16/17.04.1943 No. 166 Squadron Wellington X HE862 AS-L F/O. Selwyn J. Lupton
Date: 16/17th April 1943
Unit: No. 166 Squadron
Type: Wellington X
Base: RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire.
Location: Cayeux-sur-Mer, France
Pilot: F/O. Selwyn Jaques Lupton 125539 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Nav: F/O. Roderick Alan Lord RAFVR Survived
Air/Bmr: Sgt. John Paul Merton R/129438 RCAF Age ? Injured (1)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Forster Whitfield 1063748 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: F/O. Eric G. Hadingham RAFVR Survived
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 21.19 hrs from Kirmington, Lincolnshire to attack the city of Mannheim. After suffering engine problems on the outbound flight, the pilot was forced to ditch just off the Southern side of the Somme estuary.
A letter to F/O. Eric G. Hadingham from F/O. Roderick Alan Lord whilst he was recovering in Ward 4 of Halton Hospital in Wendover, has been recently discovered and makes interesting reading:
"I trust that you are still at large and not suffering from the ravages of's something in the nature of a mistake that I am alive at all, I cannot grumble. We had a spot of trouble on the Mannheim 'do' last Friday week. Something went haywire with the engines at a height of 13,000 ft over the Channel and within a few minutes we carried out an interesting though unorthodox experiment to discover how a Wimpey IV behaves as a submarine. It doesn't – at least not with 4,000 lbs. of incendiaries aboard. We had no time to prepare for this emergency; the first thing I was aware of after hitting the sea was that I was being flung about in a cabin filled with water in total darkness, being cut and bashed about by nearly every hard object available for the purpose. I did not think there was a cat in hell’s chance of escape, and I remember cursing inwardly, because I hadn't been killed outright. All the same, I started struggling in a futile sort of way and was suddenly amazed to find myself moving upwards without any obstruction. When I broke surface, I was too stunned to be in a panic, so hearing a splashing sound close by I guessed that the rear gunner had also escaped. I shouted out and heard Eric Hadingham, the rear gunner, in reply telling me where the dinghy was. I had forgotten the automatic release, which operates the dinghy as soon as the plane touches water! My Mae West was punctured, so I had to struggle hard to reach the dinghy, and when I got there, I was too weak to get in by myself and Eric got me in somehow.
Remarkable photographs above, and later on in the page, taken during the recovery of the surviving crew. Showing F/O. Eric Hadingham in the dingy with, what is believed to be F/O. Roderick Lord already on the rescue launch.(courtesy IWM)The fuselage must have split in two, for we soon heard the bombardier shouting for help in the darkness, so I presume he came up through the same hole as myself. We grabbed two pieces of wreckage and, guiding ourselves by his shouts, made our way slowly and erratically towards him. We found him holding on to the pilot, who was I think already dead. I took the pilot, and Hadingham struggled for five minutes to try and get Sgt Merton, the bombardier, aboard.
(1) Merton was in the last stages of exhaustion, being severely injured about the forehead and unable to move from the waist downwards. I think probably that his back was broken. In addition, he sank in the water until the sea had entered his mouth every time he shouted, but it never occurred to him to let go of the pilot. He was an American, and if I ever hear anyone running down the Yankees in future, I shall have a word ready. (see our Poetry Section)
Eventually we had to let Lupton, the Pilot, go and after a great struggle we got the bombardier aboard. He was in great pain and soon became delirious, asking for water, which we couldn't give him, as the emergency pack had broken away from the dingy. He died in the early morning. We sat shivering until dawn when we took stock of our position. We had no food or water save for about 30 Horlicks tablets, a bar of chocolate and a tooth paste carton full of condensed milk, which was in my escape gear. Eric's must have slipped out of his clothing in the water. I was not wearing any flying clothing, having only put on short deries pants and my ordinary shoes, as it was to have been a low level attack. One of the shoes had been torn off my feet.
Hadingham was wearing his flying suit with long woollen pants, but he had lost both his flying boots in the sea. As far as I was able to judge, our position was about 15 miles NNW of a place called Cailleux on the French coast, that is about 5 miles from the French coast at its nearest point and about 40 miles from Dungeness.
We manoeuvred the dinghy, until we could pick up two flat pieces of wood to use as paddles and carried out a tour of inspection of the remaining floating wreckage without finding anything useful. We then started paddling roughly NNW, steering by the sun, making good a speed of about ½ a knot. In proportion to the amount of energy used, the result was completely abortive, for it took us at least two days to learn the best way of co-ordinating ourselves to steer a straight course and obtain the maximum speed. On one point we could never agree; if I thought we were steering for a small cloud on the horizon, Hadingham would be sure to say we were 20 deg to port or starboard of it, according to which side of the dingy he happened to be sitting.
After about half an hour of this we were still within sight of the wreckage and had progressed a few hundred yards. While we had a short rest, the mist cleared a little and we saw France on our starboard.
As the day progressed, I noticed the current was taking us northward several times faster than we ourselves could paddle and in fact we sighted the cliffs of Dover in the distance late that evening.
I am not very clear as to the order in which things happened during the next few days. I had received a bad cut over my right eye when we crashed, and, although I did not know it at the time, there was a large hole in my left arm just above the elbow from which I had lost a lot of blood. Consequently I was very weak and had to be assisted into a sitting position by Hadingham every time we used the paddles. At night it grew very cold, and as we were unable to keep the dinghy dry our feet gradually grew numb, so that we were unable to stand. Hunger troubled us more than thirst during the first two days, but on the third day it rained and we collected a few pints of blackish water in the tarpaulin, as we only had one small rubber bottle in which to store it, we drank it nearly all at once, as a result of which we began to crave for water all the more. By this time we had lost any feelings about food.
We saw quite a number of dolphins and one huge tunny, but these were too big game for us and we left them severely alone. I did succeed in making a small fishing net out of the lifeline, but we never caught anything in it. In fact the only catchable things we saw were jelly fish, which are I believe poisonous.
On the fifth day, I picked up a piece of shiny-looking, light green seaweed, which I ate secretly, lest Hadingham should argue me out of it. It was pretty tough chewing and tasted more like peanuts than anything else. At the end of the first day a strong south-westerly wind combined with the current and our own efforts had carried us into the straits of Dover. During the evening we got within about seven miles of the coast, but then the tide turned, and within an hour, in spite of our frenzied efforts, we were carried out of sight of land.
During the next few days this became a regular thing; several times we thought we were going to make landfall, only for the wind to change or the tide to bear us out to sea again. On the fourth day, a strong westerly wind blew us through the Straits into the North Sea, and by now we really did begin to give up hope.
Our biggest hope had been to moor ourselves to a buoy. In that way we would hardly fail to be seen by fighters. But, although we passed very near to several buoys, we were never able to reach them and not one fighter, several of which flew low within 100 yards of our dingy, saw us. On the fifth day our luck seemed to have changed at last. A strong easterly wind was blowing and I guessed our position to be east of Dover. From the state of the moon I suspected the tide would be moving westward from 10 am to about 4.30 p.m.
So we sat on either side of the dinghy holding up the tarpaulin till our arms almost dropped off and bowled along merrily westward. Sure enough we soon saw white cliffs, and about 3 pm we were only three miles or so from Dover, the nearest we had ever been to land.
But here again as if to be the crowning blow, the wind suddenly dropped and our progress stopped. We tried paddling for half an hour but made hardly any headway and reduced ourselves to complete exhaustion. So we gave it up and watched two Typhoons on patrol, which had been flying over us for the best part of two hours. When one of these planes flew right over us at a height of about 50 feet without seeing our frantic evolutions with the tarpaulin, our language was scarcely civilised, but shortly afterwards we changed our tune. The second Typhoon suddenly broke formation and came swooping down towards us continuing to circle our dinghy. For a long time I couldn't believe we had been spotted – at least until the second machine also came swooping over us and waggled his wings.
I shall never forget the way that pilot waggled his wings, for I knew then that at last we were saved. Within half an hour we saw two vessels emerging from Dover harbour, and within an hour I was being lifted by four good men onto a launch and given a cigarette and a spoonful of water. They also changed my clothes & dressed my wounded arm before we reached shore, when we were removed to the Dover County Hospital. There followed two days at Dover and then a journey in an ambulance to this place. My only trouble now is frostbitten feet, and I think it may be a month before I can walk. The right foot seems to be the worse of the two. Everyone, of course is overjoyed, especially the wife, who is expecting an offspring within the next week or so. It must have been a terrible shock for her.
Well I hope you will excuse me for filling this letter with one incident, but the fact is that I want to make some record of it before some of the details slip my memory, and this seems one good way of doing it. I would be obliged if you would keep this letter for future reference, in case I ever write my autobiography.'
Cheerio and kind regards to all the family.
Yours Faithfully (if not fitfully),
F/O. Selwyn Jaques Lupton. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 125. Son of Frank and Florence Gladys Lupton, of Darlington, Co. Durham. B.Sc. Eng., 1st Cl. Hons. (Leeds).
Sgt. John Paul Merton. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 186. Born on November 2nd, 1918. Husband of Margaret May Merton (née Evans), of Birkenhead, Liverpool. Married at Laurence Church, Birkenhead, England. Brother of Father Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk and a best selling author of "The Seven Storey Mountain", published in 1948. He wrote a poem dedicated to his brother after hearing of his death. Republished in our Poetry Section.
Sgt. William Forster Whitfield. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 169. NoK details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Researched for relatives of the crew. For further details our thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', ‘Bomber Command Database’, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version). Commonwealth War Graves Commission.