Vernon Smith of the McCollah crew was awarded the DFM in May 1945. Vernon was a gunner, part of a highly regarded Marker crew, most of whom also received decorations at that time. The paperwork for the medal recommendation is very interesting, as is the faint trace of Bennett’s signature giving final authorisation for the award.
Category: 7 Squadron
Baling Out over England, 20 December 1943
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.
76th Anniversary of Black Thursday
The worst night in British aviation history for aircraft crashes occurred on this day, 76 years ago. On return from a bombing raid on Berlin, the RAF lost a large number of aircraft and men due to the thick fog blanketing their airfields.
Tonight we remember all the aircrew who lost their lives on 16/17 December 1943, but particularly those on the Path Finder Force.
The Pathfinders were badly affected: 97 Squadron lost 28 men, 405 Squadron lost 15, 156 Squadron lost 6, and 83 Squadron lost 1. In all, 50 Pathfinder aircrew were killed by the fog. Others were seriously wounded and grounded for a long time, or permanently taken off flying duties. There were also heavy losses on the Berlin raid, 7 Squadron suffering the worst of all with the loss of four crews.
This new page for Black Thursday contains the ORB entries for the PFF squadrons who were flying ‘the heavies’:
16/17 December 1943: The ORBs for the ‘Heavies’, PFF
These ORB entries paint a vivid picture of what happened on that disastrous night.
For other pages on Black Thursday, please see the main menu of the website, or here are some of the relevant links:
97 Squadron Memorial Page (Losses on Black Thursday)
Pathfinder Funerals at Cambridge City Cemetery
For the RAF website page on Black Thursday, click here.
VIGILANTIA ET VIRTUTE
Vernon Smith was born in 1924 in Canterbury, Kent, the son of George and Flo, and the sixth of eleven boys. He became a rear gunner on Flash McCollah’s crew in 7 Squadron.
The crew from L-R in the photograph are:
Eric Wilkin, MU/G
Harold ‘Lucky’ Hudson, Navigator
‘Flash’ McCollah, Skipper
Gordon Graham, Radar Nav
Vernon Smith, Rear Gunner
Sid Moors, Flight Engineer
After the war, Vernon belonged to the Air Gunners Association, which had the fabulous motto: VIGILANTIA ET VIRTUTE. The Association’s badge of a bullet with wings is a gem.
Photographs and information courtesy of Lorraine Brown.
Barr Crew, 7 Squadron
In January this year we featured a magazine cover with a lovely picture of a bulldog posing as ‘Pilot Officer Prune’ and his unknown human friend, a pilot. We later discovered that the pilot was Flight Lieutenant Leslie Barr.
A very interesting article appeared in The Telegraph two days ago about Barr’s crew, who were shot down on 10 September 1942 near Echt in Holland, west of Dusseldorf, the target of that night’s operation. Only two men out of the crew of eight survived. Barr and another crew member are buried at Jonkerbos War Cemetery, but the bodies of the four remaining crew members had sunk deep into the marshy ground, and they are remembered at Runnymede. The article in The Telegraph concerns these last four crew members and one Dutch family’s long crusade to have the bodies recovered from the mud and honourably buried.
Condolence Letter from Pathfinder Gunner, 7 Squadron
Working on the post yesterday on the condolence letter to Jespersen’s father reminded me of another condolence letter, this time written on the Pathfinder station at Oakington in December 1943. It concerned a friend, Bob Butler, who was stationed with 97 Squadron at Bourn. The condolence letter was addressed to his mother, Ellen Butler.
7 Squadron Pilot & Bomb Aimer, Reunited
Here’s an amazing story. We will let Peter Banting tell it in his own words:
Have just discovered your great website, may be interesting for you to learn that, as a radar navigator and bomb aimer with 7 Squadron, am in regular communication with our pilot, Kenneth Rothwell, an Aussie, also my age, 95, who secured our safety in 28 ops, until the war ended.
He lives in New England, I learnt that he was living in New England, and phoned every Rothwell there, until …..I said “Is that Ken Rothwell?” He replied …. “Hello, Peter”, he knew my voice.
Ken and Peter flew three flights in the iconic operations at the end of the war known as MANNA (see below) and EXODUS. The first was the dropping of food supplies in starving Holland, the second the bringing home of prisoners of war, in Ken and Peter’s case from Lubeck and Juvencourt.
Below: Peter Banting and Kenneth Rothwell at the RAF Club in 2002, standing before a painting of Operation Manna.
OPERATION MANNA: We will set up a page on this topic, but on one of our Facebook posts in December we included this info:
I found this whilst answering a comment just now about our post on the 97 Squadron page. Well worth looking at. Operation Manna delivered thousands of tons of food to the people of the Netherlands, many of whom died in what came to be known as the Hunger Winter. Great to see the magnificent Lancasters being used in this context.
More on Pilot Officer Prune
Further to yesterday’s post, we have now included a page on TEE EMM, with two rather wonderful cartoons of Pilot Officer Prune, one with his dog.
As we said yesterday, we were checking up on the identity of the man in the magazine cover. John Clifford at the Pathfinder Collection has said that this is Flight Lieutenant Leslie Ronald Barr DFC*, a pilot with 7 Squadron of the Pathfinders, who was unfortunately killed on 7 September 1942 along with his Second Pilot and four other members of the crew. One of the surviving crew members evaded and the other became a prisoner of war. Note 01/09/2019: see Leslie Barr and Crew
John and Charlie meet up again, 73 years on
On a bitterly cold day (the last day of February, when the weather really ought to know better and be acting vaguely like spring), here is a heart-warming story of two members of a 7 Squadron crew, John Ottewell and Charlie Sergeant, who met up again this January after a gap of over 70 years. It was written by John Ottewell’s son, Chris.