Many aircrew were lost in crashes in England because of their determination to land a severely damaged aircraft. We will shortly be publishing important additions to the Emerson crew page, the crew all being lost in February 1944 when their shot-up Lancaster broke apart when coming into land. This crew, like others, might have lived if they had made the difficult decision to abandon their aircraft.
Two separate, highly dramatic incidents occurred on 20 December 1943, when Pathfinder aircrew from 35 Squadron and 7 Squadron baled out over England.
The first incident, which involved a Halifax crew of 35 Squadron, is an extraordinary story. The ORB description, though plain and fairly matter of fact, shows great admiration for the courage and coolness demonstrated by the pilot, Squadron Leader J Sale, who landed his aircraft because his mid-upper gunner did not have a parachute.
The injury of a fractured ankle suffered by the rear gunner, Warrant Officer G Carter, is a reminder that even baling out over England (as opposed to enemy territory) could be dangerous.
That same night another Pathfinder crew, this time from 7 Squadron and captained by Flying Officer Field, had to abandon their Lancaster which had been severely damaged by a German fighter. They had just made it across the Channel and crossed the English coastline. The rear gunner, Warrant Officer Richard Bradley Smith, DFM, hit the tail of the plane after baling out and, presumably having been knocked out or seriously injured, did not open his parachute and was killed.
Richard Smith was twenty-two and married. He was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium, Dry Drayton, and his name is on the brass memorial plaque there.
Bill Phillips was stationed with 35 Squadron at Graveley, and amongst the wealth of material which is now preserved by his daughter is this menu from Christmas 1944. We will be featuring more on Bill next year, but in the meantime here is a reminder of the way things were 75 years ago.
The last two Christmases we have published a post in memory of the Kenyon crew who died on Christmas Eve just after take-off from RAF Graveley – see: Kenyon Crew, Christmas Eve 1944. A local group are now fund-raising for a memorial to the crew, See this article in the Hunts Post which gives fund-raising details. You can also contact the Great Paxton History Society by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
It seldom happens that a photograph with unknown aircrew in it gets even partially identified, but amazingly this has happened with the photograph we featured almost exactly one year ago of an unknown Pathfinder crew at a wedding.
The man second from the right has been identified by his children as John Graham Walters, a bomb aimer, who was with 35 Squadron at Graveley. See the revised page on the photograph.
For the colourised photograph of the wedding photograph, our thanks are due to Paul Smith who sent the black and white version originally.
Last Christmas Eve, we included details of the Kenyon crew from 35 Squadron at Graveley, who crashed just after take-off on 24 December 1944. Very recently, we were sent a detailed dossier on the crash compiled by Paul Herod. Here is one particularly vivid story from the dossier, about Low Farm, Great Paxton, where one of the bombs of the wrecked Lancaster came to rest.
The Flying Control buildings on PFF airfields were at the centre of numerous dramatic incidents and tragedies. It is good to read of one potentially very dangerous episode at RAF Graveley which ended happily, not to say amusingly, for all concerned. We tend to forget that there could be a comical side to the Air War. See our new page: 35 Squadron, the Erk and the UXB
Referring back to one of our December posts Christmas Eve 1944, 35 Squadron on the loss of the Kenyon crew, we recently had an email from R Maddox who wrote:
Just to add to information about the Christmas Eve 1944 crash at Great Paxton (post ‘Christmas Eve 1944, 35 Squadron’), the Form 540 notes that ten aircraft were detailed to take off in the late afternoon to mark and bomb the marshaling yard at Nippes, Cologne. The companion Form 541 records that Pilot Officer Arthur Kenyon’s aircraft (PB366/’S’) was designated a ‘Supporter’ aircraft. They took off at 15.35.
The Aircrew Remembered site has photographs of six of the crew and states that the aircraft was taking off with the assistance of FIDO and almost immediately crashed into trees. This would fit with the eyewitness report about the aircraft appearing out of dense fog.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were days like any other for Pathfinder and Main Force aircrew.
The village of Great Paxton is just west of RAF Graveley, at perhaps a mile’s distance from the old airfield. The peaceful-looking village scene above was the scene of a wartime tragedy, marked by the blue ‘X’, which occurred on Christmas Eve 1944 at about twenty to four in the afternoon.
Colin Stocker, who as a boy lived at Yelling on the outskirts of the wartime airfield, sent Jennie Gray this photograph around 2007. On the back Colin had written the story.
TL-S Lancaster, 35 Squadron, taking off from Graveley crashed at Great Paxton behind four council houses in London Lane. The wing of the plane ripped off tiles of roofs. Stanley Jackson was feeding his hens, saw the bomber coming through the dense fog and ran into his house. After the bomber crashed, he found all the hens dead.
George Carrol pulled one of the aircrew out of the wreckage. He was just alive. All the others were killed. Bombs were strewn in all directions.
Sadly, the man taken from the wreckage also died.
In Bomber Command Losses, 1944, Chorley recorded the crew as being: