If the MOD leaves St Georges Barracks, our heritage is at risk as it is bulldozed. This blog aims to document some of the extraordinary history of RAF North Luffenham and RAF Woolfox Lodge (the satellite airfield for the station). Woolfox may also be developed. So here is my research and views on our heritage and how we could honour the fallen. The site is a battlefield and should be recognised as such. Lest we forget. All views are my own and are not attributed to any group or organisation. I am an amature historian, so please accept my apology if any detail is inaccurate or you detect errors. If you have knowledge, views, questions or can help you are welcome to contact me by hitting the button on the menu 'Contact me or volunteer'. Thank you. Per Ardua
This blog is about the amazing people stories and rich heritage of RAF North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge. It is at risk.
I was recently doing some work near Lincoln and called in to what was RAF Swinderby. The airbase was a pre-war station of substantial brick buildings. Not much remains and I was greeted with a view of a ‘familiar’ RAF station tree lined road, but with just a moonscape! It was just an endless vista of processed brick. I was in shock.
This has made me appreciate what could happen at North Luffenham/St Georges Barracks. It could be reduced to brick dust. I have mixed feelings – as development seems inevitable, unless an alternate campus use is found. Woolfox Lodge is also a proposed site for a town.
So facing brutal destruction I have a strong sense of loss for some reason, perhaps it is a feeling of no control. For me it is hard to explain, but I know that brave people did amazing things here and at Woolfox – particularly in 1941 and 1942 – flying day bombers at night without the right meteorological information or night flying training or radio aids. Young men sent off 600 miles to the east with just a compass, stopwatch, map and airspeed indicator to fight. No wonder many failed to return.
In an 8 month period in late 41 to spring 42 over 180 allied airmen were lost and a significant proportion have no known grave.
I will be doing more thinking and feel we need to work harder to define what our heritage at North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge is? What we can do before, during and after development, should it occur, to respect the deeds done from and at this battlefield? In the back of my mind is also the precedent for a new town to be built at Cottesmore should the MOD leave that as well.
The Luffenham Thor site is now Grade 2 listed but the rest of the station – which is a very well preserved bomber station, due to the it usage post war, is not much changed from when it was built. What is it’s significance? What are we suggesting we destroy and how should we view this? How do we ensure ‘heritage’ is recognised and in particular, the amazing things that the people did to add to the war effort. Therefore, this blog focusses on the ‘people’ stories that I can find.
More to follow – if you have a story to add – or would like to help – please contact me. I am in need of the help of a medals expert to uncover the citations – do you know one? – please connect me. Many thanks.
On 15 November 1951 RAF North Luffenham was handed over to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). There were 3 squadrons flying the Canadair F86E Sabre under the command of No 1 Fighter Wing RCAF.
The squadrons were 410 (Cougar), 439 (Tiger) and 441 (Silver Fox).
By February 1955 all three squadrons have moved forward to NATO airbases in German and France.
Over the 4 year period there were a number of losses in the air during training and also deaths from other causes. The North Luffenham churchyard commonwealth war graves are where some were interred. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=372
The list of crashes is as follows (it may not be complete!). Flying this first generation of jet aircraft appears to have been a very hazardous duty with a high accident rate.
18 April 1952. Mid air collision. Flying Officer Kerr and Fg Off Rayner killed.
1 July 1952. Flying Officer ‘Digger’ Conti killed in a crash.
July 1952. Crash into sea off Hunstantion, Pilot spent 2 hours in a dinghy before being rescued.
25 August 1952. Flying Office K Johnson killed in a crash.
September 1952. An aircraft landed on the airfield with a fire in the staborad side of the fuselage. Pilot escape and the fire and rescue team extinguised the fire.
January 1953. Leading Airman Roland Gelinas received BEM for his part in saving another airmans life when he was sucked in to a jet intake during a ground run. Gelinas acted quickly and shut down the engine.
23 May 1953. Flying Officer Bedard killed in a crash.
16 December 1953. Flying Officer David Grodon Tracey killed in a crash.
17 April 1954. Wing Command Parks DFC & Bar. DC. Lost without trace over the North Sea.
August. Crash crew from North Luffenham dispatched a crash of an RAF Sabre at Blatherwycke. The pilot ejected succesfully and hitched a ride back to the crash site.
14 December 1953. Flying Officer P V Robinson died in a crash near Holme Moss TV station in the Peak District.
Further work to be done – all details unvalidated!
The RAF North Luffenham Officers’ Mess has the been the topic of a ‘consultation’ conducted on 22 November 2022 by the Ministry of Defence DIO (Defence Infrastructure Organisation).
MOD recently (November 2022) held a consultation day to ask selected people in Edith Weston how they thought the Officers Mess complex could be developed for housing. This was predicated by MOD DIO’s Vision:
Our vision for the site is to replace the Officers’ Mess with a development that makes a positive contribution to the village. A development that makes the site more open and accessible with new homes that reflect the local character, buildings and landscape. We believe the site has the potential for up to 100 new homes, and that a high quality build and design will set a benchmark for any future development on St George’s Barracks.
The site would be developed in isolation from the main St Georges Barracks site – which when disposed would also be developed as primarily housing – a town of up to 2300 houses. This is not what Rutland needs.
Also this against the context of other planning applications in Edith Weston Parish and possible development of a new town at Woolfox Lodge (and of course precedent if Cottesmore Barracks are vacated – a new town there also!)
This post aims to provide a point of view on some issues related to DIOs cunning plan. Provide information on what does the Officers’ Mess complex at St Georges represent and why it should be valued as a heritage asset. It provides a view as to why it should not be developed yet or at all, in isolation from the main site. For those interested, at the end of the post I have also made some outline recommendations to aid thinking.
A valuable historic and cultural asset. Firstly, what does the Mess represent?
For 82 years The Mess is and was the home to officers in the armed forces who are and were employed by Nations to serve as directed, and to where required, do extraordinary duties in defence of our values and nations.
It has also been home to other allied nations officers from the Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Czech and other nations of the allied dominion.
The Mess site was acquired and built in a time of national emergency in 1939 and on land that was taken out of agricultural production (plus the playground for the Old School House).
The Mess is a central part of the overall culture and structure of military life where bonds and comradeship are built to equip officers (and their spouses/community) to form a leadership team able to withstand the stresses of military and combat service, particularly in the extraordinary times of operations and war.
The Mess is part of the battlefield of RAF North Luffenham, where men came together to fight for a cause and where required made the ultimate sacrifice. It has national historical significance.
What happened here, the context?
In World War II – from this station, the Bomber Command Squadrons ( 61, 144 and 408 Squadron RCAF) fought the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ and the early years of the Bomber Command campaign against Germany. These operations had extremely high loss rates of young men and machines.
Later in the war the station supported training for operations on D Day, the invasion of mainland Europe. Throughout the war the Mess was also used by the Officer’s serving at RAF Woolfox Lodge.
In the Cold War, training and operations took place. Signicant activities such as the formation of the NATO Canadian Sabre Wing, nuclear deterrence with Thor missiles (Project Emily), RAF fighter training, language training and continued operations guarding of airspace with radar. The base also supported the Berlin Airlift.
Later the base had supporting roles, such as aviation medicine, training for air explosive ordnance disposal/rapid runway repair, aerial capability and electronic servicing (the ‘G’).
The leaders (the men and women) who served here made it happen. Leading operations and the daily grinding and underestimated task of maintaining high readiness.
The Mess is associated with nationally recognised and decorated RAF and Allied leaders. Examples are Sir Gus Walker DSO, DFC, Group Captains, such as Hale DFC, CD RCAF, Barrett DSO, DFC and decorated airmen such as Sqn Ldr Peter Stevens MC and many others. You can read some of their stories in this blog.
Many VIPs, including Royal visits (e.g Duke of Edinburgh, Secretary of States etc) and allied VIPs have visited the station and been hosted in the Mess. Many social occasions, such as dining-in, sunset ceremonies, funeral wakes, marriages and other occasions have been held in the Mess over the years as a normal part of service life. The fabric of service life to build unbreakable bonds.
Today the Mess continues to be home for those ready to provide Army operations in the extraordinary conditions the armed forces serve in.
What part did the Officer’s Mess complex play in operations?
The historic context: in World War II the fact is that this Mess is where over at least 200 men had their last meal before departing on operations, and who never returned to the station. Often the last supper was in this building. A losses table is at http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/
They died on operations but also many officers were captured. They spent years as prisoners of war in brutal conditions under a Nazi regime. Over 1 in 20 failed to return after being made captive. The Mess was for some the last place of civilisation, before the brutal shock and reality of capture and the next years in captivity. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?tag=pow
In the Mess, Bomber Command standing orders stated that aircrew could not leave any valuable or personal effects in common areas or shared ablutions, as this aided packaging up of personal effects should the man fail to return.
It is worth reflecting that officers left the mess at the right time of day to command aircraft or take part in nationally significant operations in Word War 2 and in the Cold War, such as:
Operations Sunrise (daylight raid against heavily defended ports and German battleships in Brest and on the Atlantic Coast) in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Raids across Germany at night, many aircraft did not return. Examples are the loss of the Station Commander Gp Capt Barrett – ‘the Great Gentleman’ http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=406. It should be remembered that the night time raids were conducted in sub-optimal aircraft, such as the Hampden and Manchester, which were built for daytime operations. The casualty rate was very high. The Avro Manchester was an operational failure.
Operation Millenium. The 1000 bomber raids on Germany (Cologne, Essen and Bremen) in May and June 1942, where instructors and trainees were used from 29 OTU.
Base for raising, training and deployment of RAF Regiment ground and air defence squadrons and systems.
Operation Overlord – D Day: Operation Glimmer (spoofing the Germans) and the invasion of Europe. This included training of glider pilots for their D Day role.
Operation Plainfare – the Berlin airlift.
Workup of No 1 Fighter Wing RCAF. The casualty rate was high in a 3 year period, flying early generation jet fighters.
Training for invasion of Japan with heavy bombers.
Providing the nuclear deterrent for the UK with Thor ICBM (Project Emily).
Providing continued air defence missiles, surveillance and regional air traffic control.
In the early part of the war after, the time of the defeat in Crete, the Mess was a defended location of importance (with barbed wire, guards and pillbox etc). The station was also bombed by German raiders. People would have taken cover at the Mess in shelter trenches.
Officers left the mess to conduct and undergo training and within sight or a short distance from the Mess – over 50 men lost their lives in crashes from the operational training (OTU), glider training and bomber heavy conversion units (HCU).
The sacrifice for our values went on in the Cold War where our Canadian allies from 1 Fighter Wing RCAF left the Mess to fly first generation jet fighters (the Sabre) and many young men failed to return http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=372.
There may be a sense that nothing ‘nationally significant’ happened from this Mess, I would strongly disagree. It is part of the RAF North Luffenham battlefield and a part of our heritage – this was a ‘home for heroes’ who campioned our values for our freedom and many paid the supreme sacrifice.
Is the Officers’ Mess a ‘heritage asset’ and what is its value?
The Heritage England definition of a heritage asset is “A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. Heritage asset includes designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).
“The value of a heritage asset to this and future generations because of its heritage interest. That interest may be archaeological, architectural, artistic or historic. Significance derives not only from a heritage asset’s physical presence, but also from its setting.”
The North Luffenham Officers’ Mess meets this definition. It has rich history and in relation to its setting…….
Historic England includes RAF North Luffenham, Rutland Opened in 1940, in the list of key sites .
‘Key’ sites in England retain the best-preserved airfield landscapes and/or most historically significant groups of original buildings. Almost all of these sites started out as RAF stations and many of them are still in military use. Some of them are also designated conservation areas. They write:
RAF North Luffenham is representative of contemporary bomber bases. It retains two J-type hangars as well as a coherent group of contemporary technical and domestic buildings. The runways, perimeter tracks and dispersal platforms were added in 1944 and form one of the most complete airfield landscapes of that period. The site was adapted in the Cold War period as a Thor IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missile) site and a Bloodhound missile tactical control centre was also added.
The Officers’ Mess site is part of this key site and it has architectural and historic significance.
How would you describe the mess as a heritage asset?
The Mess could be described as follows:
Architectural interest: it has a fine neo-Georgian composition with carefully judged proportions and good quality building materials; This Mess uniquely, also has additions of flat roofed extensions to cope with the additional officer numbers to support No1 Wing RCAF and the Thor ICBM squadrons.
Interior: the interior treatment displays the spatial quality and understated refinement typical of the neo-Georgian idiom;
Degree of survival: the layout, fixtures and fittings of the Mess and reception rooms in the central range survive with an extraordinary degree of intactness, and overall the external composition and configuration remains close to its original form; This is unusual and is a result of post war use.
Historic interest: it is a very well preserved example of a Bomber Command ‘Type C’ Mess, that encapsulates the aims of the architect Mr A Bulloch FRIBA and the Ministry of Works. The Mess supported nationally significant RAF operations in World War II and NATO and national operations post war. The Mess can be linked to many nationally recognised airmen, including many recipients of national gallantry awards, such as the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Flying Medal, Military Cross and many mentioned in dispatches. It housed and supported the leaders in operations where they displayed the highest order of bravery, discipline and sacrifice in defence of national values in order to counter existential threat to the nation.
Unusually the Mess has also housed a Cold War language school and latterly the Army Innovation Centre.
Context: it retains its immediate contemporary setting, character and relationship to the station, including the carefully designed layout and gardens to be south facing. It is a local landmark.
So what? the Officers’ Mess is valuable cultural and historic asset, what should we do about it?
In regard to the flawed DIO vision what could be recommended at this time. I think there are 4 recommendations that can be made to inform debate:
Recommendation number 1. Heritage Asset designation. The Officers’ Mess is a site where many brave men led from and had their last civilised meals. It is nationally significant in contribution in World War 2 and in the Cold War. It is associated with many nationally recognized airmen of exemplary leadership, courage and high gallantry. It should be recognised as a ‘heritage asset’ worthy of conservation. A report on heritage value should be commissioned – so that heritage asset value can be agreed by interested stakeholders. Listing should be reconsidered.
Recommendation number 2. Deliberate decision making with due regard to Heritage Considerations. We should think very carefully about grinding this Cultural Heritage Asset to dust without clearer thinking. As a community we should recognise that the very institution charged with defence of the realm and who wants effective armed forces, does not value this heritage asset and is prepared to bulldoze it for short-term return. As an interested community, we should get our position clear. Is grinding it to dust and building a housing estate acceptable to us?
Recommendation number 3. Not developed in isolation. The mess is a standing valuable facility already paid for by the Nation in blood, sweat and taxes.
It is designed for people to use, it has value for other uses if the military depart. The default should not be to knock it down before alternative use is considered.
Alternate uses for Mess building are available (e.g Officers’ Messes at former RAF Duxford, Hemswell, Coltishall etc). It makes no sense to knock this facility down when the fate of the main site have not been decided.
The need in Rutland is for high tech jobs and affordable housing. The definition for ‘ Optimum Viable Use’: “If there is a range of alternative viable uses, the optimum use is the one likely to cause the least harm to the significance of the asset, not just through necessary initial changes but also as a result of subsequent wear and tear and likely future changes.” Optimum viable use should be defined.
If the main site is developed as Campus use and some housing, then assets such as a school, community centre and medical practice, or a hotel site centre etc will be needed. It makes no carbon sense to knock down a valuable facility like the Mess and build new facilities.
Developing this site in isolation will fail to result in joined-up infrastructure, energy, carbon and built environment design (the Circular Economy!). In isolation the road and green space layout cannot be considered to be unconstrained.
Incremental development is against the current Edith Weston Neighbourhood Plan and the Local Plan.
Rutland and Edith Weston local needs are not for more housing estates. Hi-tech Jobs and affordable housing in a built enviroment are needed. A campus use is needed.
The Mess site should not be developed in advance of the main site. Alternate use should be evaluated as a part of an integrated St Georges plan. Once it is gone it is gone.
Recommendation number 4. Due respect and sensitivity. Currently discussions treat The Mess as just a piece of real estate to gain an optimum return for MOD.
However, the Mess is not a ‘normal’ building. It has played its part in the extraordinary times or war and in post war operations.
Destroying this heritage asset without due respect to the people who fought is disrespectful. The site is part of an RAF battlefield.
All stakeholders in debate on this topic should be aware of the heritage value of the site. We should think about how we should respect and provide thanks to those Allied airman who had their last meals here and who made the ultimate sacrifice or entered the brutal regime of life as a prisoner of war. Lest we forget.http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=406
Over over a 10 month period of operations from October 1941 to April 1942, around 40 North Luffenham/Woolfox airman went into the ‘bag’ (captured).
Apparently they were greeted by their captors with the saying “for you the war is over”. I don’t think that saying is true for the them, the war was not over at all, some endured captivity to the end of the war.
It is difficult to comprehend today the feeling they must have had on capture, but it is known that for some the shock of capture and shame at their change of fortunes was overwhelming.
There were over 11000 RAF POWs held by the Nazis in World War II. Bomber Command aircrew made up 9838 of these. The prisoners called themselves ‘kriegies’ from the german word ‘kriegsgefangener’.
A book called ‘Footprints on the sands of time’ by Oliver Clutton-Brock comprehensively tells the story of the RAF Bomber Command prisoners of war in Germany in 1939 to 1945.
Impressions of POW camps will have been formed by the film ‘The Great Escape’. The realities of what happened when taken prisoner in Nazi Germany by the evil, brutal and repressive regime is quite grim reading.
The book documents the individual record of the way prisoners were treated and why one in twenty of those who entered captivity did not return alive at the end of the war. War crimes and occasional cases of treason are also documented. It is a book (like his other book RAF Evaders) where if you open a page at random, the content grabs you and it illuminates some deed, attitude or fact otherwise unthought about.
Other books ‘Walls and Worse’ and ‘Wire and Worse’ by Charles Rollings tell the detailed stories of early camps in the period 1940 to 1942.
As the war progressed it seems that the ideals of the Geneva Convention became less relevant in the captors minds. Certainly, later in the war, as the German cities were decimated, some airman landing alive on the ground failed to make it into captivity. They were killed by civilians or other people from the Nazi state. Overall, even in 1942 the story is of brutal treatment, lack of care, indaquate food, poor sanitation, war crimes and a few traitors.
There are also the tales of bravery, humour and great resilience of men under stress and difficult circumstances, and of course of escape attempts and the organisation of those attempts. It was the duty of an officer to escape and continue the fight even if only to achieve tying up enemy resources. As the war progressed the training and equipping of aircrew, debriefing and support of escape became more sophisticated but also the detection of escapers by the Germans improved. The war crime of the murder of the ‘Great Escapers’ also took place.
The greatest escaper from North Luffenham was Peter Stevens, the German Jew, the story is relayed in another post on this blog. Stevens was an inveterate escaper who was awarded the military Cross for his activities in pursuing escape attempts while in captivity, including a part in the great escape. The post can be found at… http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=67
The record in ‘Footprints’ shows that most prisoners were housed in at least 2 camps until liberation. Some camps were run by the Lufwaffe (generally ‘L’ or Stalag Luft) and some by the Wermacht (just numbered). Many crew members would later meet up at L3 Sagan in Poland due to the sheer size of the camp. This camp later in the war housed thousends of aircrew, and from which the great escape took place. From this escape 50 escapers were murdered by the SS and Gestapo on Hitler’s orders. In the early days the North Luffeham airmen were introduced to camps where Army, Navy and Air Force prisoners from defeats at Dunkirk, Crete and North Africa were already inmates.
Some of the North Luffenham airmen also had a difficult time on bailing out or exiting a crashed aeroplane. Sgt Laing, Sauders and McV Smart spent 20 hours in a dinghy after an attack on Brest on the 1 Feb 42, before they were captured. P/O Graham broke his back in landing and spent time in Lubeck hospital before being moved to a camp. All of the captured men lost at least one of their mates in their crash. It seems that no complete crew went into captivity in the period of Hamden and Manchester operations at North Luffenham/Woolfox in 1941 and 1942.
One airman, Flt Sgt W H Shorrocks RCAF (61 Sqn RAF) who was shot down by flak in an Avro Manchester raiding Brest on 1 Feb 42, was housed in 5 diferent camps. He was in 3 camps in Germany (8B Silberberg, 344 Lamsdorf and 13C Nurnberg) and then was held in L6 Heydekeg in Lithuania and L4 Beninia in Poland.
Shorrocks also is recorded as having exchanged identify with Private E G Joslin of the Essex Regiment at some stage. This was because escape opportunities for enlisted non aircrew prisoners were better, as they took part on working parties, which was allowed under the Geneva Convention. For Joslin the aircrew seemed to be better treated than the Army prisoners. However, it is not recorded if Shorrocks escaped, but the identity exchange is evidence of his resistance to captivity.
In conclusion, it is difficult for me to really understand what these POW’s went through and for some being in captivity 4 years until liberation. However, their survival through captivity humbles me and as I read the accounts, it illustrates the positive foundation qualities of our airmen in the face of sustained hardship and Nazi brutality.
Later in the war there were more POWs from 218 Squadrom flying Short Stirlings from RAF Woolfox Lodge in 1944 prior to D Day. From their operations there is record of a remarkable number of evaders as well. This is the topic of a future post on this blog.
Every year at the Remembrance Sunday service, the ‘act of remembrance’ takes place over the 40 Commonwealth war graves in the churchyard. The Kohima address is read and the last post is played to signal the start of the minute silence.
If you are interested in who the fallen are at North Luffenham, there are 2 posts on this blog which provide information. In addition to the British airmen, we owe a debt to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya and Ireland (others I am sure but I have not identified). The contribution of the Commonwealth and other nations to the defeat of the Nazi’s is signalled in the churchyard.
It should be noted that this only a percentage of the losses sustained and those captured in World War 2 in the operations from RAF North Luffenham and RAF Woolfox Lodge. For a wider view of losses from the operations of 61, 144 Squadrons RAF and 408 Royal Canadian Air Force over a 10 month period – see this link. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=1
Losses were also sustained in training and some of the aircrew resting in North Luffenham were from training accidents from other units. North Luffenham presumably being the nearest RAF station to the crash site.
For me every year the number of airmen who have unkown graves particularly seems to provide hurt to me. We know of the unknown soldier in the First World War but we have our own lost airman from North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge.
Lest we forget their sacrifice for our today.
We have been reminded through the global pandemic that we need strong values and ideals and that in many cases we take these for granted. I have a view that we need strong and resilient nation states and allies to oppose dictator led states. They do not share our values and frankly are not benign to us and their own citizens. If we forget this we will be condemed to repeat our past.
On our today – despite what is happening where our armed forces are taken for granted and seemingly not backed by the state – I hope this will pass. For reassurance, what I see on Remembrance sundays, is the solid and in many cases quiet majority that provide the bedrock of this nation’s resilience and strength.
The more I research what happened at North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge the more humbled I become. The people stories are in some cases incredible and very moving and reflecting extreme bravery – if you click the tab ‘people stories’ I have recorded some I have found. There are many and an example is the airmen flying the Avro Manchester. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=69
A major event in the Battle of the Atlantic took place on the 12 February 1942. An account from the bomber command perspective is recorded that the Bomber Command War diaries for 1939 to 45.
the story is taken up as follows… The ‘Channel Dash’ took place where the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruiser Prinz Eugen set sail from Brest to move to Germany through the English Channel in a carefully prepared and well executed operation. Though the move had been anticipated the Germans gained surprise using bad weather. Despite best efforts of the Allies, the Germans suceeded and it was a national embarrasment that this had been achieved in ‘home waters’. The full story is recounted elsewhere. It was however, a significant tipping point as these ships did not sail again into the Atlantic and destroy shipping bringing supplies to the beleagured Great Britain.
Aircraft from North Luffenham were sent to the attack, although their departure was delayed until the afternoon as they had been on standby with armoured piercing bombs, which needed some height to use. Since the cloudbase was about 600 feet in the channel, the bomb load was switched to high explosive bombs, and this took time and I am sure a lot of groundcrew sweat powered by expletives.
My story links to this is when I served at RAF North Luffenham. When the station closed in 1998 I was present when a veteran called Jock Kennedy presented a painting to the last Station Commander, Group Capt Benstead. The painting had been hung in a corridor and showed Hampdens attacking battleships.
We gathered around for the presentation in the corridor leading into the dining room. The presentation was made and the veteran described why the presentation was in the corridor.
On 12 February 1942, 61 Squadron and 144 Squadron launched sorties (I do not know how many but this will be recorded in the operational record books) and that day 144 Squadron lost 2 aircraft. He said after having breakfast in the dining room with everyone, at the evening meal he had lost some friends and there were some empty seats at the table.
This stuck with me, having walked through that door many times. It is not easy to capture an event in time and space when the witnesses have gone or unless you were there. How can you capture these moments without witness testimony? Also also these events fade in time do people really care?
In the recent past I took the now ex chief executive of Rutland County Council to that spot and explained what had happened. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that she did not ‘get it’. It is highly likely that if MOD leave then the Officers Mess will be levelled and turned into houses.
The 2 aircraft lost were Hampdens AE141 and AT 175. With the loss of these two aircraft six men were killed including Wing Commander Simond (MID) the Officer Commanding 144 Squadron. Whilst AT 175 was lost without trace, with five crew members, AE141 was hit with flak managed to make an emergency landing at Norwich. Sgt Nightingale brought it home and died in hospital. Sgt Ivo Nightingale was from Kenya. He was awarded the distinguished flying medal (DFM) and is buried in Norwich cemetery. Further information on Sgt Nightingale is at Aircrew Remembered http://aircrewremembered.com/nightingale-ernest.html
I’m not sure how we can commemorate the sacrifice but perhaps by naming the main road within the Officers Mess complex Simond Road and Nightingale Road we might just forge a tenuous link to the past, the Channel Dash and commemorate their sacrifice.
On 12 February Bomber Command had dispatched 242 aircraft comprising 92 Wellingtons, 64 Hampdens, 37 Blenheims, 15 Manchesters, 13 Halifaxes, 11 Stirling’s and 10 Boston bombers. A large percentage of the aircraft crews never sighted the battleships due to the weather. 16 aircraft failed to return with the loss of 68 aircrew and five aircrew being captured becoming prisoners of war. You can read more about the Dash in wikepedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Dash
It may be that the mine laying by 61 and 144 Sqaudron prior to the breakout may have contributed to the damage sustained by the battleships entering German waters. Later missions were also launched to bomb them in harbour. At this time of the war, once again the nation’s food supply was being sunk by German U Boats. Due to the mine and bomb damage and on going bomb damage the battelships stayed in port.
RAF North Luffenham and RAF Woolfox Lodge are battlefields. When a development takes place we will need to name significant buildings, roads (roadsigns to have QR codes telling the story) and areas. Further research is required on medals and awards made.
So Names will all be related to the history of the battlefield. This is my rolling suggestion list. The list is far from finished.
2 x Canadian aviators lost in the North Sea and never found.
Conti. Canadian cold war Sabre flyer – representing the Sabre aircrew lost in the Cold War – he has no known grave. Fg Off Conti was last heard of by radio near Flamborough Head.
Parks. Canadian cold war Sabre flyer. Wg Cdr Walter Franklin Parks DFC & Bar. DC. Chief Operations Officer missing on a training flight over the North Sea. An explosion was heard off Skegness. He had lived with his wife and 2 children in Hambleton.
Malin. Airman representing the other ranks of groundcrew and support staff – aged 20 killed by a Hampden landing back at base after ops hitting the airfield control cabin. Resting in North Luffenham churchyard
Johnson. Representing Rhodesia. Pilot Officer D H Johnson. From Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. Died night of 10/11 February 1942 on a raid on Essen. Buried in Hannover War Cemetery. Do not know cause of crash.
One airman, Flt Sgt W H Shorrocks RCAF (61 Sqn RAF) who was shot down by flak in an Avro Manchester raiding Brest on 1 Feb 42, was housed in 5 diferent camps. He was in 3 camps in Germany (8B Silberberg, 344 Lamsdorf and 13C Nurnberg) and then was held in L6 Heydekeg in Lithuania and L4 Beninia in Poland.
More work required to find representatives –……………………………………..
Royal Australian Air Force. Representing the RAAF – to be found.
Royal New Zealand Air Force. Representing the RNZAF – to be found
South Africa Air Force. Representing the volunteers from South Africa to be found.
Other Commonwealth/Dominion/Allied names. To be found.
There are 11 RCAF Commonwealth Graves in the Churchyard.
On 15th November 1951 the station was handed over to the RCAF The station commander was Group Captain Hale RCAF. The Canadians stayed until 1 April 1955 when the Wing was deployed to Germany.
The best reference I have found about the post war Canadians is in a book called ‘Wings over Rutland’ by John Rennison. There were other casualties suffered by the RCAF squadrons at North Luffenham.
The graves are as follows:
18.4.52 Flying Officer (Fg Off) A E Rayner. At 1500 hrs 9 aircraft of 410 Sqn took off on a formation flight and in the course of the exercise F/O Kerr and F/O Rayner were killed as a result of a mid-air collision.
24.7.52 Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) R A McNeilly
28.1.53 Flt Sgt E K Churchil (CD – mentioned in dispatches)
16.12.53 Fg Off David Gordon Tracey. While stationed at North Luffenham, England, 50170 F/O Tracy was killed when his Canadian F-86 Mark II Sabre Serial Number 19137 crashed due to fuel exhaustion near Loughborough, England on the 16th of December, 1953.He was 20 years old.
11.9.53 Fg Off L J Elphick
12.9.54 Fg Off A M Gillies
14.12.54 Fg Off P V Robinson. Killed in a crash when his Sabre crashed near Holme Moss TV Station mast on the top of the Pennines near Huddesfiiled.
27.12.54 Sgt A M Laing
Missing airman –
no grave in North Luffenham churchyard – not sure where he is commemorated 1.7.52 Fg Off Digger Conti – missing ten miles east of Flamborough Head. No trace ever found.
no grave in North Luffenham churchyard – not sure where he is commemorated Wg Cdr Parks – missing ten miles east of Skegness. No trace ever found.
In early 1945 the Luffwaffe had lost air battle over German soil. However, the application of air power can result in local impacts. On the night of 3/4 March (the 2000th night of the war) approximately 200 Junkers JU88 night fighters were sent to follow the bombers back to England. This offensive action took the British defences by surprise and 20 bombers were shot down, including 5 training aircraft.
The 5 training aircraft had been on a diversion flight consisiting of 95 aircraft on a ‘diversionary’ sweep. This was a mock raid designed to deceive the German air defences and increase the mission success of the main force attack. Wikepedia catalogues the British and German losses (see link in references).
Two of the losses were 1651 Operational Conversion Unit’s (OCU) Lancasters flying from RAF Woolfox Lodge. So whilst still in training to become operational crews, they were shot down by a JU88 nightfighter.
Of the 2 crews of 7 men, there was only one survivor only Sgt J Thompson. Lancaster ND387 was shot down at 0115 and crashed at Stretton and Lancaster JB699 was shot down at 0135 and crashed near Cottesmore. It is clear that the RAF were not expecting the attack as RAF aircraft were flying with navigation lights on, until warnings were received over the radio. Also airfield lights were on and only doused when warning was received.
The conversion unit had 13 Lancasters on strength in March 1945 and to lose 2 crews within sight of the airfield must have been devastating to the unit. It is difficult to imagine the impact. The risk of being shot down on operations must have been known, but to see your fellow crews being shot down as they close the base circuit, must have been tough for those left behind.
In addition to the Woolfox casualties, 1654 OCU flying from RAF Wigsley, (Nottinghamshire) lost 2 Lancasters (losing 8 killed out of 14 crew) and 1664 OCU flying from RAF Dishforth (Yorkshire) lost 1 Lancaster and all 7 crew were killed.
This all happenend when perhaps the end of the war in Europe was in sight? The Allies had been on German soil since September 1944, the Battle of the Bulge was over, and the Allies were on the way to cross the Rhine. Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.
The Woolfox casualties were buried at various cemeteries, 6 in Cambridge City Cemetery, others in Scotland and Bradford. It is not known where the 2 New Zealanders and the Australian from the crews are buried. The casualties are listed in Bomber Command Losses 1945 – see below and more detail is provided in Volume 8 – see lower down the page:
That night the Bomber Command effort was split between 3 missions:
Kamen. 234 aircraft (201 Halifaxes, 21 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitos) to attack the synthetic oil refinery at Bergkamen. The target was destroyed and no aircraft were lost over Germany.
Dortmund-Ems canal. 212 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitos attacked the Ladbergen viaduct, whichwas breached in 2 places and put out of action. 7 Lancasters were lost.
Support and Minor Operations. 95 aircraft in a diversionary sweep. 64 Mosquitos to Berlin and 32 to Wurzberg. 61 radio counter measure sorties. 29 Mosquito patrols. 31 Lancasters minelaying in Kattegatand Oslo fjord. 17 aircraft on resistance support missions. The Mosquito patrols I assume were doing what the Germans were doing and looking for night fighters, it is unknown what sucess they had.
Summary – 785 sorties. 8 aircraft lost over Germany and the sea, 20 aircraft shot down by intruders over England, a total casualty rate of 3.6 percent. 15 Halifaxes and 12 Lancasters (crews of 7 = 189 crew airborne). Wikepedia entry also lists 3 USAAF Flying Fortresses and an RAF Hudson shot down or damaged?
The Luffwafe lost 25 night fighters and the following night (4/5 March) a smaller effort was launched, but it was ineffective.
References: Bomber Command Losses 1945 V6 by W R Chorley. Bomber Command Losses Heavy Conversion Units V8 by W R Chorley. Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt. Wings over Rutland by John Rennison. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gisela
On the night of 2 September 1941 at 2030 hours Manchester L7388 lifted off on a raid to Berlin carrying a crew of 7 men. Over Berlin the aircraft was shot down by flak and crashed in the Schronefeld district of Berlin. All crew were killed and are buried in a Berlin War Cemetry. The aircraft was carrying 2 of the handful of the stations ‘executive’ senior officers, with the loss of both 61 Squadron Commander and the Station Commander.
The raid on Berlin consisted of 49 aircraft and Wg Cdr Valentine’s Manchester was one of 5 aircraft lost that night (1 Manchester, 2 Hampdens and 2 Halifax). The overall losses that night for targets in Berlin, Frankfurt and minor operations, consisted of 12 aircraft out of the nights total of 201 sorties. This is a 6 percent loss rate. This would involve the loss from active duty of about 70 men for that night, although some of which would become POWs.
The loss of the 61 Squadron Commander and the Station Commander must have been a serious blow. The rules were changed after the loss, to ensure that squadron and station commanders could not fly operations together without special permission.
It is possible that as 61 Squadron (as with other Manchester squadrons) was struggling to get reliability out of the Manchester, that the flight was intended to show leadership from the front. The Manchester was withdrawn from service in June 1942 and was replaced by the Avro Lancaster powered by 4 reliable Merlin engines.
Group Captain J F T Barrett (DSO +bar, DFC) was 43 years old at the time of his death. His headstone also carries the epitaph – ‘A great gentleman’. I will see if I can get the medal citations for both of these commanders.
On the aircraft that night 5 other men, including another airman with a DSO – Flt Lt A B Harrison. I wonder what his citation is for? The other crew members were Sgt Dowse, Sgt Nicholson, Sgt Hamer RNZAF and Fg Off Duckworth. We will remember them.
The crew resides in a Berlin war cemetary – where there are 2601 WW2 aircrew (1828 RAF, 215 RAAF, 516 RCAF, 42 RNZAF, 5 Polish). Most are from the main bomber offensive later in the war.
In the book Avro Manchester by Robert Kirby, there is an account by Wg Cdr Weir DFC in the Forward. Weir replaced Valentine in command. He mentions that one night he was wounded by anti aircaft fire and was on sick leave, when he was informed that the squadron commander, Wg Cdr George Valentine was missing on a trip to Berlin, taking the station commander with him. He says “I was recalled immediately to take command of 61 squadron . At this time we did not seem to be a very effective part of the war effort. Morale was at a low level”. (in March 1942 conversion to the Lancaster started). I think this would be tough command, to lead a squadron with an aircraft that increased the chance of ‘going for a Burton’. Desperate times.