Tag Archives: Ralph Herbert Barker

75 x 2 – Leslie Edgerton, the Armstrong crew and Harry Yates – by David Yates

Leslie and logbook comp

Right: Leslie Edgerton, Wireless Operator with the Baines crew, now aged 95.
A bout of German measles meant Leslie had to leave the crew for a stay in hospital, on his return he discovered they had failed to return from their 27th Op. Until Leslie spoke to Harry, some 50 years later, he had held out a hope they might have survived.
Left: The addendum Leslie made to his log-book after speaking to Harry about the fate of his crew .

Many thanks to David, son of Harry Yates, for contributing the following piece. It proves again that there are strange coincidences that time occasionally chooses to reveals to us – something I have experienced many a time while researching the Squadron.

75 x 2

by David Yates

Monday 8th May 1995 is memorable in our household not so much because it was the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day, and was marked accordingly with official ceremony all across the West, but because something kept secret from the family for four decades was finally revealed.

Not many days earlier, my wife Geraldine and I had completed a major extension and renovation to the house we then owned, tucked away in a pleasant downland village near Lewes in East Sussex.  I had taken upon myself the task of applying a paint roller to the expanse of brand new render, which would be followed with a fine brush to all the sashes – also new, and there were over thirty of them.  It was a labour of love already turning into just labour.

Anyway, my in-laws were driving over the downs from their home in East Dean to see their grandchild and have lunch with us.  At noon I was still balanced on my ladder at the back of the house, rolling on the second or, perhaps, third coat of emulsion.  From inside the house Geraldine was clattering away with pots and pans.  The smell of a roasting joint wafted through an open window.  Away to my right the crunch of wheels on gravel told me my morning’s work was at an end.  There were female voices, the sound of car doors closing.  A moment or two later my father-in-law Leslie appeared from around the side of the house, hand-in-hand with his infant grand-daughter.

We made the usual greetings and stood talking for a while, probably about not very much. Then, with no particular seriousness, I asked him what he had been doing fifty years ago, on 8th May 1945.  He didn’t seem too sure, “Joan and I were married by then,” he said eventually, “I think we must have been in London.”

Now, I had known for very nearly a quarter of a century, since not long after I started going out with Geraldine, that her dad’s war service had been as a wireless operator on heavy bombers.  My own father had served as a pilot on Lancs, flying alongside some New Zealanders, although he was a North Bucks country boy through and through.  I knew that the whole subject of the war had been handled differently in Leslie’s household than in ours.  My dad didn’t make a great thing out of it.  But his crew were all known to me from the letters and photos which arrived  in the family home (usually) at Christmas time.  Indeed, on one Sunday back in 1975, when we were still single, Geraldine and I waited at table on the whole crew when they – said to be already the last full 75 crew living – came to the house following a squadron reunion at Mepal.  But it wasn’t like that in Leslie’s house.  There, a discrete silence was maintained over the whole topic.  The detail of his own wartime service was unknown to his two sons and two daughters.

It was not that unusual.  I had childhood friends whose fathers wanted, for whatever reason, to close the wartime chapter and keep it closed, leaving their sons high and dry for knowledge.  One accepted that there were histories which were not happy, and men who were quietly haunted by them.  The tremendous will of the people to move on, which erupted so joyously with victory in Europe, gave such men the opening to a new life they needed, and they took it.  If there was no need to revisit the past, it was not revisited.

Still, standing there with Leslie I thought it was worth another question.  “So you weren’t still flying by this point?” I asked.

He wasn’t, having finished his tour in September 1944.

Then, out of nowhere he blurted out, “I didn’t finish with my own crew though.  I was sent to hospital with German measles, you see, and my own crew carried on flying without me.  It was six weeks before the doctor let me go back.  I expected them to still be there, but they weren’t.  I made enquiries.  But nobody seemed to know anything, just that they hadn’t come back from a raid.  The radio operator who had gone in my place was only young, and he’d just married, I think.  Anyway, over the years I’ve tried a few times to find out what happened to them – you know, at the library.  But I still don’t know.  I’ve always hoped one or two of them were made POWs, and got back home to New Zealand eventually.”

“New Zealand?” I retorted.

“Yes, it was a New Zealand squadron, based at Mepal in Cambridgeshire.”

I could scarcely believe what I was hearing.  “Wait a minute, you are saying you flew from Mepal?”

”Yes, that was the airfield.”

”Yes, but that’s the airfield which 75 Squadron flew from.”

”That’s right, 75 squadron.”

“Wait a minute, you are saying you flew from Mepal with 75 Squadron RNZAF?”

”That’s right ….”
“But my father flew with them”.

“No no no” he said, completely certain of his facts.  Well, he had been an accountant in civilian life.  “Your father was a fighter pilot with the New Zealand ‘fighter’ squadron.”

I put him right as gently but firmly as I could.  That evening, after Leslie and Joan had returned home to East Dean, I telephoned my dad to tell him what had come to pass.  I knew that he possessed a well-thumbed copy of Forever Strong, Norman Franks’ history of 75, which I had borrowed and read myself.  Norman and Dad had met or exchanged correspondence at some point and become friendly, and Norman and his wife had visited for dinner.  Norman wrote in Dad’s copy of Forever Strong (which I have in my office at home today):

“To Harry Yates DFC -Who completed a tour of with 75 Sqn
and was seen in the smoke 30 times
Best wishes,
Norman Franks”

Information on the fate of Leslie’s crew had to be in there.  I gave Dad Leslie’s number, and he duly checked and telephoned the next day.  The information was that Leslie’s skipper P/O Armstrong and all his crew were killed on the Dortmund raid of 22/23 May, 1944.  Flt Sgt George Leslie Edgerton – taciturn, stoic man that he was – now knew for certain that he was the only Armstrong crew-member to survive the war.  But at least he had that knowledge, and the long vigil of the heart that he had kept for his crew could be brought to a close at last.

Extraordinarily, Geraldine and I were in the nineteenth year of our marriage when he had finally spoken of his sorrow that day in our garden, and the coincidence of our respective dad’s war service came to light.

The event only spurred my dad on in a plan he was quietly hatching to research, write and publish the story of his flying years, centred on five hard months at Mepal.  At the time I knew nothing about this.  I was aware that, always a reader of history, he had become focussed on RAF history and had amassed quite a comprehensive book collection.  I also knew he had been to the Public Records Office at Kew and acquired a large pile of yellow sheets logging 75 operations for the period of his service.  I thought it was just a surfeit of nostalgia.

Harry at about the time he was planning Luck and Lancaster

Harry at about the time he was planning Luck and Lancaster
supplied by David Yates

It was my mother who finally told me that dad had quite forsaken her company in the evenings to disappear upstairs and start tapping on his 1970s IBM golf-ball typewriter.  Apparently, he had been hammering away at the keyboard for a year or more.  When I asked him about it he showed me a sheath of close-typed A4 sheets, the front one of which read:

“Luck and a Lancaster by Harry Yates DFC”

It was a pretty chaotic presentation, it must be said, with passages long and short crossed out everywhere and re-typed, and lengths of type stuck with sellotape on top of other lengths, or across the whole of the top or bottom of the sheet.  But there was the unmistakable voice of my dad talking quite naturally about events in his life I had little or no idea had ever taken place.  For his part, he was very unsure about the quality of the thing, which was obviously why he had kept quiet about it.  Did I think anyone would publish it, he asked.  I had no idea. “Let me take it home and read it properly,” I said.

I began reading that night, sitting up in bed.  A few pages in I turned to my wife and said, “Some of this is beautiful.”

My judgement on the manuscript was that it had to be worth sending off to publishers, but not in that condition.  So dad bought himself a modern electronic machine and re-typed the whole thing, which at that point ran up to his release from the eye hospital at Littleport.  But he had lost his creative impetus in the laborious typing process.  I suggested that he send what he had to some publishers anyway, and if one of them was interested he could return to writing, and finish the thing.

The first manuscript went, for some reason known only to dad, to Haynes, the technical manual publisher.  Unsurprisingly, it bounced back with a rejection slip within a month or two.  He then posted a copy to (the now defunct) Airlife Publishing, who were a much more likely prospect.  But weeks of silence turned into months.  I urged dad to find another publisher to try.  But he had become disheartened, quietly concluding that he had probably miscalculated, and there wasn’t really any interest in a septuagenarian heavy bomber pilot with only half his story told.

The whole project was put away in a chest of drawers, and he returned to mum’s company in the evenings.  Then, right out of the blue in the early summer of 1999, fully a year after shipping off the manuscript, he received a letter from Airlife’s managing editor.  “Dear Mr Yates,” it began, “Thank you very much for sending me the manuscript for your memoir, Luck and a Lancaster.  I sincerely apologise that I had rather a lot of submissions to read before I could get to yours.  But I have now read it with much interest, and would be very pleased indeed to publish the finished manuscript for you if you are still seeking a publisher.”

Still seeking a publisher!  Dad was electrified.  A standard authors contract was received, signed and shot back within a few days.  The only thing was that Airlife wanted to have the book available for its Christmas list, which meant finishing the whole manuscript in three months.  Everything came out of the chest of drawers and Dad threw himself back into his writing.  He made the deadline, but he wasn’t entirely happy about having to work so fast.  He felt that something was lost that perhaps did not return until the very last chapter and the epilogue.  I know there were two small factual mistakes that made it into print, and they always annoyed him.  But when I read the new material I thought it worked in rather well, given that this was the hard-grind of the tour from which all naivety had been drained by his hospitalisation.

Today, in one form or another, <em>Luck and a Lancaster</em> has probably sold getting on for 45,000 copies.  The response of readers has been incredibly generous and kind.  Hundreds of people, some of them fellow aircrew, many more of them relatives of aircrew, wrote often touching letters to dad.  He was very grateful and answered all he could until, over the final six years of his life, illness drained him too much.

He passed away in Hastings Conquest hospital on 20th November 2011, two months short of his 90th birthday.  He had lived a wonderful, satisfying life, which was what he deserved, and a life which is very much caught and held in aspic as the memory of a young flyer by his much older self.

One of the things Dad had done in his research period was to visit Barry Aldridge’s museum at Witchford, and sign the visitors book.  In the summer of 2001, I took Leslie up to Cambridgeshire to re-connect with his own past.  We visited Ely and the Cathedral, and we went to the old airfield, of course, and to the village green at Mepal.  Then we went on to Barry’s museum.  Leslie wandered through the exhibits and breathed in the pungent perfume of that Hercules power-plant which fills the place.  But some private regret, that will obviously never be expunged, stopped him from signing the visitors book.

Leslie had his 95th birthday dinner with Geraldine and I on St George’s Day this year.  He is still surprisingly hale and very determined to remain independent as long as possible.

Bristol (Canford) Cemetery – Norman Hathway Gale RAFVR 849986/ 151013

DSC02868

A trip down to see Mum at short notice with Bev provided a chance to get to a relatively close cemetery in Bristol. As it appears to be my unique want, I of course marhed around about 30 graves before finding Normans. For anyone elses reference – in through the main entrance and about 30 meters right.

Norman Gale, who rests now in Canford Cemetery, Bristol is the last member of military personnel to be recorded on the blog, who were killed on the night of the 8th of September when Stirling Mk.III BK809 JN-T, piloted by Ian Menzies crashed on take-off into houses on the edge of Mepal airfield.

Norman and his crew arrived at Mepal on the 28th of August 1943, from 1657 H.C.U. Ian undertook, as was obligatory at that times it seems, 2 ‘2nd Dickie Ops’ prior to the crew becoming fully Operational on the 2nd of September.

27/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Nuremburg
Nineteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with incendiary 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 EH936 JN-W

P/O Hilton Clifford Williams, RNZAF NZ416219 – Pilot.
P/O Ian Robert Menzies, RNZAF NZ415002 – 2nd Pilot.
F/S Trevor Gordon Dill, RNZAF NZ42292 – Navigator.
F/S Adrian Leslie Bernard Carson, RNZAF NZ411347 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. M. Williams, RAFVR 1314844 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. C. Dickinson, RAFVR 812100 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. W.A.C. Hemsley, RAFVR – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Ivon George Kaye, RNZAF NZ39558 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 21:31 – Landed 04:31
Flight Time 07:00

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 BF434 AA-X

P/O Arthur William Burley, RAFVR 1315375/ 147201 – Pilot.
P/O Ian Robert Menzies, RNZAF NZ415002 – 2nd Pilot.
F/S Reginald Hill, RNZAF NZ413216 – Navigator.
F/S Ewen McGregor Elmslie, RNZAF NZ417200 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. R.W. Wilson, RAFVR 1035365 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. R. Risbridger, RAFVR 577918 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. J. Hubbock, RAFVR 1601799 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. A.F. Peters, RAFVR 1154968 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 00:30 – Landed 04:40
Flight Time 04:10

02/09/1943 – Mining in the Frisian Islands
Five aircraft were detailed to carry out the above operation with mines of 1,500lb., One aircraft returned early owing to a navigational failure, and brought its mines back. The remainder however, successfully dropped their mines in the allotted area, although the parachutes were not seen to open owing to 4/10th cloud. No A.A. fire or searchlights were encountered. One unidentified aircraft was seen and a short combat took place, but no damage was sustained to our aircraft. The weather was good on the outward route, but fog and patchy cloud was prevalent in the mining area. Navigation was very good.

Stirling Mk.III EE958 AA-V

F/O Ian Robert Menzies, RNZAF NZ415002 – Pilot.
P/O Derek Albert Arthur Cordery, RAFVR 136360 – Navigator.
P/O Norman Hathway Gale, RAFVR 849986/ 151013 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. Ralph Herbert Barker, RNZAF NZ417189 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor, RAFVR 943914 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. G. Bullivant, RAFVR 1395379 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Stewart Donald Muir, RNZAF NZ416967 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:25 – Landed 23:20
Flight Time 02:55

03/09/1943 – Mining in the Gironde Estuary
Five aircraft were detailed to carry out the above operation with mines of 1,500lb.. They all successfully dropped their mines in the allotted area, and some of the parachutes were seen to open. A few searchlights and A.A. guns were encountered, but were ineffective. One enemy aircraft was seen but no combat took place. There was a clear sky in the mining area and visibility was good. Navigation was very good.

Stirling Mk.III EE958 AA-V

F/O Ian Robert Menzies, RNZAF NZ415002 – Pilot.
P/O Derek Albert Arthur Cordery, RAFVR 136360 – Navigator.
P/O Norman Hathway Gale, RAFVR 849986/ 151013 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. Ralph Herbert Barker, RNZAF NZ417189 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor, RAFVR 943914 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. G. Bullivant, RAFVR 1395379 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Stewart Donald Muir, RNZAF NZ416967 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 19:35 – Landed 01:25
Flight Time 05:50

05/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Mannheim
Nineteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets with incendiary bombs of 30lb. and 4lb. One aircraft had trouble shortly after take-off and was forced to jettison its bombs four miles north of CAMBRIDGE. The attack was well concentrated and large fires together with heavy explosions were seen. Moderate heavy A.A. fire co-operating with searchlights were encountered, which were ineffective. One aircraft on the return journey when near the FRENCH Coast was hit by A.A. fire. It received considerable damage and two of its engines were made unserviceable. The ENGLISH Coast was reached however, it belly-landed at Hunsden. Many fighters were seen and some combats took, place. The aircraft captained by F/Sgt. H.BATGER sighted an enemy aircraft on the port quarter which opened fire on them and our aircraft corkscrewed. The Mid-upper and Rear Gunner then opened fire and the enemy aircraft was seen to dive to the ground in flames. It was claimed as destroyed. Our aircraft received considerable damage and the Flight Engineer Sgt. R. DALKINS was seriously wounded. The aircraft captained by F/Sgt. R. WHITMORE sighted an enemy aircraft 100yds. astern, the Mid-upper and Rear Gunners opened fire, the enemy aircraft was seen to turn over and spin into the ground afire. It was claimed as destroyed. This was flowed by another enemy aircraft approaching from starboard to port astern, the Mid-upper and Rear Gunners again fired and the enemy aircraft broke away. One minute later an unidentified aircraft was seen firing at a Lancaster aircraft, which was afire. F/Sgt. WHITMORE’s Mid-Upper and Rear Gunners opened fire on the enemy aircraft, which disappeared. The Lancaster was then seen to break up. Some cloud was encountered on the way to the target, but there was a clear sky and visibility was good in the target area. Navigation was very good. One aircraft failed to return, it was captained by F/Sgt. WILKINSON, E.S.

Stirling Mk.III BK777 AA-U

F/O Ian Robert Menzies, RNZAF NZ415002 – Pilot.
P/O Derek Albert Arthur Cordery, RAFVR 136360 – Navigator.
P/O Norman Hathway Gale, RAFVR 849986/ 151013 – Air Bomber.
Sgt. Ralph Herbert Barker, RNZAF NZ417189 – Wireless Operator.
Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor, RAFVR 943914 – Flight Engineer.
Sgt. G. Bullivant, RAFVR 1395379 – Mid Upper Gunner.
Sgt. Stewart Donald Muir, RNZAF NZ416967 – Rear Gunner.

Take Off 20:00 – Landed 02:45
Flight Time 06:45

08/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Boulogne
Seventeen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets. The carried their maximum bomb load in bombs of 1,000lb., and 500lb.. One aircraft crashed whilst taking off and two returned early. The remainder successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Not many fires were seen but numerous huge explosions were observed. Some heavy and light predicted A.A.Fire and a few searchlights were encountered but caused no trouble. A few enemy aircraft were seen, but no combats took place. The weather was good and visibility was clear  except for slight ground haze. Navigation was excellent.

The aircraft that crashed during take-off was captained by F/O. I.R.MENZIES. Whilst taking off it swung off the runway and crashed into two houses on the far side adjoining the perimeter track. It caught fire almost simultaneously, and in the fire, various bombs exploded, causing the aircraft to be a total wreck. Three members of the crew, a W.A.A.F. Officer of R.A.F. Station MEPAL and an aircrew Sergeant, and 2 civilians were killed and other civilians were injured. The W.A.A.F. Officer and the aircrew sergeant lost their lives whilst trying to render assistance.

Stirling Mk.III BK809 JN-T

F/O. Ian Robert Menzies RNZAF NZ415002. Pilot. KIlled age 28.
Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, Cambridgeshire.

P/O. Derek Albert Arthur Cordery RAFVR 136360. Navigator.

P/O. Norman Hathway Gale RAFVR 849986. Air Bomber. KIlled age 30.
Buried Bristol (Canford) Cemetery, Bristol.

Sgt. Ralph Herbert Barker RNZAF NZ417189. Wireless Operator.

Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor RAFVR 943914. Flight Engineer. Succumbed to injuries, died age 30.
Buried Buxton Cemetery, Yorkshire.

Sgt. Bullivant G RAFVR 1395379. Mid Upper Gunner.

Sgt. Stewart Donald Muir RNZAF NZ416967. Rear Gunner.
Died 16th June 1944 with 7(PFF) Squadron.

 

The Flight Sergeant and W.A.A.F Officer that were killed when attempting to offer assistance were;

F/Sgt Peter Gerald Dobson MiD RNZAF NZ439022. Navigator (Whitehead crew)
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.
Mention in Despatches (14 Jan 1944):
“For bravery in action and meritorious fulfilment of duty”.

Section Officer Joan Majorie Easton WAAF/RAF 2986.
S/O Easton was killed when the bomb load exploded as she went to the assistance of the aircraft crew and the occupants of the houses. Buried Greenwich (Charlton and Kidbrook) Cemetery. London, England.

Additionally, another member of the Squadron came to the aid of the crash victims. Unlike Peter and Joan, Terence survived the incident and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his bravery that night.

Cpl Terence Henry King BEM RAF 610334. ELECT 1, Electrical Sect. Citation BEM (24 Dec 1943) “In September 1943, an aircraft which was taking off with a load of bombs crashed into two houses on the edge of an airfield and burst into flames. Corporal King hurried to the scene and, although fully aware that high explosive bombs were likely to explode at any moment, he went to the cottages a few yards from the burning aircraft to warn the occupants of their imminent danger and render assistance. An injured man was found and while Corporal King, with the help of a civilian, was taking him to safety a bomb exploded. The bravery shown by Corporal King was instrumental in saving a life and many more lives might have been lost had it not been for his prompt action in helping to warn occupants of the nearby houses. “

The crash of BK809 JN-T, 8th September 1943 – the aftermath can be read here.
Greenwich Cemetery (Charlton and Kidbrook), London – S/O Joan Marjorie Easton WAAF can be read here.
Cambridge City Cemetery – Aircrew headstones recorded can be read here.
Buxton Cemetery part 2 – Albert Leslie Mellor, killed 8th September 1943 can be read here.

The crash of BK809 JN-T, 8th September 1943 – the aftermath

crash report p1 header

Supplied courtesy of Peter Gipp/ Ely Standard & Cambridgeshire Times

Many thanks to Peter for passing on via Dave, these news clippings of the time that report the events and aftermath of the take off crash of BK809 JN-T on the evening of the 8th September 1943.

Dave’s email regarding these news clippings also tells us a little bit about Peter and his recollections of the Squadron’s time at Mepal.

“Peter lived at the top of the road when the crash happened and has fascinating memories of that time.  He tells me that most of the houses in the road had all their windows blown out and some were damaged by shrapnel. In daylight nothing remained of the two houses except an enormous crater where they once stood.  As a boy he called those dispersals his own and when nobody was about he regularly went through the fence to check for treasures left by the airmen during the day, broken perspex, .303 rounds and cases, etc. It would have been always the same aircraft parked there and he remembers AA-A  in particular.

The villagers often listened in to the Tower radio and would count the aircraft out  on a raid and check them back in again afterwards.  He particularly remembers an intruder coming in with the bomber stream undetected until it opened fire!  The radio English was forgotten he says and the language was BLUE!”

This story has been presented and added to a number of times on the blog and it has always been a source of personal frustration that the  (Squadron) records I have, whilst providing details of the Squadron personnel who were killed in the crash and subsequent explosion, only refers to the deaths of the occupants of the houses as ‘civilians’

Perhaps ‘pleased’ is not the right word, but now at least we can know the names of the non Squadron victims of this terrible accident. John Randall, who lived in one of the houses that was destroyed in the explosion after the crash and Edward Kirby, a member of the National Fire Service (N.F.S).

The newspaper clippings provide a remarkable commentary on the events of the night and are good enough quality to be able to read quite easily, so rather than unnecessarily transcribe it, or extracts of it, please take the time to read what follows.

crash report p1

Supplied courtesy of Peter Gipp/ Ely Standard & Cambridgeshire Times

crash report p2

Supplied courtesy of Peter Gipp/ Ely Standard & Cambridgeshire Times

crash report p3

Supplied courtesy of Peter Gipp/ Ely Standard & Cambridgeshire Times

crash report p4

Supplied courtesy of Peter Gipp/ Ely Standard & Cambridgeshire Times

Also in Dave’s email, he remarked that Peter had tried, unsuccessfully, to have a memorial for the civilians that died that night placed in the local Church. Dave wondered out loud – and I tend to agree with him – what the chances are and what would have to be done to get a memorial to all those that perished that night erected near the crash site of BK809 JN-T.

If anybody has any thoughts on this last idea – please get in contact with me.

As I said at the top of this post, this story has been discussed a few time already on the blog – if it interests you and you haven’t seen the previous related posts, here are some that you hopefully, will find of interest.

To read about the events of that night in September 1943, click here.
To see the gravestones of F/O. Ian Robert Menzies (RNZAF NZ415002), Pilot of ND809 and F/S Peter Gerald Dobson MiD (RNZAF NZ439022), a member of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF, who went to offer assistance after the crash, click here.
To view the gravestone of Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor RAFVR 943914, Flight Engineer with Ian Menzies crew that night, click here.
To view the gravestone of Section Officer Joan Marjorie Easton (WAAF), who was also killed that night while attempting to help the survivors of the crash click here.

Greenwich Cemetery (Charlton and Kidbrook), London – S/O Joan Marjorie Easton WAAF

Easton Marjorie

Many thanks to Marc and Matt, 2 ex students of mine, for taking the trouble and time to collect this photograph of Section Officer Joan Easton’s gravestone in Greenwich Cemetery, London. Joan was tragically killed on the night of 8th September 1943 when she went to assist rescuers after the takeoff crash of Stirling Mk.III BK809 JN-T, Piloted by Ian Menzies and his crew.

On the night of 8th September 1943, whilst accelerating to take off, the Stirling bomber piloted by F/O. Ian Robert Menzies (RNZAF NZ415002) suddenly veered to the right of the runway and crashed firstly through a petrol bowser and then into two houses on the far side adjoining the perimeter track. It caught fire almost simultaneously, and in the fire, various bombs exploded, causing the aircraft to be a total wreck. Three members of the crew, a W.A.A.F. Officer of R.A.F. Station Mepal and an aircrew Sergeant, and 2 civilians were killed and other civilians were injured.

75 (NZ) Sqn RAF Operations Record Book (ORB)
8/9/43
Operations. 
Seventeen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets. The carried their maximum bomb load in bombs of 1,000lb., and 500lb.. One aircraft crashed whilst taking off and two returned early. The remainder successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Not many fires were seen but numerous huge explosions were observed. Some heavy and light predicted A.A.Fire and a few searchlights were encountered but caused no trouble. A few enemy aircraft were seen, but no combats took place. The weather was good and visibility was clear  except for slight ground haze. Navigation was excellent.

The aircraft that crashed during take-off was captained by F/O. I.R.MENZIES. Whilst taking off it swung off the runway and crashed into two houses on the far side adjoining the perimeter track. It caught fire almost simultaneously, and in the fire, various bombs exploded, causing the aircraft to be a total wreck. Three members of the crew, a W.A.A.F. Officer of R.A.F. Station MEPAL and an aircrew Sergeant, and 2 civilians were killed and other civilians were injured. The W.A.A.F. Officer and the aircrew sergeant lost their lives whilst trying to render assistance.
Page 587, 1943. Form 540/ 541 AIR27/ 646  75(NZ) Squadron RAF, Mepal. National Archives.

Read a previous post about this crash here.

See the gravestones of F/O Ian Menzies, Pilot and  F/S Peter Gerald Dobson MiD, who also went to the rescue of the crew and villagers and was killed that night, who now rest in Cambridge Cemetery here.

See the gravestone of Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor, Flight Engineer with the Menzies crew, who now rests in Buxton Cemetery here.

75 Squadron in Colour – The Air Force Museum, New Zealand

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Ground crews preparing No. 75 Squadron Lancaster ‘P’ for an operation at RAF Mepal, 1944. 2006/517.9e. © Air Force Museum of New Zealand

I’m pleased to announce, for those of you that remember my earlier post about never before seen colour photographs from Mepal, that the Air Force Museum in New Zealand have now presented  the complete collection on their website.

These amazing and incredibly rare colour images come from a collection by Ralph Herbert Barker, from Hawera, who born in November 1922. Ralph was Wireless Operator with Ian Menzies crew. Ralph was one of the survivors of the take-off crash of BK809 JN-T, in which not only Ian Menzies and the Pilot but also, P/O. Norman  Gale the Air Bomber and Sgt. Albert Mellor the Flight Engineer were killed. The casualties also included 2 occupants of the house that the Stirling hit and also F/Sgt Peter  Dobson and Section Officer Joan  Easton who both went to the aid the survivors of the crash, but were killed when the bombs on board exploded.

After 3 months of medical leave, Ralph returned to Mepal. Initially he flew with a number of crews before finally flying 10 ops with F/L Francis Fox.

Read more information about the crash of BK809 here.
Visit the gravestones of Ian Menzies and Peter Dobson here.
Visit the Air Force New Zealand website and view all the colour photographs of Ralph’s, including a detailed biography, here.
View my original post about these colour images here.

Buxton Cemetery part 2 – Albert Leslie Mellor, killed 8th September 1943

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The grave of Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor RAFVR 943914. Flight Engineer with the Menzies crew, killed on take off 8th September 1943

When my thoughts turned to a visit to Buxton cemetery, I obviously performed a search through Kevin King’s fantastic Roll of Honour. Details on the first 2 boys initially made me assume that all those resting in the cemetery were from the crash of Wellington Z1566 in 1942 (see previous post). It took me a minute and further searching to realise that the fifth airman that rests in Buxton was actually from another incident and one that I have already posted about.

When I found Albert, away from the main grouping of CWWGC headstones, I was interested to see that a cross and what I took to be a Christmas wreath was laying on his grave. A long shot I thought, but I slid a 75nzsquadron card under the rubber band that held his flowers. Later discussions with Basil, who was born in Buxton, confirmed the fact that the surname Mellor is well known in the area – who knows, there might/ must be a relative still perhaps in the area – maybe I will hear something back……….

75 (NZ) Sqn RAF Operations Record Book (ORB)
8/9/43
Operations. 
Seventeen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets. The carried their maximum bomb load in bombs of 1,000lb., and 500lb.. One aircraft crashed whilst taking off and two returned early. The remainder successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Not many fires were seen but numerous huge explosions were observed. Some heavy and light predicted A.A.Fire and a few searchlights were encountered but caused no trouble. A few enemy aircraft were seen, but no combats took place. The weather was good and visibility was clear  except for slight ground haze. Navigation was excellent.

The aircraft that crashed during take-off was captained by F/O. I.R.MENZIES. Whilst taking off it swung off the runway and crashed into two houses on the far side adjoining the perimeter track. It caught fire almost simultaneously, and in the fire, various bombs exploded, causing the aircraft to be a total wreck. Three members of the crew, a W.A.A.F. Officer of R.A.F. Station MEPAL and an aircrew Sergeant, and 2 civilians were killed and other civilians were injured. The W.A.A.F. Officer and the aircrew sergeant lost their lives whilst trying to render assistance.
Page 587, 1943. Form 540/ 541 AIR27/ 646  75(NZ) Squadron RAF, Mepal. National Archives.

Stirling Mk.III BK809 JN-T
F/O. Ian Robert Menzies RNZAF NZ415002. Pilot.
Died Wednesday 8th September after crashing on take-off. Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, England.

P/O. Derek Albert Arthur Cordery RAFVR 136360. Navigator.

P/O. Norman Hathway Gale RAFVR 849986. Air Bomber.
Died Wednesday 8th September after crashing on take-off. Buried Bristol (Canford) Cemetery, England.

Sgt. Ralph Herbert Barker RNZAF NZ417189. Wireless Operator.

Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor RAFVR 943914. Flight Engineer.
Seriously injured Wednesday 8th September after crashing on take-off. Died Wednesday 8th September Buried Buxton Cemetery, England.

Sgt. Bullivant G RAFVR 1395379. Mid Upper Gunner.

Sgt. Stewart Donald Muir RNZAF NZ416967. Rear Gunner.
Died 16th June 1944 with 7(PFF) Squadron.

The Flight Sergeant and W.A.A.F Officer that were killed when attempting to offer assistance were;

F/Sgt Peter Gerald Dobson MiD RNZAF NZ439022. Navigator. 16th Mar to 8th Sep 1943. 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.
Mention in Despatches (14 Jan 1944):
“For bravery in action and meritorious fulfilment of duty”.

Section Officer Joan Majorie Easton WAAF/RAF 2986. 24th July 1943 to 8th Sep 1943. Died Wednesday 8th September 1943, age 26, when a 75 Sqn Stirling (BK809) fully laden with bombs and fuel, swung on take-off for an attack on a long-range gun battery nr Boulogne and crashed between two houses off the end of the runway. S/O Easton was killed when the bomb load exploded as she went to the assistance of the aircraft crew and the occupants of the houses. Buried Greenwich (Charlton and Kidbrook) Cemetery. London, England.

Additionally, another member of the Squadron came to the aid of the crash victims. Unlike Peter and Joan, Terence survived the incident and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his bravery that night.

Cpl Terence Henry King BEM RAF 610334. ELECT 1, Electrical Sect. Citation BEM (24 Dec 1943) “In September 1943, an aircraft which was taking off with a load of bombs crashed into two houses on the edge of an airfield and burst into flames. Corporal King hurried to the scene and, although fully aware that high explosive bombs were likely to explode at any moment, he went to the cottages a few yards from the burning aircraft to warn the occupants of their imminent danger and render assistance. An injured man was found and while Corporal King, with the help of a civilian, was taking him to safety a bomb exploded. The bravery shown by Corporal King was instrumental in saving a life and many more lives might have been lost had it not been for his prompt action in helping to warn occupants of the nearby houses. “

Remarkable colour photographs from Mepal

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Profile view of 75 (NZ) Squadron RAF Lancaster AA-M, ND756 with crew members, at RAF Mepal, 1944. Belonged to R.H. Barker, NZ417189.
Image ref. 2006/517.9f.
© Air Force Museum of New Zealand

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Armourers loading bombs into a 75 Squadron Lancaster at RAF Mepal, 1944. Image ref. 2006/517.9d.
© Air Force Museum of New Zealand

Occasionally I am glad for committing to social media and particularly Facebook – these images appeared on the Facebook page of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand which can be viewed here. The images, taken from slides, represent 2 of apparently 6 images from the collection owned of Ralph Herbert Barker, Wireless Operator.

Many thanks to Chris as always, for doing an extra bit of digging regarding these images and their owner. Here is what Chris unearthed…..

P/O Ralph Herbert Barker, RNZAF NZ417189. Wireless Operator with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF from 27th August to 9th September 1943, returning to the Squadron 18th December 1943 until 13th August 1944. During this period he flew with the crews of Ian Menzies, Colin McKenzies, BIll Willis, Derek Warren, Tom Buckley, Frank Stott, Cecil Armstrong and Francis Fox.

Arriving as part of Ian Menzies crew in the summer of 1943, he was a survivor of a take-off crash on only their 4th Op. to Boulogne.  Despite obviously surviving this crash, in which his Pilot, Ian Robert Menzies and Flight Engineer, Albert Leslie Mellor, were killed, it was another 3 months before Ralph flew again, this time with Colin McKenzie

Posted back to 75 (NZ) Sqdn in December 43, Ralph Barker only appears once in the ORB’s during January and February 44 (3.2.44, McKenzie crew), so possibly he held some desk-based role at that time.

ND756 arrived on Squadron 13.3.44 (one week after the first Lancaster was delivered to 75), and flew on 75’s very first Lancaster op’ to Villeneuve/St Georges on 9/10.4.44 with Henry Burton’s crew.

Barker does not appear in any crew listings during March, leading up to those first Lancaster op’s, so we can’t tell which (if any) crew he went through Lancaster conversion with.

He then re-appears in the ORB’s on 22nd April, flying with the Willis crew on an op’ to Dusseldorf, and must have been a “fill-in” W/Op during this time, flying with five different crews during April and May, before settling with the Fox crew as of 22nd May.

The Fox crew’s usual a/c was ND911, and disappointingly none of Barker’s op’s was flown in ND756.

Was the photo someone else’s? Or was it taken when the Lancaster’s were brand new to the Squadron, and any one of them a worthy subject?

ND756 was shot down at approximately 2.15am on an Op to Stuttgart on 28/29.7.44, after apparently destroying a JU-88 in combat, crashing 1 km north of the French village of Millery on the Moselle River, 14 km north of Nancy. The crew on board were;

P/O Ian Edward Blance RNZAF NZ421496. Pilot.
Died age 21. Buried Millery Communal Cemetery, France.

F/Sgt Colin Frederick Johnson Greig RNZAF NZ422281. Navigator.
Shot down and wounded, baled out . PoW No. 25136. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VIII. Safe UK 14 May 1945.

W/O Ronald Howard Spencer RAFVR 1575186. Air Bomber.
Died age 21. Buried Millery Communal Cemetery France.

F/Sgt Frederick Walter Percival Climo RNZAF NZ4210148. Wireless Operator
Died age 22. Buried Millery Communal Cemetery, France.

Sgt. W J Hyde RAFVR 1895228. Flight Engineer.
Shot down and successfully evaded capture. Safe UK NK.

F/Sgt Frederick Francis Arthur Jenkins RNZAF NZ429888. Mid Upper Gunner.
Died age 30. Buried Millery Communal Cemetery, France.

F/Sgt Aubrey Charles Kirk RNZAF NZ425845. Rear Gunner.
Shot down and baled out. Successfully evaded capture and after working with the French Resistance was safe in the UK 2 Sep 1944.

Ralph Barker and the Fox crew flew on that same Op.

Hopefully the Air Force Museum of New Zealand will post the rest of these images of Ralph’s, if they don’t but perhaps see this post, I’ll be happy to put them up!