Tag Archives: John Robson Bell

20.11.44 – Attack Against Homberg – a reflection…..

With a few days gap, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has responded so positively regarding my ‘multiple’ Homberg posting last Friday – the 71st anniversary of the Homberg Op.

I must confess, it was one of those classic – ‘this is a great idea’ moments that, as the following day unfolded, I wondered about the coherency and communication of the event.

Based on feedback, I think it worked and I think for those that know the Squadron and it’s history it chimed.

I will confess – the idea of generating multiple posts based on a real time event line would always be challenging – particularly if you missed the first contextual post and as I started wading through the first of what would be 56 individual posts, I wondered if this was a fantastic idea, or an appallingly misguided adventure.

I received some criticism and questioning as well – but, to be honest those that responded in this way are not known to me – perhaps these individuals are like neighbours at a family get together – they watch, they try to understand, but ultimately, they are simply ignorant of the ways, history and knowledge of the family – they smile and purse their lips – but they simply do not understand…..

Looking back, the concept was simple enough – to use the WordPress scheduled post feature to post each a/c up and down based on recorded times. This was to be punctuated with a ‘respite’ post about half way through the Op ( I gave up trying to try to calculate the relative achievable speed of a Lancaster fully bomber up, versus  post target regarding an approximate time of ‘over target’. This was then finished after what I thought to be an appropriate and realistic delay to note the missing status of the three crews that were lost that night.

I actually hoped for not a sensational, but perhaps a surprised, engaged realisation that the Squadron were leaving on an Op – the spectacle of departure and then, simply the awful wait, the looking at watches, at Ops room clocks, the pacing and sipping from NAAFI tea cups, until the low lands filled with the tired howl of Merlins and the names of the crews could be checked off the board. The final realisation that three Lancasters and their crews were missing, was intentionally left like that.

It was about trying to capture that awful, dawning acceptance that time had simply run out – all avenues of alternative havens had been exhausted – the boys would simply not come back……

My inclination, at a point later, not advertised is simply to remove these posts. Perhaps in this way we recorded the brief event – witnessed but then lost and only held in our thoughts, as if we were there to see it – to be able to say it happened and you saw it, but now, again it is gone.

The poignancy of Leo McCartin’s Last Post at the Australian War Memorial this morning/ afternoon is a fitting final paragraph to this post – I am glad that Phil Smith was mentioned as well and as the Last Post started, I shed more than a singe tear –

these lost boys, again made real.

Ake Ake Kia Kaha

Untouched 20.11.1944 No. 75 Squadron (R.N.Z.A.F.) Lancaster I PB689

1. LANCASTER AIRCREW AND GROUNDCREW 1944

Just a reminder – Patrick Leo McCartin, Australian War Memorial – last post

P04003.001

PLEASE, set your alarms or whatever, but if you can, please take the chance to view the live feed of the Last Post for Leo McCartin today/ tomorrow morning.

The ceremony is streamed live, so with regional adjustments this means the service will be able to be watched:
05:55 – United Kingdom (London)
18:55 – New Zealand  (Wellington)
00:55 – Canada (Ottawa)

The live stream of the ceremony can be viewed here.

The McCartin crew are well documented within this blog an Op history for the crew can be found here and the incredibly moving and poignant collection of correspondence between Leo’s Father and the Australian War Ministry, after the crew’s first report as being lost can be read here.

Patrick Leo McCartin – Australian War Memorial, Last Post – 24th November 2015

The crew of ND911 JN-V. Back row L to R; P/O John Miles (Nav), F/O Patrick ‘Leo’ McCartin (Pilot), F/O Leonard Martin (A/B), F/Sgt. Phillip Smith (WOP). Front row L to R; Sgt. John Gray (R/Gnr), Sgt. Dennis Bryer (Mug), Sgt. John Warlow (FE)
The picture, based on the bomb tally for ND911, appears to have been taken between the 17th and the 20th of November. The next Op, the aircraft and the entire crew apart from Rear Gunner, John Gray, would be lost over Homberg.

Having been contacted by Paul I would like to give everybody advance notice of a daily event that takes place at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

At the end of each day, commencing at 4.55 pm AEST, the Memorial farewells visitors with its moving Last Post Ceremony. The ceremony begins with the singing of the Australian National Anthem, followed by the poignant strains of a Lament, played by a piper. Visitors are invited to lay wreaths and floral tributes beside the Pool of Reflection. The Roll of Honour in the Cloisters lists the names of more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations over more than a century. At each ceremony the story behind one of these names will be told. The Ode is then recited, and the ceremony ends with the sounding of the Last Post. 

I am proud to pass on the news that on the 24th of November, F/O Patrick Leo McCartin, AUS.419328, Royal Australian Air Force  will be honoured in the Last Post ceremony.

The ceremony is streamed live, so with regional adjustments this means the service will be able to be watched:
05:55 – United Kingdom (London)
18:55 – New Zealand  (Wellington)
00:55 – Canada (Ottawa)

The live stream of the ceremony can be viewed here.

The McCartin crew are well documented within this blog an Op history for the crew can be found here and the incredibly moving and poignant collection of correspondence between Leo’s Father and the Australian War Ministry, after the crew’s first report as being lost can be read here.

 

Operations – Attack Against Homberg
Twenty eight aircraft took off to attack the Oil Refinery Plant at Homberg. Twenty two aircraft in daylight attacked the target in ten tenths cloud with tops at 23,000 ft, which made formation flying very difficult. They carried 4,000 lb, and 500 lb bombs. Results of bombing could not be observed, but it is considered that the raid was unsatisfactory. One aircraft returned early owing to icing trouble and two aircraft bombed last resort targets at Duisburg and Hamborn. Three aircraft failed to return. These were captained by 185116 F/O R. Gordon, AUS419328 F/O P. McCartin and 152402 F/O H. Rees.

I am immensely proud that through the blog, I have been able to connect with relatives of airmen from all three crews and that they, have then been able connect with each other.

Whilst the 24th will be about Leo, it might perhaps provide a point of reflection regarding the memories of all of the airmen in these 3 crews that were lost or taken Prisoner of War on that night over Homberg.

Lancaster Mk.III ND911 JN-V
F/O Patrick Leo McCartin, RAAF AUS.419328. Pilot. Died age 28.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
25. G. 4.
Sgt. John Miles, RAFVR 845847/ 187426. Navigator. Died age 35.
Buried Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.
Coll. grave 7. B. 5-7.
F/S Phillip Francis Smith, RAAF AUS. 427206. Wireless Operator. Died age 20.
Buried Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.
Coll. grave 7. B. 5-7.
Sgt. William John Warlow, RAFVR 1653307. Flight Engineer. Died age 30.
Buried Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.
Coll. grave 7. B. 5-7.
Sgt. Dennis George Albert Bryer, RAFVR 1874880. Mid Upper Gunner. Died age 19.
Buried Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.
Coll. grave 7. B. 5-7.
Sgt. John Gray, RAFVR. Rear Gunner.
Sole survivor of the crew of 7.  Prisoner of War, No. 1241. Dulag, Stalag Luft VII. Return date to United Kingdom not known

Lancaster Mk.I PB689 AA-X (X-Ray)
F/O Ronald Gordon RAFVR 1580245/ 185116. Pilot. Died age 22.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Coll. Grave 29 B1-16.
F/O John Robson Bell RAFVR 173943. Navigator. Died age 34.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 29 B1-16.
F/Sgt Albert John Weston RAFVR 1115103. Air Bomber. Died age 29.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
Coll. Grave 29 B1-16.
P/O Louis David Sampson RAFVR 186413. Wireless Operator. Died age 28.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Germany.
Grave 29 C2.
Sgt Carl Robert Freeman RAFVR 189608. Flight Engineer. Died age 33.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 25 G5.
Sgt Sidney George Hone RAFVR 2221190. Mid Upper Gunner. Died age 35.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 25 G14.
Sgt James Leonard Forrester RAFVR 3010665. Rear Gunner. Died age 19.
Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Grave 25 G3.

Lancaster Mk.III PB520 AA-G
F/O Hubert ‘Hugh’ Rees, RAFVR 152402 – Pilot.
Prisoner of War. Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft I. Return date to the United Kingdom, not known.
F/O Raymond Charles Preston, RAFVR 1494143/ 153457 – Navigator.
Prisoner of War. Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft I.Return date to the United Kingdom, not known.
F/O Douglas Cooper ‘Westy’ Westwood, RNZAF NZ427483 – Air Bomber.
Prisoner of War, No.6799. Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft I. Returned to United Kingdom 13th May 1945.
F/L William French Morison Naismith, RAFVR 47714 – Wireless Operator .
Prisoner of War. Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft I. Return date to the United Kingdom, not known.
Sgt. James Edward Mulhall, RAFVR 2202223 – Flight Engineer.
Prisoner of War, No.1252. Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III.Return date to the United Kingdom, not known.
Sgt. Robert Alderson, RAFVR 2221636 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Prisoner of War, No.1317. Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VI. Return date to the United Kingdom, not known.
Sgt. Charles ‘Chaz’ Allen, RAFVR 1898556 – Rear Gunner.
Prisoner of War, No.1218, Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII. Return date to the United Kingdom, not known.

 

From the Somme to the Lancaster Bomber – 1 Family 2 World Wars, by Mark Rae

Regular readers of the blog will recognise Mark’s name, as it featured rather heavily leading up to last Novembers Winter 75(NZ) Squadron Association reunion. Mark’s Grandfather was Jack Bell, Navigator with Ronald Gordon’s crew, one of 3 aircraft lost on the 20th November 1944 on one of the trips to what is widely recognised as 75(NZ) Squadron’s ‘bogey’ target, the Fischer Tropsch oil refinery at Homberg.

This is a video Mark has made with Ed Pitt on a trip to try to discover lost relatives. Starting in the fields of France, Mark travels to Reichswald War Cemetery in Berlin to see his Grandfather, John Bell’s grave for the first time, then to East Kirby to sit in a Lancaster with Hamish Ottway, the grandson of Bill Ottway, Mark’s Grandfather’s Wireless Operator, who, owing to a throat infection was prevented from flying with his crew on the 18th fateful Op to Homberg on the 21st November 1944. The film then finishes with the first public performance of ‘Forever Fallen’, a song that Mark wrote with Gita Langley for Jack, at the 2013 Winter Friends of 75(NZ) Squadron Association reunion.

This is the full version of ‘Forever Fallen’ – purchase it on iTunes and money goes to the Poppy Appeal and also, the  75(NZ) Squadron Memorial Garden in Mepal.

The Garden of Mepal ‘Forever Fallen’

SONY DSC

Bottom image: The Langley Sisters, L to R, Edie, Gita and Amy.

The clear highlight of Saturday evening was the first public performance of ‘The Garden of Mepal – ‘Forever Fallen” by the Langley Sisters.

I have already made posts on the song, but it was particularly special to be lucky enough to be present to hear it sung live and I am sure everybody present would join with me in thanking The Langley Sisters for making the journey to the reunion to perform the song.

The inspiration for the song was Mark’s Grandfather and his loss on the morning of the 21st November 1944 whilst on an Op to Homberg. Written by Mark and Gita, 20% of the sales of the song will be donated to the Mepal Memorial Garden for 75(NZ) Squadron and the British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Personally I think the song is beautiful, but to be honest I am not bothered if you like it or not – you should still buy it because it contributes monies to 2 important funds.

To buy the record (both vocal and instrumental versions), go to the iTunes store (other digital music outlets also exist). Mark has also asked that if you do buy it, to also rate it and leave feedback. If you know someone who would like it, but might not be able to access or use the necessary technology to download it themselves, then buy a copy for them as well!

Below is the accompanying video for the song

And here is another song The Langley Sisters performed on Saturday night.

Another piece falls into place – Homberg 20th November 1944

8A.  HOMBERG RAID 20.11.44 SUPER-IMPOSED BY HLR cropped

Many thank to Hubert for ‘recreating’ this approximate Op route for the Homberg Op, 20th November 1944. What is perhaps more remarkable, given the current activity on the blog, is that Hubert is the son of Hubert Rees, the captain of PB520 AA-G, the third aircraft to be lost from 75(NZ) Squadron on this Op. Hubert and the rest of his crew managed to bale out from the aircraft – all surviving and spending the rest of the war as PoW’s. The Rees crew that night were;

F/O Hubert Rees RAFVR 152402 – Pilot. Stalag Luft I
F/O Raymond Charles Preston RAFVR 1494143/ 153457 – Navigator. Stalag Luft I
F/O Douglas Cooper Westwood RNZAF NZ427483 – Air Bomber. Stalag Luft I
F/L William French Morison Naismith RAFVR 47714 – Wireless Operator. Stalag Luft I
Sgt. J. E. Mulhall RAFVR 2202223 – Flight Engineer. Stalag Luft III
Sgt. R. Alderson RAFVR 2221636 – Mid Upper Gunner. Stalag Luft VI
Sgt. C. Allen RAFVR  1898556 – Rear Gunner. Stalag Luft VII*
*Same prison camp as Sgt. John Gray, Rear Gunner and sole survivor of the McCartin crew ND911 JN-V

Hubert’s plot is based on a copy of an original route map of his Father’s and the original plotted course to/ from Sint Truden in Belgium can be seen in black on the map.

Hubert has slightly revised the plotted route (based on the coordinates I received from Department of Research and Information Services, Royal Air Force Museum, London, last week –  he has moved the actual target from Homberg to the Meerbeck Synthetic Oil Plant of Rheinpreussen, located at the western edge of the village of Meerbeck about three miles northwest of Homberg. Hubert adds to his map the following observations;

‘I would hope that my web-derived lat/long approximations for Diss, Orfordness and Mepal would be viewed as credible but ‘non-critical’.  However, I now realise that my approximation for the Target location might be viewed otherwise.  Historical references to the district of Homberg (the centre of which I earlier used to derive an approximate location) appear to represent a short way of describing the actual target, namely the synthetic oil plant at Meerbeck, some 3 miles NW of Homberg.  I still don’t have a lat/long fix for the plant itself, but my approximation is now centred on the district of Meerbeck.
 
As long as it’s understood that my lat/long approximations for named locations are just that, and not actual fixes used by aircrew at the time, then all will be well with the post, I think.’

Many thanks also to Adrian who proposed a set of converted coordinates that he got to work with Google Maps – much to my frustration I still can’t seem to get the coordinates to show a sensible route over the target – which clearly suggests my second successful attempt at my Cub Scouts Map Reading badge apparently, was an utter fluke…….

The Garden of Mepal ‘Forever Fallen’ – released today

Cropped comp for post of release

F/O John Robson Bell, Navigator. Sgt. Carl ‘Bob’ Freeman, Flight Engineer. The Gordon crew, taken just before their final Op to Homberg, 20th November 1944.

I have great pleasure in announcing Mark Rae’s song “The Garden of Mepal ‘Forever Fallen'” is released today. As any of you know who have been following the blog recently and seen the posts of the Gordon crew, Mark’s Grandfather F/O John Robson Bell and the rest of the crew were lost on the 20th November 1944 on the Homberg Op.

The crew’s story has been a fascinating one to help uncover and it has not only allowed me to meet Mark and Anthony, the son of Sgt. Carl ‘Bob’ Freeman, the Flight Engineer in the crew, but also to put them in contact with each other, all these years after their relatives died together over Germany – a story which I think, still has things to be discovered about it.

Please go to the iTunes store or any other digital store you use and buy the single. Not only does Mark’s efforts deserve recognition, 10% of all sales will go to the Memorial Garden in Mepal and 10% will go to the Poppy Appeal – both very worth causes, especially as we approach Remembrance Sunday.

Ake Ake Kia Kaha