One Mystery Solved

Operational Record Books are fantastic historical sources. They are extensive chronological records of everything that happened, day by day, to a squadron in an operational sense. They cover information like targets, aircraft and crews, and usually describe details of any operational flying carried out. Very useful, then, if you’re trying to trace the lives and times of a particular Lancaster crew.

But they do not yield all the answers. The documents are seven decades old. They are faded, smudged, illegible and fragile, either on paper or (shudder) a microfiche machine. The information that was once there can sometimes disappear.

And sometimes the information was left out, mistyped or never even there in the first place.

The Monthly Summary (the so-called ‘Form 540’) in the 463 Squadron ORB records that Pilot Officer ‘Dud’ Ward received word on 9 May 1944 that he had been awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross. The summary shows that the decoration was for a “grand effort” during an operation, but the date of that operation is smudged. It could be 6/7 April, or it could be 26/27 April. It’s unlikely that it was the earlier date because on that night nothing happened. The Form 540 entry for 26 April does however relate a story which is a possible candidate for the action that resulted in Ward’s DFC.

After losing two engines on return from a raid on Schweinfurt and ordering his crew to man ditching stations, Dud Ward managed to coax his aircraft across the Channel and land at Tangmere. The problem is, however, that the sortie list (or Form 541) has no record of Ward or his crew having flown that night. So while it appears most likely that it was indeed the Schweinfurt trip on which Ward won his DFC, there is contradictory evidence and thus some doubt remains.

I came across this quandary while I was writing my 467 Postblog series. Being early May at the time, I was pushing the deadline to publish the post so I had no time to find other sources to swing the balance one way or the other. I had to make do with a short description of the problem, and moved on.

And there the not-quite-satisfactorily-resolved issue remained, largely forgotten. Until I recently started to dig into the large pile of stuff that has been accumulating on my desk (and on my hard drive), waiting patiently for me to find time to go through it properly.

A not insignificant part of this pile is made up by one of the better collections of wartime letters I’ve seen. It’s from Arnold Easton, a 467 Squadron navigator who was at Waddington from mid February 1944. His letters, provided by his very proud son Geoff, are in places extremely detailed and I have been finding interesting little nuggets all through them. Including this, from a letter written on 9 May, 1944:

By the way George Jones’ pilot was notified today that he has won the D.F.C. for a very good show he put up on the return trip from Schweinfurt on 26.4.44.

Jones was a good friend of Arnold’s, and his name appears frequently in his letters. Reading this line set off a small bell in my memory. Could George Jones’ pilot have been ‘Dud’ Ward?

He most certainly was. The crew list is in the ORBs (though not for the Schweinfurt raid!). And, sadly, both Jones and Ward are buried at Forest-sur-Marque in France, just a few miles east of Lille, the city they were attacking when they were killed two nights after Easton wrote his letter home. “George Jones – best pal gone”, wrote Arnold in his logbook the next day.

So, satisfyingly, the ambiguity in the ORB was solved by another primary source, one that came from an entirely different place. I still have almost a hundred of Arnold’s letters to read – what else might I find?

 

© 2014 Adam Purcell

 

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2 Responses to “One Mystery Solved”


  1. 1 Christopher Dean September 17, 2014 at 19:28

    A couple of years ago, while I was compiling the aircraft loss lists for RAF Waddington Heritage Centre, I came across an “extra” 44 Sqn Lancaster lost on a sortie to Duisberg. I had borrowed a copy of 44 Sqn’s ORB from a contact and so went into the document to confirm the facts and found that the serial number for the .44 Sqn Lancaster lost that night had been incorrectly listed and therefore the Sqn had indeed lost just the one Lancaster – Corley gave me the correct registration. However, looking up the aircraft which was allocated the registration listed in the ORB showed that this Lancaster was lost exactly one year later to the day – also on a raid to Duisberg. The ORB had obviously been written up at the time, but to “predict” by misprint the loss of a Lancaster is a still little bit surreal. (I would provide the details of the aircraft, but as it was lost after 44 Sqn had left Waddington (and I do not have the full ORB any more) then I am unable to confirm the actual date and registration).

    • 2 Adam Purcell September 17, 2014 at 22:36

      Ah yes, Chris, I had a similar experience last year with a 630 Sqn aircraft, ME739, which was lost exactly one year to the day after it arrived on the squadron. I confused the date of loss with the date of arrival and went around in circles for a few days until the penny dropped. Good fun, this research stuff, ain’t it?!


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