Remembrance – North Luffenham churchyard and our values

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.

There is a post concerning the World War 2 airmen graves – see this link. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=133

The second post concerns the Canadian Cold War related graves – see this link http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=372

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

Per Ardua

The lost and unknown graves in an 8 month period

Using the books : Bomber Command Losses 1941 and 1942 – I put togther this table and it is a source of hurt that there is a high percentage of crew with no known grave. These are recorded on the Runnymede Memorial. The Bomber Command memorial in London is a specific tribute to the members of Bomber Command. A very moving memorial.

Bomber Command memorial in Piccadilly, London

Why so many unknown graves – the missions at this time were a mix of bombing and mine laying – mostly at night and in bad weather. Some aircraft hit by flak or nightfighter cannon fire exploded when main fuel tanks or bombs were hit and even though the wreckage was on land remains were not recovered. This was at a time when night navigation was difficult and also meterology information was rudimentary at this stage of the war. No airborne radar navigation or GPS – just maps, compass, airspeed indicator and stopwatch, so 1dead reckoning’ navigation. Also the forceast and meterology were primitive by modern standards. Flying in winter and having severe icing must have also caused many casualties. Planning and dead reckoning at night must have been extremely challenging for the young men. Some radio direction finding equipment – but not sure what was available to 61 and 144 Squadron at the time we are looking at.

A table showing the figure for operations at North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge. Killed, POW, no known grave and airframes.

There were recorded occurances of pilots and naviagtors reading the compass wrongly and compass design was changed. So a course flown 180 degrees out – meaning hundreds of miles into the Atlantic. The cross bar should be toward the red north pointer.

Bomber compass – correct orientation – the cross tag aligned to north.
Bomber compass – wrong and probably fatal setting of a compass – easy to be 180 degrees out
Aicraft compass – later design, maing it harder to set incorrectly

References

The following books = provide detailed information for research:

  • The Bomber Command War Diaries – outlines day by day missions flown, by whom and where.  Of great relevance to North Luffenham was the Channel Dash 12 Feb 42 – where the 2 Nazi battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruiser Prinz Eugen dailed from Brest through the English Channel in a carefully prepared and well-executed operation. Bomber command launched 3 waves to find the ships in bad weather and low cloud, the operation was called Op FULLER. 144 Sqn from N Luff lost 2 aircraft, 1 aircraft AE141 was hit by flak and was wrecked while making an emergency landing at Norwich killing 1 crew member. Another aircraft AT175, was lost without trace – the crew of 5 included the Squadron Commander Wg Cdr Simmonds.
  • Bomber Command Losses – 1941 and 1942. This provides a day by day detail of losses and occasion chapter summaries. I have used these to collate the losses from July 1941 to April 1942 for 61, 144 and 408 Canadian Squadrons to get a picture of losses.
  • 5 Group Bomber Command – An operational record by Chris Ward. A history of the Group and detail information on the Squadrons.
  • Hampden references:
    • Hamden Special by Chaz Boyer – provides full history of the type and points of history. No pictures of North Luffenham but representative pictures 5 Group operations/squadrons, bomb loads and aerial mines.
    • Hampden Squadrons in Focus by Mark Postlethwaite. Excellent photographic record of Hampden Squadrons. Picture of 144 Squadron in front of a hangar at N Luff before the Sqn transferred to Coastal Command to re-role as torpedo carriers.
    • Handley Page Hamden and Hereford by Alan W Hall. Warpaint Series no 57. More pictures and camouflage colour schemes
  • Avro Manchester – The legend behind the Lancaster by Robert Kirby. The full story of the Manchester and its ill-fated existence. Includes detail about all Manchester losses including those lost from 61 Sqn at N Luff/Woolfox Lodge. Some very courageous and tragic stories of desperately trying to operate the aircraft, but ultimately failing due to the technology not being up the task.
  • RAF Evaders by Oliver Clutton-Brock. A fascinating book outlining the escapers and their escape lines over 1940 to 1945. This is a book you can open any page and read about amazing journeys and courage. For North Luffenham, out of all the airmen who did not return I could only find one man who was an evader – Sergeant Albert Wright – Upper Gunner in a 61 San Manchester shot down and crash landed near Brest on the night of 1 Feb 1942. He finally returned to the UK at the end of September.
  • The Strategic Air Offensive aginst Germany 1940 to 1945. This is a 3 volume reference by Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland published by HMSO in 1961 as the official history of the Second World War. Volume 1 ‘Preparation’ covers the background of my snapshot ( July 1941 to June 1942). By this stage of the war daylight bombing had been proven to be a lost cause due to the severe losses of Wellingtons and Hampdens in daylight to 20 mm armed fighters (Heligoland 18 Dec 39 – 10 out of 22 returned). The drift into ‘area’ bombing had happened and we find 61 and 144 Squadron at North Luffenham prosecuting raids into Germany and most sorties directed to the the battleships in port on the west coast of France and the conduct of mining sorties to support the Battle of the Atlantic. So a day bomber design was being used to operate at night and over the sea.
  • Escape, Evasion and Revenge. By Marc H Stevens. Story of a German jew called Georg Ranz Hein, who was sent by his mother to Britain to escape the rise of the Nazis. He committed identify theft to avoid be locked up as an alien in 1939 and joined the RAF. He completed 22 missions flying the Hampden bomber, but was shot down and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. He became an escaper and 3 times escaped. This book plots the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the life in the RAF and in the prisoner of war camps. Amazing story.
  • Before the Storm. By Robert Jackson. The story of Bomber Command 1939 to 1942. Covers the history of the RAF bomber force from the end of the first world war and gives the context as to why the RAF entered the war with a lot of substandard tactics, aircraft and training. The bravery of the crews is not at question and the scale of some losses from tactical failures was sometimes extreme. The change from daylight bombing and massive losses to fighters and the switch to night attacks. Also traces the efforts of the French air force in the blitzkreig. This is a comprehnsive accout of the early years.