01/02.01.1944 No. 106 Squadron Lancaster III JB645 ZN-F P/O. Edwin Cecil Holbourn
Date: 1/2 January 1944 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: No. 106 Squadron - Motto: Pro Libertate (For Freedom)
Badge: A lion sejant, rampant, holding a banner charged with an astral crown. Based on the crest of the County Borough of Doncaster, the squadron being stationed near there at the time of adopting the badge.
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Metheringham, Lincolnshire
Location: Near Nudow, Potsdam-Mittelmark, Germany
Pilot: P/O. Edwin Cecil (Ted) Holbourn 156071 RAFVR Age 27 - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Herbert Vincent Walmsley 1673473 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (2)
Nav: Sgt. Edward Nichols Burton 1494673 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Thomas Trevor Powell 1322456 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Harold Dyer 1217992 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Thomas Henry Mallett 1484062 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): F/Sgt. Stanley Richard Mattick DFM 1315894 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (7)
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At the age of 26, Sergeant Pilot Edwin Cecil Holbourn was, as far as bomber aircrew were concerned, at the higher end of the scale age-wise. A railway guard in peacetime, he hailed from Hounslow in Middlesex and having been married to his wife Hilda for four years was positively an old man in the eyes of the others. Then again, it may well have been his age that had attracted them to him in the first place: after all, at his age he would have been around, know all the angles, be able to look after himself and more to the point, look after them: couldn't go wrong with old Ted could they?
And so another crew was spawned by the time honoured ritual known as "crewing up".
Having been posted along with several hundred other airmen to No. 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland during May 1943 they were now irrevocably "the Holbourn crew".
Photographs courtesy Chris Dyer
Though from diverse backgrounds and districts the other crew members did have one thing in common, they were all just 20 years old.
Edward Burton, the navigator of the crew, was a Scotsman from Edinburgh: his father had been awarded the Military Cross in 1918.
Air bomber Thomas Powell came from Croydon. He was a Junior Clerk at Lloyds Register of Shipping before volunteering for aircrew.
Grammar school boy John Dyer was from Stathern, Leicestershire. An erstwhile Ironstone Driller he was the wireless operator of the crew. His brother Maurice was 13 and as all kid brothers do, looked up to his big brother.
Completing the crew was air gunner Thomas Mallet from Sunderland.
Based at RAF Cottesmore John Dyer was no doubt delighted to be a mere 15 miles from his parent's home in Stathern to where he could cycle in little more than an hour. He was even nearer home when the crew first flew together on 27 May from Cottesmore's satellite airfield at RAF Saltby. The crew continued to fly exercises on Wellingtons from Saltby until at least the end of June 1943.
Came the end of July 1943 and training at OTU was complete. There followed a few days leave before they were on their way to RAF Winthorpe in Nottinghamshire, the home of No. 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit.
On 3 August 1943 familiarisation was conducted on an Avro Manchester, the layout of which was the same as the Lancaster. That however was the crew's only involvement with the Manchester and all further training was on Lancasters.
A Lancaster crew required a flight engineer and an additional air gunner. The flight engineer assigned to the crew was 21 years old Herbert Walmsley from Morecambe, Lancashire. Another Grammar School boy, Herbert had also been a member of the Air Training Corps.
The other air gunner was Australian Flight Sergeant, John Richmond Waller from Perth, Western Australia. Known as "Mick" he was 27 years old and married to Elvie May who was due to give birth in a couple of months' time.
Sgt. Waller had also trained at 14 OTU and since Wellingtons flew alternatively with 5 or 6 man crews it is possible that he had joined the crew at that time.
On 16 August 1943 Ted Holbourn was commission as a Pilot Officer and some three weeks later on 5 September the crew flew its last exercise with 1661 HCU and being now deemed ready for operations, was duly posted to 106 Squadron at RAF Syerston some 4 miles south-west of Newark.
Photograph courtesy Chris Dyer
The crew spent the week ending 20 September conducting high level bombing, night flying, interception and cross country exercises and on 22 September 1943 Ted Holbourn flew his first operation as 2nd dickie with F/O. J.R. Hobokan and his crew detailed to bomb Hannover.
And the following night it was decreed that Ted should take the Holbourn crew to war.
The target was Mannheim in south-west Germany and 15 crews from 106 Squadron were detailed as part of a total force of 627 heavy bombers. The 7 hour round trip flying Lancaster EE191 ZN-R was surely a daunting experience for the rookie crew but they returned unscathed having delivered their 5 ton bomb load from 17800 feet bang on target. They reported a good route with only slight opposition encountered but any complacency was tempered by the news that one of their number had not been so lucky, P/O. Stanley Trill and the crew of Lancaster DV271 had failed to return and it was later confirmed that only the air bomber had survived.
A few days respite followed as Bomber Command conducted only minor operations but on 27 September the crew was one of 14 from 106 Squadron among 678 heavies despatched for a raid on Hannover. Again flying EE191 they were attacked by an Fw109 (claimed as damaged) over the target the crew returned safely along with all others of the squadron.
Operations now followed regularly and as can be seen the crew flew a number of different Lancasters. But it was not only the aircraft that varied. For whatever reason the rear gunner changed as often as the aircraft and their names are shown against each operation.
29 September Bochum EE191 ZN-G (Sgt. R.A. Read)
1 October Hagan ED874 ZN-O (WO2 George Henry Bentinck RCAF)
3 October Kassel DV272 ZN-F (Sgt. Alexander Alfred E. Elsworthy)
4 October Frankfurt ED420 (Read) (Both rear and mid-upper gun turrets failed - mission abandoned)
7 October Stuttgart DV272 ZN-F (Bentinck)
Having flown 7 operations in 14 nights it was to be four weeks before they were again detailed for operations and in fact flew less than 5 hours on other duties during that time.
On 3 November the crew were detailed for operations again and regularly thereafter.
3 November Dusseldorf LM377 ZN-F (Waller)
10 November Modane LM377 ZN-F (Read)
22 November Berlin JB645 ZN-F (Read)
23 November Berlin JB645 ZN-F (Sgt. H. Burn)
26 November Berlin JB645 ZN-F (Burn)
16 December Berlin JB645 ZN-F (F/Sgt. Gordon Robert Carlile RAAF)
20 December Frankfurt JB645 ZN-F (Mattick - see biographical details below)
23 December Berlin JB645 ZN-F (Mattick)
29 December Berlin JB645 ZN-F (Mattick)
In the second week of November 1943 the squadron moved to the newly built airfield at Metheringham in Lincolnshire. The airfield was however, still under construction and the airmen endured a somewhat Spartan existence for some time afterwards.
On 17 November 1943 the squadron took delivery of a brand new Lancaster III JB645 a replacement for LM377 transferred to No. 61 Squadron. JB645 became the new ZN-F and having been duly allocated to the Holbourn crew flew its first operation just 5 days after delivery. This operation to Berlin was the second in the series of raids on the city during what became known as the Battle of Berlin, the first major raid being on 18 November. The Holbourn crew were to take part in seven of the first nine major raids on the city every one of them in JB645 interspaced with an operation to bomb Frankfurt on 20 December.
On 13 December 1943 Stanley Mattick was posted to 106 Squadron. A Flight Sergeant from Swindon in Wiltshire Stanley was 22 and married to Mildred. He had already completed a 30 Operation tour with 61 Squadron and had a DFM. He flew his first operation with the Holbourn crew on the Frankfurt operation of 20 December.
Photograph courtesy Chris Dyer
REASON FOR LOSS
There were no bomber operations on New Years Eve 1943 and subsequently, more than a few aircrew were nursing sore heads at bomber stations throughout England the following morning. But RAF Bomber Command were already beavering away planning the first operation of 1944; another visit to the 'Big City'.
That night's raid on Berlin would be the ninth in the series of major raids that had begun on 18 November 1943 and which was referred to in the intelligence room as the "Battle of Berlin".
The intended route was a long circuitous flight over the north sea to Denmark before turning south east towards Berlin and returning along a route south of Leipzig across Belgium and the tip of north east France. To complete the operation in darkness take-off would necessarily need to be mid evening.
But as doubts about the weather grew, take-off was delayed until midnight and the subsequent attack timed for the early hours of the morning. The delay necessitated using a shorter route; the usual southern route across Holland being the only viable alternative if the operation was to be effected in darkness.
15 Mosquitoes were to carry out a feint attack on Hamburg dropping TIs from zero -26 to z -17 and Window from about 35 miles south of Bremen on a straight run to Hamburg.
Just before midnight on 1 January 1944 the force of 421 Lancasters began taking off from bases in England and at 23.59 Squadron Leader Albert Robinson Dunn (40897) flying JB663 led the 15 Lancasters of 106 Squadron into the night sky over RAF Metheringham.
At 00.05 hours and third in line, Ted Holbourn eased JB645 off the tarmac and half an hour later all fifteen aircraft were airborne. The aircraft was armed with 1 x 4000lb cookie, 900 x 4lb incendiaries and 22 x 30lb incendiaries. Special equipment on board was H2S (ground scanning radar system), A.P.I. (air position indicator) Monica (night fighter early warning radar system) and Gee (radio navigation system). For further details see abbreviations
Having formed up over the North Sea, the bomber stream crossed the enemy coast at Egmond from where it was to fly almost due east the 300 miles to Berlin. The broken layer cloud over the North Sea and Dutch coast increased rapidly to 10/10ths inland, tops 8000 feet.
German fighter controllers were not fooled by the feint attack on Hamburg and were never in any doubt as to the identity of the main objective and a number of night fighters met the bomber stream when it was still 150 miles from Berlin.
Three Lancasters had already been lost to fighters over the North Sea and Dutch coast and one of the Pathfinder Force had exploded in mid air off Cromer. A further 8 were then lost to the night fighters before the bomber force reached the target.
Little ground opposition was encountered on the briefed outbound route but straying aircraft were engaged at Bremen, Hannover, Leipzig, Halle, Schweinfurt, Frankfurt, Coblenz, Bonn, Liege, Charleroi, Lille and Brussels resulting in 9 more Lancaster losses thus bringing total losses to 21 before the bomber force even reached the target. A further 29 bombers had aborted the mission due mainly for technical and manipulative reasons and 5 more then attacked alternative targets.
Berlin was covered in 10/10th layer cloud tops of first layer 8000 feet with another thin layer at 14000 feet and broken cirrus above. Visibility above the cloud was good and there was no moon.
At zero - 2 minutes (02.58 hours) the attack was opened by the primary blind markers.
TIs could not be seen through the cloud and although the sky-marking was well begun by the primary blind markers only 13 of the 29 backers-up reported attacking and no more than 7 of these released flares. The supporters were mostly late and the attack soon became scattered.
The main force was to attack in three waves each being allotted a 4 minute time slot between zero and zero + 12 but only 7% of the aircraft bombed within their allocated time.
Lancaster JB645 was to attack in the first wave from zero to zero + 4 and the first Lancasters of 106 Squadron are known to have bombed at 03.08 led by Sqn/Ldr. A. R. Dunn's JB663 with the last at 03.19. Having taken off third in line it seems likely that Ted Holbourn's aircraft was probably also one of the first to bomb.
The few bombers over the target in the first 13 minutes of the raid met accurately predicted flak. The guns later fired up to between 18000 and 20000ft mostly around release point flares. Light flak was met at 18000ft and rocket shells up to 20000ft.
The searchlights were blanketed by cloud and the flak both heavy and light was in barrage form and believed to have accounted for two more Lancasters
Despite the fighters having reached Berlin before the main force of our bombers only 13 combats were reported and resulting in a further two losses plus three more that are believed to have fallen to fighters on the home-bound journey thus a total of 28 losses for the operation.
Berlin wireless reported that scattered bombing mainly in the south of the city had resulted in mainly residential damage. 21 houses and 1 industrial building destroyed with 79 people being killed. A large number of bombs fell in the Grunewald, an extensive wooded area in the south-west of the city.
Lancaster JB645 failed to return and nothing having been heard from Lancaster JB645 or the crew after leaving base the seven airmen were listed as missing.
At first, the news that sons and husbands were missing at least offered some hope to their families, but later confirmation of their deaths was a devastating blow from which they would never totally recover.
In their cottage home, next to the village church at Stathern, John Dyer's father Harold, bore his loss with a stoicism so typical of his Victorian heritage whilst his mother Nellie, shed tears that would not dry and his young brother Maurice understandably followed his father's lead. A strongly religious family (Harold Dyer was churchwarden, bell ringer and with Maurice sang in the choir) they clung fiercely and steadfastly to their faith in those, the darkest of days.
It would be over four long years before the families of the crew learned anything more of the fate of their loved ones. In April 1948 the families were notified by the RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Service that the aircraft in which their loved ones had flown, had crashed near the village of Nudow some 8 miles south west of Berlin and the crew, who had probably been killed instantly, had been buried together by the Germans in a grave at Nudow cemetery.
They were also told that the remains of the seven airmen had been exhumed and re-interred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery at Heerstraße Berlin, twelve months earlier on 25 April 1947.
Individual identification had only been possible in respect of four of the crew: Herbert Walmsley, John Dyer, Thomas Mallett and Stanley Mattick whilst Ted Holbourn, Edward Burton and Thomas Powell had been buried together in a joint grave.
Neither the time nor cause of the loss of Lancaster JB645 has ever been determined and an entry on the RAF Loss Card also remains unexplained. A note in the box headed "Time of Fixes" records that: "0255 H2S u/s" though it is clear that this refers to unserviceable H2S equipment neither the reason for the entry nor how or why base was notified of this remains unexplained.
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Another 106 Squadron aircraft was also lost on this operation. Lancaster JB642 ZN-J captained by Pilot Officer Frederick Horace Garnett crashed at 0200 on the outbound journey between Scharrel and Otternhagen in Lower Saxony, Germany. The sole survivor of the crew was rear gunner Sgt. Alexander Alfred E. Elsworthy who had flown with the Holbourn crew on the Kassel operation of 3 October 1943. He was taken prisoner and transferred to Stalag Luft 3 Sagan and Belaria whilst those who died were buried at Otternhagen and Engelbostel Cemeteries. In 1947 they were all re-interred at the Hannover War Cemetery.
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Chris Dyer for his assistance in connection with this story. Chris kindly made available his own, extremely well researched story of his uncle, his uncle's log book, crew photographs and other family details.
Chris is a volunteer at the RAF Metheringham Airfield Museum and Roy had the pleasure of meeting him during a recent visit to the airfield where Chris gave him a personal tour of the museum dedicated to No. 106 Squadron. This small, free entry museum is well worth a visit. Further details can be found at http://metheringhamairfieldmuseum.co.uk
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) P/O. Edwin Cecil (Ted) Holbourn was born on 28 December 1916 at Brentford, Middlesex the son of Cecil and Mabel Holbourn nee Jones. He had one sibling Ernest J. Holbourn born 1920.
On 29 September 1939 he lived at 78, North Drive, Heston with his parents, his brother and his maternal grandparents Edwin and Alice Jones. He was employed as a Railway Guard and his father was a Railway Electric Motorman.
On 16 December 1939 he married Hilda May Cushing at St Mary's Parish Church, Hounslow, Middlesex and afterwards they lived at 33 Manor Avenue in Hounslow.
1322898 Sgt. Edwin Cecil Holbourn was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 16 August 1943 (London Gazette 5 October 1943)
(2) Sgt. Herbert Vincent Walmsley was born in 1922 in Morecambe Lancashire the son of Thomas Walmsley and Martha Anne Walmsley nee Worden of Morecambe, Lancashire. He was educated at St Mary's RC School and Morecambe Grammar School and was a member of the Air Training Corps
On 29 September 1939 the family lived at 1 Ashton Road, Morecambe and Heysham. Thomas Walmsley was a Garage Foreman Storekeeper at Fahy's Garage, a Special Constable and a Director of Morecambe Conservative Club Ltd. Martha Walmsley was a Shopkeeper dealing in groceries and sweets.
(Some details courtesy of Morecambe Visitor and Heysham Chronicle Report dated 27 September 1944)
Herbert Vincent Walmsley is commemorated on the Morecambe War Memorial, Lancashire
(3) Sgt. Edward Nichols Burton was born in 1923 at Colinton, Edinburgh, Scotland the son of Ralph Withers Burton MC and Kate Burton nee McNaughton later of Folkestone, Kent. His brother Ralph George McNaughton Burton (later Squadron Leader) was born in 1924 at Liberton, Midlothian Scotland.
Sgt. Edward Nichols Burton is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
(4) Sgt. Thomas Trevor Powell was born 23 January 1922 at Wandsworth, Surrey, the only child of Thomas Powell and Marjorie E.A. Powell nee Horrell later of Grange House, Woodside Green, Croydon, Surrey. He was educated at Whitgift Middle School and afterwards was a Junior Clerk at Lloyds Register of Shipping. After joining the RAFVR he trained in Canada.
(5) Sgt. John Harold Dyer was born on 23 September 1922 at Stathern, Leicestershire the son of Harold Dyer and Nellie Dyer nee West. His younger brother Maurice was born in 1930.
A pupil of Melton Mowbray Grammar School John Dyer later worked as an Ironstone Driller with his father at the local ironstone quarry
When he enlisted in the RAFVR he was 5' 8" tall with a 30" chest.
A modest man, John was once home on leave and out in civvies shooting rabbits. The local landowner saw him and apparently became quite irate with him saying "you should be off shooting Germans not my bloody rabbits". Rather than tell him what he did John just smiled, apologised and added, "you are probably right" - within a few weeks he was dead.
John Harold Dyer is commemorated on the Roll of Honour of the County Grammar School of King Edward VII Melton Mowbray. He is also commemorated on the Stathern War Memorial and Roll of Honour at the Stathern War Memorial Institute 19, Main Street, Stathern.
(6) Sgt. Thomas Henry Mallett was born in 1923 at Sunderland, Co. Durham the son of George W. Mallett and Elizabeth S. Mallett (nee Clear later Clark) and stepson of Alexander Clark, of Sunderland, Co. Durham. He had a brother George W. Mallett born 1920.
He is commemorated in the Book of Remembrance RAF 1939-1945 at the Church of St. Peter, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland.
(7) F/Sgt. Stanley Richard Mattick DFM was born 1921 at Axbridge, Somerset the son of Lansdown Mattick (a Tailor) and Daisy Mattick nee Fear. His only sibling, Wilfred H. Mattick was born in 1915 at Axbridge. Wilfred had his own Motor Mechanic's business and during the war was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service.
In 1939 the family lived at 20 Euclid Street Swindon and later at Stratton St. Margaret, Swindon
In 1943 Stanley married Mildred P. Hancock at Swindon.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal whilst serving with 61 Squadron with whom he completed a 30 operation tour (London Gazette 15 October 1943).
He is commemorated on the Stratton St Margaret Roll of Honour
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) P/O. Edwin Cecil Holbourn was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective grave 5.A.28-30
His epitaph reads:
In treasured memory
A beloved husband
And devoted son
(2) Sgt. Herbert Vincent Walmsley was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 5.A.24
His epitaph reads
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,
Have mercy on him,
(3) Sgt. Edward Nichols Burton was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective grave 5.A.28-30
His epitaph reads
Hath no man than this"
(4) Sgt. Thomas Trevor Powell was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective grave 5.A.28-30
His epitaph reads:
Beloved and only son
Thomas and Marjorie Powell
(5) Sgt. John Harold Dyer was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 5.A.27
His epitaph reads:
A beloved son and brother,
Of Church Cottage,
(6) Sgt. Thomas Henry Mallett was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 5.A.25
His epitaph reads:
His heart was true,
His nature kind.
He left behind
(7) F/Sgt. Stanley Richard Mattick DFM was originally buried at Nudow Friedhof (Nudow Graveyard) and re-interred on 25 April 1947 at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave ref: 5.A.26
They rode the wind on "Wings of Thunder"
with targets to find and tear asunder.
In that time of need they answered the call
giving their youth and many their all!
"Wings of Thunder" by Michael Anthony Roy Skeet.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for Chris Dyer and all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - July 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.