02/03.06.1944 640 Squadron Halifax III MZ541 C8:U Plt.Off. Burwood: Local community honours crew
Operation: Trappes - railway yards.
Date: 2nd/3rd June 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: 640 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Leconfield, Yorkshire
Pilot: Plt.Off. Geoffrey Hubert Stephen Burwood 172072 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Flt.Eng: Sgt. Alec Friesner 2215315 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Nav: Sgt. John Watson Eastman 1535785 RAFVR Age 22. Killed (1)
Air Bmr: Flt.Sgt. John William Arthur Montgomery 424271 RAAF Age 21. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Vickers Lavender Bennett 1601205 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (2)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Robert Morris 1892968 RAFVR Age 19. Killed (3)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Francis Ronald Smith 1631398 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (5)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 22:23 hrs. from Leconfield to bomb the railway yards at Trappes. Shot down by a night-fighter and crashed 1km SE of Epernon (Eure-et-Loir). The Burwood crew are buried in the towns communal cemetery. A Memorial was erected with a special dedication ceremony to the crew at Epernon with the families and relations invited to attend. It is believed this was in April 1947. The crews average age was just 20.
Bombing was recorded as mostly falling to the east of the target.
MZ541 was claimed by Lt Frithjof Fensch claimed 640 Sqn Halifax MZ541 South outskirts of Epernon (BD 57):3,000m at 01:00. (Nachtjagd Combat Archives 1944 Part 3 – Theo Boiten)
17 aircraft were lost by the allies this night with 76 aircrew being killed, 20 made PoW with 17 others evading capture.
This was one of 3 losses from 640 Squadron tasked on this operation.
The others from this squadron lost this night were as follows:
Halifax III LW434 C8HH Flown by Plt.Off. George W. Chambers killed along with 4 other members of his crew, 2 being made PoW.
Halifax III MZ677 C8:G Flown by Flt.Lt. John W.S. Skinner killed along with 3 other crew members, 2 being made PoW, with another evading capture.
Sgt. Vickers Lavender Bennett, 3rd from left back row with friends
(courtesy Roger Bennett, Alan Richardson, Jean Crawford)
Sgt. John Eastman (courtesy Celia Andrews, Margaret Eastman)
Blackpool Air Gunners School 6th May 1942 middle row, Sgt. Bennett fourth from the right, middle row
. We have most of the names but unable to place the others - can you recognise anyone?
(courtesy Roger Bennett, Alan Richardson, Jean Crawford)
Sgt. Vickers Lavender Bennett (courtesy Roger Bennett, Alan Richardson, Jean Crawford)
(1) Known as “Jackie” to his parents and younger brother, Mike, Sgt. John Watson Eastman gave up his opportunity to go to University to volunteer for the RAF. He hoped that after the war he would be able to pursue his plan to buy a house in Shaldon, Near Teignmouth, Devon where he could pursue his love of sailing. Although single, he did have a “special” girl named Julia. In 1947 his parents made a trip to the cemetery and memorial at Epernon to see the final resting place of their son. The people of Epernon had erected a memorial near the spot where the Halifax crashed.
They wished to commemorate the crew who are regarded locally as heroes for ensuring that the Halifax avoided the town before it crashed.
(2) Known as “Vick” to family and friends, he had one sister Eileen Susannah and brothers Leonard and Roger. He was christened Vickers Lavender after both of his grandmothers as well as living in Lavender Cottage. After leaving school he worked at the engineering factory of Peter Brotherhood (manufacturers at the time of torpedo motors) at Walton, Peterborough before joining the RAF at the age of eighteen. He was courting a local girl but sadly they broke up just before he was killed. He is remembered by his family as being a dare devil and full of fun. In April 1947 members of his family attended the memorial service at Epernon.
(3) Born in London, UK on 26 January 1923, he enlisted on 15th August 1942 at Sydney, New South Wales
Top photograph showing Sgt. Eastman and the lower photograph - his family at the dedication ceremony 1947. First left - Mike Eastman, Jacqueline Dechartres (4), Roger Bennett, Doreen Friesner (Alec's wife), Winnie Eastman (John's mother), Mr Bennett (Vickers father), and unknown lady
(courtesy Alan Richardson)
The dedication of the memorial in 1947 (courtesy Roger Bennett, Alan Richardson, Jean Crawford)
Then and Now - Memorial 1947 and 2011 (courtesy Celia Andrews, Margaret Eastman, Arnaud Theron)
One of the most poignant photographs on our website: - the collective grave of the crew with an obviously very proud local (courtesy Roger Bennett, Alan Richardson, Jean Crawford)
(4) The family of Dechartres contacted me in February 2013 and advised that Jacqueline Dechartres assisted greatly during the dedication ceremony at Epernon acting as translator (she was the English teacher at the local school at the time. Sadly she passed away on the 26th September 2010. Marie-Thérèse Grangé kept in contact with relatives of the crew and also met with the "special friend" of Sgt. John Eastman - Julia and her husband Leonard Palmer.
We have since heard that the husband of Jacqueline Dechartres died in February 2013 - our regards and condolences to the family at this time.
(5) Relatives of Sgt. Francis Ronald Smith contacted us in April 2016:
‘Commonly known as Frank was my Uncle and the youngest child of Frederick Horace and Mabel Elsie Smith. He had three older siblings my father Ted, Elsie and David. Ted and David both served in the Army and returned home safely. I am told that Frank was a very happy young man who was liked by everyone who knew him. His mother and father, my grandparents, owned Smithfield Nurseries in Hockley, Essex and I believe he worked for them but the pay was poor. When Frank enlisted in the RAF his mother apparently marched down to the Recruiting Office and demanded he was released as he was needed to work on the Nursery. His mother visited the grave and memorial in Epernon. It is possible that she was at the dedication ceremony in 1947.
Unfortunately I do not have any photographs of Frank out of uniform but I am attaching two of him in uniform. In one he is sitting in front of greenhouses on the Nursery. This photograph was sent to my Father and Frank has written “To Ted love from his Brother Frank”. The other photo was also sent to my Father and says “Hello Ted, What do you think of your young brother now”
We plan to visit the grave and memorial in Epernon this coming September and it would be very helpful if you could put me in touch with any of the families mentioned.
We are very impressed with your website and feel it is a wonderful thing you are doing. My family never spoke about Frank. The only information I had was that he was a rear gunner in the RAF and was shot down near the end of the war and my grandmother had visited his grave in France. It was amazing to find the information on your website. ‘
Judith and Jim during their visit in September 2016 - they plan to revisit during 2017. (relatives of Sgt. Francis Ronald Smith)
Plt.Off. Geoffrey Hubert Stephen Burwood. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of Leonard Francis and Nellie Phillipa Burwood.
Sgt. Alec Friesner. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of Joseph and Ellen and husband of Doreen of Blackpool. Lancashire, England.
Sgt. John Watson Eastman. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of John (Jack) James and Winifred Aline (nee Watson) Eastman of St.Marychurch, Torquay, Devon, England.
Flt.Sgt. John William Arthur Montgomery. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of John Norris and Violet Montgomery of South Yarra, Victoria, Australia.
Sgt. Vickers Lavender Bennett. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of George Douglas and Daisy Eileen Bennett of Deeping St.James, Lincolnshire, England.
Sgt. Robert Morris. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of Thomas and Alice Morris of Ashington, Northumberland, England.
Sgt. Francis Ronald Smith. Epernon Cemetery. Coll. Grave. Son of Frederick Horace and Mabel Elsie Smith of Hockley, Essex, England.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. Special thanks to Celia Andrews (nee Watson) cousin, Margaret Eastman (sister in law) and family for info and photo’s of Sergeant Eastman. Also to Roger Bennett, (brother), Alan Richardson (nephew of Sergeant Bennett), Jean Crawford, (niece), and family for info and photo’s of Sergeant Bennett. Arnaud Theron for the present day photo of memorial. To Marie-Thérèse Grangé for contacting us and the family of Jacqueline Dechartres. In July 2014 Darren Friesner contacted us and identified his Grandmother in the 1947 photograph shown above. Thanks to John Jones for the update to German Night-fighter claim (Feb 2021).