Lancaster LM 387 shot down 21/1/1944
Fred was my fathers brother and I grew up with a knowledge of his wartime record. When my father died I inherited a small 1942 pocket diary and photographs that belonged to Fred. I put them safely away and that was that. It wasn’t until some years later that my interest in the war prompted me to start researching his involvement in it.
I found that he joined the RAFVR to the end of 1940 and was assessed to be trained as a rear gunner. He passed out at the end of 1941 and in early 1942 was crewed up on a new Wellington bomber bound for North Africa. They arrived in Egypt in February but were not assigned a squadron until April. This was 148 Squadron based near the Bitter Lakes. He completed the required number of operations plus a few aborted ones due to technical problems. His diary detailed some near misses, crash landings etc. As war drew to a close in North Africa, Fred and crew went back to England, arriving in Liverpool by ship toward the end of February 1943. All I had then was the date he died. A chance remark to my Aunt, about my interest in Fred’s service brought the reply “oh I have his log book and some letters”. This would fill the missing months leading to his death but it was so much more.
It was usual for Aircrew on completing a tour to take a break from combat operations and Fred embarked on a Gunnery Instructors course which he successfully completed in November of 1943. Fred was then available for return to combat operations and after attending retraining at a Heavy Conversion Unit he was now a Mid Upper Gunner on the much larger 4 engined Lancaster bombers. At the end of December 1943 he joined 101 Squadron of Bomber Command, based at RAF Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire. After a few familiarization flights with his new skipper and crew, he went on his first operation over Germany on the 6th January 1944. On his second operation on the 20/21st January the plane was brought down and all the crew were posted as missing presumed killed. Fred was 23yrs and 3 months old. The crew were mainly aged 20 to 24 and the oldest was aged 33. Two of these guys were also Canadian.
In 1946 the Casualty branch of the Air Ministry contacted my Grandfather informing him that translated documents stated Fred’s aircraft had been shot down on the morning of the 21st January 1944 and that the crew had been buried in the war cemetery at Ludwigslust and that after the grave had been suitably marked with a headstone, photographs of the grave would be sent to them. Imagine their sorrow when in 1950 they received another letter stating that in 1944 Fred and crew had been exhumed and reburied on a firing range. Then they were moved again and now their whereabouts were unknown.
Fred and crew are now commemorated in the memorial on Runnymede and in the book of Remembrance in Lincoln Cathedral.
Coming to the present, over the last 6 months I have been researching Fred’s life and with the help of my brother in law we have attempted to locate the crews final resting place. We wrote to the church in Ludwigslust and the Reverend there kindly searched the church records and also those of the surrounding churches but without success. He suggested we try the Bundesarchive in Freiburg, which we did but the only thing they found was a claim by the farmer for damage caused to his crops/land by the crashed aircraft.
We also found an archived entry in the RAF Commands Forum that in 1984 to 1987 the crash site had been excavated by the Bergungsdienst of the then DDR.
I would now like to list the names of the crew of LM387. You are all remembered and included on the IBCC Memorial and in their Losses Database
Flying Officer SWW Perry RCAF of Benito, Manitoba, age 24.
Sgt TW Durie RAF of Leith, Edinburgh, age 33.
W/O NG Dowler RCAF of Burnaby, British Columbia, age 22.
Sgt PF Searle RAF of Alconbury, Huntingdonshire, age 20.
Sgt RA Hart RAF of Lanes End, Kent, age 21.
W/O F Stokes RAF of Castleford, Yorkshire, age 23.
Sgt WE Whitfield RAF of Parbold, Lancashire, age 20.
Flying Officer R J Wilson RAF Address and age unknown