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
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
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 40 Commonwealth Wargrave headstones in North Luffenham churchyard and the graves fall into 4 time periods:
World War 1 – 2 Army Privates – Adams and Steel – details not recorded in this blog.
World War 2, RAF, RNZAF, RAAF, RCAF – 18 graves.
Cold war – Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) – 11 graves.
Remainder Other Royal Air Force and Services graves, all post war.
This post provides details about the 18 World War 2 graves: 16 aircrew. 7 RAF (including an Irishman), 6 Canadian, 4 New Zealand, 1 Australian and 2 RAF groundcrew. This is minor fraction of men killed – see post the butchers bill this blog. Also men killed in crashes – were often sent home to be buried in their home parishes. Youngest man buried in North Luffenham was F/sgt Campbell at 19 years old and oldest was Sgt Douglas at 30 years old. The average being about 23 years old.
This is what I have found out about the men so far. Most of the information comes from the books Royal Air Force – Bomber Command Losses – 1941, 1942 and Volume 7 Operational Training Units (OTU) by W.R. Chorley. Also the Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt provide information about the wider effort on a particular day.
7.9.41 Sgt Eric HortonRAF 943238 Wireless Operator/air gunner. 144 Sqn RAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden AD936 on takeoff for Berlin at 20:52. Crashed on the Empingham to Ketton road. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.
The raid that night consisted of 197 aircraft and 15 aircraft were lost – 8 Wellingtons, 2 Hampdens (including AD936), 2 Whitleys, 2 Stirlings and 1 Manchester.
20.9.41 Sgt Harold Douglas Weaver RCAF R62250 Air Observer. 144 Sqn RAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden K3030 on approach to land after an operation to Frankfurt at 22:05. Crashed into high tension cables alongside the Mortcott to Uppingham Road some 2 miles SE of the airfield. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.
K3030 was one of 34 aircraft sent to Frankfurt but they were recalled because of worsening weather, some did bomb Frankfurt, no aircaft were lost but 3, including K3030 crashed in England. On the main raid to Berlin of 74 aircraft, none reached Berlin and 3 Wellingtons and 1 Whitley failed to return and 12 more aircraft crashed in the UK! Bad weather leading to many casualties, including Sgt Weaver.
9.11.41 Aircraftsman 1st Class – George Roberts RAF and Aircraftsman 2nd Class – Frederick George Malin. RAF. These 2 ground airmen were killed in the airfield control caravan by an aircaft landing which ‘swung’ into the caravan. The 2 airmen were killed and another injured.
The Hampden (AE311) had been on operations to Hamburg and crashed at 23:43. The crew were not recorded as being injured. There were 106 aircraft on the raid and 1 Welligton was lost.
25.1.42 Sgt Albert Barclay Wright RAF Wireless Operator/air gunner. 408 Sqn RCAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden AD782 on takeoff for Brest to bomb the German capital ships at 1737. Crashed after stalling at 1500 feet and eye witnesses said it dived straight into the ground near the Lyndon to Wing Road. Cause unknown. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.
The Bomber Command War Diaries say that 61 aircraft were dispatched and no aircraft were lost. ( I have yet to cross check this with other records)
9.3.42 Flight Sergeant Fernand Fagan Mackinnon RCAF. Wireless Operator/air gunner. and Sgt William Douglas Morris RAF Wireless Operator/air gunner. Three crew killed in a crash of 408 Sqn RCAF Hampden AD842 on takeoff to go ‘gardening’ i.e laying an anti shipping mine at 01:52. Target area was the Friesian Islands, north Germany. The Bomber Command War Diaries say that no aircraft were lost which does not tally with this loss.
Sgt Morris’s headstone also records the loss of his brother, Thomas, lost at sea 14 Oct 41. Engine Room Artificer 4th Class – on HMS Fleur-de-Lys -Thomas Cope Morris aged 32.
Stalled after takeoff and struck an ‘armadillo’ on the airfield and burnt. The pilot escaped with injuries. (wikepedia says an Armadillo was an extemporised armoured fighting vehicle produced in Britain during the invasion crisis of 1940-1941. Based on a number of standard lorry (truck) chassis, it comprised a wooden fighting compartment protected by a layer of gravel and a driver’s cab protected by mild steel plates. Armadillos were used by the RAF Regiment to protect aerodromes and by the Home Guard.)
12.4.42 Flt Sgt David Lloyd Carnegy Liddell RNZAF. Crash of 144 Sqn Hampden AT155 on an air test at 1540 – crashed at Ridlington – 2 killed.
29.9.42 Sgt Ronald George Walters RCAF. 29 OTU training accident. Wellington DV834. Swung on take-off and crashed and burnt. It was thought that the pilot’s slender build was a contributory factor in the accident. Flt Sgt L. L Jones RCAF was killed and the other crew injured. Sgt Walters died the day after of his injuries. Flt Sgt L L Jones was born in Toronto Canada – however, after the accident he was ‘claimed’ by Cornish relatives and he is buried in St Just Cornwall.
7.2.43 Sgt Leonard Francis Croker 413031 Air bomber RNZAF and Sgt Tom Lindley Pilot RNZAF
Crash of Wellington N2761 From 11 OTU from RAF Westcott, Buckinghamshire on a training flight. Crashed at Fletcher Field near Ashley 5 miles WNW of Corby – 3 killed and 2 buried at North Luffeham. Luffenham must have been the closest RAF base and therefore, recovered the men.
27.2.43 Flt Sgt Richard Hubert Lewis – Air Gunner RCAF and Flt Sgt Keith Lauchlan Cambell – Navigator RCAF
Killed in Wellinton BK268 of 427 Sqn from RAF Croft. Crashed on Ops to Koln, Crashed while returning to Croft with one engine on fire. Crashed near Woolfox Lodge – 5 killed 1 injured. That night 427 aircraft were dispatched and 4 Wellingtons, 3 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes and 1 Stirling were lost.
5.3.43 Sgt Brendan Francis Mullet RAF – Wireless operator/air gunner and Sgt Kenneth Hughes Long – Pilot RAF
Killed in 29 OTU Wellington BK390 on a training flight – took off at 0159 from North Luffenham and crashed into houses in North Coates, Cambridgeshire, 4 killed and 1 injured. Sgt Mullet was one of the Irish Volunteer Legion. One of up to 200,000 Irish Volunteers serving in armed forces in World War 2.
12.5.43 Sgt John Angus Douglas RAAF. 29 OTU from RAF North Luffenham – killed in crash of Wellington BK123. Tookoff at 1215 on training . Crashed at 1240 at Scottlethorpe – 5 miles SSW of Sunthorpe – 3 killed.
2.5.42 Flt Sgt J R Young RCAF – Pilot and Sgt H Morrison RNZAF Observer. Killed in the crash of Belnheim L9206 from 13 OTU. Took off from RAF Bicester on a navigation exercise and crashed at 11:35, 3 miles east of Billesdon – 8 miles SSE of Leicester. Dived into ground and exploded killing all 3 crew.
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.