Crew: Kirkwood

James Kirkwood, the pilot. Courtesy of his son James Kirkwood.

This crew flew on BLACK THURSDAY in LANCASTER JB219-OF-R. R-ROGER. The aircraft crashed near Gransden Lodge, in isolated farmland, and caught fire. The entire crew was killed.

Pilot: P/O James Kirkwood
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Kilwinning Cemetery
Flight Engineer: F/S Edward George Hubbard, “Ted”
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Croxton (St Paul’s) Cemetery
Navigator: Sgt Robert Charles Stewart, “Bob”
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Braemar (St Andrews) Graveyard
Bomb Aimer: F/O George Alexander Wigley
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Carshalton (All Saints) Churchyard
W/Op: Sgt Ronald George Cleeve, possibly known as “Reg”
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Wyke Regis New Burial Ground
Mid-Upper Gunner: Sgt Leonard Madeley, “Len”
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Manchester Southern Cemetery
Rear Gunner: Sgt John Killen
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Hollinfare Cemetery


James Kirkwood
James Kirkwood was born in 1915, and thus was in his late 20s at the time of his death on 17th December 1943. His wife Margaret received the telegram notifying her that he had been killed ‘as a result of air operations’ in the evening of 17th December.

James Kirkwood wedding
James Kirkwood on his wedding day, his wife Margaret stands to the right of him. His two brothers, the twins Cochran and Wilson, are also present. Courtesy of James Kirkwood (son).

At the time Margaret was living with their young son (also James) in Kilwinning in Ayrshire, Scotland, the town where James had spent much of his youth. He had been educated at Kilwinning Public School and Irvine Royal Academy. The family was musical – both he and his father sang for the Glasgow Male Voice Choir, and James also played the violin.

After he had finished school, he worked for an insurance firm in Glasgow. He took up flying before the war, devoting most of his spare time to it. He enlisted in 1939, and won his commission in 1942.

He had twin brothers, Cochran and Wilson, who were also in the RAF, one a navigator and the other a pilot – both survived the war.

James Kirkwood was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; his wife Margaret went to Buckingham Palace to receive it from the King on 5th March 1945.

The official citation for the DFC reads:

“Flying Officer Kirkwood has as a captain of aircraft completed many successful sorties, operating against many of the most important targets in Germany and Italy. While attacking Mannheim, his aircraft was engaged by searchlights and anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged. Nevertheless, with great determination Flying Officer Kirkwood pressed home his attack. Immediately afterwards his aircraft was engaged by two enemy fighters and further damaged, but this officer skilfully frustrated the attackers and flew the bomber safely back to base. Throughout sorties against strongly defended targets Flying Officer Kirkwood’s determination to achieve his objective has been demonstrated by the excellent photographs he has obtained.”

Ted Hubbard

Ted Hubbard
Ted Hubbard. Courtesy of Kenneth Bowe and Stanley Holding.

His home was at Sugnall, near Eccleshall, Staffordshire. His father was groom on the Sugnall estate until shortly before Ted’s death; he lost his job when the riding horses on the estate had to be destroyed because of the war. Only days before Ted’s death, Ted had helped his parents move house to the village of Croxton, about a mile away. Ted worked in a garage in Eccleshall before the war and was a member of the choir at Croxton Church, where he is buried.

John Killen

John Killen wedding day
John Killen on his marriage to Mildred. Courtesy of Alan Blay and Norah Kilner (nee Winstanley).

George Wigley

George Wigley
George Wigley. Courtesy of John and Linda Dempsey.

George was brought up by his grandparents in Camberwell where he went to school. From school he worked in a bank. In 1942 he volunteered. He went to Canada to train to be a pilot but unfortunately did not pass the final exam, trained as a gunner and then as a bomb aimer. He also went to Orlando for training. Shortly before his last operation, he was on leave and went home. He told his mother not to worry as for the next six weeks he would be grounded. He was sitting some exams for promotion and an extra band on his arm. The family do not know how he came to be on the last, fateful operation.

Bob Stewart
Born and bred in Braemar, Aberdeenshire

Kirkwood crew
L-R: Ted Hubbard, Bob Stewart, Reg (thought to be Ronald Cleeve), Ian Madley. Courtesy of Kenneth Bowe and Stanley Holding.


A memorial plaque was dedicated to this lost crew on September 15th 2007. Stanley Houlding, brother-in-law of Ted Hubbard, was the prime mover behind the erection of the plaque and he wrote later of the ceremony: “The weather was brilliant and we had about 50 turn up. Ann Savage brought several members of 97 Sqn. Association including Arthur Tindall DFC. The Rev. Bill Taylor conducted a splendid dedication service.” Amongst those honouring the memory of the crew were Jim Kirkwood’s son, also Jim, who had specially come from Canada with his wife Harriet, and Linda and John Dempsey (niece of George Wigley) with George Wigley’s two brothers.

Memorial plaque to the Kirkwood crew, Hayley Wood, 2007

Kirkwood plaque 2
L to R: Harriet Kirkwood, Mr and Mrs Tindall, Rev Bill Taylor, Jim Kirkwood
towards Gransden Lodge airfield
Site of the crash – Hayley Wood, looking up towards Gransden Lodge airfield which the crew were trying to reach.
Hayley Wood, 2007
From the right: Colin Stocker who put up the McLennan memorial at Yelling, near Graveley; Stanley Holding; Jennie Gray, author of Fire By Night and Chairperson of the RAF Pathfinders Archive