If you look hard enough, in the cemeteries surrounding any given airbase, you are bound to come across headstones belonging to the brave crewmen from those bases, which paid the ultimate price. Steve Smith recounts forgotten events for AeroResource…
I often find time on my base visits to spend a few minutes in a nearby Church yard, searching out the headstones of those who lost their lives in the call of duty. Not surprisingly, most of the burials date to 1939 to 1945. Many belong to crewmen whose aircraft returned from a mission with casualties or those who died in routine training or airfield accidents.
On 7 May, after a good few hours watching the Typhoons at Coningsby, I stopped by Coningsby Cemetery. Hidden in the far corner were 60 or so clean, white headstones arranged in four rows, dating from between 1939 and 1988. Looking at the names, ranks and Squadrons on the stones got me thinking…There must be numerous forgotten stories about these people and the events they helped shape and I was determined to dig out as much information as I could. It should be stressed that none of the names here were researched prior to my visit.
I hope that what I have compiled here will serve as a lasting memorial to those who bravely sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom…
Pilot Officer D. K. Hodge – Pilot, Royal Air Force – Died 8/11/1941
Pilot Officer Donald Kinnear Hodge, a Rhodesian of 97 Squadron died at 2300 at RAF Coningsby after returning from a bombing mission to Dunkirk.
He was flying with the crew of Avro Manchester L7476 (coded OF-K). The aircraft crash landed at Coningsby at 2038 on 8 November 1941, after returning from a bombing mission and being hit by flak.
He was serving as Second Pilot and was the only fatality on the aircraft. The rest of the crew walked away with minor injuries and the aircraft was salvaged and struck off charge in April 1943.
The crew had been on a three-aircraft mission to bomb the docks at Dunk
irk, during which they encountered much flak and many searchlights. The aircraft was hit by flak, which injured Hodge and they were unable to release their bomb load. This was eventually jettisoned over the North Sea. Another Manchester, L7466 ditched in the North Sea on the way back from this mission, and no trace was ever found of the crew.
Hodge was post-humously awarded the 1939/45 Star, Air crew Europe Star and the 1939/45 War Medal.
Sergeant E. B. Smith – Pilot, Royal Air Force – Died 27/10/1941
Sergeant Edward Boucher Smith of Southern Rhodesia was killed on 27 October 1941, aged 22. He was the son of Sydney Ward Smith and Joyce Elizabeth Smith, of Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia and flew with 106 Squadron.
At the time of Smith’s death, the Squadron operated the obsolete Handley Page Hampden and was due to begin conversion to Avro Manchester in the following months. During 1941, they were under the command of Wg Cdr Guy Gibson.
Sergeant R. T. Bray – Wop/AG, Royal Air Force – Died 18/12/1941
Sergeant Ronald Thomas Bray died age 29 on 18 December 1941 and flew with 97 Squadron. On the day in question, the Squadron were on daylight operations attacking a formation of battleships (Gneisenau, Scharnhorst& Eugene) at Brest.
The aircraft took off at 0930 and the operation was considered successful, with numerous hits being achieved on the target. One aircraft was reported missing 4 miles off the French coast.
Bray’s aircraft, Manchester L7490 and piloted by W/C Basildon, was the formation leader and was seen to be hit by flak over the target in the tail-plane and elevator.
Upon arrival in fog at Coningsby, the pilot attempted to over-shoot but stalled as the throttle was increased. The aircraft crashed and caught fire. None of the crew survived. Despite heavy damage W/C Basildon led the formation to the target and back to the English coast before handing over the lead.
Flt Sgt G. Appleyard DFM – Pilot, Royal Air Force – Died 26/6/1942
Geoffrey Appleyard was the Son of Ernest and Emily Appleyard, of Leeds, Yorkshire and was a member of No. 106 Squadron. He died aged 20 when his Lancaster crashed at Coningsby following a raid on a submarine works at Danzig.
The name will be very familiar to those who know the base well, as in 2007 the Lounge at the Sergeant’s Mess was Christened – The Appleyard Lounge. Kathleen Davies was a war-time friend of Appleyard and shared her memoirs on the BBC’s “People’s War” pages in 2005. She had the following to say;
“The night of July 26th 1942 will live with me forever. I was awoken by a terrific noise and looked out of my bedroom window to see the sky was a brilliant red glow. My heart sank and somehow I seemed to know what I had so often feared. My parents and I dressed quickly and went to the scene only a mile away on the North Sea coast at Benington, near Boston. I didn’t know then, but the crashed Lancaster bomber, loaded with bombs, had a mechanical failure.
The pilot, Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Appleyard, had done several sorties and 1000 bomber raids.”
A friend wrote the following epitaph in Appleyard’s memory;
A gallant lad in every way,
Whether at work or at play,
Time will pass and memory dim,
But somehow, there will be thoughts of him
Come stealing into the mind unbidden
Of brave deeds done, which were always hidden,
In a laugh, a joke, a kindly gesture
To fellow men, who shared his pleasure,
Losing such as you is hard.
We salute you, “Geoffrey Appleyard”;
You gave your life for Freedom’s sway.
In grateful remembrance, this tribute we pay.
Link to full story – http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/79/a4121579.shtml
Five of Appleyard’s crew are buried with him in the cemetery.
Flg Off R. H. Cornell – Navigator, Royal Air Force – Died 19/10/1944
Reginald Henry Cornell (152793) served with 627 Squadron and died aged 33 on 19 October 1944.
627 Squadron was a Pathfinder Squadron, equipped with the De Havilland Mosquito XX. The Pathfinder Force consisted of several Squadrons of aircraft, mainly Lancasters, who would precede the main bombing force. Their job was to drop coloured marker flares onto a target, to enable to rest of the force to find the correct aiming point. Clearly, only the best Navigators were selected for Pathfinder duties.
627 Squadron was formed in 1943 and at the time of Cornell’s death, they flew out of RAF Woodhall Spa, which is nearby to Coningsby. Unlike the usual Pathfinder Squadron, the Mosquitoes of 627 Squadron were specialists in low-level marking. To illustrate the point, aircraft often brought back brickwork from factories chimneys or windsocks from their target!
On 19 October 1944, Mosquito KB295 left Woodhall Spa to practice bombing at Wainfleet Range. During the practice mission, a bomb detonated in the bay, causing considerable damage to the aircraft and the death of Reginald Cornell. The pilot, Flt Lt H V Bland was un-injured.
Flg Off A. Matheson – Pilot, Royal Air Force – Died 27/09/1944
Flight Officer Andrew Matheson (158113) from Edinburgh, died aged 21 whilst serving with 627 Squadron – the Mosquito Pathfinder Squadron referred to previously.
On the night in question, the Squadron was tasked with marking a target at Karlsruhe. Mosquito DZ521 (coded AZ-M) took off from Woodhall Spa at 0226. Less than half an hour later, the aircraft crashed near Kings Lynn in Norfolk killing both Matheson and his Navigator A T Fitzpatrick DFM, who died later in hospital. The cause of the crash was never established, only that the aircraft flew an inverted dive into the ground and caught fire.
Flg Off J. I. Gordon DFC – Royal Australian Air Force and Flg Off J. McB. Dempster DFM – Royal Canadian Air Force – Died 13/02/1944
Flight Officer John Irvine Gordon DFC (412218) died aged 31, along with John McBride Dempster DFC (J/17206) aged 20 having successfully completed a raid on Antheor Viaduct. They were flying in Lancaster DV382 (J for Juliet) from 617 Squadron when the aircraft was lost in a tragic accident, On the night of 12 February, ten aircraft left RAF Woodhall Spa for RAF Ford (in West Sussex) to be re-fuelled before continuing to the viaduct in Southern France. J for Juliet was armed with one 12,000lb ‘Blockbuster’ bomb. Gordon was the crew’s Navigator whilst Dempster was the rear Air Gunner. Dempster had previously been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for claiming the destruction of two enemy fighters.
The target was sighted but it is believed J for Juliet dropped her load slightly early. The results from the mission were mixed, but direct hits are believed to have scored. All but one aircraft successfully returned to RAF Ford. The weather in the early hours of the 13th was poor, with low visibility, fog and low cloud cover. Sqn Ldr W. R. Suggitt who was the pilot of Gordon’s and Dempster’s aircraft made the decision to head back to base in these conditions. The aircraft flew into trees just after take off, disintegrated and burst into flames, 10 miles West of Chichester at 0830.
The pilot, Sqn Ldr Suggitt was pulled from the wreckage alive by local farmers, but he died a few days later. Both Gordon and Dempster died on impact.
The crew consisted of W. R. Suggitt, J. Pulford, J. I. Gordon, N. J. Davidson, S. G. Hall, J. P. Riches, J. M. Dempster and T. Lloyd.
Pilot Off A. J. McLaughlin – Royal Canadian Air Force – Died 10/12/1942
Pilot Officer Andrew Joseph McLaughlin (J/16387) served as a Navigator/Bomber with No. 57 Squadron. His Lancaster W4250 was lost along with 2 others on a night bombing raid to Turin.
The Squadron was based at RAF Scampton at the time of the accident. The aircraft is recorded as having left Scampton at 1746 but stalled 1 mile north of Woodhall Spa. The Lancaster crashed at RAF Woodhall Spa killing four crewmen and injuring the remaining three. It is not known of they were on the outbound or return journey, but given the date of death it seems likely the aircraft completed the mission and crashed on return.
Finally, perhaps the most pertinent and moving headstone in the Cemetery…