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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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158 Squadron Crest
03/04.04.1943 No. 158 Squadron Halifax II HR754 NP-K Sgt. Keedwell

Operation: Essen

Date: 03/04th April 1943 (Saturday/Sunday)

Unit: No. 158 Squadron

Type: Halifax II

Serial: HR754

Code: NP-K

Base: RAF Lissett

Location: Between Stud Farm and Wassand Hall near Sigglesthorne, Yorkshire

Pilot: Sgt. John Keedwell 925015 RAFVR Age 29. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. John Robert Franks 998499 RAFVR Age 35. Killed

Nav: P/O. William Rhymer Simpson 130239 RAFVR Age 22. Injured (1)

Air/Bmr: F/O. John Burgess 128714 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Reginald Sydney Nurse 1496525 RAFVR Age 22. Injured (2)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Reginald Victor Loose 1395954 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Leonard Froud 1379219 RAFVR Injured (3)

REASON FOR LOSS:

Taking off at 19:40 hrs to bomb the city of Essen - with a total force of 348 aircraft (225 Lancasters, 113 Halifaxes and 10 Mosquitoes) Weather forecast was not good for the operation but it turned out that there was no cloud over the target resulting in accurate bombing.

Widespread damage was caused in the centre and the western half of the city. 635 buildings were destroyed with a further 526 suffering severe damage. Casualties on the ground amounted to 118 killed, 458 injured.

The allies lost some 21 aircraft with 3 from 158 squadron lost. The others:
Halifax II DT635 NP-F Flown by 27 year old, Fl/Lt. John Denis Cole 118067 RAFVR from Alexandria, Egypt, killed with all 6 other crew members.
Halifax II DT795 NP-N Flown by 26 year old, Frederick Henry Blake R/78495 RCAF from Oregon, USA, killed with all 6 other crew members. Further details can be found here.

The Slimbridge Local History Society via Den Bannister submitted the following information:

John’s first career was as a journalist with the Bristol World before he joined the police force, initially in Norwich and latterly in Bath. The Bath Weekly Chronicle Herald of Saturday, 21 October 1933 records the arrival of John and another man to the Bath police force. It goes on to say that both are well over 6 feet tall, are public school boys and play a good game of cricket!

However, his interest in aviation led him to taking flying lessons and gaining his civil pilot’s licence while still serving in the police force.

The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror of Friday 29 January 1937 records him joining the Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club as a new pilot member.

Later in February the same newspaper speculates that as John has received permission from his Chief Constable to take up flying it might one day see Bath police controlling race-meeting traffic from the air.

John joined the RAF and undertook his basic flying training in Canada. He went on to join 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit based at Ricall airfield near York where he was trained to fly Halifax bombers.

He joined 158 Squadron at RAF Lissett on 14 March 1943 along with the six men who were to form his crew.

John with his father Thomas and younger brother Lionel taken outside the Berkeley Arms Purton

Two weeks later the crew flew their first operational mission to St Nazaire. On 3 April 1943 they were detailed to attack Essen on their second operational mission and took off from Lissett airfield at 19:40 in Halifax HR754; the third operational sortie for the aircraft. They pressed home the attack and returned home. For unknown reasons the aircraft flew very low and overshot its approach to the airfield and crashed at 00:48 in the morning of the 4th between Stud Farm and Wassand Hall, located east of the village of Sigglesthorne, 3 miles WSW of Hornsea in Yorkshire. John and three of his crew members were killed, two were injured and only Flight Sergeant Leonard Froud, the rear gunner, escaped unscathed.

The injured crew members were taken to hospital. The deceased were taken to their home towns to be buried there. The two injured crewmen, Pilot Office William Simpson and Sergeant Reginald Nurse returned to action and were both killed later in the war. Flight Sergeant Froud survived the war, marrying in 1945 and died peacefully in 1987 aged 79.

John is commemorated in four places, the City of Bath Police Memorial on the ground floor of Bath Police Station in Manvers Street, Bath, the main Bath memorial, the 158 Squadron memorial at Lissett and in the church of St Mary the Virgin in Berkeley. He is buried in the churchyard of St John’s church, Slimbridge.

The allies lost some 21 aircraft with 3 from 158 squadron lost. The others:

Halifax II DT635 NP-F Flown by 27 year old, Fl/Lt. John Denis Cole 118067 RAFVR from Alexandria, Egypt, killed with all 6 other crew members.
Halifax II DT795 NP-N Flown by 26 year old, Frederick Henry Blake R/78495 RCAF from Oregon, USA, killed with all 6 other crew members. Further details can be found here.

Burial details:

Sgt. John Keedwell. Slimbridge Churchyard (St. John The Evangelist). North of church. Born on the 02nd October 1913 n Axbridge, Weston Super Mare, Somerset, the son of Thomas and Janet Mary Keedwell, of Purton, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England. Grave inscription reads: "He Died That We May Live".

Sgt. John Robert Franks. Leeds Cemetery (Lawnswood). Sec. Y. Grave 969. Son of Bertie and Jane Franks, of Carlton, Goole, Yorkshire, England.

F/O. John Burgess. Carnmoney Cemetery. Sec. Z.Z. Grave 16. Son of John and Elizabeth Burgess, of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Sgt. Reginald Victor Loose. Staines Cemetery(London Road). Block F. Grave 444. Son of Victor Raymond and Alice Loose, of Staines, Middlesex, England. Grave inscription reads: "In Loving Memory Of Our Son Killed During Air Operations Over Essen".

Later:

F/O. William Rhymer Simpson. Durnbach War Cemetery. Grave 6.D.19. Son of George Gray Simpson and Catherine Rhymer Simpson, of Lochore, Fife, Scotland. Grave inscription reads: "At The Going Down Of The Sun And In The Morning We Will Remember".

(1) The then F/O. Simpson was killed on the 06th September 1943 whilst with 77 Squadron. Halifax II JB839 KN-K whilst flying as a navigator on a trip to Mannheim (none of the 8 crew members survived)

Sgt. Reginald Sydney Nurse. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 221. Son of Sidney Alfred and Elsie Kate Nurse, of Swinton, Lancashire, England.

(2) Fl/Sgt. Nurse was killed on the 25th February 1944 whilst with 408 Squadron (RCAF). Lancaster II DS844 EQ-X whilst flying as an air gunner on a trip to Schweinfurt (none of the 7 crew survived) Further details can be found here.

Researched by Den Bannister and the Slimbridge Local History Society, submitted to Aircrew Remembered in January 2018. Page dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to sources as shown.

KTY - 25.01.2018

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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