12/13.03.1943 10 Squadron Halifax II DT778 ZA:N Plt Off. Dickinson
Date: 12th/13th March 1943 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: 10 Squadron
Type: Halifax II
Base: RAF Melbourne, Yorkshire.
Location: Buldern, Germany
Pilot: Plt Off. John Dickinson 142572 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Flt Eng: Sgt. Henry Edward Henden 634581 RAF Age 25. Killed
Nav: Sgt. Jessel Hyam Harris 1035756 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Frederick Wade Stanners 1038690 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. John Ernest Smith 1263058 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Leslie John Gait 1315144 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Frank Patrick Crawford 631115 RAF Age 22. Killed
Left - Right: Plt Off. Dickinson, Sgt. Henden and Sgt. Harris (Credit: Milton Josephs)
Left to Right: Sgt. Gait, Sgt. Smith, Sgt. Crawford, Sgt. Stanners (Credi: Milton Josephs)
Aircrew identification December 2014: Mr Richard Jennings (Methodist Church Archivist for Bede Circuit and Newcastle upon Tyne District) contacted us as a lady from his chapel recognised Sgt. Frederick Wade Stanners on row below as the chap on extreme right.
Aircrew Identification April 2021: David Hayes has contacted us with the following personal information for Leslie John Gait:
Had he not been killed, Leslie John Gait would have been the uncle of David’s wife
He was born in 1922 in Farrington Gurney, Somerset, where his grandfather Enoch had been postmaster, and where the Gait family ran the village post office-cum-shop. Leslie was the second of three sons of John Howard and Elsie Gait. He was raised at Thrupe Farm, Masbury, Somerset, where his father had become a dairy farmer. On leaving school, Leslie worked for Lloyds Bank at their branch in Beaminster, Dorset - hence his commemoration on the war memorial there.
The inscription on his grave at Reichswald describes him as "Betty's friend". It had been intended he would marry Betty Baynton (whose sister Josephine later married Lawrence Gait, Leslie's elder brother and David Hayes’ late father-in-law).
David and his wife believe that of the four unidentified airmen, the left-most airman is Leslie John Gait as he bears a very strong resemblance to his brother Lawrence Gait.
Aircrew Identification June 2021: David Hayes has informed us of a recent discovery by a family member. The discovery comprised photographs of the crew and a number of letters.
There is also a handwritten list of the crew members, with their roles and parents’ addresses. It was compiled by Sgt Leslie Gait’s mother Elsie in connection with an exchange of letters and photos, lasting several months, between Mr & Mrs Gait and relatives of the other deceased airmen. We have some of the letters received – from Barbara Stanners, Alice Smith, Jules Harris, Alfred Dickinson, and Mrs Elizabeth Doris Jones of Surrey (elder sister of Sgt ‘Harry’ Henden); Mrs Crawford was also in the loop. Mr Dickinson speculated that the Halifax had reached its target at Essen, and was attacked by fighters on its way back. He wrote that on a previous mission his son ‘Jack’ had managed to bring his riddled plane home on two engines, and been saturated with perspiration when he landed.
Of particular relevance is a letter from Mrs Gait to Mrs Jones, saying that the airmen’s graves at Dulmen had been visited by her son Lawrence (my father-in-law and Sgt Leslie Gait’s elder brother). Lawrence served in the Army in the 55th (Wessex) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. After landing in Normandy on D-Day + 5, his unit had progressed through France and Belgium, via a liberated Brussels, and into Westphalia. Being not far from Dulmen, he had gone to the Old Cemetery there, to find the graves unmarked. He had asked his Padre if he could ”get anything done”, and suggested “a cross, with the names of the boys and their home towns”. His initiative was seemingly successful, as there is a later photo of Leslie Gait’s grave, with a white cross, set in bare earth and inscribed “1315144 SGT. L.J. GAIT, R.A.F 12-3-43”.
There are a few letters written by Leslie to his parents from Melbourne. On 4th March 1943, he writes: “In the last seven nights we did five ops including Berlin – I have done 10 now – so we are quite used to get to bed in the early hours of the morning and getting up for dinner. I am almost fed up with the sight of fried eggs, as we get one before and one after every op, and we get a couple a week for regular meals as well!”
We also have Leslie’s final (4-page) letter home, written on Thursday 11th March. He says he has visited York Minster. He thanks his parents for the cake they have sent, but would have preferred a home-made one. He would like them to send him some sleeveless vests, as he only has P.T. ones to wear. He mentions the raisins that were given to the crew to sustain them during ops. The practice had been suspended when ”some chaps” said they didn’t like them, but now there are better raisins “without pips”. Leslie’s mother has been doing his laundry, and he will enclose raisins and chocolate in the next parcel. Most poignantly, he is looking forward to 48 hours leave at the end of next week. He will return home to Somerset, visiting the family farm at Thrupe, but staying at Coleford with Betty, his girlfriend and intended bride.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 19.45 hrs to attack Essen. Nothing else was heard from this aircraft. No German night-fighter or Flak claim for DT778 has been found so the reason for the aircraft and crew loss remains unexplained for the time being.
Sister aircraft to Halifax ZA:N - ZA:D R9376 in flight
The story is taken up by Milton Josephs, who also supplied us with the photographs used in this loss report:
"I have been privileged to have been a part of the Royal Air Force through the Air Cadet Organisation continuously now for 27 years since joining 2236 (Stanmore) Squadron aged 13 and for the past 21 years as an instructor on 613VGS. This year, however, has been a particularly poignant one for me as I have travelled on a journey of discovery about a family member who perished during WWII.
This journey started about 18 months ago when my father moved house. Whilst he was packing his belongings, he found an old photograph of his cousin, resplendent in his RAF battle dress sporting a side cap worn at a ‘jaunty angle’ and the brevet of an Observer on his chest (an Observer was the forerunner to today’s Navigators) Dad gave me the photograph and on a visit to the RAF Museum, we were able to get his service number. From there a simple ‘Google’ search revealed a plethora of information. Coupled with a visit to the National Archives in Kew which allowed me to read and copy the actual Operational Record Books from his squadron and his service record I have been able to piece together a remarkable, yet ultimately sad (with his death), history. As an aside, I also got into contact with his niece, who lives in Australia whom I last saw and spoke to when I was 13 – we are now in regular contact!
Sergeant Jessel Hyams Harris, was born on 21st March 1921. My father, who was 15 years Jessel’s junior remembers him as a joker and aspiring actor. In 1941, Jessel received his call-up papers and joined the RAF, like countless others of his generation. On 1st February 1941, Jessel started his basic recruit training and on 24th May 1941, started his observer (navigator) training. This involved over a month in Canada before earning the coveted brevet. A year after joining the RAF, Jessel spent 4 months completing advanced training in Pensacola, Florida before returning to the UK. From there, he went to an operational training unit and finally in November 1942, was posted to 10 Squadron which was part of 4 Group and was flying the Halifax II Bomber out of RAF Melbourne, Yorkshire.
On March 12th, 1943, a Halifax II bomber, DT778 departed RAF Melbourne, at 19:45 hrs, with a crew of seven Sergeant airmen. DT778 was a part of a larger force of 457 aircraft, two of which were from 10 Squadron, all of whom were detailed to bomb targets in Essen, Germany.
Out of the force of aircraft that departed their various airfields that night, 23 failed to return. The statistics are horrific – 5% of the aeroplanes failed to return. That may not sound like bad odds, but that equates to some 189 airmen who lost their lives or who were taken prisoner – and this was on that one raid. Add to that the fighters that were lost and the soldiers and sailors who inevitably also lost their lives that day – there is a number we can never fathom. This happened night after night after night. It is worth mentioning here that Bomber Command had the highest loss rates of any British military formation.
He, like the rest of his crew, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. One cannot even begin to imagine the sheer terror of flying through flack or being attacked by German night fighters. I have read that airmen on bombers often were a complete bundle of nerves after only a couple of missions and yet they went back out and flew similar missions again and again, night after night until they either died or were reassigned.
One thing I have found quite poignant is that according to the Operational Record Book, their last checkpoint before heading out over the English Channel was RAF Halton, where I have been flying for many years with 613VGS.
Last year, my father and I went to the Reichsweld Forest War Cemetery to visit his grave. Being of the Jewish faith, we wanted to say the mourner’s prayer – Kaddish. Jessel is buried with his six crew-mates. This was a very moving experience for us."
Originally the crew were buried at Mulen Cemetery, Dulman, Germany but re-interred in Reichswald where the CWGC look after these cemeteries.
Plt Off. John Dickinson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave: 2.B.9. Inscription reads: "FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST, AND TO DIE IS GAIN. PHIL.I.21". Son of Alfred and Fanny Dickinson, of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.
Sgt. Henry Edward Henden. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Collective grave: 2. B. 5-8. Son of Frederick James Henden 1883-1955 and Emma Elizabeth (née Gorringe) Henden 1880-1950 of Pirbright, Surrey, England. Husband of Doris Irene Bailey 1920-1999.
Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Harris
Sgt. Jessel Hyam Harris. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Collective grave: 2. B. 5-8. Maude and Julius Harris in Leeds, Yorkshire, England.
Sgt. Frederick Wade Stanners. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Collective grave: 2. B. 5-8. Inscription reads: "I HAVE FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT, I HAVE FINISHED MY COURSE, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH".Son of Albert Hardy Stanners, and of Barbara A. Stanners, of Springwell, Co. Durham, England.
Sgt. John Ernest Smith. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave: 2. B. 10. Born during 1914 in Monkton Combe, Somerset. Son of Henry John and Alice Maud Mary (née Ricks) from Monkton Combe, Somerset, England.
Above Sgt. Gait commemorated on the Beaminster 1939-45 War Memorial as shown above (Credit Jonathan Foster)
Sgt. Leslie John Gait. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave: 2. B. 11. Inscription reads: "IN MEMORY OF OUR DEAR SON, BROTHER AND BETTY'S FRIEND "THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD"". Son of John Howard Gait 1891-1974 and Elsie (née Lawrence) Gait 1887-1967, of Masbury, Somerset, England.
Sgt. Leslie J. Gait’s name features on a WW2 Memorial plaque in the parish church at Croscombe, which is in the same parish as Thrupe Farm.
It is believed that his name also features on a WW2 war memorial formerly at the London head office of his employers, Lloyds Bank. This was later moved to Bristol.
Sgt. Frank Patrick Crawford. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Collective grave: 2. B. 5-8. Born on the 30th January 1921 in Dundee, Angus, Scotland. Son of Francis Crawford 1895-1967 and Rosanne (née Markey) Crawford 1894-1970 of Dundee, Angus.
With thanks to Fg Off. Milton Josephs - relative of Sgt. Harris for photographs and extensive information supplied. Additional details courtesy of Richard Jennings. Further information kindly submitted in January 2015 by Jonathan Foster on behalf of the family of Sgt. Henden. Thanks to David Hayes for the additional information regarding Sgt Gait (Apr 2021). Other updates to the narrative by Aircrew Remembered (Apr 2021). Thanks to David Hayes for the additional information regarding Sgt. Gait and aircrew identification (Jun 2021).