18.06.1940 No. 10 Squadron RAAF Walrus I L2312 Fl/Lt. Bell
Operation: SOE. (Special Operations Executive)
Date: 18th June 1940 (Tuesday)
Unit: No. 10 Squadron RAAF
Type: Supermarine Walrus Mk I
Serial No L2312
Base: RAF Mount Batten, Plymouth
Location: Ploudaniel, Brittany, France
Pilot: Fl/Lt. 'Dinger' John Napier Bell AUS/162 RAAF Age 24. Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. 'Chas' Charles William Harris AUS/1730 RAAF Age 31. Killed (1)
Nav: Cpl. Bernard Felix Nowell 565931 RAF Age 25. Killed
Passenger: Cpt. Norman Edward Hope 141140 Intelligence Corps. Killed
We are indebted to Alan Hall who has researched this loss with great detail and advised us of possible errors which we are evaluating - January 2015.
This takes time! Of course you can read his research further by purchasing his book on the subject - details shown.
Reason For Loss:
The aircraft crossed the coast of Brittany approximately 20 Kilometres west of Carantec. It is believed that the aircraft came under either French or German fire.The aircraft was hit and the pilot attempted to land in a field near Ploudaniel, but hit a embankment in the fog. The aircraft caught fire and all four occupants were killed. When the aircraft crashed some local people came from Ploudaniel and removed the bodies from the burnt our aircraft and buried them in the local cemetery before the German army occupied their town.
After General De Gaulle had arrived safely in England on Monday 17th June 1940, he made a special request to the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, asking him to rescue his family from Brittany. Prime Minister was in agreement and he informed the British Admiralty on the same day to arrange the rescue. The same day the Admiralty made arranges with the RAF to supply a Sea Plane to take a Special Operations Executive and Admiralty passenger Captain Norman Hope of the Intelligence Corp, who was a fluent French speaker. (notes)
Cpt. Hope himself would indicate where he wished to be landed and on instructions from the Prime Minister of Great Britain would endeavour to collect General Charles De Gaulle's wife and children and bring them back to the aircraft for passage to England. The mission was considered extremely dangerous and required volunteers, the Walrus crews drew lots to see who would go. Fl/Lt. John Bell and Sgt. Charles Harris, both Australians drew the lots.
Left: Group portrait showing Flying Officer John Napier Bell (wearing cap) with his crew members of a Supermarine Seagull V (Walrus) of No. 5 (Fleet Cooperation) Squadron RAAF (courtesy Australian National Archives)
The aircraft was fully armed ready to keep defensive watch at all times. On the 18th of June 1942 they took off at 03:00 hrs. from their base at RAF Mount Batten, Plymouth to carry out the mission to rescue the family of General Charles De Gaulle from France. From the time of take off nothing was heard from the aircraft.
The time of the return of the aircraft depended on whether Captain Hope could find the family and also on events on the Brittany coast. The Germans were expected to approach the vicinity by 15:00 hrs. on the 18th. On the 19th June, a Motor Torpedo Boat 29, after embarking an interpreter and a skiff, despatched from England to the same locality, to arrive off the main channel to Morlaix at 00:01 hrs. on the 20th June.
The skiff was to be used to land the Captain Hope, who was to endeavour to find the De Gaulle family, already having moved from the family home at Colombey Deux Eglises a month previously and were living at Carantec on the North Coast of Brittany.
The Captain was to convoy them to the Motor Torpedo Boat. General De Gaulle had already escaped to England on the 17th of June. Captain Hope was also ordered to make enquiries regarding the missing Walrus aircraft, a description of the crew having been provided. The Motor Torpedo Boat returned on the 20th June, reporting that the interpreter had landed, but found the village already occupied by the Germans.
Notes: Mdm. De Gaulle and her children had already escaped via boat to England - they were in fact in England before Cpt. Hope had left! Madame de Gaulle knew nothing of this attempt to rescue her. She and her children found room on the last boat to leave Brest before the Germans arrived.
(1) Were the first Australian combat casualties of the RAAF.
Fl/Lt. John Napier Bell. Churchyard, Brittany, France. Grave 4. Son of John Henry and Eva Annie Bell, of Farina, South Australia.
Bernard Felix Nowell. Ploudaniel Churchyard, Brittany, France. Grave 3. Son of Lawrence and Gertrude Nowell, husband of Susan Ann Nowell,of Bognor Regis, Sussex, England.
Sgt Charles William Harris. Ploudaniel Churchyard, Brittany, France. Grave 2. Son of William Charles and Denah Christina Harris, husband of Joyce Florence Evelyn Harris, of Croydon, New South Wales, Australia.
Cpt. Norman Edward Hope. Ploudaniel Churchyard, Brittany, France. Grave 1. Wife of Marjorie, no further Next of Kin details available.
No 10 Squadron RAAF was the only Australian squadron operating in the UK during WW2. It was a coastal command squadron mainly operating Sunderlands from Pembroke and Plymouth, with 6 U-Boat kills in WW2, it also operated a number of other amphibians including Catalinas and Walruses. They arrived at Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire on 3rd September 1939 and trained under RAAF Command. On 10th October 1940 they were placed under Coastal Command Control, for European War Operations. Then to Mount Batten, Plymouth, Devon on 1st April 1940.
Left: Mr Alan Hall has researched this loss and his self publication is now available. Four Men and The Walrus ISBN: 978-0-646-92101-3
John Napier Bell was born at North Adelaide on the 25th April 1916. Father, John Henry Bell. Employed as an Assistant General Merchant. Enlisted into the Royal Australian Air Force as a Air Cadet on the 15th July 1935, father next of kin, religion as Church of England. After training as a pilot he spent some years in Australia and served with Squadrons No 5, 9 and 10, gained flying experience on the following aircraft: Wapiti, Seagull (Walrus), Avro Anson, NA16, and Sunderlands on which he became a very proficient pilot. He volunteered to go to the UK to fly Sunderlands at Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire. Embarked from Sydney by aeroplane on the 17th January 1940, finally arrived at London on 2nd February. Joined RAAF 10 Squadron on the 1st April 1940.
Right: A relative of the crew, Mr. Bruce Harris, has also started a website regarding this loss.
Charles William Harris was born on the 29th August 1908 at Collerandabri New South Wales, Australia. Served a five year apprenticeship at Purcell Engineering Company at Auburn New South Wales, where he worked for six years. Enlisted at No 3 Recruitment Centre at Sydney on 9th November 1934. Married Joyce Florence Evelyn Harris at Church Hill, New South Wales on the 21st November 1936. Son called Richard Charles Harris from a previous marriage. He and his new wife also had a son who they named Bruce Charles Harris. As a regular serviceman he was first posted to RAAF 3 Squadron on 3rd December 1934. Then posted to RAAF 22 Squadron on the 8th February 1937. RAAF 10 Squadron on the 11th November 1939, where he volunteered to go to England in the first contingent to train on Sunderland Flying Boats. Embarking from Sydney on 17th November 1939, travelled to Marseilles France on RMS Arantes, embarking there on the 21st December 1939. From there he took a train and boarded another boat which took him to Southampton disembarking there on the 26th December 1939. On the same day he took a train to Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire to start his training.
Researched and written by Bob Wilton - with many thanks to Geoff Swallow / M. Gildas Saouzanet for supplying some great quality grave photographs. Also to Australian National Archives. The CWGC.