21.05.1943 No.1 Torpedo Training Unit (TTU) Wellington LB237 Flt Sgt. John F. Forsyth-Johnson
Operation: Training / Rescue
Date: 21st May 1943 (Friday)
Unit: No. 1 Torpedo Training Unit (TTU), Coastal Command
Base: RAF Turnberry, Ayreshire, Scotland
Location: Inner Seas, ENE of Ailsa Craig
Pilot: Flt Sgt. John Frederick Forsyth-Johnson 1383232 RAFVR Age 20. Missing believed killed (1)
Obs: Sgt. William Victor Chambers 1384655 RAFVR Age 22. Missing believed killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Cyril Jones 980210 RAFVR Age 23. Missing believed killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Brian Clarke 1236744 RAFVR Age? Missing believed killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Harry Hubert Charles Harris 1377270 RAFVR Age 21. Missing believed killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Bertram Harrington Lowe 658389 RAF Age 28. Missing believed killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
On 21st May 1943, a night-time exercise to practise the laying of sea-mines was undertaken carried by three aircraft; Hampden AT125 and two accompanying aircraft from No. 1 Torpedo Training Unit (TTU), Wellington VIIIs LB193 and LB237. The Hampden, for an unknown reason, ditched into the sea and the two Wellingtons immediately engaged in a search flying low over the water with their lights on. It is presumed that the two aircraft collided, and crashed into the sea 3½ miles ENE of Ailsa Craig, Firth of Clyde. Only seven men were recovered alive from a total of eighteen aboard the three lost aircraft. All five aboard Wellington LB237 were posted as "missing believed killed"
. (Brian Bouchard & Roger Morgan - Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website).
We have been contacted by Tony Lawrence, the son of Sgt. Sydney Lawrence from LB193 and in researching the crews of the aircraft reported to have been involved in this training mission some unresolved discrepancies have been found. The research has determined the following information:
Hampden I AT125, from No 1. TTU:
The crew for a Hampden would normally comprise four. However only the following three have been identified for AT125:
Pilot: Sgt. Ronald Stott Cordingley 11479676 RAFVR - killed
Obs: Sgt. Eric Vevers 1149764 RAFVR - Missing believed - Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. John Bertram Reid R114641 RCAF - Missing believed killed
Furthermore their CWGC details recorded that they perished on the 18th April 1943. Other anecdotal information claimed that AT125 collided with Wellington LB237 over the Firth of Clyde on this date. Research to date has not been able to resolve the discrepancies regarding dates and the claimed collision between AT125 and Wellington LB237.
The crew aboard Wellington VIII, LB193 has been determined to be:
Pilot: Fg Off. Peter R. Griffin 116787 RAFVR - Survived
2nd Pilot: Fg Off. Frederick I. Thompson 1221825 RAFVR - Survived
Bomb Aimer Plt Off Kenneth Holden 129178 RAFVR - Survived
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt Sydney Lawrence 1091215 RAFVR - Survived
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Ronald Dean 1087504 RAFVR - Killed
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt Leslie Trevethan Gibson 1091023 RAFVR - Killed
Additionally there appears that two further airmen were aboard one or the other Wellington but it has not been possible to resolve which aircraft.
Sgt. Alfred Brown 1039746 RAFVR - Missing believed killed
Sgt. Edwin Esau 1393290 RAFVR - Missing believed killed
Another piece of information from Sgt. Sydney Lawrence’s log book for the 21st May 1943 (below) recorded that his Wellington took off at 02:20 hrs and crashed into the sea while searching for another aircraft an hour later. Sydney told his son, Tony, that they were flying really low and when they went into a turn the wing tip caught in the sea and caused the aircraft to cartwheel into the sea. He never mentioned hitting another aircraft.
Above: Extract from Sgt. Lawrence's Log Book for the day/flight in question (Courtesy of Tony Lawrence)
(1) Flt Sgt. John Frederick Forsyth-Johnson was the brother of the entertainer, the late Sir Bruce Forsyth. Sir Bruce wrote about this in his autobiography:
“When war broke out my older brother John was determined to become a pilot, and in early 1941, as soon as he turned 18, he volunteered for the RAF. I will never forget the day when the awful tragedy struck. Friday 21st May 1943, St Neots near Bedford. I am 15 years old and it’s the start of a free weekend from touring US military bases with a cabaret show. We’ve decided to enjoy the early summer weather. Someone suggests rounders.
I trip on the uneven ground and fall heavily on my hand, jamming my finger back at an unnatural angle. It hurts like hell and I feel sick. My friends gather round. ‘Bruce, are you all right? You look terrible. You’d better lie down.’ I’m feeling dizzy, nauseous, disorientated...
Left: Sir Bruce Forsyth (courtesy BBC)
Suddenly I’m in a plane, flying over the sea. No, not flying. I’m plummeting downwards, out of control, at an acute angle. There’s nothing I can do. I stagger towards the open door of the aircraft as the dark water rushes towards me. I jump... A strange and unpleasant dream as I drift in and out of consciousness, obviously. What makes it particularly disturbing, however, is that I’ve never been in an aeroplane.
I gave no further thought to that horrible vision until I returned home the following day to visit my parents. Normally my mother would call out cheerfully the moment I walked through the front door. Not this time. I found her sitting in her chair, gazing into space. ‘What’s up, Mum?’ That was when she told me that John – by then an RAF pilot – had been posted as missing.
It wasn’t until many years later, after my parents had passed away, that I received a letter and documentation explaining what had happened to John in the Turnberry area of Scotland that night. They were practising laying sea mines and one of the Wellington planes ditched in the drink. John’s plane, plus another, went back to help in the search and rescue. With their lights on, flying just above the water in an attempt to spot survivors, these two Wellingtons collided. Of the 18 men from the three aircraft that crashed, only seven were picked up. John was not one of them.
We went on to enjoy happy times as a family after his death, but never for a moment forgot about John”.
Flt Sgt. John Frederick Forsyth-Johnson. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 136. Born on the 24th November 1922 in Edmonton, Middlesex. Son of John Thomas and Florence Ada (née Pocknell) Forsyth-Johnson from Edmonton, Middlesex, England.
Sgt. William Victor Chambers. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 145. Born in April 1921 in Islington, Middlesex. Son of Ernest John and Lilian (née Clarke) Chambers from Islington, Middlesex, England.
Above: Sgt. Cyril Jones (Courtesy: Danielle Maxted)
Sgt. Cyril Jones. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 155. Born in 1920. Son of Jonathan and Mary Jane Jones; husband of Bettine Eluned Jones, of Wrexham, Denbighshire, Wales.
Sgt. Thomas Brian Clarke. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 145. From Rhostyllen, Wrexham, Denbighshire. No further details - are you able to assist?
Sgt. Harry Hubert Charles Harris. Born in 1912, Dunure Cemetery Section E (Blue) Grave 183, Son of Percy and Florence Harris. Husband to Nell Doris Harris of South Kensington, London.
Sgt. Bertram Harrington Lowe. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 157. Son of Bertram and Florence Mary Lowe, of Ewell, Surrey, England. The marriage of Bertram Lowe to Florence Mary Harrington was registered in West Ham for the September Quarter of 1913. Birth of their son Bertram H. Lowe came to be recorded ion the same District 3/1916. By 1939, the Lowes had taken up residence at 47 Thorndon Gardens, Worcester Park, Ewell. Betram, senior, was then described as a Solicitors Managing Clerk / Estate Agent, born 23rd October 1889. His son, Bertram H, born 16th December 1915, had started work as an Estate Agent's Manager. Bertram, junior, enlisted with the Royal Artillery before being transferred into the Royal Air Force
For further details our thanks to the great people on the RAF Commands Forum also to Brian Bouchards for information on Sgt. Lowe. Thanks to Danielle Maxted, the great granddaughter of Sgt. Jones, for the photographs. Thanks to Tony Lawrence informing us of his father's involvement in this tragedy, log book entries and for prompting further research (Mar 2021). Addition of Sgt. Harris, who has been recorded to have been aboard LB237 (Mar 2021).