The Deverill crew flew on Black Thursday in Lancaster JB243-OF-P, P-Peter. Due to delays caused by the fog, they ran out of petrol during a landing at Graveley, and suffered a horrific crash and fire which left only one badly-burned survivor, James Benbow.
Deverill was one of 97 Squadron’s most highly decorated pilots; he had won the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, and was posthumously to be awarded the Air Force Cross. He had flown in the famous Augsburg raid of 1942.
CREW on 16/17 December 1943
Pilot: S/L Ernest Alfred Deverill
Buried in Docking (St Mary) Churchyard, Norfolk
Flight Engineer: F/S Alexander Russell
Buried in Epsom Cemetery
Navigator: P/O John Thomas Brown
Buried in Belfast (Dundonald) Cemetery
Bomb Aimer: F/S Francis Roy Farr
Buried in Windsor Cemetery
W/Op: F/S Ralph Crossgrove, RNZAF
Buried in Cambridge City Cemetery
Mid-Upper Gunner: W/O James Benbow
Severely injured, treated Ely Hospital and East Grinstead
Rear Gunner: W/O Donald Jamieson Penfold
Buried in Worthing (Durrington) Cemetery
Francis Roy Farr is seen below (right) with his fellow navigator Gilbert Fairweather who flew with 106 Squadron .Francis Farr did fly his first tour with 106 Squadron before moving to 97 Squadron and the Pathfinders.
THE ONLY SURVIVOR
Peter Benbow writes of his father, James Benbow, who was the only survivor of the crash at Graveley:
I was just 11 when my Father died, he lived for the RAF and seemed unable to settle back into civilian life. He had severe burns to his hand and I know he had sustained a severely broken leg during the crash, from which he never fully recovered, needing a built up shoe.
He was not discharged from East Grinstead hospital until April 1945. I believe that he was discharged then, not as his treatment was complete but due to my imminent birth in May 1945. I have a letter from McIndoe asking him to return later for further surgery but my Father had myself and a business to contend with so never took the opportunity to have more surgery.
He was older than the average crew member, having been born in 1909.
I believe the Buckingham Palace picture below to be 6th July 1943 as he mentions it in his logbook. He was awarded his DFM on the 12th March 43. I have a very large version of the Buck Pal pic but with his Mother and sister on also; both my parents loved clothes and dressing up, the family being from a hotel-owning background, so it must have been a very special day for them all.
My Mother spoke little about those years so I have to work things out for myself now from paperwork. I think she felt the war had stolen her one true love, she never was in another relationship. The government stopped her widows’ pension some years ago and my now wife queried this while caring for my Mother in her later years. They said it was a mistake and would repay the pension. Unfortunately my Mother never received the money as she died before she could sign the claim form.