Condolence Letter from a Pathfinder Gunner

One of the saddest of all condolence letters is that written by Don Brown, a rear-gunner of 7 Squadron, RAF Oakington, to the mother of his close friend, Bob Butler, a bomb aimer, who was stationed at 97 Squadron at RAF Bourn. Because their airfields were so close, the two childhood friends had clearly been seeing more of one another than they had done for years.

Bob did not return from operations on the night of 16 December 1943. Sadly, the Brill crew had all been killed when their aircraft had been hit by flak over Berlin and had exploded in mid-air. This news was not confirmed for some weeks, and on 18 December Don was only aware that Bob was missing. It is almost certain that he had phoned through to RAF Bourn the previous day because he was very anxious to learn whether Bob was all right after the multiple crashes due to fog on 16/17 December 1943.

letter donald brown 1a

letter donald brown 1b

In his letter, Don speaks of his desire to avenge Bob. It seems that Don was close to the end of his tour of operations, but Bob’s disappearance and probable death made him decide to carry on. Only a month later, he too was killed. His crew were also flying on a Berlin operation, and their aircraft also exploded in mid-air, killing everyone except the pilot and the navigator, Baird-Smith and Waddington, who by an extraordinary fluke of chance survived to become PoWs.

donald brown press cutting

The crew were:

S/Ldr M J Baird-Smith, DFC
PO D C Johnston
F/O F O Waddington, DFM
Sgt E F Bartholomew
F/Lt R J Andrews
F/Lt R N Ridley
W/O W D Brown

Baird-Smith won his DFC for conspicuous gallantry in 1941:

baird-smith london gazette 25 Feb 1941

Reference: London Gazette, 25 February 1941

We would be very glad to hear of any further information about this 7 Squadron crew.