Monthly Archives: February 2015

Ralph Valentine ‘Val” Clingham Johnson, Air Bomber – Parkin crew. EVADER

Val cropped and scalled

Ralph Valentine ‘Val” Clingham Johnson, Air Bomber with the Parkin crew. Sole survivor and evader after an op to Munchen-Gladbach on the 30th August 1943. The photograph was taken while he was staying with the Georgeton family in Sillery, 13 – 15th October 1943.

Many thanks to Tony, Jenny, Fred, and Michael for contributing to this incredible tale of survival and evasion behind enemy lines.

Tony first contacted me about his Father, Ralph Valentine “Val’ Clingham Johnson, Air Bomber with Victor Parkin’s crew – the sole survivor of the crew after their aircraft was (most likely) attacked  by a German night fighter over Belgium. The story and details of Val’s evasion and the bravery of those individuals that assisted him and other airmen like him has been provided by Fred Greyer and Michael LeBlanc.

The Parkin crew arrived at Mepal on the 5th August 1943 from 1651 Conversion Unit.

A little out of the normal, it seems that Vic Parkin completed 3 2nd Pilot Ops with other crews before taking his crew on Operations.

24/07/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Hamburg
Stirling Mk.III EH905 -R (2)
F/S George Vincent Helm,   – Pilot.
Sgt. Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – 2nd Pilot.

Take Off 21:57 – Landed 04:12
Flight Time 06:15

10/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Nurenburg
Stirling Mk.III EF465 -H (1)
F/S Walter Donald Whitehead, RNZAF NZ416565 – Pilot.
F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – 2nd Pilot.

Take Off 22:00 – Landed 06:20
Flight Time 08:20

12/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Turin
Stirling Mk.III EF465 -H (2)
F/S Walter Donald Whitehead, RNZAF NZ416565 – Pilot.
F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – 2nd Pilot.Died Tuesday 31st August

Take Off 21:20 – Landed 05:30
Flight Time 08:10

With these 3 ops under his belt, Victor Parkin and his crew began their Operational tour on the 9th of August 1943.

09/08/1943 – Mining in the Frisian Islands
Three aircraft were detailed to carry out the above operation with mines of 1,500lbs., which were all successfully dropped in the allotted area and the parachutes were seen to open. No A.A. fire, searchlights or enemy aircraft were encountered. Visibility was good, being clear with a bright moon. Navigation was excellent.

Stirling Mk.III EF461 ??-?

F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator.
Sgt. Ralph Valentine Clingan Johnson, RAFVR 1545885 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 22:05 – Landed 01:20
Flight Time 03:15

15/08/1943 – Mining in the Gironde Estuary
Five aircraft were detailed to carry out the above operation with mines of 1,500lbs.. One aircraft failed to take-off owing to inter-communication failure and one failed to return. The remaining aircraft successfully dropped their mines in the allotted area, and parachutes were seen to open. Some heavy A.A. fire was encountered and one aircraft was slightly hit in the fuselage. The weather was good with clear visibility. Navigation was very good. One aircraft, whilst returning across FRANCE at 200 feet, shot up four trains, the engine of one was seen to explode and the other three appeared hit. The missing aircraft was Stirling Mk.III EE891 captained by F/Sgt. WHITTA, N.B.

Stirling Mk.III EF465 ??-H
From RAF Mepal Station Log AIR28/532 – aircraft returning low over France shot up 4 trains – one of which was seen to explode.
F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator.
Sgt. Ralph Valentine Clingan Johnson, RAFVR 1545885 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:45 – Landed 02:20
Flight Time 05:35

22/08/1943 – Mining in the Frisian Islands
Three aircraft were detailed to carry out the above operation with mines of 1,500lbs.. Two of the aircraft returned early owing to failure of navigational aids and brought their mines back. The other aircraft successfully dropped its mines in the allotted area and the parachutes were seen to open. No A.A. fire, searchlights or enemy aircraft were encountered. The weather was good except for Sea haze. Navigation was good.

Stirling Mk.III BF518 AA-E

F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator.
Sgt. Ralph Valentine Clingan Johnson, RAFVR 1545885 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:25 – Landed 04:35
Flight Time 08:10

23/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Berlin

val-johnson-1943 bWcont

What appears to be an image ripped out of a newspaper,, the ‘x’ on the bottom edge of the picture identifies Val Johnson, so we might assume that the other airmen in the photograph are also members of the Parkin crew.

Twenty three aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with bombs of 1,000lb., 500lb., and incendiaries of 30lb and 4lb.. Five aircraft returned early owing to failure and three aircraft failed to return. The remainder of the aircraft successfully dropped their bombs in the target area and all of the crews agreed that it had been well and truly hit. The fires were all concentrated and huge columns of smoke together with heavy explosions could be seen. A moderate heavy A.A. barrage co-operating with searchlights were encountered, but only one aircraft received damage. A great number of enemy aircraft were seen and several combats took place. The aircraft captained by F/Sgt. WILKINSON sighted a JU88 passing above, the Mid-upper and Rear Gunners fired and strikes were seen on the enemy aircraft which was then lost sight of and is claimed to have been damaged. The aircraft captained by F/Sgt. WHITEHEAD whilst over BERLIN sighted an enemy aircraft on the starboard quarter, 300yds away. The Rear Gunner fired a five second burst and the enemy aircraft was seen in flames diving to earth, and was claimed as probably destroyed. The same aircraft encountered another unidentified aircraft 300yds away on the starboard quarter. The Rear Gunner fired another five seconds burst and the enemy aircraft exploded and disintegrated. It was claimed to be destroyed. The aircraft captained by F/O. A. Alexander, whilst over the target sighted a ME110 approaching from the starboard quarter above and firing at his aircraft. The Mid-upper and Rear Gunners replied with long bursts and the enemy aircraft was seen to be in flames. A fire was later seen on the ground and the enemy aircraft was claimed as probably destroyed. Scattered cloud was met on the outward route, but it was clear over the target. The missing aircraft were Stirlings Mk.III BF465 captained by P/O A. RANKIN, BF564 captained by P/O A. Sedunary and EE938 captained by W/O T. Fear.

The aircraft captained by F/Sgt. WHITE, O.H. whilst approaching the target area was coned by searchlights and repeatedly hit by heavy A.A. fire, sustaining considerable damage to port mainplane. He continued towards the target though still coned by searchlights and was then attacked by a JU88 sustaining hits in the rear of the fuselage which shattered the rear turret and killed Rear Gunner Sgt. Poole, J.. The aircraft was forced into an uncontrollable dive and the captain warned his crew ‘Prepare to abandon the aircraft’. Unfortunately, in the middle of this order the inter-communication failed, and the Navigator, Air Bomber and Wireless Operator abandoned the aircraft, due to the fact that they were unable to contact their Captain. F/Sgt. WHITE jettisoned his bomb load whilst in the dive directly over the target area, managed to regain control of the aircraft when height had been lost down to 6,000ft. The captain and two remaining members of the crew after taking stock of the damage decided to attempt the long and hazardous return journey to base. This they did successfully and made a perfect crash landing at base without lights, flaps or under carriage, as the electrical leads were shot away.

Stirling Mk.III BF518 AA-E

F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator.
Sgt. Ralph Valentine Clingan Johnson, RAFVR 1545885 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:25 – Landed 04:25
Flight Time 08:00

27/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Nuremberg
Nineteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with indiary bombs of 30lbs. and 4lbs. One aircraft failed to return, but the remainder successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Good concentrated fires and heavy explosions were seen. A moderate barrage consisting of light and heavy A.A. fire co-operating with searchlights were encountered, and two aircraft received slight damage. Some enemy aircraft were seen, one short combat took place, but no damage was sustained by our aircraft. The weather was cloudy on the outward journey but clear over the target and visibility was good. Navigation was very good. The missing aircraft was Stirling Mk.III EE955 captained by F/Sgt. Higham.

Stirling Mk.III BF518 AA-E

F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator.
Sgt. Ralph Valentine Clingan Johnson, RAFVR 1545885 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 21:40 – Landed 05:00
Flight Time 07:20

30/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Munchen-Gladbach
18 Aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with incendiary bombs of 30lbs. and 4lbs. All aircraft with the exception of one which failed to return, successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Very large fires which were well concentrated and spreading, were seen. All crews were of the opinion that this was a good attack. Moderate heavy A.A. fire and a few searchlights were encountered, which were ineffective. A great number of enemy aircraft were seen and some short combats took place. The aircraft captained by F/Sgt. Batger, H. sighted an enemy aircraft 600 yards away, ahead and the front gunner fired a long and short burst, the enemy aircraft then disappeared and was claimed as possibly destroyed. . The aircraft captained by F/S McGregor,K. sighted an Me110 astern, the rear gunner fired a long burst. The enemy aircraft replied and dived away with smoke pouring from its engines. It is claimed as a possible destroyed. There was 8/10ths cloud at the target approaches although it was clear in the target area. Navigation was very good. The missing aircraft was  Stirling MK.III EH938 captained by Sgt. Parkin, T.

Stirling Mk.III EH938 AA-F

F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator.
Sgt. Ralph Valentine Clingan Johnson, RAFVR 1545885 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off – – Landed –
Flight Time Missing

Based on Val Johnson’s debrief with MI.9, it would appear that that EH938 possibly fell prey to a German night fighter, within a nachtjagd ‘box’. Val was the only survivor of the crew, the rest of the crew being killed when the aircraft crashed at Lommel (Limburg), in Belgium. The airmen were all buried in St-Truiden before being moved to Heverlee War Cemetery.

F/S Victor Trevor Parkin, RNZAF NZ421090 – Pilot. Died age 21.
F/S Terrence Watters, RNZAF NZ417299 – Navigator. Died age 21.
Sgt. William Hadley Horrigan, RAFVR 1176649 – Wireless Operator. Died age 29.
Sgt. Trevor Silcock, RAFVR 1582836 – Flight Engineer. Died age 20.
Sgt. Richard Frederick Grove, RAFVR 1581242 – Mid Upper Gunner. Died age 22.
Sgt. Anthony Francis Saunders, RAFVR 1394719 – Rear Gunner. Died age 20.

The Possum Escape Line
Probably unknown to Val, upon landing, he was about to get assistance from a network of individuals and safe houses that were collectively known as the ‘Possum Escape Line

During the night of the 15th July 1943, two MI9 agents were parachuted into southeast Belgium (Province of Luxembourg) near Suxy. Dominique Edgard Potier was a Belgian airforce officer, who had arrived in England in March 1942. Accompanying him was Conrad Lafleur, his French-Canadian radio operator. At this time, many allied aircrew, on bombing raids to Germany, were being shot down over the Belgian Ardennes. Potier’s mission, known as Mission Martin in Belgium and the Possum Line in France, was to organise the recovery of these airmen and shelter, feed and provide them with false identity documents, before moving them to safe houses in and around Reims in Northern France. Unlike the Ardennes, this area was suitable for evacuation by air, using Lysander aircraft.

Of the six planned air operations, three were successful – 11 airmen and one SOE agent were repatriated. (From http://www.possumline.net/)

SPG 1579-1 SPG 1579-2 SPG 1579-3

What follows is a transcription of this interview document with detail added where available.

1st September 1943 
Baled out & landed west of Weert, Netherlands (just North of Maastricht) at approx. 3:00am
Walked west for approx. 4 hours.
“I was a member of the crew of a Stirling bomber which left Mepal, North of Cambridge, on 31 Aug at midnight to bomb Munchen-Gladbach. We reached our target and bombed our objective at 0210 hrs. On the homeward journey, there was a violent explosion in the aircraft. I remember reaching for ny parachute, but do not know how I got out. The next thing I remember was that I was in the air and in a cloud. I had severe wounds in one arm, one leg, and my face.

I came down at 0300 hrs (1 Sep) in a field , which I believe was somewhere West of Weert

I buried my parachute in a hedge and ran along the rain road in a westerly direction. When it became light, I hid in a hedge in which I remained all day. At dusk I worked with my compass and. walked West for about 4 hours. My leg started to give me trouble and I lay low again in a bush in a field”.

2nd September   
At 07:00 headed west again, reaching a wood. Stayed there all day and that night.
“I woke at about 0700 hrs (2 Sep) and headed West again, reaching a wood. Here I saw two Belgian woodmen, so lay low again, and stayed there all day and that night.”

3rd September   
Stayed at a cottage in Exel (North of Hasselt, Belgium), where identity was confirmed by an English woman. Taken by two gendarmes to M. Sols-Lensken, 66, Markt Str, Exel.Visited by a doctor for a bad septic arm and knee.

“On 3 Sep I left the wood and at about 1100 hrs approached a cottage at Exel (N.W.Europe, 25 km, North of Hasselt). I made my identity known and was beckoned in by a lad. I found a large family inside; the father told me, by signs, that he would fetch someone who could talk English. At about 1300 hrs a girl turned up on a bicycle, and, from this point, I was helped on my journey. The girl who came, to Exel, on 3 Sep on a bicycle was the daughter of an Englishwoman (name not remembered) whose father is:

Mr Alfred Woodis
174, Houghton Grange Road,
Bradford.

She told me to remain where I was, and went home to inform her mother. At about 1600 hrs, the mother came and asked me several questions to identify me and said she would see a man in an organisation. I went to bed and stayed till about 2300 hrs, when two men woke me, and after stripping me of my badges and flying boots, took me by bicycle to another house quite near:

M. Sols-Lenskens,
66, Markt Str,
Exel
(husband, wife, and child of six)”.

6th September  
Taken by train to Neerpelt. Stayed in a small cottage with Mme. Spelters, an old lady of 66 with six sons.
The men, who were gendarmes in plain clothes, left me here. I was visited by a doctor and nursed by the people for a bad septic arm and knee. I was given plain clothes and, on about 6 Sep, a man came and took me by train to Neerpelt to a small cottage.

Mme. Spelters,
Neerpelt
(old lady of 66, six sons)”.

10th September
Taken by train to Antwerp. Stayed for a few hours at the house of M. Daelmans, 15, rue d’Orange. Went by train to Brussels, with M. Daelmans, and from there to Virton, in the Ardennes, Province of Luxembourg. Stayed with the local organist, M. Georges Hennaut.
“I stayed here till about 10 Sep, when another man came for me and took me by train to Antwerp. In Antwerp I stayed for a few hours at the house of:

M. Daelmans,
15, rue d’Orange,

moving by train to Brussels, under Daelmans” guidance, and from there to Virton, I stayed here with the local organist:

M. Georges Hennaut,
Virton”.

11th September
Left by train for Florenville (28 km. N.W. of Virton). Stayed with priest.
“I left by train for Florenville (28 km. North West of Virton), where I stayed with. a priest till 13 Sep. I was then taken to Martue (2 km. from Florenville), staying there with a family:

M.P. Lemaire
Martue”.

13th/ 14th September  
Driven, by Louis Gerard, to Martue (2 km. from Florenville), and stayed with Paul Lemaire.
“Until 30 Sep.A doctor who treated me here for my arm, got me away by car”.

30th September/ 1st October          
Driven by Dr. Albert Pierre to Sedan. Then escorted, by another man, to Paris. Met by Edgard Potier and taken to Suzanne Bastin. Here there were seven other airmen, 4 Americans and 3 British.
“On 30 Sep to Sedan, from where another man. escorted me to Paris. In Paris I was met by a Captain MARTIN and taken to:

Mme. Bastin
? rue de la Barre,
Montmatre.

Here there were seven other airmen, 4 Americans and 3 British, two from 218 squadron and one from 7 squadron”.

6th October
Taken by Potier to Quierzy (25km NE of Compiègne), with three Americans (probably John Desrochers, Ellis Klein and Fred Murray (USAAF)). Stayed in a farm for three days, waiting for pickup.
Note: there was no scheduled pickup on this date. The next one was scheduled for 16/17 October 1943, which failed.
“Captain Martin called for me on 6 Oct took three Americans and myself to Quierzy (10 km. East of Noyon) where we stayed in a farm for three days, waiting to be taken off by air”.

9th October   
No aircraft turned up; went back to Paris and from there to Reims. Taken by Raymonde Beuré with Fred Murray to Sillery (approx. 10 kms South East of Reims).
“No aircraft turned up, so we went back to Paris, from there to Reims, from where a girl took one American and me by car to Sillery, where we stayed,  in a hut.”

13th/ 15th October 
Germans started searching woods for draft dodgers, so moved to the home of the Georgeton’s in Sillery.
“In a wood till 13 Oct, and then with:

M.Georgeton,
Sillery”.

Fred Murray and Val Johnson

A remarkable series of pictures of Val and USAF airman Fred Murray, whom Val had met some X days before.

I find this images to be quite astonishing. I would have imagined that an evading airman would be constantly on the move, suspicious of everyone. The pictures above of Val and Fred Murray an American airman have a casual, almost relaxed air to them. In some respects, I am amazed that the photographs even exist – I would have imagined that the last thing a family, helping allied airmen escape would want is a camera full of pictures of allied airmen, let a lone a collection of photographs of them!

Potier parachuted back into France on the 20th December 1943. It had been his intention to move Possum to Amiens, as the organisation was becoming too “well known” in Reims. However, on the 28th December, as Conrad Lafleur was transmitting messages to London, he was surprised by the Germans. He escaped, but it was the start of a sequence of events that eventually lead to the arrest of Potier. Initially he was taken to Fresnes prison in Paris and then returned to Reims, where after being subjected to considerable torture, he committed suicide on the 11th January 1944. As more arrests followed, the organisation around Reims effectively collapsed. Paris, Amiens and the remoter parts of the network continued operating for a few more months, but were eventually traced and broken up. Georges d’Oultremont and Conrad Lafleur escaped down the Comète Line.

Of the 70 helpers arrested in the French sector of Possum, some 60 were deported, of which less than half returned. There are no complete records, but it is estimated some 60-70 airmen had passed through or were being sheltered by Possum at the time of its demise.

Whilst the Georgeton family played a small part in Val’s evasion, there were members of the Possum line and fully aware of the risks they exposed themselves to if caught. The photographs below show and remember a family who were prepared to act against the Nazis and help the allied airmen who every night flew overhead, themselves gambling that they would never be caught……..

Three of the Georgeton family were arrested by the Gestapo in May of 1944.

Gaston Georgeton died  on 5/11/1944 in Dachau concentration camp.

Georgeton 1

“(Far right) Dad with his air defence comrades (keeping watch for enemy? aircraft xxx??? and notification of air defence command). He was 44.”

Georgeton 2

“Photo taken at Sillery (House of Pommery) after the departure of the Anglo-American airmen picked up near us in October 1943 Dad = 48 years old Mum = 47”

Georgeton 3

“5/03/1944 Dad & Mum 3 months before they were arrested by the Gestapo. Last photo of Dad (1895-1944). (Last photo of my father, DIED for FRANCE on 5/11/1944 in DACHAU).”

Georgeton 5

“26.3.44 René Georgeton, my brother, at Sillery, 2 months before the family was arrested by the Gestapo. He was 13 years old. His young age allowed him to escape deportation.”

Georgeton 4

Robert GEORGETON, my brother, born in 1923 (He wasn’t there when the Gestapo came to arrest his father, mother and brother, which saved his life … )”

17th/ 21st October 
(Gaston?) Georgeton drove them to Mailly-Champagne (18 kms South East of Reims). Stayed with Lea Chandelot.
“We had to move from here, as the Germans requisitioned half the house, and were taken by car to Mailly-Champagne(18 kim. S.E. of Reims), where the American and I stayed with:

M.Chandelot,,
Mailly-Champagne.

M.Chandelot was a particularly staunch patriot, and kept us till 9 Nov”.

9th/ 13th November
Remy Chandelot took them by horse and car to Reims. Train to Fismes with Beuré.
Stayed with Lucienne Mulette.
“On 9 Nov he took us, by horse and cart, to Reims, and from there by train to Fismes, where we stayed 4 days with:

Mme. L.Muillet, (a tailoress)
Fismes”.

15th November
Taken by Beuré in a car back to Reims, from there by train to Paris and back to Bastin’s apartment.
“From here a girl took us by car on 13 Nov back to Reims, from there by train to Paris, and back to Mme. Bastin”.

16th November
Train to Chauny and then taken by truck to a small house in the country. Met Georges d’Oultrement (MI9 agent), Charles Breuer and Stanley Chichester (USAAF).
“On 15 Nov Captain Martin took two Americans and myself to Quierzy and to a field some distance away, from which this time, the air operation was successful“.

17th November
Aircraft pickup took place at approx. 02:00 (operation MAGDALEN II). Landed at RAF Tangmere approx. 03:30; met by Major Langley.

only-survivor

A newspaper article, describing in massively censored manner, Val’s experiences as an evader. One must imagine, given the tense that this article was written sometime towards the end of 1943.

Johnson Binder1 254

A simple, but a very touching note, sent to Val in August of 1945 from one of the many individuals that helped him to escape and return to the UK.

Having put this post together, I think this is as much the story of all those brave individuals that were willing to help Val Johnson, as it is about Val’s evasion.

AKE AKE KIA KAHA

Arbeitsgruppe Vermisstenforschung – Crash Site Investigation (C.S.I.) – A bit of a rant I am afraid…….

I was pleased to see that by this afternoon the post I put up yesterday evening on the “Arbeitsgruppe Vermisstenforschung – Crash Site Investigation (C.S.I.)”, the German aircraft recovery group headed by Uwe Benkel, had been seen so far, by a 100 people.

What disappoints me, however, and this is based on their GoFundMe site, nobody has actually given anything………

The vast majority of people involved in activities related to World War 2 and more specifically the Air War, do what they do, at their own cost, in their own time, basically for the love of it.

I know from my own experience with this blog, that it’s a labour of love – if I costed out the time I spend on 75nzsquadron.com, it wouldn’t exist – it would simply be, in crude financial terms, too expensive to bother – but irrespective of this, I do it and will continue to.

Uwe and his group do not have the luxury as I do, to sit in a warm studio and type – what they do is ‘dirt under the nails’ stuff, they locate, and excavate aircraft crash sites. Often these crash sites are ‘wet’ – still containing the remains of airmen. This, they have to deal with and despite the noble endeavor, must, put simply, be a disturbing and dirty experience – but they do it and hopefully for all of us, will continue to do it.

My theoretical ramblings about the relative cost in time of maintaining this blog is just that, theoretical. To locate, excavate and when necessary remove human remains is not theoretical – it is real and physical and it costs money.

I know from my own experience, that some people see all of this, simply as something to be viewed – whilst not a regular occurrence, I do sometimes get inquiries, that literally expect me to give the world – I have even received complaints, due either to my poor speed of service, or simply because I was unable to furnish the inquirer with a highly specific photograph that ‘obviously’ I must have. Responding to a request, generating an Op history – a few hours work however you look at it – is taken without acknowledgement or thanks. I appreciate some people are just strange and clearly see no issue in behaving this way and I suppose it comes with the sort of interactive community I have tried to generate with the blog.

…… but it still pisses me off…….

If each of the 100 people that viewed last nights post gave just $10 ( £6.46 in pounds sterling), they would have $1000 more than they did this time last night.

Please, get off your arse, put your hand in your pocket and give Uwe’s group a donation. If you do nothing more than this, because your interest extends no further than this, then at least let those that want to act, be able to do so.

If you read all this and it annoys you and you think I am being unfair – prove me wrong and give.

You can donate to Arbeitsgruppe Vermisstenforschung here.

 

Arbeitsgruppe Vermisstenforschung – Crash Site Investigation (C.S.I.)

471004_348161031886200_463273684_o

I noticed Uwe had made a few posts around Facebook today regarding a request for donations for the Arbeitsgruppe Vermisstenforschung – Crash Site Investigation (C.S.I.) Group. This group in Germany has devoted itself over the past 25 years to the discovery, recovery and identification of crashed aircraft from the War.

I first became aware of Uwe’s and the groups work when I  started researching about Dad. On the night of the 22nd of September 1943, The Mayfield crew took off on an Op to Hanover, with them was F/O Kenneth Albiston, newly arrived at the Squadron, this was his first ‘2nd Dickie’ flight as a new Pilot. The night seems to have been relatively uneventful – the following night Kenneth joined Geoffrey Turner’s crew to fly to Manneheim, along with my Father’s crew and 16 other Stirling from 75(NZ) Squadron.

The night was a disaster for the Squadron – 3 aircraft were lost and they were all from ‘C’ Flight, my Fathers flight. Kenneth Albiston was one of the airmen lost. An optimistic google search turned up “The bone collectors: The search for lost heroes of WWII” an article in The Independent online – to my amazement, it detailed the work of Uwe and included the details of the recovery of Kenneth’s body – identified from an engraved cigarette case found with his remains…….

Read “The bone collectors: The search for lost heroes of WWII” here.

The group has a GoFundMe site where donations can be made to allow them to continue this invaluable and deeply personal work – it is a tribute to Uwe and those that work with him in the group that they find themselves the last link of chance for relatives to discover the remains of their loved ones.

I have given – I think you should all consider giving something as well. The GoFundMe site can be reached here.

From the site, the following information explains what they do, and why they do it………

For more than 25 years, the members of the working group, Arbeitsgruppe Vermisstenforschung, have spent their valuable time, and their own expenses looking for downed WWII aircraft and missing pilots/airmen. So far they have found more than 140 aircraft wrecks and and returned the remains of numerous pilots/airmen to their families.

This is a great and proud group of volunteers. They are not funded in any way by the German, American and British Governments. All of the funds used to find the crash sites and remains of our pilots and their crews are done voluntarily, and with the financial support of generous donors. Most of the work is done at the expense of those who are conducting these searches. So far, with a few donations, they have been able to keep searching, however there are so many requests coming in from all over the world, that they just don’t have the financial resources to spend the time need to continue looking. These are volunteers who have their own families to support, and they’ve given so much of their time and money looking for the numerous crash sites. The number of requests from families who are desperate to find their loved ones crash site are piling up, and that’s where your help comes in to play. The group is approaching their financial limitations, and without some type of funding (government or personal donations) they will not be able to continue the searches that in almost every instance, locate the missing aircraft, and in some cases, the remains of the crew.

In order to continue successful recovery operations, we are asking for your help. Every little bit counts. Please find it in your heart to help this amazing group of searchers continue their work. So many families are relying on this group, and they would like nothing more than to continue their mission to find and recover the planes and their crew. Please consider helping so that this amazing group of searchers can continue doing what the American, British and German governments have turned their backs on – finding those pilots/crews who are MIA and bringing them home.

Your donation, no matter how small or how large, is the best way to thank the many volunteers of this group, the families of the missing, and more importantly, those who are still missing. To those who have already donated, we thank you so very much!

Please donate now, before you forget, or find something less important to spend your money on…….

The GoFundMe site can be reached here.

Reconnecting in New Zealand – a trip by David McFarland

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Graves of Murray, Kayler, Mulligan and Woolham after 70th anniversary ceremony April 2014

Many thanks to David, son of John McFarland for passing on the following record of his trip to New Zealand at the end of last year. David and his family went out to meet up with relatives of the airmen that his Father flew with in 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. The crew were posted to the Squadron in February 1944, flying their first op on the 11th February, and after conversion to Lancasters took part in the first 75 operation with Lancasters, bombing mashalling yards in Paris on 9th April.   Four of the crew are buried at Gram, Denmark – James Murray RNZAF (Pilot), Haymen Kahler RAFVR (Flight Engineer) Jack Mulligan RCAF and Peter Woolham RAFVR (Air Gunners).   Gordon Irwin RNZAF (Wireless Operator) John ‘Paddy’ McFarland RAFVR (Navigator) and Douglas Hill RNZAF (Air Bomber) became Prisoners or War.

Detail POW Log (2)

Extract from a POW notebook kept by Gordon Irwin © Marg Collins

The pilot James, “Jim”, Murray was from Pleasant Point near Timaru on South Island.   His sister, and three brothers all joined the New Zealand forces, with four serving overseas.   Sadly two brothers died, one in Crete in 1941 and the other at El Alamein in 1942.   After Jim’s death, the fourth and youngest son, then stationed in New Zealand, was not permitted to serve overseas and was discharged from military service to pervent a further loss to the Murray family.   We had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Alice, and her husband Mike Constantine, who live in Timaru.

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Memorial Library window at Timaru Boys High School (Copied by kind permission of Timaru High School Old Boys Association)

Rosewill School with Alice Constantine

(from left) Paddy’s son and granddaughter – David and Emily and Alice Constantine at the Memorial stone at Rosewill Junior School, Pleasant Point.

Plaque Rosewill School

Roll of Honour Board, Rosewill Junior School

Timaru War Memorial

Timaru War Memorial

Detail Timaru War Memorial

Detail Timaru War Memorial

Roll of Honour Airforce Museum of NZ Christchurch (2)

Roll of Honour Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Christchurch

Detail Roll of Honour AFMofNZ

Detail from Roll of Honour

Gordon Irwin returned to New Zealand after the war and married Amy, who had served as a WAAF, stationed in New Zealand.   He initially resumed the family farming business but later was a green-keeper at several golf courses on the North Island.   He died on 28th December 1994 aged 77 years.   He is buried, with his wife, at Russell Services Cemetery – a beautiful tranquil spot overlooking the Bay of Islands.   We had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Kathy Wright who lives in Russell, and were the guests of Marg Collins his other daughter at her home at Helensville, north of Auckland.   There we enjoyed a splendid meal in the company of her husband and her son and daughter in law, and with Ron Irwin, her brother and his wife.   Gordon and Paddy were particularly close as Gordon’s father had lived in Ulster before emigrating to New Zealand. Gordon had enjoyed several leave trips to Ireland in the early months of 1944.

Marg Collins and Ron Irwin

Marg Collins and Ron Irwin

Kathy Wright at Russell

David McFarland and Kathy Wright

Medals Gordon Irwin (2)

Gordon Irwin’s medals (the New Zealand War Service medal on the right)

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Russell Services Cemetery

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Memorial plaque Gordon and Amy Irwin

Postscript
In the village of Glenorchy near Queenstown on South Island we saw the local War Memorial.   Beside it was a noticeboard which helped to put details of the service of the men remembered on the Memorial.   Listed was Alistair Henry Scott 75 (NZ) Squadron.   As I was reading the detail, a lady approached and introduced herself to me as his niece, Adrienne Reid.   She lives on the east coast of South Island and was visiting Glenorchy that day.   It was a remarkable chance meeting with a member of the wider 75 family!   She told me that Alistair had a cousin piloting the Lancaster.   Sadly all the crew were lost on the 4th November 1944 on the daylight Solingem raid and are buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany.

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Glenorchy War Memorial

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Adrienne Reid, niece of F/Sgt Alistair Scott at Glenorchy War Memorial Noticeboard

Other posts about the Murray crew and more specifically John McFarland can be read here:

John McFarland, Navigator – Murray crew. 1944. here.

Letters from behind the wire – John McFarland, here.

John Edward Lithgow McFarland RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator. 1944. Logbook. here

Gram Churchyard, Denmark. here.

Gram Churchyard, Denmark – John Macfarland visits and remembers. Danish TV article. here

 

 

Happy Birthday to Peter Carrie – 100 today

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Albeit, a little belatedly, I would personally and I am sure all of you would, like to wish Peter Carrie the warmest wishes on his birthday today, having reached the magnificent age of 100 years old.

Peter has featured in a few of posts already, firstly recounting his amazing story, starting in the Army, before joining the RAF and 75(NZ) Squadron and flying with Bernard Lukin’s crew, a Flight Engineer. We then had news of him receiving a new Flight Engineers brevet to go with his Bomber Command clasp from Air Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Deputy Chief of Defence for Military Capability. Finally there was also a small additional post  on the Lukins crew, after by chance, we discovered the christian names of 2 more of the boys who flew with Peter.

Peters amazing story can be read here.

The story of Peter receiving his new Flight Engineers Brevet can be read here.

And the discovery of two more of the boys names from the Lukin’s crew can be read here.

Happy Birthday Peter

Ake Ake Kia Kaha

A final comment on Dresden, by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

I just noticed a post by Dom on Facebook, noting the misquoting of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, by (amazingly) the Daily Mail, regarding his comments and reflections on the Dresden Op.

I must confess, that personally, I am not religious in the slightest and do not therefore use the words of a religious leader to carry extra weight or validity as an observation, but I do think Justin offers a balanced and through necessity after all these years, a conciliatory opinion.

Given the willingness by the media to jump on simple facts and figures that will support a ‘good story’, I include the ridiculous contortion by the Daily Mail and then the post that Justin made on his blog as a response – I think he captures the balanced opinion of the events of that night and the hostages that both the city of Dresden, its people, Bomber Command and the crews that flew in it have become, since that night.

From the Daily Mail ………..

Archbishop ‘says sorry’ for bombing the Nazis: Justin Welby attacked for ‘bizarre apology’ for Dresden raids, but makes no reference to RAF heroes killed by Hitler

The Archbishop of Canterbury last night issued an extraordinary apology for the British bombing of Dresden during the Second World War.

In what was immediately criticised as an insult to the young men who gave their lives to defeat the Nazis, the Most Rev Justin Welby told the German people of his ‘profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow’ over the attack.

His comments at a ceremony in Dresden to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings came amid a growing row about BBC coverage of the commemoration in which Britain was described as ‘worse than the Nazis’ over the raids that killed thousands at the end of the war.

Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth criticised the Archbishop, saying: ‘I do not hear Angela Merkel apologising for the Blitz.’ And historian Professor Anthony Glees said it was wrong to take a single incident in the war and say sorry for it. Archbishop Welby said the bombing of Dresden, which killed an estimated 25,000, ‘diminished all our humanity’.

But he made no reference to the 55,573 British aircrew killed in the struggle to overthrow Hitler, nor to the German bombing of London and Coventry.

Tory MP Philip Davies said: ‘These remarks do sound to me like an apology. For the Archbishop to make an apology for our defeat of Hitler is bizarre. I would have thought the last thing we should be doing is apologising. We should be praised for defeating Hitler. These words are an insult to the young men who gave their lives in the defeat of Germany.’

The Archbishop – whose great uncle Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal was one of the main architects of Britain’s campaign of bombing German cities – told the congregation he thought it was ‘miraculous’ that they were welcoming him given the ‘brutal and devastating’ nature of the attack.

From Justin Welby’s blog as a reply……….

Reflections on Dresden

“Dresden on the 70th anniversary of the allied bombing is a place of deep emotion and sorrow. The Frauenkirche, the great church in the central square, destroyed on the night of 13th February 1945 and rebuilt after the liberation from Communist rule, is full much of the day, and in the evening it is a place of quiet reflection as hundreds of people come to pray, listen to music and stories of reconciliation and light candles. During the day there had been a powerful ceremony with contributions from the cities of Coventry, Rotterdam and Warsaw among others.

The feeling is different but parallel to that of Coventry Cathedral where I worked for five years, in charge of the ministry of reconciliation which since World War II has stretched around the world.   There too ruins gave birth to a new church, the Cathedral; there too hope sprang from death and ashes. The two churches are linked by a twinning relationship, as are the cities.

Both places attract young people caught by the hope of peace and reconciliation. Both are very powerful reminders of what Wilfred Owen called “the pity of war”. In many wars it is the civilians who bear the brunt of the pain, and especially from 1939-1945. They are almost always innocent. In Coventry and Dresden that was especially so.

Neo Nazis had attempted to cause trouble in Dresden, as always. The people of Dresden, as always, reject the manipulation of the truth of the events of 1945 and link hands in a symbolic circle round the city centre to keep out such lies.

What a sadness then that late in the evening someone showed me a headline in the Daily Mail saying that I had apologised for the RAF bombing the Nazis. No honest reading of what I said in the church and on the BBC afterwards could come anywhere near such an idea. Contrary to the Mail’s report, on the BBC I spoke clearly of the bombing of British cities, mentioning especially Coventry and London. I also spoke of the terrible losses of the heroic crews of Bomber Command. My grandmother’s brother was killed on his first mission, in a Wellington. My exact words (to BBC Radio 5 Live, and please excuse the incoherence!) were:

5 Live: And in the sense of Dresden, is one of the ways forward to apologise for what happened? Do you think Britain and America should apologise for what happened in Dresden?”

JW: “That’s a very complicated question, because when you listen to people who were in Bomber Command and you hear of their suffering, I lived in Coventry and you see the suffering there, in London we know of the Blitz, and in many other cities right across the United Kingdom and round the world, I think it’s more complicated than ‘should we apologise?’. I think there is a deep need for profound sorrow at the events and the causes of such dreadful times as Europe lived through. And there’s also reason for hope and encouragement that Europe has become a centre of reconciliation in the world – a great miracle.

The contrast with the sorrow of Dresden, the deep recognition of the cruelty, tragedy and evil of war, could not have been greater.

So I want to get back to the moving and tragic recognition in Dresden that the great evil of the Nazis created a great war, and during it terrible things were done, by necessity, by the nature of war. Churchill said “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”. So let us mourn and learn, honour the heroism of those who defeated Hitler and his regime, celebrate our freedoms, and in the strength of Jesus Christ struggle for peace and reconciliation, of which he is the source.”

see the article on Justin’s blog here.

Dresden: another 75 (NZ) Squadron perspective

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“Russ” Russell, Bombing Leader at 75 (NZ) Squadron, Mepal, 1944 – 45. – photo from “Dying For Democracy”, by Flt Lt G A Russell DFC.

Many thanks to Chris for providing another perspective on the events of the 13th/ 14th February 1945 Dresden Op…….

My uncle Gerry Newey flew as Wireless Operator with Johnny Wood and Doug Williamson in JN-Dog, the lead aircraft on that Dresden op’ 70 years ago.

Neither his logbook nor diary give any hint as to the significance of the raid, but they convey the satisfaction of seeing a job well done, and perhaps some degree of elation at witnessing and being part of such an awe-inspiring event.

In his diary, he wrote a typically off-hand summary of the trip:

“Did a D.I. on Dog & waited in the mess all morning. Had briefing & took off at 2150 for Dresden.
Good trip & we made a real mess of the city. Plenty of big fires. A nine hour trip.”

The crews were briefed before each op’, and there is no question – this op’ was presented as a military target, just another in a long line of targets in or nearby major cities.

The briefing that day is remembered by 75 (NZ) Squadron’s Bombing Leader, Flight Lieutenant Alan “Russ” Russell, DFC, in his book, “Dying For Democracy”.

“The participating air crews were briefed by the Squadron Commander, the Navigation Leader, the Gunnery Leader, the Wireless Leader, and the Intelligence Officer, who always made interesting remarks about each target. On this occasion he mentioned that Dresden was the central base for the whole of Germany’s very extensive variety of communication systems, especially the telephone. This included both telegraphy and radio, none of which had so far been damaged. Consequently Hitler’s leaders in all of his war fronts were being kept fully informed of what was daily required of them.

The weather man for the Squadron advised the crews about the weather we would have to confront and pass through.

Finally, as Bombing Leader, I gave the crews the details of their bomb loads. Always at briefings there would be a large area map illustrating the intended target. Dresden was a very big German city, only a few miles from the Russian border.

Six hours before our briefing, an unarmed, lively, Mosquito twin-engined reconnaissance aircraft flew over the target area and obtained many photographs which, during the briefing, were projected onto a large screen for the bomber crews to see. The wide expanse of the city included extensive railway marshalling yards, with many railway wagons already connected into long trains.

One particularly clear shot was of a very long line of flat-topped railway wagons with each wagon supporting a military tank. Many of the long lines were of closed freight wagons. We could see no railway coaches suitable for troop movement. Intelligence however, stated that there were masses of armed troops billeted both within and near the city.

The railway marshalling yards at Dresden were laid out like a huge letter’ Y ‘ and the junction of the members of the letter Y was given as our aiming point. The black and purple night target map which each bomb aimer carried to the target area, showed the railway yards very clearly. It also showed that the railway yards would make a good broad target. I always found those maps of the target area very useful. High over the target it was too dark inside the aircraft to be able to read the target map, so I always committed it to memory and that was easy as it covered solely the target area.”

Not only did Russell brief the crews before they left, he actually flew on the Dresden op’, as a fill-in Bomb Aimer for his old 218 Squadron Skipper, F/L Don Thomson, who had since been posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron.

(Note that the Form 541 lists F/S Hilray Hubert Stratford, Thomson’s usual Bomb Aimer, as flying this op’).

“On this date it transpired that Don’s Bomb Aimer was ill so I would fly with Don once again.”

Flight No 36. Dresden. Germany. 13/2/1945.
Mk I Lancaster PB820 (JN-V)
Pilot.    F/Lt Don Thomson.
Load carried. 1 x 4,000 lb HC, 3 x 750. No 15 cluster of 4 lb incendiaries, 1 x 500. No 17 cluster of 4 lb incendiaries and 1 x 350 lb Munroe container of information leaflets, all printed in German.
Total weight 7,431 lbs = 3.32 tons. (A light load.)
Distance flown.      1,902 miles.
Time airborne.     9 hours exactly.

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Don Thomson and his crew, loaded up and ready to go. – photo from Dying For Democracy, by Flt Lt G A Russell DFC.

Russell recalls that the initial Pathfinder Force Target Markers found that the target was covered in 10/10ths cloud, and they had to use the “Wanganui” marking method, which combined unquenchable flares dropped on the ground with parachute flares dropped from high above. The Master Bomber would direct the bomber stream by advising which coloured sky flares were closest to the ground flares, the glow of which was hopefully visible through the cloud.

“In my case, I was really impressed, because as I sighted on a floating flare in the sky, at the moment of releasing my bombs, the dimming, yet still faintly visible unquenchable flare on the ground, lined up perfectly in my sight. Wonders never cease!

From 20,000 ft I dropped my bomb load, including the 350 lb Munroe ‘bomb’ which shattered some two or three thousand feet above ground, scattering leaflets far and wide, ‘information’ for the population below. On this occasion, they would mostly be wasted because the resulting fire storm was much more fierce, and destroyed a much greater area, than ever expected.”

Russell doesn’t expand on the logic of combining incendiaries and paper leaflets in the same bomb load!!

Gerry Newey

Gerry’s logbook says simply “H. Flak, 5/10 clouds. Bloody good results.”

Skipper Johnny Wood’s entry in the ORB Form 541 says “Glow in sky seen from 140 miles on return.”

Bomber Command’s crews were driven relentlessly, “night after night”, to attack targets that were chosen for maximum impact on the German military effort, to help shorten the war.

As Russell argues, the men did not have the luxury of political or moral perspective on individual operations, they had a job to do. They weren’t privy to the overall strategies behind the choice of targets and methods employed, but if they were to work, it was critical that each individual played his part as instructed.

Reference, “Dying For Democracy”, by Flt Lt G A Russell DFC, 1997, self-published (Russell), Wanganui, NZ.