We always welcome corrections or additions to the information on these pages. Sometimes it is the smallest details which really count. Amongst other points, Clive Smith, who specialises in 106 Squadron on which Donald Margach served with Guy Gibson, has kindly pointed out that Donald Margach’s epitaph as recorded on the CWGC website, reads: DEAR HUSBAND OF GRETA, DADDY OF ALISON, LOVED SON OF MR. AND MRS. W. MARGACH – so this almost certainly clears up the identity of the unknown woman and baby in a touching informal portrait of Donald. See: Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
Category: RAF Station Coningsby
Charles Owen Diary Entry, D-Day
Charles Owen‘s diary records of this day:
6 June 1944
Target: St Pierre du Mont – Coastal battery A/C Lancaster ND961 N-NAN
We thought the briefing sounded a little odd for this trip, and sure enough when we broke cloud over the French coast the Channel was full of ships. The army had pulled its finger out at last and D-Day was on. We bombed at 05.00 just as it was getting light, and had a grandstand view of the Americans running in on the beach. First-class prang on the battery, but saw Jimmy Carter shot down by a Ju88 over the target. Marvellous sight coming back as the sun came up, we on the way back and the Americans on the way out.
Landed back in time for breakfast, but very disappointed that there was nothing on the 8 o’clock news.
D-Day – The Loss of the Carter Crew
Guy Gibson, the Dams Raid, and the Pathfinders
Today is the anniversary of the Dams Raid, the most famous Bomber Command raid of the war. Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross for his leadership and the account in the London Gazette is still thrilling today, 77 years later.
Although the Pathfinders had no part in the Dams Raid, several of our aircrew had flown with Gibson earlier in the war. Amongst these was Donald Margach, a bomb aimer, who was to lose his life flying with 582 Squadron in July 1944. See: Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
Some Pathfinder aircrew worked with Gibson after the Dams Raid. This was at 54 Base, centred at Coningsby, which provided target-marking and illumination for 5 Group operations. It was ‘a place of tactical innovation’ (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p.252), and the place for the cream of RAF pilots. John Simpson had moved there from 97 Squadron (by then, of course, in 5 Group), as had Charles Owen, another 97 Squadron superstar.
The End of the War Approaches: Operation Exodus
As the end of the war approached, Bomber Command Lancasters began flying to Brussels and other Continental airfields to collect the liberated prisoners of war. Pathfinder squadrons’ ORBs contain many entries for what was known as Operation Exodus.
One of the most famous photographs of Operation Exodus shows a 97 Squadron aircraft, Lancaster PB422, after it has landed safely in England. Jack Beesley of the Fletcher crew is shaking hands with the pilot and everyone is making V-Victory signs and grinning their heads off. The aircraft has many joking messages chalked around the fuselage door, including ‘This is the only free thing you will get’. Repatriation
Not only liberated POWs were on board the Exodus Lancasters. See this heart-warming story in two parts:
Ration Cards for Aircrew
In the current Covid-19 situation, there have been various mutterings about rationing becoming necessary, so now seems a good time to take a quick look at rationing in the Second World War …
It is perhaps a little-known fact that aircrew, whose food was provided by their station, still sometimes needed ration cards. These were for their periods of leave or duty, and lasted either seven days or fourteen days.
These temporary ration cards very rarely survived. They were used and then discarded. However, one such ration book belonging to Leslie Jones, a member of 97 Squadron, has survived until the present day. The square which has been cut out of the side would have contained a printed coupon.
Leslie, one of the heroes of the Augsburg raid in April 1942, died before 97 Squadron joined the Pathfinders. He has no known grave, his name being remembered at Runnymede.
With many thanks to War and Son for permission to photograph these items.
Here is a different sort of ration document, one belonging to AC2 Leslie Leonard Bullimore. It is a coupon for ‘Cigs’ and ‘Choc’. Again this is a very rare survival.
This has turned up in a ‘Sort This Out’ file, one of those rag-bags of everything waiting for a proper home, and we are not currently sure of where it came from.
Jespersen Condolence Letter
From an unknown official to Jespersen’s father: The Air Force refers to your visit some time back and it is with sorrow that we have to confirm that your son, Lt. Finn Varde Jespersen, was shot down during the night of 5th and 6th June 1944. When the accident occurred, your son was serving as leader and captain (Pilot) of a Lancaster four-engined night-bomber that belonged to No. 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron. See the rest of the letter …
See also the memorials to the Jespersen crew on our sister site: War Graves and Remembrance
Update: Finn Varde Jespersen, D-Day
To add to the previous information on Finn Varde Jespersen, the Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot who was lost with all his crew on D-Day when flying with 97 Squadron, we have a very interesting photograph of him and fellow Norwegians when they were in training in Canada in 1941. For more details: Jespersen Crew, D-Day
We would still like to find information about where Jespersen and the Norwegian members of his crew are buried in Norway.
Hugh Baker and Peter Stevens, 97 Squadron
Hugh Baker was killed on 30 July 1944 when his aircraft was shot down over France. Of the unusually large crew of nine, only three survived, including Squadron Leader Peter Stevens, who was 97 Squadron’s Navigation Officer.
At this stage of the war, 97 Squadron was under the control of 5 Group although it still nominally belonged to 8 Group, the Pathfinders.
Squadron Leader Peter Stevens was probably flying with the crew to refresh his flying skills (it was not uncommon for the ‘leaders’ of the various trades to fly in order to keep their skills up to date) or was with them as an observer. READ MORE
Update on Frank Smith & Patch the Dog
Further to our recent post about Frank Smith and Patch the Dog, Frank’s son-in-law has kindly sent a copy of Frank’s logbook and there is a very interesting entry on 4th May 1945 which reads:
13.10 Base to Juvincourt
and then on the next line:
17.15 Juvincourt to Dunsfold, evacuation of 23 ex P.O.Ws
The flight from Juvincourt took one hour and forty-five minutes, and the Harrison crew returned from Dunsfold to base (Coningsby) on the same very eventful day.
It is thought that this may very well be the day that Patch was brought back from the Continent.
Juvincourt was one of the largest Luftwaffe airfields in Northern France before it was seized by the Allies after the Normandy invasion. It is some distance from the Belgian border, but family history recounts that Patch came from Belgium. Given the very short timeframe, it seems unlikely that the crew had time to go to Belgium, so perhaps one of the ex-POWs had him and gave him to the crew, and in particular to Frank Smith, for safe-keeping. The POW would have been entering the extensive programme of care for ex-POWs which was waiting for them when they came home, and the chances of being able to keep the dog were minimal.
For details of Operation Exodus, the evacuation of POWs, see this page.
As there has recently been so much information centred on Coningsby and 54 Base, a page has been set up and some photographs have been added of the briefing room for 97 Squadron at that station.
The Coningsby page is under our menu on RAF Stations, where RAF Stations Bourn and Woodhall Spa are already found.