14/15.2.1945 No. 625 Squadron Lancaster I NF996 CF-J2 Fl/Lt. Robert George Cunliffe
Date: 14/15 February 1945 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 625 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Serial No. NF996
Base: RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire
Location: Between Marbach and Schellenberg, approx. 15 km ESE of Chemnitz
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Robert George Cunliffe 150242 RAFVR Age 21 Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Dennis Willian Hayes 1897966 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (2)
Air/Bmr: F/O. Ernest James Lowther 56625 RAFVR Age ? Killed (3)
Nav: F/O. Arthur Gordon Slocum J/41191 RCAF Age 20 Missing - believed killed (4)
W/Op/Gnr: Sgt. Donald Williams 1591420 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Walter Patrick Pass 2223018 RAFVR Age 35 Killed (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Henry Hatton 2223136 RAFVR Age ? Killed (7)
REASON FOR LOSS:
The cause for this loss is obscure. Theo Boiten in Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume Two notes that very few night fighters were active in the target area and no claims were made in this location. It is known that NF996 exploded in mid-air, with no survivors. Wreckage was spread over 14 km. Official reports are conflicted between a night fighter attack or victim of falling bombs. Local citizens also supported flak as a possible cause. A hostel in Schellenberg was used as a centre to gather remains for burial.
Aircrew recovery and identification proved to be problematic as post-war the crash site was located in the Russian Occupation Zone. Captured German documents confirmed that NF996 crashed with great violence halfway between Marbach and Schellenberg. Apparently three of the crew were buried in the cemetery at Schellenberg. However investigation, including exhumation, found that four crew mates were buried in a single grave. They were positively identified as: Fl/Lt. Cunliffe, Sgt. Pass, F/O. Lowther and Sgt. Hayes. The body of Sgt. Hatton was located buried with another crew in a nearby village, Pockau, eight miles south-east of the NF996 crash site.
In the absence of neither a photograph of Lancaster I NF996 nor of a Lancaster Mark I of 625 Squadron the above photograph of Lancaster B.III LM384 CF-X is included here for illustrative purposes only.
Rod McKenzie, co-author of the pending Nachtjagd Combat Archives, has provided the following information on the recovery and identification of the remains of Sgt. Hatton. He noted that the Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES)1 exhumed the grave at Pockau on April 13 1948 and concluded their identification work on 22 April 1948. They found Sgt. Hatton buried by the Germans as “ A.C. 2 Thomas Hutton 2223136” and formally identified him by his service number written on a sock. Evidence suggests that he managed to bale out before the aircraft exploded and crashed. More information of his ultimate fate may become available on file review of two war crime trials.
Unfortunately the bodies of F/O. Slocum and Sgt. Williams were never located despite an exhaustive search by the MRES. This Service must be recognised and commended for their painstaking and diligent quest after wars end to bring closure for the families of Bomber crew that had disappeared into the void of Occupied Europe. Their task was never pleasant but they never left a stone unturned if their was any possibility of solving the mystery of a lost crew. With forensic wizardry, on many occasions, they were able to make a positive ID with mere fragments of remains, uniforms, personal effects and aircraft debris. Unfortunately there were many occasions when they were unsuccessful and the airman was left as having No Known Grave and commemorated with a panel on the Runnymede Memorial. This was the situation with the losses of F/O. Slocum and Sgt. Williams. After six months the RCAF Casualty branch issued a certificate of presumption of death for official purposes for F/O. Slocum. This was most heart wrenching for his family, especially his mother who continued to hold out hope for his return for the next five years, believing him injured or amnestic.
F/O. Cunliffe and his crew arrived at No. 625 RAF Squadron Kelstern on November 1st 1944 to serve their tour of ops. This crew always flew as a team and never carried out a sortie with a ‘spare bod’ or ‘second dickie’ crew. On November 27/44 F/O. Cunliffe with Sgt. Hayes and F/O. Lowther flew with F/O. Sutton to Freiburg for their baptism under fire. The crew then flew two uneventful ops to Karlsruhe and Merseburg-Leuna in PB158 and LM679. For the next thirteen sorties NF996 was their favoured kite. They racked up trips to Essen, Ludwigshafen and Ulm. Their trip to Ulm culminated with a diversion to Fiskerton, possibly due to fog. Their next seven ops were unremarkable and included targets such as Munchen Gladbach, Gelsenkirchen, Nurnburg, Zeitz and Cleve. Their thirteenth mission to Politz was a different story: Mission abandoned at 22.20 (T/O at 19.36) as the port outer engine vibrated badly and started burning. Engine was feathered and returned to Base after bombs had been jettisoned as ordered. On February 13 1945 Fl/Lt. Cunliffe and crew participated in the controversial Dresden raid. They departed Kelstern at 20.09 on February 14 1945, their fifteenth op and thirteenth in NF996, detailed to attack Chemnitz: FAILED TO RETURN, no news after take off. At this point the Cunliffe crew, halfway through their tour, was seasoned. Whatever happened on the Chemnitz raid was sudden and catastrophic without time to bale out and two of the crew obliterated. Sgt. Hutton as the exception.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. Robert George Cunliffe was born on 20 June 1923 (birth registered at Epsom) the son of the Hon. Geoffrey Cunliffe and Sidney Patrick Cunliffe nee Frend. He had a brother Peter Cunliffe (1925-1987)
Robert Cunliffe was educated at Eton where he was a member of the 1st Eton College Scout Group.
The Hon Geoffrey Cunliffe was the son of Walter Cunliffe, 1st Baron Cunliffe (Governor of the Bank of England 1913-1918) and Edith Cunningham Boothby. He was Member of the I&E Council, Board of Trade in 1941. He married, firstly, Patrick Sidney Frend, daughter of Robert Benjamin Frend, on 16 August 1922
1337410 LAC Robert Cunliffe was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 27 February 1943 (London Gazette 18 May 1943) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 27 August 1943 (London Gazette 3 September 1943)
(2) Sgt. Dennis Willian Hayes was born on 12 May 1924 at Winchcombe Gloucestershire the son of Francis William and Elsie Hayes nee Cashmore of Southampton. He had a sister Constance D. Hayes born in 1922.
In 1939 he was living with his grandfather Isaac Hayes, a Gardner aged 64, at Lodge Cottage, Halterworth, Romsey Hampshire. Dennis' occupation at that time is recorded as a Petrol Pump Attendant
(3) F/O. Ernest James Lowther was probably born at Marylebone in 1917. The surname Lowther is also given as the mother's maiden surname.
The National Probate Calendar entry relating to him states
Lowther Ernest James of 75 Ferndale Road Clapham London died on or since 15 February 1945 on war service. Probate London 18 June to Rosina Langford widow. Effects £320 11s. 8d.
If you have any further information about Ernest James Lowther please contact our helpdesk
(4) F/O. Arthur Gordon Slocum was born on 1 November 1924 at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada the son of Charles Stanley Slocum (a Senior Engineering Clerk/Draughtsman in the Department of Transport) and Cora May Slocum nee Thomas of 31 Alexandria Street, St John.
He had two siblings: Cora Lorraine Slocum born c 1927 and Frances Aline Slocum born c 1934.
Arthur Slocum was educated at King George School (1930-1934), Victoria School (1934-1938) and St. John High School (1938-1941)
After leaving school he was employed as a Teller in the Bank of Nova Scotia.
When enlisted at RCAF Moncton, New Brunswick on 18 November 1942 he was 5' 9" tall weighing 125 lbs with a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair
After training at 9 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Centralia Ontario 4 April 1943
No. 6 Initial Training School at Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, Ontario, 8 Air Observer School at RCAF L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec and 2 Air Graduate Training School RCAF Quebec City he was awarded his Navigators Badge, promoted to Segeant and Commissioned as a Pilot officer on 28 January 1944 there followed 14 days embarkation leave.
He eventually embarked for the UK on 29 April and after arrival on 7 May was posted to 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth from where he was posted to 8 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Mona in Anglesey. He was a pupil on Course 54 from 20 June 1944 and duly graduated on 17 July. The following day he joined Course 31 at 18 Operational Training Unit at RAF Finningley near Doncaster in the West Riding of Yorkshire where records show that he was with Crew 302. Whilst at 18 OTU he was promoted to Flying Officer on 28 July.
On graduating from the course on 11 September he enjoyed 11 days leave before being posted to 11 Base at RAF Lindholme (10 miles north of Doncaster) on 25 September.
He was posted to 625 Squadron based at RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire on 15 November 1944.
(5) Sgt. Donald Williams. NOTHING FURTHER KNOWN - IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT OUR HELPDESK
The above photographs courtesy of Eileen Northall. Photo of Donald and one with his mother. The reverse of the photo of Donald with his mother has the inscription: “To Wally a swell pal. From Don and his Mum. Best wishes. September 1944.” Wally, is a reference to Eileen’s father. These two mothers of Sergeants Williams and Pass developed a lifelong friendship.
(6) Sgt. Walter Patrick Pass was born on 13 October 1909 son of Walter Pass and Elizabeth Pass nee West of Sheffield. At age 16 he joined the British Army with his two older brothers, serving in India and Egypt.
In 1938 he married May Wildgoose at Sheffield. They had a daughter Eileen Pass born in 1939.
In 1939 Walter and May Pass lived with May's parents, Frederick and Pollie Wildgoose at Framlingham Road, Sheffield and Walter Pass worked as a Railway Shunter.
With the outbreak of war he left the railway to join the RAF. His loss left his wife dependent, living with her mother and his daughter yearning for his return.
Eileen Northall (née Pass) later wrote to Jack Albrecht "One thing I forgot to mention to you was that my Dad wrote me a poem, when I was just 4. He was no Wordsworth but it's quite a nice poem. After my first visit to Saxony the vicar of our church asked me to say a few words on Remembrance Sunday and I finished by reading the poem. People told me how moved by it they were and how privileged they felt to hear my Dad's words written to his little girl". (Webmaster: such a touching poem - we added it to the Poetry section)
TO EILEEN FROM DADDY
There are times when you’re happy
There are times when you’re sad
There are times when you’re lonely
But what of your Dad
He’s happy sad and lonely too
He’s happy when he thinks of you
He is sad to know that you’re far away
Although he knows that there’ll come a day
When the world will be free and happy and gay
But when he feels lonely although in a crowd
He longs to be with you, but feels mighty proud
To know that each night you kneel by your cot
And ask God to forgive those that started the Rot
Dad knows that you pray for his safety too
God answers the prayers of children like you
These thoughts bring a silent tear to his eye
But they give him the courage to hold his head high
Your daddy is fighting to make the world free
And to make sure that the future forever will be
An age of contentment and freedom and Bliss
For millions of people like you little miss
But fighting alone will not win this mad war
Your prayers to God are much better by far
So pray hard Darling on them we depend
To help us fight on and the Right to defend
So Darling remember when you’re feeling blue
Your Daddy is always thinking of you
Try to be happy and above all be good
Mummy will help you whatever your mood
Then when the great day comes
Which come it must do
We’ll all be happy together,
Daddy, Mummy and you.
(7) Sgt. Thomas Henry Hatton. NOTHING FURTHER KNOWN - IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT OUR HELPDESK
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) Fl/Lt. Robert George Cunliffe was originally buried at Schellenberg Cemetery and re-interred on 8 December 1948 at the Berlin 1939 - 1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 13.A.1.
(2) Sgt. Dennis William Hayes was originally buried at Schellenberg Cemetery and re-interred on 8 December 1948 at the Berlin 1939 - 1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 13.A.4.
His epitaph reads:
“Sweet is the memory,
Of you whom we loved
And never will forget”.
(3) F/O. Ernest James Lowther was originally buried at Schellenberg Cemetery and re-interred on 8 December 1948 at the Berlin 1939 - 1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 13.A.3.
(4) F/O. Arthur Gordon Slocum. Having no known grave he is commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 280.
(5) Sgt. Donald Williams. Having no known grave he is commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 277.
(6) Sgt. Walter Patrick Pass was originally buried at Schellenberg Cemetery and re-interred on 8 December 1948 at the Berlin 1939 - 1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 13.A.2.
His epitaph reads:
“The day thou gavest, Lord,
(7) Sgt. Thomas Henry Hatton was originally buried at Pockau Cemetery and re-interred on 17 April 1948 at the Berlin 1939 - 1945 War Cemetery - 5.H.7.
Other photo credits:
Sgt. D.W. Hayes - courtesy of nephew, Brian Porter and Eileen Northall.
F/O. A.G. Slocum - courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca, F/O. Arthur Gordon Slocum, R/201597 - J/41191 p.73 RG24 28667.
Sgt. W.P. Pass - courtesy of daughter (sitting on his knee), Eileen Northall.
No. 625 RAF Squadron Operational Record Books. Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume Two by Theo Boiten and Roderick J. McKenzie. Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1944-1952: (RAF Museum)1 Nachtjagd Combat Archives, pending.
(1) The Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was set up in 1944 to trace the 42,000 personnel who were listed as 'missing, believed killed'. The demand was so great that the department was expanded in 1945. These men had no special training, and did not have the benefits that modern technology offers; only a strong desire to bring home those who had not returned. Despite the obstacles caused by the lack of tools, the MRES was able to account for over two thirds of the missing personnel by a thorough combing of the globe. Those found were identified and reinterred in Commonwealth War Graves Commission plots.
Without the commitment shown by the dedicated teams of the MRES, many families would go on not knowing what had happened to their loved one or of the location of their Final resting place. The MRES allowed families the dignity to finally grieve. The unit was disbanded in 1952 under protest from †he Unit as they were making great inroads into crew burial identification. Disbanded due to funding issues!
Submission by: Jack Albrecht, Eileen Northall and Nic Lewis for Aircrew Remembered July 2018.
With some additional biographical details by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock October 2019