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
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 this period there were casualties. Casualties not returned to relatives for burial somewhere else are resting in North Luffenham Churchyard. Of note this was not the first time the Canadians had flown from RAF North Luffenham. In WW2 408 Goose Squadron operated from North Luffenham for a period in 1942.
Over the 4 year period there were a significant 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. By records seen to date eight pilots lost their life in this period with some 19 or 20 Sabres being written off. Engine failure, fires, running out of fuel and inability to recover from spins seem to have been the main causes. It should also be remembered the ejection seats were early versions with no automatic seat seperation or parachute deployment – these functions would have to be performed by the pilot. Landing short may also have been due to the long time early jet engines took to ‘spool up’ if you needed power.
There is an anecdotal story that a house below the threshold of Runway 27 (clearly a dangerous place as Sabres landed short!) had a red light installed on the chimney due to the short landings and perhaps the occupants were rehoused and a house built? Please let me know if you can confirm this?
18 April 1952. Mid air collision over the Wash between Sabre 19177 and 19181.. Fg Off J A L Kerr and Fg Off Rayner killed.
12 June 1952. Sabre 19189 – written off following wheels up deadstick landing in a potato field on Thurnby Fen, near Bourne, following engine failure.
24 June 1952. Sabre 19156. Written off in emergency landing near Stamford following a fire in the ammunition bay.
1 July 1952. Sabre 19187. Flying Officer R J ‘Digger’ Conti killed in a crash. Ran out of fuel and crashed in the sea. No known grave.
8 July 1952. Sabre 19112 Pilot ejected over the Wash after engine failure. Crashed 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.
25 August 1952. Sabre 19178. Crashed landed whilst overshooting North Luffenham.
September 1952. An aircraft landed on the airfield with a fire in the starboard 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.
3 June 1953. Sabre 19193. Fg Off J J R Bedard killed as aircraft dived into ground near Boston.
20 August 1953. Sabre 19158. Fuel exhausted, pilot ejected into sea off Cromer.
26 November 1953. Sabre 19152. Unable to recover from spin , pilot ejected near Wells
6 October 1953. Sabre 19167. Aircraft written off at North Luffenham. Cause unknown.
26 Novermber 1953. Sabre 19152. Unable to recover from spin pilot ejected near Wells.
2 December 1953. Sabre 19185. Landed short at North Luffenham.
14 December 1953. Fg Off P V Robinsondied in a crash near Holme Moss TV station in the Peak District.
16 December 1953. Sabre 19137. Flying Officer David Gordon Tracey killed in a crash. With fuel exhausted and unable to eject, pilot attempeted a bale out but was unsuccessful and died when aircraft crashed near Long Whatton, Leicestershire.
21 February 1954. Sabre 19159. Fg Off Knox-Leete landed short at North Luffenham.
8 April 1954. Sabre 19155. Engine trouble landed short of runway at North Luffenham.
17 April 1954. Wing Commander Parks DFC & Bar. DC. Lost without trace over the North Sea. No known grave.
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.
The pilots in this list who are buried in North Luffenham churchyard are : Fg Off Rayner 18.4.52. Fg Off Tracey 16.12.53 and Fg Off Rbinson 14.12.54. It is not known where other casualties are buried or commemorated. In NL churchyard Fg Offs Elphick and Gillies are laid to rest – it is unknown if their death were related to air activities?
Further work to be done – all details unvalidated! Information primarily from the book: Aviation in Leicestershire and Rutland by Roy Bonser.
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, including the 1000 raids. 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. Early jet avaiation was hazardous and the Canadians lost about 20 aircraft and had 8 deaths. The 7 young flying officers who died in air accidents had their last meals in their home the Officers’ Mess.
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 many nationally recognised and decorated RAF and Allied airmen and leaders. This includes holders of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Air Force Cross (AFC), and a Military Cross (MC) holder.
The DFC and DSO are awarded for extarordiary bravery almost all in relation to combat with the enemy, and are the next level below the Victoria Cross. A bar is the repeat of the award. The DFM was awarded to other ranks and an officer with a DFM had been commissioned. The Military Cross is only awarded for extreme bravery on the ground and is rare for an air force officer to receive this award. In this case it was awarded for extreme and sustained bravery for escape attempts as a prisoner of war. Mid is mentioned in despatches.
Flying Officer G F Wise DFM
Flying Officer H E Aspey MiD
Flying Officer D S Matthews DFM
Flying Officer H Wathey DFM
Flying Officer R F Sidwell DFC
Flying Officer J P Farrow DFM
Flight Lieutenant J F Craig DFC
Flight Lieutenant A B Harrison DSO (died over Berlin)
Flight Lieutenant F E Sheppard DFC
Squadron Leader T N C Burrough DFC (died over Brest)
Squadron Leader Peter Stevens MC
Squadron Leader A M Paape DFC and Bar
Squadron Leader Don Dickson AFC, DFM, DFC
Squadron Leader T R Holland AFC
Wing Commander Parks DFC
Wing Commander Valentine DFC (died over Berlin)
Wing Commander A C Richards DFC
Wing Commander G F Simmond MiD (died over the Channel)
Wing Commander R A V Gascoyne-Cecil DFC and Bar
Group Captain Hale DFC, MiD
Group Captain Barrett DSO & Bar, DFC (died over Berlin)
Group Captain P I Harris DFC
Group Captain J D Somerville DSO, DFC
Group Captain J D Smythe DSO, DFC, AFC
Group Captain P R W Sands MBE, DFC
Group Captain J A Sowrey DFC AFC
Air Marshal T C Weir CB, CBE, DFC
Air Marshal Sir Gus A Walker GCB, CBE, DSO, DFC, AFC
Air Marshal E C Bates CB, CBE, AFC, CD
There are many others who were awarded bravery awards at North Luffenham. The list above is not complete and is primarily defined from the Bomber Command Losses books. Further research is required. 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. One wonders where will they live when the Mess is gone and the base still active?
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 perhaps over 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 and France 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.
Training bomber crews for the invasion of Japan.
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 RAF night fighters
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 Squadrons, 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. The main 1940s portion of the Mess , as the heart sof teh heritage asset hould be listed. 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.
Holistic planning. 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. It makes no sense to build a shop when there is a car park and a disused building (the power house) across the road from the Officer’s Mess.
Historic England guidance to government departments on disposal of heritage assets specifically states – saleable assets should not be ‘picked off’ and sold in isolation of the heritage asset being developed in a ‘holistic’ manner.
Circular Economy. Developing this site in isolation will fail to result in joined-up infrastructure, energy, carbon and built environment design resulting in more emissions and use of primary resources (the Circular Economy to manage at end of life to maximuse the value of resources and minimise waste. In addition reduce demand for precious primary materials, lower emmisions, reduce impact on socitey). 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 and design options for the Mess site are reduced if not taken in context of the main site.
The Mess site should not be developed in isolation and 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, it was just really starting, 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. There of course are also uplifting tales of survival and the British character telling through.
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 Stalag Luft 3 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.
Many also took part in the ‘March’ at the end of the war – where POWs were marched westwards away from the Soviets – Stevens took part in that as well.
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
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:
1651 OCU casualties night 3/4 Mar 45 (as recorded in Bomber Command Losses Volume 6 – 1945 – pages 212
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.
Entry in Bomber Command Losses – Heavy Conversion Units Volume 8
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.
Wg Cdr Valentine’s Manchester crew – first eight headstones from the left
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.
RAF North Luffenham stained glass memorials in Edith Weston and North Luffenham churches
Church windows in Edith Weston and North Luffenham. The champion who made this happen was Rev Brian Nicholls (he had served in the RAF).
Memorial windows in Edith Weston Church RAF North Luffenham – memorial stained glass in Edith Weston churchMemorial on the Edith Weston Church gate to crashed Lancaster in Edith WestonGates presented to the village of North Luffenham in commemoration of the RAF finally leaving the station. The gates are located near the Fox pub and guard the entrance to the cricket ground. Swift to reply – RAF North Luffenham station crestBoards from Officers’ Mess – list of station commanders RAF North Luffenham