H.J. Murray crew 11.2.44 †

Log Book 015

Sgt. John McFarland receiving his Navigators badge at the end of training in Canada.
© John McFarland

John McFarland’s story began when he came to Belfast in 1940 to sit a Latin exam for a pharmacist’s apprenticeship he’d secured in Derry.  “I’d always found the Latin a chore and a friend had told me about the great time he was having in the RAF so when I was in Belfast I went to the RAF recruiting office and joined up,”.

In June 1941 John was formally called up and began training as a navigator. After graduating, he should have gone to an Operational Training Unit where the air crews were put together, though they were infamous for their 20% loss of life. “But then word came through that I was to by-pass this, I never knew why, and join a crew before going onto  75 New Zealand Squadron as a replacement navigator – and you never asked who you were replacing,” said John.

John and the rest of the Murray crew were posted to Mepal in late January of 1944, flying their first Op on the 11th February, and after conversion to Lancasters took part in the first 75(NZ) Squadron Operation with Lancasters, bombing mashalling yards in Paris on 9th April.  A series of aborted Ops perhaps had got the crew nervy about completing their tour and when an ‘easy’ Gardening Op came up in a now aged Stirling, the crew volunteered.

11/02/1944 – Mining in St. Malo Bay
One aircraft was detailed to carry out the above operation with mines of 1500 lbs which were successfully dropped in the allotted area. This was an entirely uneventful sortie.

Stirling Mk.III LK396 JN-U

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
F/L Lyndon Oliver Sims, RAFVR 148590 – Flight Engineer (Sqdn FE Ldr.).
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 18:05 – Landed 22:00
Flight Time 03:55

20/02/1944 – Mining off the Frisian Islands
Four aircraft were detailed to lay mines of 1,500 lbs off the island of Borkum in the Frisian Islands. They all successfully completed their sorties without incident.

Stirling Mk.III EJ108 AA-O

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 18:20 – Landed 22:20
Flight Time 04:00

22/02/1944 – Mining in Kiel Bay
Fifteen aircraft were detailed to lay mines of 1,500 lbs in Kiel Bay. After being airborne for one hour all of the aircraft were recalled owing to unsuitable weather conditions.

Stirling Mk.III EF181 dnc JN-S

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot. W/C Roy Douglas Max, RNZAF 36149/ NZ2076 – 2nd Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 16:50 – Landed 19:05
Flight Time 02:15

13/03/1944 – Mining off La Rochelle
Sixteen aircraft were detailed for mine laying off St. Nazaire, Lorient, La Rochelle, and Brest. One aircraft (Captain NZ414567 F/Sgt. Rowberry T.) failed to return. Another aircraft (Captain NZ42999 P/O. C. Baker) returned early with aileron trouble and crashed at Castle Comb, without injury to the crew although the aircraft was burnt out. The remaining fourteen successfully laid their mines, one aircraft landing at Woodbridge on return.

Stirling Mk.III LK396 JN-U

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 22:40 – Landed 03:55
Flight Time 05:15

15/03/1944 – Special Operations – March Moon Period BOB 157 (ABORTIVE)
Operation BOB 157 (Abortive).
The target area was reached and identified, but no flashing light was seen although three white lights in a triangle were observed in the back yard of a farm. On the return journey, two packages of leaflets were dropped at Corbigny N.E. of Nevers.

Stirling Mk.III –

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off – – Landed –
Flight Time no record

16/03/1944 – Attack Against Targets at Amiens
12 aircraft were detailed to attack the marshalling yards at Amiens. One aircraft was withdrawn and one, being unable to maintain height owing to engine trouble, was forced to jettison near the target. The remaining ten aircraft successfully bombed the target although haze prevented identification of ground detail. No fighter opposition was encountered, and only very slight A.A. Fire.

Stirling Mk.III BK777 AA-U

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
Sgt. Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:35 – Landed 00:05
Flight Time 03:30

18/03/1944 – Mining in the Heliogoland Bight
Seven aircraft were detailed to lay mines in the Heligoland Bight. Six were successful, the seventh bringing his mines back as he arrived too late for the flares and was uncertain of his exact position. There was no fighter opposition, but A.A. Fire was encountered. Visibility was poor with much haze.

Stirling Mk.III EH949 JN-P

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 19:20 – Landed 23:35
Flight Time 04:15

19/03/1944 – Mining in the St. Jean-de-Luz area
Four aircraft were detailed for mine laying off the mouth of the river Adour and two in the St. Jean-de-Luz area. All were successful with the exception of one which had to jettison owing to an engine catching fire.

Stirling Mk.III EH955 AA-K

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 19:05 – Landed 04:10
Flight Time 09:05

21/03/1944 – Mining off Le Havre
One aircraft detailed to lay mines off Le Havre had to jettison immediately after take off owing to engine trouble.

Stirling Mk.III EJ108 AA-O

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 19:30 – Landed 19:50
Flight Time 00:20

22/03/1944 – Mining in Kiel Bay
Six aircraft were detailed to lay mines in Kiel Bay. Only four took off, but they completed their sorties successfully.

Stirling Mk.III EH955 AA-K

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 18:05 – Landed 00:20
Flight Time 06:15

25/03/1944 – Attack Against targets at Aulnoye
Seven aircraft were detailed to attack Aulnoye, two failed to take off, but the remaining five successfully completed their mission.

Stirling Mk.III LK378 JN-O

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. H. Taylor , RAFVR – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 19:15 – Landed 00:10
Flight Time 04:55

26.3.44. Administration
The following proceeded for Lancaster conversion to No.£ L.F.S. Feltwell:- NZ415820 F/O H. Murray and crew, NZ42354 F/S Armstrong C. and crew, NZ414591 A/F/L S. Clark and crew, NZ403561 A/S/L J. Climie and crew, 151118 A/F/L D. Warren and crew, NZ422282 F/O R. Herron and crew, NZ401266 A/S/L D. Gibb and crew, AUS413157 P/O A. Humphreys and crew, and NZ421105 Sgt. Scott F. and crew.

1.4.44. Administration
The following crews ceased to be detached to No. 3 L.F.S. Feltwell:- NZ415820 F/O H. Murray and crew, NZ42354 F/S Armstrong C. and crew, NZ414591 A/F/L S. Clark and crew, NZ403561 A/S/L J. Climie and crew, 151118 A/F/L D. Warren and crew, NZ422282 F/O R. Herron and crew, NZ401266 A/S/L D. Gibb and crew, AUS413157 P/O A. Humphreys and crew, and NZ421105 Sgt. Scott F. and crew.

09/04/1944 – Attack against Villeneuve St. George
Eleven Lancaster aircraft successfully attacked Villeneuve St. Georges. Four Stirling aircraft were detailed to attack Lille. One jettisoned its load on the outward journey, but the remainder successfully attacked the target.

Lancaster Mk.III ND802 JN-D “The Flying Scotsman’

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. F. Holt, RAFVR 1590363 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 21:40 – Landed 02:00
Flight Time 04:20

18/04/1944 – Mining in Kiel Bay
Seven Stirlings were detailed to lay mines in Kiel Bay, one was withdrawn and one failed to return (Captain NZ415820 F/O. H. Murray). The remaining five successfully completed their mission. On return they landed away.

Stirling Mk.III EH955 AA-K

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Sgt. John Edward Lithgow ‘Paddy’ McFarland, RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator.
F/S Douglas John Hill, RNZAF NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
F/S Gordon James Irwin, RNZAF NZ415698 – Wireless Operator .
Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF R.195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Peter Woollam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:40 – Landed –
Flight Time – Missing

By John McFarland’s own observation the decision to volunteer for the Gardening Op to Kiel in a Stirling was seen as a soft and easy extra trip to their tour…..Perhaps this decision can be understood – the crew had suffered 3 aborted Ops in a month and it probably felt to them as if their time at Mepal was never going to end – add to this a 10 day hiatus for conversion to Lancasters at Feltwell and the soles of their feet may well have been getting itchy…….

Based on the events of that night, it would appear that their aircraft was fired on from underneath by a ‘Schräge Musik‘ equipped aircraft. Typically, the aircrew would get no warning of the attack until it was too late – John recalls his navigators desk exploding as the cannon shells hit.

“We flew from a remote base near Ely in East Anglia and were engaged mainly in sea and French railway yard mining operations as well as drops to the French Resistance. It was during one of these we were shot down. The Germans had the capability to fire vertically upwards. We were over Denmark and it was around midnight when my navigator’s table shattered and I knew we’d been hit from below. Everything happened so fast. We had to bail out and use our parachutes. The parachute wrappers used to put little notes in with the silk saying things like ‘all the best’!  Only three of us survived that night – the rear gunner’s parachute failed to open. That could have been any one of us for you just grabbed a parachute on your way out to board the aircraft…”

Four of the crew were 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 and Douglas Hill RNZAF (Air Bomber) became Prisoners or War.

John landed in a ploughed field and was rescued by the farmer’s son whose family sheltered him for three days before the Germans found him. “I was sent to the same prison camp which featured in The Great Escape,” he explained. “Life there wasn’t great but some of the lads had built a radio and brought us news every day so we heard about D-Day and thought we’d be home by Christmas. Of course we weren’t.”

In January 1945 with the Russians advancing the POWs were put to march, sleeping in barns along the roadside, despite the bitter winter. “I’ve never experienced cold like it. One POW found a rat and held onto it just to keep his hands warm!” recalled John.

“I remember one morning though, two British fighter planes were circling overhead, making to attack because they thought we were Germans. We tried to spell out ‘POWs’ with towels on the ground but they came in, all guns blazing. Twenty men died – friendly fire I think they would call it today. Just days later we were freed by the British…”

Despite his stoicism in recounting the story, the tragic irony of that loss of life still sat heavily on John McFarland’s heart. “Back in the UK we were de-loused, de-briefed and told we could go home – so home it was,” he said.  “That’s when I understood what it must’ve been like for our families. Our Commanding Officer, a wonderful man, had sent a personal letter to them when our plane hadn’t come back that night…”.

F/O Henry James Murray, RNZAF NZ415820 – Pilot.
Killed age 26.
Son of Gordon Luckhurst Murray and of Elizabeth Murray (Nee Allan), of Albury, Canterbury, New Zealand.
Buried Gram Churchyard, Denmark..
Grave location – Gram Churchyard

Sgt. John Edward Lithgow Mcfarland, 1503993 – Navigator.
P.o.W
Prisoner of War Number: 4193
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Promoted to F/Sgt whilst interred
Date of return to United Kingdom: not known

F/S Douglas John Hill, NZ415761 – Air Bomber.
P.o.W
Prisoner of War Number: 3550
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft VI and 357
Date of return to United Kingdom: 6th of May 1945

Doug Hill had a miraculous escape when his parachute harness, which was cut by a burst of fire from the night fighter, came off. His left foot caught in the harness and he descended hanging by his foot.

F/S Gordon James Irwin, NZ415698 – Wireless Operator.
P.o.W
Prisoner of War Number: not known
Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Promoted to W/O whil
Date of return to United Kingdom: 14th of May 1945

Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, RAFVR 1803280 – Flight Engineer.
Killed age 21.
Son of Morris and Rachel Kahler, of Stoke Newington, London.
Buried Gram Churchyard, Denmark..
Grave location – Gram Churchyard
‘(inscription in Hebrew)’

Sgt. John Mulligan, RCAF 195834 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Killed age 20.
Buried Gram Churchyard, Denmark..
Grave location – Gram Churchyard
‘Till we meet again’

Sgt. Peter Woolam, RAFVR 1890807 – Rear Gunner.
Killed age 19.
Buried Gram Churchyard, Denmark..
Grave location – Gram Churchyard
‘With Christ in God At rest within the veil’