21.09.1944 No. 190 Squadron Stirling IV LJ982 L9-N Wg Cdr. Graeme Elliott Harrison DFC, SS (USA)
Operation: Market (Part of Market Garden)
Date: 21 September 1944 (Thursday)
Unit: No 190 Squadron - Motto: "Ex tenebris" ("Through darkness ")
Badge: A cloak charged with a double-headed eagle displayed.
Type: Short Stirling Mark IV
Base: RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire
Location: Near Zetten, Holland
Pilot: Wg Cdr. Graeme Elliott Harrison DFC US Silver Star 37012 RAF Age 29 - Killed (1)
2nd Pilot: W/O. Thomas Barry Brierley 417009 RNZAF Age 21 - Killed (2)
FE: F/Sgt. Robert Percy 1077628 RAFVR Age 25 - Killed (3)
Nav: F/O. Neil MacKay 147128 RAFVR Age 35 - Killed (4)
Nav: W/O. Donald Meldrum Mathewson 421331 RNZAF Age 36 - Killed (5)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Lt. Norman Edward Skinner DFC 118084 RAFVR Age 32 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr: P/O. Comte Jacques Fernand Gabriel de Cordoue J/92200 RCAF Age 29 - Killed (7)
Dispatcher: L/Cpl. Leslie H. Caldecott T/80730 253 (Airborne) Composite Coy RASC Age 22 -Killed (8)
Dispatcher: Driver Harold Gregory T/152672 253 (Airborne) Composite Coy RASC Age 28 - Killed (9)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
Formed at Rochford on 24 October 1917 as a night training unit, 190 Squadron was disbanded in April 1919 only to be reformed on 1 March 1943 at Sullom Voe, Shetland, with Catalinas flying anti-submarine patrols. Ten months later on 31 December the squadron was again disbanded but on 5 January 1944 the Squadron was reformed again at RAF Leicester East as a specialist airborne forces squadron equipped with Stirlings. Its new duties included glider towing and supply drops.
Appointed as Commanding Officer of 190 Squadron on that day was Wing Commander Graeme Elliott Harrison DFC, Silver Star (USA), a highly experienced officer with 10 years' service in the RAF and had been CO of No. 149 Squadron from April 1943 to 25 October 1943. 190 squadron relocated to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire on 25 March 1944.
On D-Day the squadron sent twenty three aircraft with paratroops to the initial dropping zone and the following day sent eighteen more aircraft towing gliders.
190 Squadron and Operation Market Garden
On Sunday 17th September 1944, 190 and 620 Squadrons played an important role in the first action of Operation Market Garden with each of them providing six Stirlings to carry the pathfinders of the 21st Independent Parachute Company, whose job it was to mark all three drop and landing zones for the First Lift, which began to arrive half an hour later.
A further nineteen of 190 Squadron's aircraft were involved in this lift, each towing a Horsa glider, two of which were forced to cast-off prematurely. On the following day, twenty-one Stirlings were used in a similar capacity for the Second Lift, but again two of their gliders failed to reach the landing zone.
On Tuesday 19th September, the Squadron used sixteen of its Stirlings in the first major resupply effort, while a further two aircraft brought in the gliders that had cast-off on the previous day. Between them, 190 and 620 Squadron managed to drop seven hundred and forty-two supply containers and one hundred and twenty panniers. Two of the Squadron's aircraft were shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Aboard the first, all four aircrew and four RASC dispatchers were killed, and on the second two aircrew and two dispatchers perished, but five men survived.
Similar losses were sustained amongst the seventeen aircraft involved on Wednesday's resupply mission. Three aircraft were shot down, aboard one of which, eight aircrew and two dispatchers died.
But, by far the cruellest blow to the Squadron came on the following day
Far right in the above picture, wearing Canada shoulder badges is Jacques Fernand Gabriel de Cordoue. Standing next to him is thought to be New Zealander, Donald Mathewson.
REASON FOR LOSS
On Thursday 21 September 190 Squadron had only ten Stirlings fit enough to take part in the resupply of 1st Airborne Division detailed for that day. They were carrying 240 containers and 40 paniers.
First away from RAF Fairford at 12.01 was Stirling LJ982 L9-N captained by the commanding officer of 190 Squadron, the 29 year old Wing Commander, Graeme Harrison, DFC, SS (USA). By 12.16 eight of the ten Stirlings were airborne, the remaining two taking off one and a half hours later.
Now five days on from the start of Operation Market Garden the element of surprise had long since been lost and the Germans were well prepared. The aircraft encountered heavy flak and fighter opposition resulting in seven of the ten being brought down.
By 21 September the airborne troops had been contained by German forces mainly within the area surrounding their HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel. With them was Sgt Jock Walker of the Army Film and Photographic Unit. Having planned for a two day operation he had long since run out of cine film and later recalled the situation on the ground and his observations of the heroic battle in the air as the allied aircraft tried in vain to resupply the beleaguered men below.
On the 21st it was impossible to leave the Hartenstein Hotel area, due to the fact that the enemy made a very determined attempt to break into the perimeter. What with this and the recommencement of the heavy mortaring and shelling it was a wonder any of us lived through it, but we did. Defending the perimeter, in addition to the Para and the South Staffs, there were elements of REs, RAs, Royal Signals, Glider Pilots, Pathfinders, RASC who fought as hard and viciously as the rest. It was a case of their life or yours and although airborne troops do not require to have their back to the wall in order to fight, this was literally a case of give an inch and we were all done.
The R.A.F. supply planes and their dispatchers were giants among brave men; whenever they came over with supplies (which unfortunately usually fell to the enemy) all the fury of the enemy was directed against them, but steadfastly they flew straight and level through the most fearful ‘flak’ - the dispatchers at the doors, chucking out the containers, even when repeatedly hit and set on fire, flying on, blazing torches in the sky, until they eventually crashed in flames. What devotion to duty and so sorrowful to watch. There wasn’t a man on the ground that wasn’t moved by this display of courage and, in the main, with no benefit to us.
To read the whole of his account on WW2 People's War click here
The supply attempt by RAF Stirlings of 38 Group was disrupted by the only Luftwaffe fighter interception during the whole operation. Fw 190s intercepted the Stirlings at low altitude and shot down 15 whilst anti-aircraft fire accounted for another 8. The Fw 190s managed to penetrate the screen of Allied fighters sent to cover the drop when the U.S. 56th Fighter Group was late in arriving in its patrol sector between Lochem and Deventer.
It seems that Wing Commander Graeme Harrison managed to guide LJ982 safely to Oosterbeek but after dropping his supplies in the Hartenstein Hotel area was hit by flak and crashed at about 1545 hrs in the area of Randwijk (Polderstraat-Slopsepad), near Zetten 15 km southwest of Arnhem i.e. 500 metres north of the 'De Slop' farm, one and a half km south of the river Rhine. All the crew and the two dispatchers on board were killed and buried in the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten but later re-interred at Oosterbeek on the western outskirts of Arnhem.
On Saturday 23rd September every serviceable Stirling of 190 Squadron was put into the air for the last resupply mission. All seven returned safely!
190 Squadron had paid a terrible price during the operation. Aircrews had flown forty-six sorties during the first two days of the airborne landings. Forty of the forty-six involved towing gliders. The squadron then flew an additional fifty-three re-supply flights.
The Squadron had also suffered the heaviest losses of any of the sixteen squadrons in 38 and 46 Groups. Facing withering anti-aircraft fire and fierce German fighter attacks twelve Stirlings had been lost, thirty-nine aircrew and twelve RASC dispatchers killed, and fifteen aircrew taken prisoner. A further twenty-five personnel who had been shot down over Arnhem, however, had been able to return to the Allied lines when the 1st Airborne Division withdrew.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Wg Cdr. Graeme Elliott Harrison DFC Silver Star (USA) was born on 21 July 1915 at Townsend, Waterford, Ontario the son of Leonard Harrison (a Farmer) and Ethel Mary Harrison nee Elliott. He had two sisters, Denise Mary Harrison born 1903 and Margaret Brenda Harrison born 1906. She was generally known as Brenda and later as Harry to her friends. In 1911 the family lived in an 11 roomed property at North Stoke, Arundel and employed three servants and a Governess.
During the early part of the Great War Ethel Mary Harrison and her two daughters went to Canada where Graeme was born in 1915. At some point she was joined in Canada by her husband Leonard who worked there as a Farm Machinery Chandler (Sales Agent).
The family returned to England in 1925 when Graeme was 9 years old.
The proposed residence after their return was stated to be at 55 Holborn Viaduct, London EC 1. Leonard Harrison at this time was a Salesman and Brenda Harrison was a School Teacher. Denise Harrison however remained in Canada where she married a Mr. W.F. Caldwell. Brenda Harrison married Lieutenant (later Brigadier) John George RAMC in 1932 at the Chapel Royal of the Savoy, London.
Back in England the family lived at Rustington, in Sussex and the young Graeme Harrison went to Prep School in Bognor Regis. He later attended The King's School, Ely where he passed the London Matriculation. He was also a great sportsman.
He spent the next year as a medical student before his mother finally succumbed to his incessant pleas for permission to join the Royal Air Force and so to RAF Cranwell.
Graeme Elliott Harrison was granted a short service commission as an Acting Pilot Officer with effect from and seniority of 14 September 1934 (London Gazette 25 September 1934) and confirmed in this appointment on 14 September 1935 (London Gazette 29 October 1935). He was further promoted to Flying Officer on 14 March 1937 (London Gazette 13 April 1937) to Acting Flight Lieutenant on 1 August 1938 (London Gazette 20 September 1938) and confirmed in this appointment on 14 March 1939 (London Gazette 25 April 1939). He was promoted to Squadron Leader (Temp) with effect from 1 July 1940 (London Gazette 20 September 1940) and to Wing Commander (Temp) on 1 September 1942 (London Gazette 1 October 1942)
In March 1940 whilst stationed at Trincomalee, Ceylon he married Aline Cynthia Stevens at St. John's Church, Fort Columbo.
Following the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 Aline was sent home to England and later that year their first child Sonia R. Harrison was born at Worthing, Sussex.
On 5 January 1944 Wing Commander Harrison was charged with reforming No. 190 Squadron (see Introduction) at RAF Leicester East. In March 1944 the Squadron relocated to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire whilst Graeme, Aline and Sonia Harrison lived at the nearby village of Whelford. Their second daughter Tessa A. Harrison was born later that year.
On 17 July 1943 the President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt conferred upon him the Silver Star in recognition of him leading United States bomber groups against German targets.
And on 21 April 1944 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
Wing Commander Graeme Elliott Harrison is commemorated on the Littlehampton War Memorial, Sussex.
(2) W/O. Thomas Barry Brierley was born c. 1922 in New Zealand the eldest son of Roland and Rene Brierley of 1A Apuka Street, Brooklyn, Wellington, New Zealand. He had a younger brother Lee Brierley.
(3) F/Sgt. Robert Percy was born c. 1919 the son of William and Elizabeth Percy, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.
(4) F/O. Neil MacKay was born in 1909 at Thurso, Caithness-shire, Scotland the son of Thomas Mackay and of Jane Mackay (nee MacRae), of Thurso.
1561649 LAC Neil MacKay was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 19 June 1943 (London Gazette 28 September 1943) and promoted to Flying Officer (probation) (war subs) on 19 December 1943 (London Gazette 31 December 1943)
He is commemorated on the Scottish War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
(5) W/O. Donald Meldrum Mathewson was born c. 1908 in New Zealand the son of William M. and Margaret I. Mathewson, of Kokonga, Otago, New Zealand; husband of Violet Jessie Mathewson, of Palmerston North, Wellington, New Zealand.
He is commemorated on the Kyeburn and Kokonga war memorial in Swinburn Cemetery, Otago, New Zealand and on a brass plaque in the Presbyterian Church at Kokonga.
(6) Fl/Lt. Norman Edward Skinner DFC was born in 1912 at Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire the son of Freelance Journalist, Isaac Skinner and Lillian Skinner, of Scarborough, Yorkshire. He had sisters Dorothy Mary Skinner born 1899, Nora Lilian Skinner born 1901, Eleanor Edith Marguerite Skinner born 1903 and brothers Darrell Stanley Skinner born 1906 and Isaac L. Skinner born in 1913.
He married Marjorie Emily Daisy Skinner nee Adams at Scarborough in 1933. They had two children, Rosemarie L. Skinner born 1934 and Norman E.W. Skinner born 1935.
1378897 Norman Edward Skinner was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 5 January 1942 (London Gazette 31 March 1942), promoted to Flying Officer (probation) (war subs) on 1 October 1942 (London Gazette 20 November 1942) and promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 5 January 1944 (London Gazette 14 January 1944)
Norman Skinner was awarded the DFC for his actions whilst a member of the crew of No. 149 Squadron Stirling BF372 piloted by P/O. Rawdon Hume Middleton RAAF on 28/29 November 1942. Low on fuel and severely damaged by anti-aircraft the crew had to abandon the aircraft over the Channel but only five of them baled out. The others chose to stay with the aircraft to assist the pilot and subsequently perished with him. The pilot was awarded a posthumous VC for his actions, two of the crew were awarded the DFC, three were awarded the DFM and two were Mentioned in Dispatches. To read the story of the loss click here
He is commemorated on the Scarborough War Memorial.
(7) P/O. Comte Jacques Fernand Gabriel de Cordoue was born on 13 June 1915 at Montreal, Quebec, Canada the son of Marquis Hugues Fernand Stanislas de Cordoue and Marquise Marie Rose de Cordoue nee Higgins and of 2358 rue des Erables, Montreal.
He was educated at École Frontenac Montreal 1922-24, École Jean-Baptiste-Meilleur Montreal 1924-31. After leaving school he worked as a Clerk at Restaurant Co. whilst also studying on an Art Course at the Monument National, Montreal (1931-33). He was then employed by Dupuis Frères, Montreal as a Receiver, Bartender and Stock-keeper from 1933 until joining the RCAF in 1941. He also participated in Swimming, Hunting, Boxing, Softball and Hockey.
He enlisted at Montreal on 4 December 1941. After training at RCAF Dartmouth, nova Scotia, No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School RCAF Mont-Joli, Quebec he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 30 December 1942. On 23 January 1943 was posted to No 34 Operational Training Unit (OTU) Pennfield Ridge New Brunswick.
After arrival in the UK on 17 April 1943 he was posted from No. 3 Personnel and Reception Centre to No. 42 OTU at RAF Andover, Hampshire for training as Army Support crew before joining No. 297 Squadron at RAF Thruxton Hampshire on 26 September 1943 having been promoted to Flight Sergeant on 30 June. He was a member of "C" flight of 297 Squadron from which 299 Squadron was formed at RAF Stoney Cross, Hampshire on 4 November 1943 as a Special Operations Squadron but before the squadron became operational in April 1944 he had been posted to 1665 Conversion Unit for experience on the four engine Short Stirling after which he was posted to 190 Squadron at RAF Leicester East on 12 February 1944.
He was promoted to Warrant Officer 2nd Class on 30 December 1943, Warrant Officer 1st Class on 30 June 1944 and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 29 September 1944.
(8) L/Cpl. Leslie H. Caldecott was born c 1922 the son of Henry and Minnie Alberta Caldecott and husband of Julia Mollie Rachel Caldecott, of Addington, Liskeard, Cornwall.
(9) Driver Harold Gregory was born c 1916 the son of John Gregory and Florence Gregory, of Heywood, Lancashire. In 1940 he married Eileen Harvey at Heywood.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
Wg Cdr. Graeme Elliot Harrison DFC Silver Star (USA) was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.12
His epitaph reads:
From sky to earth
For liberty I fell.
I fought, I found
My wings again. Farewell
W/O. Thomas Barry Brierley was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.15
F/Sgt. Robert Percy was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.10
His epitaph reads:
In proud and loving memory.
We shall meet him
Some bright morning
F/O. Neil MacKay was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.9
His epitaph reads:
"I will lead them in paths
That they have not known"
W/O. Donald Meldrum Mathewson was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.14
Fl/Lt. Norman Edward Skinner DFC was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.13
His epitaph reads:
In the cause of the free
P/O. Comte Jacques Fernand Gabriel de Cordoue was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 4.D.16
His epitaph reads:
Il nous reste un espoir
Te rejoindre un jour
Pour ne plus se quitter
(We hope to join you again someday, never to be parted again)
L/Cpl. Leslie H. Caldecott was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 18.B.11
His epitaph reads:
Into the mosaic of victory
We place this precious jewel
"O valiant heart"
Driver Harold Gregory was originally buried at the Vluchtheuvel Churchyard at Zetten, Gelderland and re-interred on 5 October 1945 at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Grave 18.B.7
His epitaph reads:
Too dearly loved
To ever be forgotten
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Mrs. Sonia (Hank) Arnott, the daughter of Wing Commander G.E. Harrison, for providing further biographical details of her father and his family and the newspaper cutting shown above.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - February 2017
With thanks to the sources quoted below.