilst in ‘Operation Source’ four Midget Submarines were deployed, which did manage to cause extensive damage. Finally on the 12th November 1944, Operation Catechism saw 32 Lancasters attack the ship at Tromsø,  eventually causing it to capsize after three direct hits.

On the 30th March 1942 No 4 Group mounted an attack on Tirpitz using Halifax aircraft picked from 10 Sqn, 35 Sqn and 76 Sqn, operating at forward bases at Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Tain in Scotland. The raid consisted of 12 aircraft each from 76 Sqn and 35 Sqn, with 10 aircraft getting airborne from 10 Sqn. The total distance to the target and return to base would be 1300 miles with a flight time of 8 hrs 30 mins, the raid was planned in two phases with 76 Sqn dropping 4000 lb HC bombs. Phase 2 would see 10 Sqn and 35 Sqn flying into Faettenfjord at 600 feet carrying Mines and Incendiaries. On reaching the Norwegian coast the weather was clear with bright moonlight, but on arriving in the Trondheim area sea fog and 10/10 cloud were obscuring the target.  Tirpitz was moored next to a cliff making an air attack more difficult, cut down trees were laid over the deck as camouflage, and if need be, Tirpitz could create clouds of artificial fog by mixing water with chlorosulfuric acid. Many of the aircraft had to jettison their bombs on searchlight and flax batteries, and because of the sea fog and haze, it was difficult to make any damage assessments.

In nearby Hemnefjord the local people could hear aircraft en route to and from Faettenfjord. A young man witnessed an aircraft flying erratically and descending, as it passed over a small island called Sørfuglan there was an explosion onboard and the aircraft crashed. It is possible the aircraft was hit by German Anti Aircraft guns at nearby Hemnskjel.

The following morning people found debris and dead fish around the fjord carried by the currents, this could be from W1043 ZA-F, although nearby another Halifax from 10 Sqn had also crashed, that was W1044 ZA-D.

Four days after the crash of W1043, the body of the Sqn Ldr Frederick Webster was washed up near the Lighthouse at Terningen. No remains of the other six crew were ever found. On the 8th April 1942 Sqn Ldr Webster was buried at Trondheim Stavne Cemetery along with four airmen from 35 Sqn, who had perished when their two Halifax aircraft were shot down. Three bodies were recovered from the crash of W1044 and initially buried in a local cemetery at Heim before being moved to Trondheim Stavne Cemetery after the war.

In 2005 David Hall travelled to Norway to visit the crash site where his father perished. He was accompanied by Wynne Hines the sister of the Air Gunner Plt Off Sam Leney, who was 22 years old at the time of his death. During the visit they went out by boat to the spot between Sørfuglan and Jamtøya where it is believed Halifax W1043 came down. David placed a wreath in the water as they paid their respects to the airmen who lost their lives that day. A dram of whisky was also poured into the fjord. At last David and Wynne had the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones.  Whilst in Norway they also went to Stavne Cemetery to visit the grave of Sqn Ldr Webster, the only crew member recovered from the crash. The remaining crew are honoured on the Runnymede Memorial for all those airmen who have no known grave.

Six of the thirty-four aircraft that took off failed to return.

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From 10 Squadron:
W1043 flown by Sqn Ldr Webster and W1044 flown by Plt Off Blunden.

Crew Of W1043 ZA-F

Sqn Ldr Frederick David Webster DFC Age 29 Pilot

Sgt Eric Archibald Hall Age 30 Pilot

Flt Lt Audrey Charles Stevens-Fox Observer

Plt Off Samuel Robert Leney Age 22 Air Gunner

FS Harold Sydney Wheatley Age 24 Flight Engineer

Sgt Walter Hall Age 27 Air Gunner

Sgt Arnold Hague WOp/AG 


From 35 Squadron:

R9438 flown by FS Bushby, this aircraft had made it back over the North Sea almost to Shetland from the Tirpitz, but crashed in to cliffs at Fitful Head on Shetland killing all the crew.

R9496 flown by FS Archibald and W1015 flown by FS Steinhauer both crashed in Norway.

76 Squadron:

R9453 flown by Sqn Ldr Burnett was last heard from en route back to base passing over Sumburgh and are believed to have ditched in the sea somewhere off Sumburgh Head.

Despite the best efforts of the Halifax force, little or no effective damage had been inflicted on Tirpitz during the 30th March 1942 attack.


Sgt Eric Archibald Hall



The ABC Lancaster

Lancaster PD268 SR-O

 On the 7th March 1945 at 1708hrs, Lancaster PD268 of 101 Squadron lifted off from RAF Ludford Magna in the Lincolnshire Wolds. A total of 23 Lancasters would depart Ludford Magna that evening to support the raid. The target was the Junker’s Aircraft Factory at Dessau and they were part of a large bomber stream consisting of 526 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes. 18 Lancasters, which was 3.4 Percent of the force failed to return, including the crew of PD268. They were the only crew not to return safely to Ludford Magna in the early hours of the following morning, nothing was heard from them after taking off.

At the controls that evening was Sqn Ldr Montgomery Gibbon AFC and next to him, was WO Ivor Bond the Flight Engineer.  He would be assisting the pilot with fuel calculations, monitoring the engines and hydraulic pressures, and ready to carry out immediate action drills in the case of engine failure or fires. Down in the nose of the aircraft, Sgt William Canning the Bomb Aimer, would be busying himself checking his switch selections and bomb-sight, ready to direct the pilot onto the target as they approached Dessau.

Meanwhile the Navigator Fg Off Roy Gawthorp would be updating their track towards the target with the latest winds which he received from the Wireless Operator Sgt Leslie Tyrrell. All the time the Air Gunners Sgt Alfred Matthews and Sgt Charles Preston would be scanning the horizon for German Nightfighters trying to infiltrate the Bomber Stream. Seven would be the normal complement of a Lancaster, but this was an ABC Lancaster, also known by the codeword ‘Airborne Cigar’, so this carried an extra crew member.

Huddled over the glow coming from a Cathode Ray Tube was Plt Off Rudolph Mahr a Canadian from Winnipeg. Rudolph or ‘Rudy’, was a Russian Jew born in 1926, his Russian father was John and Anna his mother was from Germany. They left Russia and travelled to Canada arriving by ship in 1936 and took Canadian Citizenship. As the war progressed Rudolph wanted to prove what honourable Canadians they had become, so signed up with Royal Canadian Air Force and trained as an Air Gunner.

When 101 Squadron was earmarked as the ABC Squadron in 1943 a call went out for volunteers who spoke or understood German, Rudolph volunteered for the as of yet undisclosed role, that he would play on the Squadron.  His job on the Lancaster was the Special Duty Operator, the eighth man. The SD Operators came from all walks of life, some were German Jews like Hans Heinz Schwarz or George Kesten, who were born in Berlin, but fled their homeland and served in the RAF. Others were aircrew who had learnt some German at school, and volunteered for this new role. They all had to learn the codewords that the ground controllers would use with the Nightfighter pilots, as an example ‘Kapelle’ which meant Target Altitude.

So as Rudolph stared at his Cathode Ray Tube he was looking for a blip that would indicate a transmission. He would stop his receiver on the signal and listen to confirm it was a Luftwaffe ground to air frequency. Once confirmed he would activate one of three 50 Watt transmitters, bring it over the frequency and block the signal, thereby preventing the Luftwaffe ground controllers from communicating with their Nightfighters.  Often engine noise picked up by a microphone in one of the engines, would be played out as the jamming signal. The outside of the ABC Lancaster was dominated by three large aerials, two on the top of the fuselage, and one under the nose, these highlighted the specialist role of the aircraft. But the crew of PD268 were not alone, other Lancasters from 101 Squadron would also be dispersed in the Bomber Stream at 10 mile intervals, all using their jammers to mask the Luftwaffe air comms. So as the Bomber stream progressed the jamming umbrella would move along trying to protect the raid.

The ABC Lancaster not only provided a jamming capability, they were part of the raid plan, carrying a bomb load themselves. The load would be reduced because of the extra weight of the specialised equipment and the extra operator carried in the fuselage. In the case of PD268 the bombs would never reach the target, the importance of the activities of 101 Sqn was not lost on the Luftwaffe, which made every effort to locate and destroy the modified Lancasters.  A Nightfighter, the very thing they were trying to protect the stream from, managed to intercept them and attack the aircraft with cannon.  No wreckage or crew were found and it was assumed the aircraft had come down in the sea. The only place relatives could pay their respects was the Runnymede Memorial, which commemorates over 20,000 air force men and women, who lost their lives and have no known grave.

Horst Klötzer was a local historian and archaeologist who documented the crash sites of warplanes in the Westphalia district of Germany. In 2013 he followed up on reports of a crash site in a forest near the city of Hagen, and a survey of the site found widely scattered remains of an aircraft, some of these parts were very tiny, often less than two centimetres wide. Further excavation revealed some British coins, a compass pendant, part of a landing gear strut and various metal pieces with identification marks on them. There was also reports from local people who remembered the crash took place on the 7th March 1945 and that a body from the crash had been buried in an unmarked grave in the local cemetery. After painstaking investigation the final resting place of PD268 had been discovered. The cemetery had no records to support the burial of the airman and no further action by the authorities has taken place.

Horst Klötzer and his team used social media to try and find surviving relatives of the crew. In 2015 Ernest Mahr, the brother of Rudy, flew to Paris with his wife, hired a car and drove the 560 kilometres to the crash site at Hagen.  Ernest could finally pay his respects to his elder brother, who was just nineteen years old at the time of his death.

Plt Officer Rudolf “Rudy” Mahr RCAF Special Duties Operator

101 Sqn part of No1 Group had some of the largest losses in Bomber Command during WW2. Because of their specialist role not only did they fly missions with No1 Group, they also had to fly in support of other Groups.  Hence there was very little respite for the men of 101 Sqn. In total 1094 men were Killed In Action and 178 were taken Prisoners Of War.

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Lancaster PB812 AR-Y

Lancaster PB812 AR-Y 460 Sqn RAAF 10th February 1945.

On the IBCC Ribbons Of Remembrance are a series of Stones which are dedicated to the memory of a crew from 460 Sqn RAAF who were based at RAF Binbrook. Very close to the Chadwick Centre in Block 1, we have a Ribbon for a Bomb Aimer Arnold Kloeden, then in Block 2 are six Ribbons for the crew of a Lancaster PB812 which crashed at Caythorpe near Grantham on the 10th February 1945.

This was a very close knit crew, as many of them had travelled across to England on the same troopship from Australia. They first crewed up in August 1944, whilst undergoing their Operational Training at RAF Hixon, flying the Wellington Bomber. Then in December 1944 they were posted to No 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, to convert onto the Lancaster. Here they were joined by an Englishman, called Freddie Nesbit-Bell who hailed from Bristol and was the flight engineer.  Why was he flying with an all Australian crew?

With the introduction of the heavy bombers and the decision to go to one pilot operation, the new trade of flight engineer was introduced. He would assist the pilot with throttles, monitor fuel and hydraulics, and carry out any immediate action drills in the case of engine fires or failures. Freddie was a pilot in his own right, having trained in Canada, but he retrained as a flight engineer, because of shortages. Many RAF personnel were transferred to this new trade, which is why you often found them flying with other nationalities. But Freddie did not need to join the war effort, as he had a reserved occupation, he was a Police Constable in Bristol. Eight Police Constables from Bristol volunteered for the Services, Freddie was the only one not to return home when the war finished.

Having completed the HCU the crew were posted to No 460 Sqn. The crew, five of them even owned a car together, so they could explore the Lincolnshire Wolds. The crew were rarely apart in their leisure hours and Arnold Kloeden said they worked in a greater harmony than any other crew he had seen.

On the morning of Saturday 10th February 1945, Pilot Officer Dick Miller took off from Binbrook on a crew training sortie (Navex) with five members of his crew. The Bomb Aimer’s position was empty because Arnold Kloeden had been ill and was just being released from hospital, so didn’t have time to prepare for the flight. The crew were flying a Navigation Exercise and whilst on the leg from Luton to Scunthorpe, a catastrophic accident occurred. At 15:50 hrs the Lancaster was witnessed by some local schoolboys in a vertical dive over the village of Caythorpe and crashed near Love Lane close to the railway station. None of the crew survived the crash, there was speculation that problems with the autopilot may have contributed to the accident, as this had caused problems on a previous flight.

The deceased crew’s remains were placed in one coffin and they were buried at Cambridge City Cemetery. The parents and sister of Tony Robinson, the air gunner attended, along with family members belonging to Freddie Nisbet-Bell. The Chief Constable of Bristol also came and paid his respects. Arnold Kloeden represented all those Australian families who were unable to attend.

After the war, Arnold Kloeden returned to Australia and eventually died in 2003. On the 10th September 2016 a memorial service was organised by Linda Pope, the niece of Rhod Pope, which was held at St Vincent’s Church in Caythorpe. This was attended by family members of the deceased crew and two plaques were laid. One is located at the church, the other is on Love Lane close to the crash site.

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Porokoru Patapu Pohe – 51 Squadron

51 Squadron is one of our local units here in Lincolnshire, and currently operates out of RAF Waddington, just a few miles south of the International Bomber Command Centre, flying the ‘Rivet Joint RC135W’ aircraft.

During the war it was a Bomber Command Unit assigned to No 4 Group and operating out of various airfields in Yorkshire, including RAF Linton-on-Ouse, RAF Dishforth and RAF Snaith, flying the Whitley and then the Halifax Bomber.

Born on the 10th December 1914, Porokoru Patapu Pohe, (known as John or Johnny) grew up on his parents farm in Taihape, New Zealand.  After finishing school he worked on the family farm and served two years in the Territorial Army with the Manawatu Mounted Rifles. In 1939 he volunteered to join the RNZAF, and was eventually accepted for pilot training. On the 18th January 1941 Porokoru was awarded his flying brevet, and thus became the first Maori pilot in the New Zealand Air Force. Like many of his compatriots he travelled to Canada to undergo advanced training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, before finally arriving at No 10 OTU at RAF Abingdon in May 1941, to convert onto the Whitley.

It was whilst flying a Whitley on the 21st July 1941, on a bombing raid near Paris, that he earned the distinction of being the first Maori to bomb a target in occupied Europe. On the 24th August 1941 Porokoru was posted to 51 Squadron and was promoted to Flight Sergeant in October that year. The following February he piloted a Whitley which dropped paratroopers on a radar station near Le Havre. This daring raid called Operation Biting or perhaps better know as the Bruneval Raid, was mounted to try and capture and dismantle a German radar called  ‘Würzburg’. This radar controlled anti aircraft and searchlight batteries, whilst also directing nightfighters into the bomber streams, so any countermeasures that could neutralise it, would be very useful. So the aim of the raid was to return sections of the radar, including some of the electronics back to the scientists in Britain, so they could get a better understanding of the inner workings of the system, and advances in German Radar technology. To help with this, they also brought back a German Radar Technician, all the equipment was taken down to the local beach where a Royal Navy landing craft collected the assault teams, transferred them to motor gunboats for the journey back across the Channel.

On completion of his operational tour Porokoru was posted as an instructor to No 24 OTU at RAF Honeybourne flying the Wellington. In March 1943 he survived a crash when the wing of his Wellington caught fire. Requesting a transfer back to operational flying, he converted to the Halifax bomber at No 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Rufforth, before he and his crew rejoined No 51 Sqn, which was now based at RAF Snaith. Within two days of joining his old squadron, he was tasked to fly against Hannover. On the night of 22nd September 1943, in aircraft JN901, they were hit twice by anti aircraft fire over the target area and had to limp for home. Such was the damage to the aircraft that they were forced to ditch in the English Channel, but at least all the crew survived. For two days they huddled in the dinghies before a German spotter plane sighted them and directed a German vessel to pick them up, thus Porokoru and his crew became Prisoners Of War.

Porokoru eventually arrived at Stalag Luft III near Sagan in October, but by 1944 he was actively helping to construct tunnel ‘Harry’,  that would shortly see prisoners try to make a bid for freedom, in what is famously called ‘The Great Escape’.

On the night of 24/25th March 1944 in the depths of a real bad winter, seventy six POWs managed to escape through tunnel ‘Harry’ before a guard patrolling outside the perimeter fence noticed the next man attempting to emerge from the tunnel. When the Germans discovered the escape, they put into action a well rehearsed manhunt. Porokoru and his companion Al Hake, an Australian Spitfire pilot, who were both suffering with frostbite in their feet, were captured by a local patrol and handed over to the Gestapo at Görlitz prison. On the 30th March, Gestapo officers collected six prisoners including Al Hake and Porokoru, they were driven away and never seen again. On Hitler’s orders fifty of the escapees were executed, they were chosen from different nationalities to send a chilling message back to the camps. Of the original seventy six to escape, fifty were executed, twenty three were returned to POW camps and just three managed to escape, one landed in England, two managed to seek refuge in Sweden.

Originally cremated and buried at Sagan, Porokoru is now buried in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery. At Sagan close to the where Stalag Luft III was located, there is a memorial to ‘The Fifty’. Post war investigations saw a number of those guilty for the murders, tracked down arrested and tried for their crimes.

Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu Pohe RNZAF was Mentioned in Dispatches with the citation “In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty”. He is remembered on Panel 227 of the Memorial Walls here at the International Bomber Command Centre. Below is an entry from Fg Off JSB Tyrie’s Stalag Luft III diary, which remembers those executed during ‘The Great Escape’

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Flt. Lt. Gareth R Nicholas

Nimrod XV230

Gareth Rodney Nicholas was the second son born 4th January 1966, the 5th child for his parents, Rodney, and Jean Nicholas. He was born in Redruth, Cornwall and brought up in the nearby town of Newquay. Gareth had three surviving elder sisters Ginny, Kath, and Angela.

Gareth was a talented artist and had the chance to study art at university but chose to join the R.A.F. as direct entrant aircrew, possibly influenced by all three sisters being married to aircrew at that time and having been in the Air Cadets gaining flight experience flying in Nimrod aircraft. He qualified as Sergeant Aircrew AEOp (Air Electronics Operator (Wet (sonics)) in 1985. He served with 42 Sqn at R.A.F. St. Mawgan which was located close to his home town of Newquay and also served on 206 Sqn at R.A.F. Kinloss, Morayshire, Scotland.

Gareth was commissioned in 2000 as an Air Electronics Officer (AEO) and attained the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He was serving with 120 Sqn crew 3 at R.A.F. Kinloss in Morayshire when the crew were deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2006. Whilst the aircraft was being refuelled mid-air on 2nd September, a fire broke out indicating it was in the bomb bay. The crew carried out the drill as per the book to fight the fire. As AEO Gareth co-ordinated the drill and his voice was the last to be heard on the recording of the intercom. The fire was close to the bomb bay but in a position where there was no fire suppressant. This location was next to a fuel tank which then got so hot that it exploded and blew up the aircraft. There were 14 crew on board and all were killed instantly; the biggest single incident of loss of life in Afghanistan.

Gareth left behind his wife Helen and 10 year old daughter Athena. His name is on a wall at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Plaques are on the Newquay War Memorial and on a foot bridge from the mainland to Porth Island; he played there with his family as a child and visited often as a husband and father. The station of R.A.F. St. Mawgan honoured Flt. Lt. Nicholas by naming a street after him.

Gareth’s stone is Block 5 Column 14 Row 3 and his niece Zoe’s is located Block 5 Column 7 Row 4.

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Words and photographs courtesy of Helen Nicholas, widow and Jeff Bayne, brother in law.

Lancaster R5489 KM-G Branston 1942

At 19:15hrs on Sunday 16th August 1942 a No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Lancaster R5489 KM-G was returning to RAF Waddington after a four hour training flight. This was a familiarisation trip for the newly qualified Flight Engineer Sgt John ‘Jack’ Fletcher. The aircraft flown by Sgt Ron Easom was over Branston on the downwind leg of the circuit, when the inner starboard engine caught fire. He ordered Jack to feather the engine and operate the fire extinguisher. Unfortunately the Flight Engineer feathered the outer engine by mistake, causing the aircraft to yaw and stall, and it crashed into a pig sty, a shed and trees before finally coming to rest on the south side of the village behind a row of cottages called Mill Row on the Sleaford Road.

The aircraft broke in two, just behind the main spar and was instantly engulfed in flames. Frank Walshaw, the Wireless Operator had braced himself for the impact, but the radio transmitter broke from it’s mounting and hit him in the chest. He remembers being dragged from the wreckage and laid on the ground near the cottages, meanwhile the fuel tanks had ruptured and blazing fuel was all around the aircraft.

Some pigs were trapped under the wreckage and their squeals were horrifying to hear, as they were roasted alive. Ammunition was also exploding all around, when suddenly an elderly lady emerged from one of the cottages with a tray of teas, and said to Frank “You’ll be ready for a cup of tea Luv”.  Even with the inferno all around she wasn’t fazed and continued to dispense refreshments.

The rescuers were able to save all the crew apart from Sgt David Pullinger the New Zealand Bomb Aimer, who was dead in the nose of the aircraft. Sgt Jack Fletcher was also pulled from the aircraft, having first been catapulted against the instrument panel in the cockpit, then down into the nose, such was the force of the impact. Jack Fletcher died of his injuries during the night in Bracebridge Heath hospital. Two of the rescuers who pulled the crew from the wreckage were Fred Kirk, the local butcher, and Dick Taylor who farmed in Branston. With complete disregard for their own safety they pulled the crew out of the plane, that was likely to have exploded at any second.

In 2015 the land behind Mill Row had been earmarked for a housing development by Taylor Wimpey. Firstly, an archaeological survey using a metal detector was performed, this found various aluminium airframe fragments, internal copper alloy components, and various pieces of .303 ammunition. They also discovered pieces of clothing and buttons, but these were later identified as civilian clothes not associated with the crash, these were probably ‘shoddy’, which were old clothes ploughed into heavy soils to improve the texture.

Frank Walshaw presented a memorial plaque to the Branston Home Guard Social Club in 2002.  The plaque states that Frank was a survivor of the crash and a former resident of Branston. In the main bar there is a display case belonging to the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group, which displays a model of the Lancaster along with remnants recovered from the crash site.

The new housing estate is now nearing completion and at the Memorial Gardens in the centre of the estate, there is a Commemorative Stone which lists the crew and their rescuers. There is also a Memorial Bench dedicated to Sgt D Pullinger and Sgt J Fletcher, the two fatalities from the crash. The roads around the development have also be named in honour of the crew and rescuers, so Easom Way, Jack Fletcher Close, Fox Close, Pullinger Way, Walshaw Close, Berrigan Way, Black Court, Taylor Close and Kirk Road can all be found within the estate.

Sgt David Pullinger, aged 30 from Gisborne New Zealand is buried at Lincoln Newport Cemetery.

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Sgt John Fletcher, aged 21 is buried at Stourbridge Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Lindum Colonia Memorial Stone

I am a Harley Davidson motorcycle owner and member of Lindum Colonia UK Chapter. This a Harley Owners Group club. As with all UK chapters and many other motorcycle clubs we raise money for charity. The club is always looking for worthy causes.

I volunteer as a tour guide at the IBCC and having a memorial stone on the Ribbon of Remembrance for our eldest daughter it suddenly came to me, why not have a stone from the chapter. I suggested at a club night, as we are a Lincoln club with many ex-military (predominantly RAF) members and that the IBCC is a charitable organisation why don’t we raise money for them by buying a memorial stone. In this way not only would the IBCC benefit but our club name could be incorporated and last forever. The club members loved the idea and agreed to raise the necessary funds.

One member works in graphic design for a living so Kirk was tasked to design the stone. He ran his first idea past me using the club logo as a picture for engraving but I suggested that although it would be appropriate I thought we needed an out and out picture of a motorbike to emphasise we are a motorcycle club. Kirk asked me to confirm our bike was a Softail Custom which I did and thought nothing more of it. Kirk duly unveiled his design at a club night and to my amazement the picture was changed to our bike. The membership approved the picture and wording immediately. £1500 was raised by the club for the stone and presented to the IBCC.

Pilot Officer Ernest Tansley

Seventy-seven years ago today, the 2nd of December 1943, the loss of just one Lancaster from 57 Squadron, East Kirkby, left behind eight broken families when their loved ones failed to return home.

There were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, a new young wife and a fiancée with her wedding dress hanging in her wardrobe and a mother with a young son and daughter and a baby yet to arrive in this war torn world. But the eight young men involved had a war to fight and had set off on yet another operation to Berlin.

The weather was against them on this particular Thursday afternoon and over 200 aircraft had already been grounded, but 57 Squadron despatched 14 crews from East Kirkby. Two didn’t return.

In one of the crews on this occasion, were two new faces. There was a young flight engineer who had only recently joined 57 Squadron and another who was on his very first trip as a second pilot to gain experience before flying with a crew of his own.

The crew of JB 529 DX-P (Peter), captained by Ernie Tansley, ran into extremely bad weather with unexpected strong winds and, like many other aircraft, was blown off target and found themselves to the south of Berlin.

They were spotted by eyewitnesses, flying low over the small town of Trebbin, possibly having already suffered from earlier damage. They were quickly attacked by a Junker 88 from nearby Juterbog airfield and there was an exchange of fire between the two aircraft. P-Peter exploded, bursting into flames with parts of the fuselage falling away along with the starboard wing and engines.

Six of the crew had either fallen or jumped from the blazing aircraft but sadly they were too low to use their parachutes. Eyewitnesses watched as Ernie, remaining in the cockpit, despite the flames emanating from the front, attempted to steer the badly damaged and burning Lancaster away from a row of houses below him. This, he just managed to achieve before it crashed into an adjacent rye field.

Although parts of the ‘plane fell into gardens and caused various amounts of damage to the houses, he had avoided any loss of life to the residents. One found twin machine guns hanging through the ceiling of her kitchen, another had the corner of their home knocked away.

Sadly, none of this brave crew survived. The rear gunner had been shot and killed earlier so was still in his turret and Ernie of course had remained in the cockpit of his beloved Lancaster. He was unable to be officially identified until after the war so was buried as ‘unknown’.

I can’t imagine what his thoughts must have been in those last moments.

These young airmen were taken to the nearby ‘Old Cemetery’ in Trebbin where they were initially buried in a communal grave after being carefully wrapped in a tarpaulin. A cross was erected to mark the spot. They were behind a tiny chapel at the far end of the churchyard and the grave was well tended by the cemetery gardener until the end of the war when they were exhumed. They were then re-buried in the Berlin War Cemetery, Charlottenburg where they now lie side by side once more.

These were the eight young men…

Sergeant Ivor Groves was the wireless operator and only 20 years old and he left behind his parents and three brothers. Two of whom were in the army, the third, like Ivor, also in the RAF. This happy, likeable young man was well thought of amongst the crew and came from a kind and loving family. They lived just outside Birmingham.

Flight Sgt, Harold Moad, rear gunner aged 23. He came from Clanwilliam in Manitoba, Canada and besides his parents, there were eight siblings, one of whom was a POW. Because this young man was unable to go home when on leave, the family of Ivor Groves welcomed him into theirs.

Pilot Officer Ernest Patrick was the bomb aimer, aged 25, from London. Besides his parents he had a young brother Alan aged fifteen who never really came to terms with the loss of his big brother.

Pilot Officer Roy Lewis, the mid-upper gunner was aged 21 and lived in the Manchester area with his parents. He was an only and much loved son. He had only recently married a lovely young girl named Moya. Sadly, they were to have only four months together. The best man at their wedding had been Douglas, the navigator.

Pilot Officer Douglas Park was the navigator, only 20 years old. He was one of six children and lived in Hull, Yorkshire. This was another very kind family and when Douglas became engaged to a young lady named Mary, they took her to their hearts. When Douglas was lost it was just days away from their marriage and Mary was left with her wedding dress hanging in her wardrobe, awaiting the big day that never arrived.

We don’t know very much about the two new faces in the crew….

Sergeant Leonard Brown was the new Flight Engineer, another young man aged only 20 years. He lived in Bermondsey, London with his parents and a younger brother, Victor. It couldn’t have been easy for him flying with a new crew for the first time.

Pilot Officer Jack Dalton was flying as a ‘second dickie’ to gain experience before taking charge of his own crew. He was 22 years old, had a sister Jean and lived with his parents in Burnley, Lancashire. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to fly again.

The last crew member was the pilot. Pilot Officer Ernest Tansley was the eldest of the crew, aged 29. He had been sent to America to undertake his pilot training, leaving behind his wife and young family. A son Peter aged five and an eighteen-month-old daughter, Anne. They lived in Thundersley, Essex. Sadly, he didn’t live to see his other baby son who was born three months after his death.

On this day, we would also like to remember the second crew who were lost from 57 Squadron that night. They were never discovered as it is believed that they ditched over Holland in the IJsselmeer on their return journey:

F/O John Alfred Williams was the Pilot of JB372 DX-R. He was the son of David Mason and Ada Ethel Withers from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. Age 22

Sgt. Eric Hibbert was the Flight Engineer, and his parents were John and Frances Hibbert of Hasland, Derbyshire. He was only 20 years old.

F/O Alan Thomas Hook was an Air Gunner. He was the son of Thomas and Mabel Hook of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and had two sisters named Mabel born 1912 and Evelyn born 1915.  He was 22 years old.

F/O Bernard Paul Duval the Navigator was born in Hastings, Sussex the son of Henry Fernand and Lucienne of Upper Tooting, London.  He was 32 years old and married to Joyce.

F/S Balder Thomasberg was 21 years old and was the Bomb aimer. He was the son of George and Hilda of Norwood, Manitoba.

Sgt. Edward William Graves was the Mid-upper Gunner and the son of Norman and Esther (nee Gilbert). He was married to Brenda Townsend and a son Edward Robert was born a few months after his death. They lived in Eastbourne

Sgt. Jack Harvey Chambers was a 21-year-old Wop/AG. He was the son of Edward and Edith Chambers from Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

……….nor the years condemn…

Your bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten

Love and miss you Dad and God Bless you all – Anne Doward

For more information on these crews please use our Losses Database