On June 11
2005, the families and friends of the crew of Lancaster 1 - ME846,
PG-C will gather together at the Newark Air Museum
in Nottinghamshire, England to unveil a plaque dedicated to
seven brave young men.
On the night of
June 21/22 1944 this dedicated crew of seven took off from Dunholme
Lodge in Lincolnshire on their eighth mission. Their
seventh had been on June 6 to Caen, on D-Day. They were all
so young, not one over 21 years of age. An enormous
responsibility rested on their young shoulders. Committed to
their mission and to each other they flew through
the skies on the longest day of the year. Suddenly
at 1.20 a.m. BST, as the plane approached the Belgium/Dutch
border their plane was hit by ground fire and lives were
changed forever. The pilot, 20- year-old Pilot Officer Mark Anthony
Hamilton Davis, immediately assumed the full responsibility
for his aircraft and crew. Flight Sergeant, Peter Knox -
A418433 RAAF - Bomb Aimer would write many years later:
the sound of a
muffled explosion and a jolt" our plane had been hit by the
ack-ack and one of the starboard engines was on fire..
(Captain Davis) reverted to the language drilled into us in
the many hours of practice for just such an emergency.. he clearly
recognized that the fire was out of control. In a calm
clipped voice he said "abandon aircraft--emergency jump jump..."we each
had to confirm over the inter-com that we were jumping. As I
had to lift up the escape hatch I responded first "air-bomber jumping".
I heard the others confirm that they were going. There was no shouting,
no calls for help... the sky stretched out below...all this time the
pilot was holding the plane steady. ...I could hear the
droning of the Lancasters above as they pushed on towards the
target. Within a very short space of time I saw the explosion
as our plane plummeted into the ground. I wondered if the
others had got out and I shouted out the name of "George", our
mid-upper gunner. I thought he might have jumped about the
same time as me. My voice seemed to be lost in the vast dark
space around me and I realized there was no possibility of making any
form of human contact"
THE STORY EMERGES
Knox was lucky. Landing in a Belgium field and helped by the Resistance
and courageous Belgian farmers, he escaped capture. Sergeant,
Thomas. A. Newberry - 1602063 RAF - Wireless Operator; Sergeant, W.
Dennis "Geordie" Belshaw - 1808996 RAF - Flight Engineer,
and Flight Sergeant, Leslie E. J. "Tagger" Taylor - 1585057 RAF -
Navigator were captured and sent to Stalag Luft 3.
Despite Knox's belief that "George" was behind him, tragically
this was not the case as Pilot Officer, Mark Anthony Hamilton
"Dave" Davis - 174023 RAFVR - the brave Pilot, Sergeant, George
Harry Moggridge - 1896779 RAFVR - Mid-Upper Gunner and Pilot Officer,
John Ernest Ralph "Porky" Bowering - J/88199 RCAF - Rear Gunner,
did not survive.
Knox passed away in 1998 and a family
website was made in his honour. To their amazement, within three
years the Knox family was contacted by nephews, nieces,
grandchildren and cousins of the crew of Lancaster ME846. The
story of that very long dark night in 1944 following the longest
day had been imprinted on the hearts and minds of the families of
that ill-fated Lancaster ME846. Although sixty years have
gone by, and at least three of the surviving four crew members
have passed on, the families are still united, following
what was undoubtedly the most important night in the lives of
those young men.
The most compelling story of all was
the thirty year search by the nephew of that brave Captain - Pilot
Officer, Mark Anthony Hamilton "Dave" Davis - 174023 RAFVR.
This gave the website a whole new mission. The bodies of
Moggridge and Bowering had been recovered and are now resting in
Schoonselhof Cemetery in Antwerp, but the body of Captain Davis
has never been found. The Lancaster ME846 has never been recovered
either. In October 2003, the families had their first
reunion and instant friendships were made. Now there was a new mission
- "Find Captain Davis".
The most difficult problem was to
resolve where the plane may have crashed. Here the families
pooled all their resources from written accounts by Knox and
Taylor and expert help from the great resource of aviation historians
and buffs. It was determined the aircraft must have come
down near Postel. Christmas 2004 bought an email from a Belgian
historian, scholar and author, Kamiel Mertens, who had researched
the War years in Balen. He kindly took it upon himself
to interview everyone who might have recollections of that
night. A Parish Priest serving the neighbourhood of Postel
Abbey, Father E. Vandenbergh, wrote of that night where a
"plane exploded in the air" and how two men were dead before the
plane fell to the ground, he also described the parachutes. In
this account the crash location was 2-3 kilometres NE of the Abbey
in the Bladel Woods on the Belgian side of the border with Holland.
"Operation - Looking for Captain Davis" has become a race against
time. It is important for all the families to bid a
formal thank you and farewell to this courageous man who put
the safety and survival of his crew first. He was only 20 but it
is thanks to Captain Davis that Belshaw, Knox and Taylor survived,
and perhaps, too, Newberry whom we know was captured and taken
prisoner. Their descendants should never forget how this
one man made their existence possible by keeping the "plane
photos, bios and further information please contact:
Knox-Kiepura at firstname.lastname@example.org
Littleton New Hampshire 03561
(click to enlarge)
at RAF Winthorpe, 1661 Conversion Unit, in early March 1944 in front of
their Short's Stirling.
This was the first station where all the
crew first flew together.
From left to
|Flight Sergeant, Peter Edmund Knox||A418433
|Sergeant, Thomas. A. Newberry||1602063
|Sergeant, W. Dennis "Geordie" Belshaw||1808996
|Pilot Officer, Mark Anthony Hamilton "Dave"
|Flight Sergeant, Leslie E. J.
|Sergeant, George Harry
|Pilot Officer, John
Ernest Ralph "Porky" Bowering||J/88199
NEPHEW TELLS HIS STORY
The above photograph and
from the pilot have lain in my family's papers for many years, a
poignant reminder of a relation's part in the conflict that took place
from 1939 to 1945.
Until recently all I knew of the person
in the centre of the picture was that he was my mother's younger
brother Anthony Davis, he was a Pilot Officer in 619 Squadron and that
he had been killed in action on the night of 21st/22nd June 1944 when
his Lancaster bomber was hit, caught fire and crashed, but except for
one crew member, I knew little of the fate of rest of the crew, whether
they had escaped or why Anthony's body was never recovered. He, like
the other 20,400 other airmen and women who have no known grave, is
commemorated at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.
of the crew however had survived and soon after hostilities had
finished, he visited my grandmother to explain the circumstances of
that fateful night. He told of how her son Anthony, or Captain
Dave as he was known to the crew, had stayed at the controls after the
aircraft was hit, holding the crippled aircraft steady, in order that
all the crew had a chance of escape.
So, in 2002 I decided
to try to find out a little more history behind the faces in the
photograph. At the Society of Genealogists I was able to obtain the
names of the all the crew from the RAF lists and who had and had not
survived that night. Regrettably the rear gunner, Pilot Officer
Bowering, and the upper gunner, Sergeant Moggridge, had perished,
although under what circumstances is still not clear. They were
initially buried in the small village of Deurne in Belgium, but after
the war their bodies were brought to Antwerp and re-interred at the
Schoonselhof Cemetery. The remainder of the crew, except Anthony,
escaped from the burning aircraft, one evading capture and the other
three, Sergeant Newbury, Sergeant Belshaw and Flight Sergeant Taylor,
spending the rest of the war as prisoners.
with the aircraft's unique identification number "ME846", I completed a
search on the internet and located a message left on the bulletin board
of an aircraft museum in Canada from a Neil Webster in the UK who was
making enquiries on behalf of his partner's mother, who knew two of the
crew during the war and she was able to identify some of the crew in
the photograph. Neil added that he had a shoulder brevet
belonging to one of them, a Peter Knox.
Using Peter Knox as
a search name, I immediately located a site on the internet and to my
astonishment there was the very same photograph of the crew. This
excellent family web site has been generated and is maintained by Jane
Kiepura (nee Knox) the daughter of Peter Knox, now living with her
husband Marjan in New Hampshire in the States. She had also been
contacted by the families of two other crew members and together we
started to pool our small but significant pieces of information, built
up over the years, about each of the crew. What really hit home was the
age of those who had died. The two gunners were only 19. The pilot, my
uncle, was 20. Considering their ages, the responsibilities those and
the other members of the crew were shouldering were huge.
other contacts were made and we were able to identify all of the crew,
the type of aircraft and where and when the photograph had been taken,
but unfortunately we have not been able to locate any of the family of
Sergeant Newbury, the wireless-operator.
In October 2003,
Jane and her husband, Marjan Kiepura, were in the UK and they
arranged a celebration of remembrances for the crew. Many of the Knox
family were present and a toast was proposed by Marjan to the crew and
in particular to Captain Dave for "holding the plane steady". For me
this was a very moving experience as many of those present that evening
may not have been present but for Dave's actions.
transpired that it was Peter Knox who, evading capture and arriving
back in the UK ahead of the release of POWs, visited my grandmother and
also the immediate families of the other two crew members lost that
night, not just those in the UK but also one in Canada, to explain the
circumstances. His generosity in taking the time and trouble to visit
our family has never been forgotten and was greatly appreciated at the
time. It was from his subsequent writings of his involvement, that much
of the information of what happened that night is clearer.
now know that on 21 June 1944, the shortest night of the year, 619
Squadron was included in a task force to attack the oil and fuel dumps
at Wesseling close to Cologne. This was considered a tough target and
new crews were not included. They crossed the European coast over the
Dutch island of Walcheren, close to the Belgium border and headed for
Germany. A short while later Peter reported seeing flashes from
antiČaircraft guns on the ground and in accordance with established
routines Dave started to weave the aircraft. Then there was the sound
of a muffled explosion and a jolt. The plane had been hit by the
ack-ack and the starboard outer engine was on fire. Apart from a
momentary expletive, Dave quickly reverted to the language drilled into
him in the many hours of practice for just such an emergency. In a very
few seconds he clearly recognised that the fire was out of control and
in a calm clipped voice said "abandon aircraft-emergency, jump, jump."
crew now went into the automatic response stage. Peter, as bomber
aimer, was lying over the front exit through which he had to make his
escape, together with the navigator, the wireless-operator, the
flight-engineer and lastly the pilot. The two gunners had escape routes
at the rear of the aircraft. When Dave gave the order to abandon the
plane, each had to confirm over the inter-com that they were jumping.
As Peter had to lift up the escape hatch, he responded first
"air-bomber jumping." He heard the others starting to confirm that they
were going too. There was no shouting, no calls for help and in a
numbed state, he moved into the escape routine. Scrambling to his feet,
he grabbed and fixed the parachute onto the harness by clips in front
of his chest and sneaked a quick look at the fire engulfing the
starboard wing. He disconnected the inter-com, but since they were at
close to 20,000 feet, he had to keep using oxygen until the very last
second. Each member of the crew had their own supply. He undid the
clips of the escape hatch and lifted it for jettisoning. The force of
the rush of air twisted it as it dropped vertically through the hatch.
For a horrible second it was jamming the escape route, but he kicked it
clear and saw the gaping hole with a sense of enormous relief as he
disconnected his oxygen and rolled out head first.
this time Dave had been holding the plane as steadily as possible. What
happened next is not entirely clear. The navigator, the
wireless-operator and the flight-engineer left the aircraft after
Peter, but Dave did not follow and it would appear the two gunners
never made it from their exit before the aircraft exploded a short
while later. Nothing to identify the aircraft has ever been
Peter unfortunately died in 1998,
but I am so grateful to him for his recollections of that night on
which the above detail is based and grateful also to his daughter Jane
who has been marvellous in her determination to find out still more
information about the crew and to bring the relations together. Without
her fortitude, we would not know as much as we do at present.
the shoulder brevet that once belonged to Jane's father? Neil Webster
who has kept this safely for the past 60 years has now passed this to
We know that the crew who escaped from the burning
aircraft, came down near Balen in Belgium, which was right on track for
the eventual target that night. We also know that two of the crew were
buried at Deurne, a small village 18kms south of Balen. With a
starboard engine on fire, it is entirely possible for the aircraft to
stray off course to the south before crashing. But where did this
happen? For my family, the closure would be the recovery of Anthony's
remains for burial. However, this seems highly unlikely as the records
held by the RAF confirm the total disintegration of the aircraft, a not
uncommon occurrence for an aircraft fully laden with fuel and bombs
that is also crippled by fire.
Whiteley, Secretary of the 619 Squadron Association confirmed
the operation history on Lancaster ME 846 stating that "crew were
posted as "missing" on the Wesseling operation on June 21 1944, he
listed the eight operations carried out by ME 846 in the period 19 May
to 21 June 1944. They were:
Duisburg (operation abandoned as radio was unserviceable)
Caen (Normandy - D-Day)
He added that "21 June 1944 was the blackest day
in the history of 619 Squadron. Sixteen Lancasters took part in the
Wesseling operation and seven aircraft failed to return."
| || |
Us | Site Map