W/O Edgar Reader – Wireless Operator, Wood crew. 15th May – 23rd June 1943
Many thanks to Adrian for contacting me regarding his uncle, Edgar Reader, who flew with Ben Wood crew between May 15th and June 23rd, when he and the rest of the crew were lost on the Mulheim raid.
Adrian has done a great research job, so what follows is his gathered research, with the odd extra bit from what I have;
Edgar was born and raised in the village of Fordham Cambs only 5 miles from where he was to later serve with 75 Squadron at Newmarket. Considering the squadron was of course a New Zealand squadron, although comprising of personnel from all over the globe, I would think he must have been one of the closest serving members of the aircrew. My grandmother was to recall being able to watch the aircraft take off from the house and in particular seeing the planes leave on the night that he was lost.
Edgar enlisted in the RAFVR in January 1941 and after being placed on reserve was called up for service the following July. Initial induction training was carried out at Blackpool before going on to specialist training as a Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner passing through 1 Signal School Cranwell , 2 Signal School Yatesbury and 3 Air Gunner School Castle Kennedy. He was then posted to 12 OTU based at Chipping Warden in October 1942. On the 12/4/43 he was transferred to 1651CU at Waterbeach to convert to the Stirling bomber before finally arriving at 75 Squadron on the 14/5/43.
The Squadron Operation Record Books details Edgar’s posting from 1651CU along with the other members of his crew, Pilot Benjamin Brinley Wood, Wireless Operator Edgar Reader, Air Gunner Cyril Hemmings, Air Gunner Frederick Hobbs, Flight Engineer Stanley Webb and Air Bomber Stuart Bissett. Stuart is detailed separately along with other New Zealand arrivals, so I guess they were recorded in nationality order as well as crew groupings. There is also no listing for the navigator position. Navigators, it would seem, were in short supply and on their first 3 missions the post was to be filled by different people. It was with these that I was able to find out some of the most interesting information.
21.5.43 Mine Laying Frisian Islands
Their first mission is recorded as being on the 21/5/43, one of six aircraft detailed for mine laying around the Frisian Islands. They were flying in a Stirling Mark III Serial Number BK809, which had been delivered to the squadron on 2/5/43. For this mission Sgt P. Dobson RNZAF joined the crew as the navigator. This was the only mission that Sgt Dobson was to join their crew. His fate and that of Stirling BK809 can be traced to a tragic later event on the 8/9/43 when, although not part of the crew himself, he was killed trying to rescue the occupants of BK809 which had veered violently on take-off from Mepal and crashed into houses on the airfield perimeter.
F/Sgt Peter Gerald Dobson mid RNZAF NZ439022 Navigator 16 Mar to 8 Sep 1943. c/w W D Whitehead. Mention in Despatches (14 Jan 1944): For bravery in action and meritorious fulfillment of duty. Died Wednesday 8th September 1943, age 28. A 75 Sqn. Stirling, (BK809), fully laden with fuel and bombs for an attack on a long-range gun battery nr Boulogne, France, swung on take-off and crashed between two houses off the end of the runway. F/Sgt Dobson was killed by exploding bombs as he went to the assistance of the aircrew crew and the occupants of the houses. Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, England.
27.5.43 Mine Laying Frisian Islands
Their second mission was on the 27/5/43 when they returned to the Frisian Islands as part of a 5 aircraft operation dropping mines in the area, this time in Stirling Mark III, Serial Number BK619. On this mission F/O J. Dixon joined the crew as the Navigator and Sgt F. Sansoucy is recorded as being the Flight Engineer, replacing Sgt S.Webb. This was the only time that, apart from the navigator, the crew was to be changed.
Records show that Sgt Fabien Sansoucy of the Royal Canadian Air Force was shot down over France on the night of 14-15/6/43 whilst on an operation laying mines in the Gironde Estuary. He was one of two crew members to evade capture. Another crew member was killed and the 4 remaining made POWs. His family posted his own account of his escape on the internet which makes very interesting reading.
P/O Joseph Germain Fabien Sansoucy, mid, RCAF R.66953. C.86345. Flight Engineer
October 1942 to 14th June 1943. MiD (1 Jan 1945): In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty. c/w J L Edwards as FE. Shot down by a combination of flak and night fighter. Baled out at 0200 hrs 14 Jun 1943 during a mine-laying sortie to the Gironde Estuary, France. Successfully evaded capture and safe in the UK on 5 Oct 1943.
His MI-9 interrogation report was : –
“I took off from Newmarket in a Stirling aircraft on 13 Jun 1943 at about 2300 hrs on a mining sortie just off Bordeaux. On the outward journey, while over Les Sabres d’Olonne we were hit by light flak. We flew several miles out to sea and jettisoned our mines. We then started climbing and turned North. Somewhere in the vicinity of Rennes we were attacked by an Me109. I did not see the enemy fighter after the third attack and think we probably shot it down. At about 0200 hrs. 13 June, the pilot gave the order to bale out. I came down in an orchard about 15 miles southeast of Rennes. I cut my parachute with a knife I had with me and hid it in some some undergrowth. I then ran off. I walked all through that night and early in the morning when I was somewhere near Retiers I approached an old lady for food. She seemed scared and said she was going to fetch a gendarme. I ran off and hid in some fields. Here I opened my aids box and took out my compass. I cut off my Sergeant‘s stripes and all other identifying badges from my tunic. About half and hour later the gendarme found me. I speak French fluently and told him who I was. He went off and returned a little later bringing with him bread, cider, and a map of the district. He also told me that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to get some civilian clothes for me. I left him and for the best part of the next two days continued walking southeast. I kept to the fields and side roads all the time and stopped on one or two occasions at isolated farm houses for food and shelter. I found everyone in this district very willing to help. I spent the night of 17 June at a farm at St.Julien de Vouvantes, about ten miles southeast of Chateaubriant, and the farmer gave me some civilian clothes. I walked on all the next day amd somewhere near Ancenis I hailed a man in a small boat who rowed me across the River Loire. For the first time since I baled out I used the main roads and the next day I passed through Beaupreau and slept that night in a field just north of Cholet. I approached several people for help, but found them unwilling to do anything for me. Next morning I saw many Germans about and therefore decided to skirt Cholet. By the time I reached Chatillon-sur-Sevre my knees gave out snd I could walk no further. At about 1700 hrs, 19 June, I caught a bus and using the money from my purse I bought a ticket to Echere, about six miles northeast of Niort. I spent that night in a barn. The following day I had to continue walking as it was Sunday and there were no buses running. I went as far as Celles-sur-Belles and at about 1500 hrs, 20 June, I stopped at a farm house where I remained for six days. From this point my journey was arranged for me”.
29.5.43 Attack against targets at Wuppertal.
The third mission, and the first into the Ruhr area, was on the 29/5/43 when 20 aircraft of 75 Squadron were detailed to attack targets in Wuppertal, the home of the Goldschmitt firm which produced Tego-Film, a wood adhesive used in the production of the HE162 and TA154 aircraft. The aircraft was again Stirling Serial Number BK619. On this mission the Navigator was to be F/O F.Daborn.
I cannot find any further records for F/O Daborn, and there are no listings of casualties under that name /rank/ time frame on the Commonwealth War Graves site and I can only think that he survived the war.
F/O Harold Sidney Frank Daborn RAFVR 1376732, 116534 Navigator
10th May 1943 to 4th January 1944. c/w M Wyatt, R Broadbent, R D Max & A M F Alexander.
1.6.43 Mining laying Frisian Islands
The fourth operation was on the 1/6/43 returning once again to the Frisian Islands in Stirling BK619, for a mine laying operation. Edgar’s plane was one of only 2 aircraft detailed for the mission. The Navigator for that operation was F/S G.K Samson a New Zealander who was to remain with the crew for the following 2 operations. From the details of the mission contained in the log it can be seen that one of the two aircraft sustained Flak damage after flying over enemy Flak ships, presumably in the target area. It is not recorded as to which aircraft it was, and the indistinct serial number of the other aircraft in the records makes it difficult to guess which one it could have been.
Although I cannot from the records exactly when F/S Samson joined 75 Squadron the records indicate that he was on operations in March 1943 and so he was an established member of the squadron, completing at least 11 missions prior to this one. Perhaps his most noteworthy operation was on the night of 10-11/4/43, when, returning from a raid on Frankfurt, his plane was forced to ditch in the sea off Shoreham Sussex. Thanks to the skill of the pilot, who made a perfect landing in the water, and to the efforts of the wireless operator who kept relaying their position, all the crew were rescued safely. It was after this ditching that it was thought prudent for the crews to brush up on their escape and dinghy techniques, which is recorded in the Station ORBS on 30/4/43. George King Samson was a rugby player and was a member of the RNZAF Rugby club whilst he served in this country.
21/22.6.43 Attack against targets at Krefeld.
The fifth operation was on the night of 21-22/6/43 when their aircraft was one of 15 from 75 Squadron detailed to attack the city of Krefeld the largest producer of high-grade steel in Germany. The aircraft was again BK619. A total of 705 aircraft were dispatched on the raid from various squadrons with a window over the target allocated entirely to the 98 Stirlings of 3 Group of between 01:49-01:57. For 75 Squadron this would mean a round trip of about 3 and a half to 4 hours which is consistent with the times recorded for most of the aircraft. It can be seen in the log that one aircraft returned early owing to engine trouble and although it is not stated which aircraft, Edgar’s was recorded as having landed about 90mins before the rest, and so it is likely that it was his that returned early.
22/23.6.43 Attack against targets at Mulhein (ORB says Mannheim)
The final operation from which he didn’t return was on the following night of 22-23/6/43. This time they were flying in Stirling EF408. By all accounts their mission was to the town of Mulheim in the Ruhr Valley. Unfortunately the Squadron Operational Record books record the target as being Mannheim a town to the south. I feel certain though that this is simply a mistake, possibly a result of human error when typing up the report (it’s not the only error I have found). I can find no record of another raid on Mannheim for that night and all other sources I have checked point toward Mulheim being the target. Certainly the planes lost that night were in the vicinity of Mulheim and none came down any further south than that, so I think it is safe to assume Mulheim was the destination.
What is recorded is the time of his plane taking off at 23:40 and the time down column is recorded as “Missing”. From further information I have found the plane being recorded as having been shot down by flak and crashing into the town of Gelsenkirchen, where the crew were initially buried. It is with some conjecture as to whether they were on the way there or back but Gelsenkirchen is fairly close to Mulheim, and my thoughts are that they were on the final approach to the target. Evidence of this is contained in a report made by a Sgt Handley of 15 Squadron who stated that he saw 4 Stirlings being destroyed on their bombing run, 2 of which seemed to collide and another 2 hit by flak after being caught in searchlights. Studying the Stirling losses for that night it would seem that 3 Stirlings did indeed crash in the vicinity and a 4th, which reported being heavily damaged, crashed a short distance away from the target area. It would seem likely therefore that one of these aircraft could have been Edgar’s but of course it can’t be certain.
The Wood crew on the Mulheim Op were;
F/Sgt Benjamin Brinley Wood RAFVR 656588. Pilot.
15th May to 23rd June 1943. Died Wednesday 23rd June 1943, age 24, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
F/Sgt. George King Samson RNZAF NZ402563. Navigator.
28th November 1942 to 23rd June 1943. Died Wenesday 23rd June 1943, age 27, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
F/Sgt Stuart Richard Bisset RNZAF NZ415738. Air Bomber.
14th March to 23rd June 1943. Died Wednesday 23 June 1943, age 20, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany.
Sgt Edgar Henry Reader RAFVR 1331432. Wireless Operator.
15th May to 23rd June 1943. Died Wednesday 23rd June 1943, age 21, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
Sgt. Stanley Lawrence Webb RAFVR 1266998. Flight Engineer.
14th May to 23rd June 1943. Died Wednesday 23rd June 1943, age 33, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
Sgt. Frederick Johns Hobbs RAFVR 1609558. Mid Upper Gunner.
14th May to 23rd June 1943. Died Wednesday 23rd June 1943, age 19, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Sgt. Cyril Benjamin Hemmings RAFVR 1235070. Rear Gunner.
Died Wednesday 23rd June 1943, age 21, during a raid on Mulheim. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
The crew were initially buried in the Bismark Cemetery Gelsenkirchen and later moved to the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery when it was established after the war.
I was fortunate to spot on the internet a request from the great nephew of fellow crew member, Cyril Hemmings asking for information into his great uncle’s service prior to his visit to the cemetery last summer. I was able to provide him with the information gathered here which made my efforts all the more worthwhile. It was one of the coincidences which have marked my research so far, and which has proved to me that 70 years on from the event time has not erased the interest or information out there.