Canadian Sabre casualties

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.

I Fighter Wing RCAF at North Luffenham

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

Fg Off Rayner RCAF

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?

A line up of 439 (Tiger) Squadron aircrew on the operational apron. The aircraft in the pictue is 19166. (accredited to Aviation in Leicerstershire and Rutland by Roy Bonser)

Crashes/incidents:

  • 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 Robinson died 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.

1 Wing RCAF
RCAF Sabres 1 Wg RCAF (attributed to J Smith)

MOD plan to demolish the Officers’ Mess, erase heritage and enable a housing estate. Is that really the right thing to do ever, now and in isolation of the possible development of the main site?

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!)

Aerial view of Officers’ Mess complex – MOD want to fill this space with houses/delete the Mess buildings. Photo source: MOD

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?

RAF North Luffenham Officers’ Mess

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.
Sqn Ldr Stevens medals including military cross for escape activity. Picture permission – his son.

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.

Officer Mess a formal gathering. Sir Gus Walker as Station Commander RAF North Luffenham in 1942. Others are unkown? Photo H Stretton.

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 reality the Mess is the place of ‘empty chairs and tables’. Many have no known grave and often they were not decorated, they were just casualties. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=106

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:

  • Operation Fuller (the Channel Dash) in the Battle of the Atlantic. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=106
  • 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 of the heritage asset should 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.

In addition recent events (February 2024) on the u turn on MOD housing policy regarding married quarters allocation, reminds us that the young men and women who currently live in this building i.e IT IS THEIR HOME – have no redress (as they do not in the main have spouses or partners to speak for them) So until the main site of the base is closed – removing the current accommodation and utility of the wider serving comminuity that the Mess serves should not occur. The other issue is that MOD plans change and the base has been listed as closing on at least 3 previous occasions. Current uncertainty also means that the utility of the Officer’s Mess provides more flexibility for future military use of the base in these uncertain times.

  • 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
Lest we forget – here lies a fraction of the men who gave their lives and freedom in support of our values
RADF North Luffenham Officers' Mess
View of the Officers’ Mess skyline in Feb 2023

Royal Canadian Air Force graves in North Luffenham Churchyard 1952, 1953 and 1954

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)

26.7.53 Sqn Ldr J D Dickson DFC, AFC, DFM. CD see link to more information. http://www.rafnorthluffenhamheritage.me.uk/?p=372

4.8.53 LAC C H Rosin

12.11.53 LAC K S Wilkings

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.

We will remember them. Lest we forget

References: Wings Over Rutland by John Rennison. St Georges flawed masterplan for development https://www.stgeorgesrutland.co.uk/the-masterplan/

Remembrance – Resting in North Luffenham churchyard

Commonwealth war graves in North Luffenham churchyard from RAF North Luffenham

Bomber Command Memorial in London

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 Horton RAF 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.

Sgt E Horton

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.

Sgt Weaver RCAF

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.

AC1 G Roberts RAF
AC 2 F G Malin

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)

Sgt A B Wright RAF

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.[1] )

Flt Sgt F F Mackinnon RCAF

Sgt W D Morris

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.

Sgt R G Walters

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.

RAF North Luffenham

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.

RAF North Luffenham
Flt Sgt R H Lewis RCAF
RAF North Luffenham
Flt Sgt K L Campbell

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.

Sgt B F Mullet . Irish Volunteer Legion

Sgt K H Long RAF

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.

Flt Sgt Young RCAF

Sgt H Morrison RNZAF

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Squadron Leader James Donald Dickson RCAF. DFC. AFC. DFM. CD . WW2, Korea – bomber, transport and Sabre pilot

Notes on Squadron Leader James Donald Dickson RCAF RAF North Luffenham

One of the war graves in North Luffenham churchyard is that of Squadron Leader Dickson, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). This airman clearly had an eventful career flying in the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. His service started on October 23, 1940 and appears to have continued until his death on 26 July 1953.

Commissioned in Jun 1942. I have not verified the fact, but it appears his cause of death was polio. There were epidemics in the 50s of polio. it seems cruel that having survived many 2 wars, operational sorties, night fighters, bad weather and all the other hazards associated with military operational flying that he was cut down by what we now see as preventable disease.

The citation for his Air Force cross is shown below. I have not yet been able to ascertain how many hours he had recorded in this logbook, but clearly flying Wellingtons on operations in 57 Squadron RAF and being awarded his distinguished flying medal (DFM) must be an interesting story.

Followed by the award of a distinguish flying cross (DFC) flying Halifax’s on 419 Squadron also must have many stories. He also received mention in dispatches. I’ll try and see if I can find the citations for these decorations.

it also appears that Dixon had another connection with North Luffenham on 8 October 1942 when he was piloting Wellington X3 719 which hit a power line near North Luffeham. Heavy damage was caused to the aircraft nose, both propellers and starboard main plane but he was not court-martialled.

The award of the Air Force Cross (AFC) relates to outstanding leadership and flying in support of the Korean war airlift. The citation is below. A truly outstanding aviator.