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Beach bombers recognized

For the majority of the men from Malvern Collegiate Institute who fought in the Second World War, there was one big disappointment in the years after it ended. While many of their comrades in the other services were being honored on the anniversaries of the war, those who flew in bombers were conspicuously left out of the commemorations. The strategic bombing campaign that attempted to destroy Germany’s ability to make war was controversial at the time and remains so to this day. While the efforts and sacrifices of sailors, soldiers and even fighter pilots were marked with memorials and medals, there was nothing for the Bomber Boys, a source of disappointment that many of those veterans have already taken to their graves.

After years of lobbying by veterans, the deliberate oversight was finally corrected this past summer, when Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park on June 28, with members of the Royal Family present along with veterans and their families.

A total of 55,573 bomber command personnel were killed in the war – almost half of the 125,000 who volunteered – and it was the second most hazardous arm to serve in, after the German U-boat service. Of those who survived, 8,400 were wounded and 10,000 were taken prisoner. Of the 103 people on Malvern’s Honour Roll 1939-1945, 82 were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and 48 of them went through the almost two years of training it took to become a member of a bomber crew. Their average age was 22.

It was no accident that Malvern students flocked to the air force. As well as being considered an elite branch of the armed forces, Teacher Colin McKenzie Arnot encouraged students to become flyers and formed a branch of the Air Cadets at the school. Aside from the fact that Malvern was a senior matriculation school, where many finished high school in prepartion for university, the whole country was caught up in the news about the Battle of Britain, the glamour of flying and Canada’s role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The newspapers were quick to write glowing stories when local boys graduated from flying school and earned their wings or became air crew.

But serving in a bomber crew was no soft touch. It involved hours of night flying over hostile country watching out for deadly radar-equipped night fighters and a band of anti-aircraft (flak) defences that stretched the length of the European coast. Crews tasked with bombing German war factories lived in dread of being ‘coned’ by enemy searchlights in the flak zones and stalked by night fighters as they made the return trip to their bases in the northeast of England. Thousands of two- and four-engine bombers were brought down by these defences, each with a crew of seven men: pilot, bomb aimer, navigator, flight engineer, wireless operator and two gunners.

These are some of the stories of Malvern’s Bomber Boys who did not return.

William Frank Anderson
Flying Officer Frank Anderson was a blue-eyed, fair-haired athlete who attended Balmy Beach Public School before he went to Malvern. He and his all-Canadian crew from 426 Squadron were in one of 202 Halifax four-engine bombers detailed to attack a synthetic oil plant in Oberhausen, Germany, on the night of Nov. 1, 1944. After an apparent night-fighter attack, their aircraft was severley damaged and circled the town of Haan, looking for a place to crash land. When the plane hit the ground, it exploded in flames, damaging 15 houses and throwing some of the crew into the surrounding debris.  A young eye-witness recounted years later that he never forgot the sight of Anderson slumped over the controls, still strapped into his cockpit as the plane burned. His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial in England.

Donald Arnot

Donald Mackenzie Arnot and Alan Leslie Clogg
The son of Malvern teacher Colin Arnot, Donald Arnot was a veteran pilot who rose to the rank of Squadron Leader and won the Distinguished Flying Cross for successfully attacking his target in a damaged aircraft and then bringing it home safely. A week after receiving his award, on Jan. 22, 1944, he and the crew of Halifax LL139,  427 Squadron, were were shot down by a night fighter while clearing the target area over Magdeburg. Before the crew could bail out, the aircraft exploded in mid air and only one member of the crew, who was thrown clear by the blast, survived to become a prisoner of war. Arnot and the others are all buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. Flying Officer Alan Clogg a navigator from 102 Squadron, was headed out on the same raid as Arnot, when his Halifax inexplicably crashed into the North Sea off Flamborough Head, north of Bridlington, Yorkshire. The bodies of two of the crew were recovered, but Clogg and the others were never found.

Arthur Attewell

Arthur Ernest Attewell
Son of Wing Commander William Gordon Attewell, MBE, Arthur was the flight engineer of a Canadian-built Lancaster Mk X that crashed on July 29, 1944, after taking off from RAF Middleton St. George for an attack on Hamburg. His was an experienced crew, on its 38th mission and about ready to be “screened out” to training duties for a rest. One member was already 10 “trips” into his second tour. No trace of them was ever found and they are among those listed on the Runnymede Memorial to those Air Force men with no known grave, at Englefield Green on the western outskirts of Greater London.

Graham Frederic Butson
Warrant Officer 2nd Class Graham Butson was an air gunner in a Lancaster from 408 Squadron sent to bomb Essen on April 27, 1944. Another of the frequent Ruhr Valley targets, Essen was home to the famous Krupp armaments factory. They were attacked by a night fighter flown by German ace Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer and shot down, crashing into the Scheldt estuary between Westerschouwen and Wissenkerke, Holland. Although several of the crew’s bodies were later washed ashore, Butson was never found and he is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.

Crawford Lee Johnston and William Frank Henry
Halifax NP743 had two Malvernites on board when it took off on Jan. 29, 1945, to bomb Stuttgart. The pilot was Flying Officer Crawford Johnston and one of the gunners was Pilot Officer Bill Henry who only arrived at Malvern in 1938, the year after Johnston had graduated. It was a “scratch” crew, thrown together for the mission. Although officially reported as “failed to return”, the plane may have crashed near the village of Gueltingen, Germany. Both men are buried in Durnbach War Cemetery, which is 300 kilometres away.

Herbert Dalton Lewis
Flight Sergeant Herb Lewis was the pilot of a 61 Squadron Lancaster that took off from RAF Syerston in Lincolnshire on Feb. 7, 1943, part of a force of 323 Bomber Command aircraft sent to Lorient, France, to destroy the U-boat base on the Bay of Biscay. It was the height of the battle of the Atlantic and the navy was anxious to attack the U-boat base and stop the devastating attacks on Allied shipping. Lewis and crew were shot down and crashed in the Lorient area. They are buried in nearby Guidel Community Cemetery.

Morris Murray

Morris Campbell Murray
The story of Flight Sergeant Morris Murray is well known to the Malvern Grade 10 class of 2009 that visited his grave site in Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery on the annual French trip. Murray was the navigator in a 76 Squadron Halifax assigned to bomb the coastal gun batteries at Mont Fleury prior to D-Day in the early hours of June 6. It was only his third trip over enemy territory and he had just returned from a week’s leave. The plane was hit by flak and crashed just inland from the invasion beaches between Ver-sur-Mer and Graye-sur-Mer, Normandy. Murray, being the only Canadian on the crew, was buried at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery while the rest were interred 22 kilometres away at Bayeux War Cemetery.

Mel Price

Charles Melville Price
The crew of Lancaster JB659, 97 Squadron, was on its way home after successfully bombing Berlin on Jan. 31, 1944, when it was tracked by a nightfighter and shot down near Zwanenburg, the Netherlands. Flight Sergeant Mel Price, the tail gunner, was with them. Both of the plane’s starboard engines were damaged and before its crew could bail out, it crashed into a farm house, killing six members of a large Dutch family, including both parents. Four of the children were sleeping in another building and survived. The plane was so deeply embedded in the ground that it wasn’t uncovered until 2001 and the five missing crew members, including Price, were found in the aircraft and finally buried on Nov. 29, 2001, an event televised by the BBC. They are now buried in Haarlemmermeer (Zwanenberg) General Cemetery, west of Amsterdam.

James Small

James Roy Robert Small
On Nov. 26, 1943, 443 Lancasters were sent to bomb Berlin and did a feint towards Frankfurt that fooled the German defenders for a time. That didn’t save Warrant Officer Second Class James Small and the crew of  626 Squadron Lancaster DV388, which was brought down at Finow, just outside of Berlin, the most heavily defended target in Germany. The crew were all were buried there on Nov. 29, 1943, but their bodies were later moved to Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.

Murray Lincoln Richardson
Oblt. Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin, a decorated Luftwaffe nightfighter pilot, was from a military family and lost both his father and brother in the war. He was one of those tasked with stopping the Allied bomber assault and on the night of Nov. 18, 1943, he tracked down 115 Squadron Lancaster DS680 over Hermée, Belgium.
Their task on that night was to bomb the IG Farben factory at Ludwigshafen using only H2S, a new on-board radar system introduced earlier that year. Among the crew was Malvern grad Pilot Officer Murray Richardson, the bombardier. Von Bonin, as he did 37 times during the war, successfully brought down the English ‘viermotor’ (four engine) bomber and Richardson and his South African, British and Canadian crew mates were all killed. They are buried in Heverlee War Cemetery.

John (Jack) James Stephen
Flight Lieutenant Jack Stephen and his 429 Squadron crew of Halifax LK974 were part of a unique story. Their plane was originally with 427 Squadron and named after film star Judy Garland. Hollywood and MGM Studios had officially adopted the squadron and several of the unit's aircraft therefore carried contemporary film stars' names. But replacement aircraft were in high demand and “Judy Garland” was sent to 429 Squadron for duty. That’s how Stephen came to be piloting her on a raid to Leipzig when the aircraft was shot down near Stendal, Germany, on the night of Feb. 20, 1944. The crew were buried five days later in Stendal, but were eventually moved to the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. One crew member survived to become a prisoner of war: Warrant Officer Second Class Bill Ostlund of Saskatchewan. (Stephen’s brother Andrew was a Hurricane pilot with 615 Squadron who was killed while attempting an emergency landing on a beach in Wales on July 11, 1941.)

Doug Thomas

Douglas Osborne Thomas
Malvern grad Doug Thomas was the pilot of Halifax LW499, which took off from 640 Squadron’s home base at RAF Leconfield just after 10pm on May 12, 1944 with the task of bombing the railway yards in Hasselt, Belgium. Their objective was part of the Transportation Plan prior to D-Day, that was designed to cripple the German Army’s ability to respond to an invasion. Thomas and crew were shot down by a night-fighter flown by Obleutnant Frederich Tober and crashed near Geel, Belgium. Those killed were buried on May 15, 1944 in Deurne, Antwerp but were moved later to nearby Schoonselhof Cemetery, one of many cemeteries were Allied personnel burials were concentrated after the war. The lone survivor, RAF Sgt. J. S. Scott, became a prisoner of war.

Frederick Purchase

Other Bomber Command men from Malvern:
Flying Officer Gord Edward Donaldson, 419 Squadron, killed Sept. 29, 1943; Flying Officer James Gaston Hatchwell, killed Dec. 21, 1943; Flying Officer Jack Verner Pearl, killed Feb. 20, 1944; Warrant Officer Second Class Frederick Hugh Purchase, 429 Squadron, killed April 27, 1943.

David Fuller is a writer, amateur historian and decade representative, 1903-1939, for the Malvern Red & Black Society. If you have information about any former student who served in the wars, especially photos, please contact him at david_fuller@live.ca.

1 Responses »

  1. Thankyou for sharing information about these local guys. I will keep them in mind tomorrow, November 11th, along with thoughts of my Dad, Grant Gilbert, who remained in the RCAF for 33 years.

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