You never know what lies up the garden path

Joss le Clercq alerted me to a thread on the RAFCommands forum late last year. It concerned a researcher who was trying to work out the fate of Sgt Leslie Edwards, who died of wounds or injuries in July 1943. It was discovered that Edwards had been on board a 27OTU Wellington that crashed at Church Broughton on the 6th of that month.

So why did Joss think it was of particular interest to me? Henk Welting posted on that RAFCommands thread that Bill Chorley’s Bomber Command Losses vol 7 revealed a Sgt Purcell had been in the crew of the Wellington. Joss thought it could have been my great uncle Jack.

This was an intriguing find. Because we have no letters or diaries from Jack, we know little about what happened to him directly while he was in England. Could Joss have uncovered a story about Jack surviving a Wellington crash that my family didn’t know about?

I quickly checked my records. Initially it looked possible. Jack was posted to 27OTU at Lichfield on 22 June 1943 and did not leave until September, so he was certainly there at the right time. But a few other details did not check out. Jack’s service record shows that he was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 20 February 1943 – before this accident – so his rank did not match. And perhaps more crucially, we do have Jack’s logbook. The first flying recorded at Lichfield in my copy of it is not until 14 July, or after this crash happened.

So it was not looking good. I rechecked the original logbook when next I returned to my parents place near Sydney to make sure that I hadn’t missed any pages in the copying process.

I hadn’t.

The next step was to ask Chris Pointon of the RAF Lichfield Association, who had guided me around what was left of the old station when I visited in 2009.

Chris settled the matter. It turns out that AUS410379 Sgt David Purcell was posted to 27OTU in May 1943. So there was a second Australian navigator called Purcell at RAF Lichfield at the same time that Jack was. It seems likely that this Purcell is our man.

David Purcell’s service record is online at the National Archives of Australia. It reveals that he was from Melbourne and enlisted on the same day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. He trained at Cootamundra, East Sale and Nhill before going to the UK via Canada. Eventually he ended up on Halifaxes with 466 Squadron at Leconfield. Chris’ email told me that David Purcell was shot down on 23 April 1944 on an operation to Dusseldorf. He survived and spent the rest of the war as a POW, eventually returning to Australia.

So while somehow disappointed that I didn’t uncover something else about Jack Purcell, I did find another interesting story – and potentially another branch of the Purcell family to look at. I’ve passed the details about David’s family to Therese Findlay, one of my regular correspondents on this blog. Therese says she’s found a Purcell somewhere who is working on the family tree. Perhaps they might have more information for me.

©2011 Adam Purcell

5 thoughts on “You never know what lies up the garden path

  1. Hi Adam

    You have such a wonderful way of including people in your stories.
    Keep up the great work
    I have made contact with Kerry Tarleton our Great grandfathers were brothers and their wives sisters! How extraordinary!


  2. David Purcell, RAAF 410379, attended St Josephs Christian Brothers College, North Melbourne (VIC) circa 1935. At that time he was shown living in Powell Street, Yarraville (VIC). He was enrolled by George Purcell. After his Halifax crashed he passed through Stalag Luft 3 (the scene of the story ‘The Great Escape’) before transfer to Stalag 357 in September 1944. That camp was liberated by the 7th Armoured Regiment in April of 1945. An interseting book is available at on this camp.

    1. G’day Chris,
      Thanks for the additional info. Sgt Purcell’s service record shows his father was living at 58 Powell St Yarraville – I found another Purcell in the current phone book at 48 Powell St so I sent off a letter to them a few months ago, but haven’t heard anything back sadly.
      If you don’t mind me asking, what is your interest, and what else do you ahve on David Purcell?

  3. That David Purcell is my grandfather. I visited the site in Belgium where his plane crashed and actually found a few pieces, one of which sits at my mother’s (maternal grandparent) home.

    1. G’day Rory,
      Funny isn’t it, how Google searches stumble onto little tidbits like this online, sometimes quite a while after the fact (in this case, more than six years later!).
      On another note, there’s nothing quite like going to the scene of where something happened for getting a feel for it. If you listen closely enough the echoes of the past are still there to be found.

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