02/03.02.1945 No. 10 Squadron Halifax III RG443 ZA-Q F/O. Ronald Gibbs MiD
Date: 2/3rd February 1945 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 10 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Melbourne, Yorkshire
Location: Province of Limburg and Nunhem, Netherlands.
Pilot: F/O. Ronald Gibbs MiD 142044 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Jack Ashton 1023844 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Lional Hawkins Chell 1582776 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Bmr: F/O. Peter Cook RAFVR PoW No further details on this. (2)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. William Phillips Parham 170480 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Cuthbert Smith 1596679 RAFVR Age 37. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Henry Seabridge 942139 RAFVR Age 27. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Halifax III RG 443 ZA-Q left RAF Melbourne at 20.32hrs. to bomb the oil refinery. They came down in flames at low level after the pilot gave the order to abandon the aircraft, crashing West of the Maas between the villages of Haelen in the Province of Limburg and Nunhem, 17 km E of Weert.
F/O. Gibbs, Sgt. Ashton and F/O. Parham died in the wreckage of the Halifax. The bomb aimer, F/O. Cook managed to get out of the burning aircraft but suffered a broken neck and was hidden by a Dutch couple. The three other crew members bodies were found behind a Dutch farmhouse, Captain Candy, Padre of the 1st Canadian paratroops, performed a service for the men before burial at Venray.
The crew had been selected for future missions for the Pathfinders.
A witness statement provided by Michel Beckers states:-
“For the second time (1) in nine months a plane crashed down on February 2nd 1945, on the already liberated village of Nunhem. This time it was a British bomber which crashed within a distance of barely 500 metres of the previous airplane. Once again the inhabitants survived with shock. The airplane belonging to 10 squadron which had been stationed at Melbourne returned from an attack on Wanne - Eickel.
The plane had been hit by flak and eventually crashed in a meadow. It all happened at 3 o’clock at night. Nel Houben- van- Roy who still lives at the Ursulaway tells-“I was woken up by a large noise and I started to hear all kinds of things hitting the rooftop. I immediately jumped out of bed, quickly putting on some clothes and went outside. I crawled through a small hedge and saw some burning airplane pieces lying at a distance. Little fragments were exploding from every direction and the smouldering airplane remains were laying everywhere. The plane apparently exploded in the air, because rows of cartridges were lying on top of our roof.
There were Canadian soldiers stationed at our village and they immediately came rushing towards the field. I was standing at a distance from the plane wreck near a dead airman’s body. A little bit further were another two airmen laying on the ground, they were both dead as well. The soldiers wanted to scare me away but I kept standing there. Suddenly a monk appeared, I believe it was Van Aldeghoon with his bicycle. When he saw the dead airmen he asked me to put some blankets over their bodies.
I had got some wool blankets.” I will bring them back or you will receive new ones,” he said. I never got them back but that didn’t matter much. A soldier was emptying the pockets of one of the dead airmen who were lying near where I was standing. All his possessions were being noted on a piece of paper. There was a picture of a woman with two small children.
The three airmen were buried not far from their plane. They had been buried for quite a long time there. Later on I sometimes visited the graves to put flowers on them. The planes remains were recovered much later. Some of the younger boys took stuff home with them pretty often. On one day I saw a guy with a knife who was trying to cut a thick hose which was attached to a rubber boat. I ran away but I stopped when I heard a big hissing sound behind me. There was a lot of white smoke and they were really lucky not to have been killed.
Jan Ottenheim was one of the boys who were there at the time. He tells-the hose was attached to a carbonic cylinder which flew round like a rocket. Unfortunately the rubber boat was damaged which made it useless. There was an instruction book and also some maps which had been printed on silk, I still have these items.
While searching through the plane wreck, I found the remains of one of the crew members. I immediately warned one of the guards, which caused everyone to be turned away. There were another three bodies recovered within the vicinity of the airplane, which later were buried near the plane. The 7th crew member managed to bring himself into safety by parachute. It was the bomb aimer, Peter Cook. He landed his parachute somewhere in the surroundings of Belfield at the Eastern, still occupied riverbank of the Meuse river.
He was arrested the next day by the Germans who put him in a Prisoner of War Camp in the area around Munchen, between the end of April and the beginning of October 1945 the communities council received a letter from the Red Cross with the request of changing the names on the deceased aircrews grave markers. This letter mentioned that they were buried on field which was the property of Widow Bex, number 64 in Nunhem.
On June 24th 1947 J. Jansen from Helmond wrote to the communal council on behalf of the parents of one of the dead crew members to check the names mentioned on the grave markers, because the names and serial numbers didn’t match each other. It is unknown when the bodies were exactly dug up and re-interred somewhere else.”
Above and below: memorial to the crew at the crash site - with thanks to Adrian for taking the photographs and Ivor Jones for sending them to us - October 2017
(1) The other aircraft that came down is understood to be that of Lancaster III ED657 PO-T on an operation to Duisberg. The pilot 23 year old, F/O. Robert Maxwell Harris AUS/401690 RAAF from Kew, Victoria, Australia was killed along with all his crew.
(2) Flying Officer Cook suffered extensive injuries including a broken neck from the crash. A Dutch couple helped him to hide from the Germans.
After the war had ended Peter Cook went on to train at Guys hospital, and qualified a doctor before emigrating to Sydney where he worked in Group practice as well as being involved in the Flying Doctor service. After marrying an opera singer he lives near Sydney harbour. He has made several trips to England to visit Julian Parham (see below) and also to Holland to thank his Dutch rescuers and to re-visit the crash site.
F/O. Ronald Gibbs MiD. Jonkerbos War Cemetery Grave 8.E.2. Further information: F/O. Gibbs was the son of Arthur Charles and Ada Florence Gibbs of 12 Grange Road, Clapham, London. His mother died when he was very young and his father soon after Ronald’s death. Ronald attended public school. leaving just before his eighteenth birthday and after joining the RAF was to become a sergeant by the time he was nineteen. He was engaged to Anne but was waiting to marry as he had joined the RAF. Originally at Brize Norton, he was posted to Melbourne just before he was killed.
Sgt. Jack Ashton. Jonkerbos War Cemetery Grave 8.E.3. Further information: Son of Arthur and Grace Edith Ashton of Leeds. Married Eileen (née Talbot) of Hunslet Carr at Heywood, near Rochdale, Greater Manchester in 1944.
Fl/Sgt. Lional Hawkins Chell. Venray War Cemetery. Grave V.D.7. Further information: Son of Oscar George and Florence Ellen of Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. Attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Hartlebury where his name is inscribed on oak panelling in the main hall.
F/O. William Phillips Parham. Jonkerbos War Cemetery Grave 8.E.1. Further information: F/O. Parham is believed to have been a Dancing Instructor, as well as training as an engineer before the war, meeting and marrying Betty (née Pattison) who taught drama, dancing and elocution at her own school Pattisons Academy which had been founded by her own father in the 1920’s in Coventry. Met his future crew at Moreton in the Marsh and Peter Cook, the bomb aimer, became a close friend. Betty and William had one son, Julian. William was able to return home for his son’s christening and to base at Melbourne before sadly losing his life on February 3rd when Julian was aged just three months. Julian has donated his fathers uniform to the Yorkshire Air Museum.
Sgt. Thomas Cuthbert Smith. Venray War Cemetery. Grave V.D.8. Further information: Son of Sydney Walter and Hannah Smith of Sunderland, Co. Durham and husband of Edith Mary Smith of Fulwell, Sunderland, Co. Durham, England.
Sgt. William Henry Seabridge. Venray War Cemetery. Grave V.D.9. Further information: Sgt. Seabridge was one of four sons of Josiah and Edith Seabridge. The husband of Olive May and father of David John Seabridge of Maybank, Newcastle, and Staffordshire. He was employed as a motor driver and enlisted on 1st December 1939 as a Flight Mechanic/Air rigger. He trained at No.2 R.C. Cardington, 7 FTS, 32 Squadron, RAF Calvelly, and RAF Reading, 3 GTS, HMS Flying Fox and 1666 Conversion Unit. After qualifying as an air gunner, he joined 10 squadron on 29th September 1944.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With thanks to: Photo and information on Sgt. Seabridge and F/O. Gibbs to Pat Hague (Seabridge) niece, Ivor Jones (great nephew). Information on F/O. Parham from his son Julian also F/O. Peter Cook. To Michel Beckers for witness report included in this page of remembrance.