Archive for November, 2014

Appeal for Information: Prouville, 24 June 1944

As regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you) would know, the most expensive operation of WWII, in terms of crews lost, for 463 and 467 Squadrons was the Lille raid of 10 May 1944 from which six aircraft failed to return.

There were three occasions – all in 1944 – which were almost as expensive, when the Squadrons lost five aircraft in single nights. On 30 January, five failed to return from Berlin. On 29 August, another five were lost attacking Konigsberg. And on 24 June, five aircraft didn’t come back from a raid on Prouville in France.

I’ve posted about the Prouville raid before. Back in July 2012 I was contacted by Phil Bonner in the UK, who passed on an enquiry from Joni Taylor, the sister-in-law of one of the men who was lost on this raid. Joni was looking for information about other members of the crew, so I posted about it here in the hope it would attract a passing Google search… and it did. It took nine months but in January the following year I received a comment from Susan Hird-Little, niece of the only survivor of Sgt PD Taylor’s crew. I was able to put the two ladies in touch with each other, which I thought was a nice little story.

Meanwhile, the wonders of Google have struck again. A few months ago I had a message from a Frenchman named Mathieu Lecul, who lives in Brucamps, near Amiens in the Somme area, and about 10km south of the night’s target at Prouville. LM571 – Taylor’s aircraft – crashed in nearby Bussus-Bussuel. In fact, four of the five 463/467 Squadron machines lost that night came down within 20km of Mathieu’s house.The fifth (the ORB says LM587 but it appears more likely to have been LM597*) also crashed somewhere near the target, but all on board survived. Four of the crew became prisoners of war but amazingly the other three evaded capture and made it home.

I was able to put Mathieu in contact with Joni and Susan, but he has now asked for help to find information or – even better – family members of each of the other crews who crashed nearby.

So, set out below, are the names and where possible a little more detail about 28 airmen who were in the aircraft shot down around the Somme area on the night of 24 June 1944. If anyone does have any useful leads for Mathieu, please drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.

 

LM450 PO-K, 467 Squadron:

Crashed near Neuilly-L’Hospital

  • 415495 P/O Albert Arthur William Berryman – Died. Neuilly-Hospital – Son of Frederick and Gertrude Annie Langley Berryman Berryman; husband of Agnes Elizabeth Berryman, Victoria Park, Western Australia.
  • Sgt J.W.D. Carey Escaped
  • 418086 F/Sgt John William Berry Down – Escaped. Born on 29/01/1922 at Epson UK
  • 418418 F/Sgt John Murray Hughes – Prisoner. Born 26/02/1923 in Sydney, NSW, Australia – 305 POW Stalag Luft7
  • 427323 F/Sgt Peter Padbury Hardwick – Prisoner. Born 10/01/1922 in Perth, WA, Australia
  • 424978 F/Sgt William John Conway – Prisoner. Born 03/05/1922 in Surry Hills, NSW, Australia – 293 POW Stalag Luft7
  • F/Sgt F.H. Pagett – Prisoner

 

ND729 PO-L, 467 Squadron

Crashed near Mareuil Caubert

  • 425278 F/L Reginald Ronald Cowan – Died – Commemorated at Runnymede. 24 years – Born 21/8/1919 – DFC – Son of Reginald Herbert and Lucy Agnes Cowan, Caloundra, Queensland, Australia.
  • 1540769 Sgt Harry Kitchener Feltham – Died – Mareuil-Caubert
  • 422779 F/Sgt Andrew Leslie West – Died – Mareuil-Caubert. 20 years – Born 30/9/1923 – Son of William Thomas and West Dorris West, Randwick, New South Wales, Australia.
  • 426377 F/Sgt Paul Francis O’Connell  – Died – Poix de Picardie. 22 years – Born 17/12/1921 – Son of Michael Francis and Annie Maria O’Connell, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. Pharmaceutical Chemist.
  • 423639 F/Sgt Herbert Kenith Brown – Died – Mareuil-Caubert. 21 years – Born 10/6/1923 – Son of William Herbert and Elsie May Brown, of Tocumwal, New South Wales, Australia.
  • 1578397 Sgt Jack Sheffield – Died – Mareuil-Caubert. 28 years – Son H. Lawrence, Raunds, Northamptonshire UK
  • 429503 F/Sgt Arthur Albert Summers – Died – Mareuil-Caubert. 30 years – Born 28/1/1914 – Son of James Arthur Joseph and Margaret Mary Summers; husband of Beatrice Erin Summers, of Annerley, Queensland, Australia.

 

LM571 JO-E, 463 Squadron:

Crashed near Bussus-Bussuel.

  • 16203 P/O John Francis Martin – Died – Bussus-Bussuel. 23 ​​years – Born 14/12/1920 in Fremantle, WA, Aust – Son of Francis William and Veronica Rechinda Martin; husband of Doreen Madge Martin, Subiaco, Western Australia.
  • 1324017 Sgt Peter Donald Taylor – Died – Bussus-Bussuel. 24 years – Son of John Ernest and Elizabeth Taylor, of Slough, Buckinghamshire.
  • 415430 W/O Bernard Edward Kelly – Died – Bussus-Bussuel. 23 years – Born 02/03/1921 in Perth, WA, Aust – Son of Edward Joseph and Bridget Kelly, Perth, Western Australia.
  • 418755 F/Sgt Thomas Alexander Malcolm – Prisoner. 418755 – Born 13/07/1921 in Morwell, VIC, Australia – Arrested in Paris on 19/07/1944 and deported to Buchenwald – Pow 8929?
  • 417327 F/Sgt George William Bateman – Died – Bussus-Bussuel. 32 years – Born 28/04/1912 in Unley, SA, Aust – Son of Sidney Davies Bateman and Florence Ethel Christina Bateman; husband of Marjorie Jean Bateman, Magill, South Australia.
  • 424761 F/Sgt Lionel Gregory Leslie Hunter – Died – Bussus-Bussuel. 20 years – Born 23/08/1923 in Canowindra, NSW, Aust – Son of Arthur and Grace Agnes Hunter, of Balgowlah, New South Wales, Australia.
  • 408433 F/Sgt Bramwell Rockliff Barber – Died – Bussus-Bussuel. 20 years – Born 28/02/1924 in Ulverstone, TAS, Aust – Son of Bramwell Fletcher Barber Florence and Myrtle Barber, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.

 

LM574 JO-J, 463 Squadron:

Crashed near Longuevillette.

  • 417248 P/O Jeoffrey Maxwell Tilbrook – Died – Amiens St-Pierre. 21 years – Son of Robert and Esther Forrester Tilbrook, of Brinkworth, South Australia.
  • 1725436 Sgt David Jesse Dowe – Died – Amiens St-Pierre. 19 years – Son of David N. Dowe and Alice E. Dowe, Thorpe St Andrew, Norfolk.
  • 416651 W/O Hubert George Carlyle – Died – Amiens St-Pierre. 30 years – Son of Leslie and Amy Morton Carlyle Carlyle, Flinders Park, South Australia.
  • 412469 W/O Alexis Charles Mineeff – Died – Amiens St-Pierre. 23 years – Son of John and Annie Emily Mineeff, Glenbrook, New South Wales, Australia.
  • 1251477 Sgt Frederick Charles Penn – Died – Amiens St-Pierre. 23 years
  • 419126 F/Sgt Maxwell MacDonald Lack – Died – Amiens St-Pierre. 21 years – Son of Edna Osborne Lack, Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia.
  • 136398 P/O A Syddall – Prisoner 6509 POW Camp Luft III

 

Do you know anything about any of these airmen? Get in touch – there’s a handy form on this page!

 

*Alan Storr gives LM587 but my copy of the ORB shows a pencilled correction to LM597 and Bruce Robertson’s Lancaster – The Story of a Famous Bomber lists LM597. LM587 is shown by Robertson as being lost in September 1944.

This will be the final post on somethingverybig.com for 2014, while I take a short break from blogging. I’ll be back in early January 2015!

Ladies’ Day with the 463-467 Squadrons Association in Sydney, 16 November 2014

Some three decades ago, the 463-467 Squadrons Association (NSW) (Inc) needed to find a new venue for their Annual General Meeting. One of the squadron veterans was a member of the Killara Golf Club in what’s usually described as Sydney’s ‘leafy’ North Shore, and suggested that the salubrious surrounds of the art deco clubhouse there might be suitable. So they tried it, and it was. After a few years the meeting would be followed by lunch at the club and eventually wives and partners were invited along too. The gents had their meeting in the Billiards Room while the ladies got stuck into drinks in the Dining Room. And then they would all share lunch together.

Such were the origins, says veteran 463 Squadron wireless operator Don Browning, of the now-annual ‘Ladies’ Day’ luncheon. AGMs are no longer required following the winding up of the official body some years ago but the loose association continues to hold the lunches on the Sunday nearest Remembrance Day each November. This year’s edition took place yesterday. And I was there, one of about 55 people in the crowd.

There was a little shuffling of the seats happening at Table 3 when I arrived to stake my claim. No fewer than three Bomber Command veterans were at the table so I cunningly found a spot in between two of them. Don Southwell apologised as he took his seat on my left. “Sorry you got me,” he said. “I thought you’d want to sit next to someone interesting!” I raised an eyebrow. Sitting next to me on my right, was Ron Houghton, who flew a full tour as a Halifax pilot on 102 Squadron and after the war had a long career flying Constellations and B707s with Qantas. To his right, Keith Campbell, a bomb aimer who was the only survivor when his 466 Squadron Halifax was shot down over Stuttgart in June 1944. Keith wore the little gold caterpillar badge that denotes a member of the Caterpillar Club. Don Southwell himself, of course, flew nine operations as a 463 Squadron navigator.

Don Southwell (right), Ron Houghton and Keith Campbell

Don Southwell (right), Ron Houghton and Keith Campbell

I reckon I’d have a hard time finding anyone more interesting than this trio.

I was, in reality, extraordinarily lucky to have three veterans at my table. In all there were nine present, down three on last year, mostly through illness both short and long-term. Most obviously missing for me were Tom Hopkinson, who had to cancel at short notice, and Harry Brown, who is still recovering from complications after breaking a hip a few months ago. Even some of those who were there have been a little in the wars lately. Keith Campbell got the most points for effort though. He’s had a hip operation recently but managed to wrangle a leave pass from hospital for the afternoon.

After a superb meal at which, as you’d expect in this company, the conversation was free-flowing, it was time for some speeches. Don Southwell welcomed the reasonably significant number of visitors, and proposed the traditional Toast to the Ladies:

SOLD! To the man in the blue suit!

SOLD! To the man in the blue suit!

Annette Guterres responded on behalf of the Ladies, both present and not:

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Annette Guterres

The day’s main speaker was Bill Purdy. Before he spoke, however, Don Browning shared a story about him:

Don Browning

Don Browning

Following his tour of operations, Bill was posted to a Heavy Conversion Unit at Wigsley as an instructor. Returning from a training sortie one day Bill found himself close to Waddington and decided it would be fun to buzz the control tower there. So he did. Word of his indiscretion, of course, made its way back to Wigsley, where the Commanding Officer there happened to be the former CO from 463 Squadron, Rollo Kingsford-Smith. Kingsford-Smith gave Bill a good dressing-down and told him that Group Captain Bonham-Carter had demanded an apology in person.
“You are to go to Waddington”, Rollo said.

No problem, Bill thought. It’s only about nine miles away as the crow flies, a short hop in a Lancaster. No sweat.

But Rollo wasn’t finished yet.

“…by bicycle!”

Bill says he hasn’t forgotten that bike ride.

Apart from Phil Smith, of course, Bill was the first Bomber Command veteran I had met who actually flew on the Lille raid of 10 May 1944 from which the crew of B for Baker failed to return. He’s also the only Bomber Command airman I know who still has a pilot licence, flying around in a Tiger Moth from Luskintyre, north of Sydney. But this talk was about his experiences in June of this year, when a delegation of seven Australian veterans went to France to take part in the official 70th anniversary commemorations of the Normandy landings.

14Nov-LadiesDay 044

Bill had been on the raid on the morning of the invasion against Pointe du Hoc, a very large German gun emplacement, and it was in this capacity as a veteran of D-Day that he was selected. Interestingly another one of the seven was present at Killara: my lunch companion Ron Houghton.

In any case, Bill gave a good talk. Security on the French trip was tight, he said, with multiple checkpoints to negotiate on the way to the official ceremonies, and traffic was a nightmare with half a million people in the area. But it was one of the best-organised events he had ever been part of and a most memorable occasion, particularly seeing first-hand the damage their 1,000-pounders had done to Pointe du Hoc. Having been there myself a few years ago, he’s right – there are craters everywhere.

Bill was wearing his medals, and they included a particularly impressive-looking one hanging from a red ribbon. While the veterans were overseas the French presented each of them with the Légion d’Honneur, one of the country’s highest honours. It’s the one hanging from his left thumb in this photo:

14Nov-LadiesDay 045

Following the talk there was one more bit of official business to take care of: the group photo. Once again, all we were missing was a flight engineer… and a Lancaster, otherwise I would have suggested they all took us for a fly.

Back row L-R: Don Southwell (463 Sqn Navigator), Bill Purdy (463 Sqn Pilot), Hugh McLeod (49 Sqn Rear Gunner), Max Barry (463 Sqn Mid Upper Gunner), Roy Pegler (467 Sqn Bomb Aimer). Front Row L-R: Don Huxtable (463 Sqn Pilot), Don Browning (463 Sqn Wireless Operator), Ron Houghton (102 Sqn Pilot) and Keith Campbell (466 Sqn Bomb Aimer).

Back row L-R: Don Southwell (463 Sqn Navigator), Bill Purdy (463 Sqn Pilot), Hugh McLeod (49 Sqn Rear Gunner), Max Barry (463 Sqn Mid Upper Gunner), Roy Pegler (467 Sqn Bomb Aimer). Front Row L-R: Don Huxtable (463 Sqn Pilot), Don Browning (463 Sqn Wireless Operator), Ron Houghton (102 Sqn Pilot) and Keith Campbell (466 Sqn Bomb Aimer).

I really enjoy the company of these ‘old lags’ and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to make the trip up from Melbourne to catch up with them a couple of times a year. May it continue for a good few years yet.

Max Barry

Max Barry

Roy Pegler

Roy Pegler

Don Huxtable

Don Huxtable

Ron Houghton

Ron Houghton

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Keith Campbell

Hugh McLeod

Hugh McLeod

Keith Campbell and Ron Houghton

Keith Campbell and Ron Houghton

"How do you work this thing anyway?"

“How do you work this thing anyway?”

Hux and his 'Top Gun Hands". Once a pilot, always a pilot...

“There I was, nothing on the clock but the maker’s name…” Once a pilot, always a pilot…

Keith Campbell, Ross Browning and Ross' socks

Keith Campbell, Ross Browning and Ross’ socks

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Text and images (c) 2014 Adam Purcell

 

Smoke and Mirrors at the Shrine

One of the things that impressed me the first time I visited the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne was one of the most symbolic architectural features in the building. When the Shrine was built in the 1930s it was designed with a small hole in the roof, in just the right position and at just the right angle that it would catch a ray from the sun and funnel it down such that it would fall on the Stone of Remembrance that is sunk into the floor in the Sanctuary, the main commemorative area.This would happen at 11:00 on 11 November each year in recognition of the time and day when the guns on the Western Front finally fell silent in 1918.

The stone is inscribed with the Biblical phrase, ‘GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN’. And for about four decades, at the appointed hour on the appointed day, a sunbeam would come through the hole and rest lightly on the word ‘LOVE’.

But then in the 1970s Daylight Saving Time was introduced in Victoria. Clocks went forward an hour. And the sunbeam made its grand entrance  at midday, too late for Remembrance Day ceremonies. For four or five years the Shrine made do with an artificial replacement, simulating the beam with a theatrical spotlight, but, well, it just wasn’t the same.

Enter Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology surveyors Frank Johnston and Rod Deakin, who came up with a beautifully simple solution. They installed two mirrors to catch the sun’s light from its ‘new’ 11:00 position and bounce it into the original shaft leading to the Stone of Remembrance.

Genius!

In the days leading up to Remembrance Day each year, the pair, along with their understudy Steven Sheppard, go up into the roof of the Shrine and take observations to recalculate and adjust the mirrors to make certain that it will work. And in the 32 years that Deakin has been involved, clouds have ruined the show on only five occasions (nothing to be sniffed at given Melbourne’s notoriously changeable weather).

They were up there again this week, and Bridie Smith from The Age newspaper wrote an article about them. You can find it, with a short video showing the surveyors at work, here. And there will be the annual Remembrance Day service at the Shrine, next Tuesday from 10:30. Two hours later the brand new Galleries of Remembrance will open to the public for the first time. Details here.

 

(c) 2014 Adam Purcell