15.03.1944 No. 11 O.T.U. Wellington X LN660 KJ-O F/O. James H.C. Lyon D.F.C.
Operation: Training - night cross-country exercise
Date: 15th March 1944 (Wednesday)
Unit: No. 11 OTU (Operational Training Unit)
Type: Wellington X
Base: RAF Wescott, Buckinghamshire
Location: 1.5 miles North West of Westcott, Buckinghamshire
Pilot: F/O. James Henry Scott Lyon DFC AUS/408658 RAAF Age 21. Killed
Pilot 2 U/T: Fl/Sgt. Donald Victor Roy Francis NZ/41158 RNZAF Age 24. Killed
Nav: F/O. Gerald Harman Gilbert NZ/429029 RNZAF Age 23. Killed
Air/Bmr: F/O. Rennie Taylor 152830 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. George Hudson 1080378 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Robert Reginald Kemp 1397621 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Reginald Dennis Barlow 1807428 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Arthur Frederick Goold NZ/414873 RNZAF Age 21. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
LN660 took off from base at 20:05 hrs for a routine two and a half hour Night Cross Country Exercise - a training flight that involved navigation exercises with a fully operational crew. F/O Lyon was duty staff pilot instructor of Wellington X LN 660 “O” - Orange. These were usually the longest training flights (bombing, air to air firing and taking off/landing exercises were flown on shorter ranges), and so saw a high number of losses, either due to mechanical problems or the crew getting lost and hitting high ground out of track.
An air force investigation report showed that the Stirling was way off course for its base at Tuddenham in Suffolk. F/O. Lyon (Staff Pilot) and his crew were returning to base at 22.35hrs, and were on their finals for landing, when they collided with Stirling EH 989 of 90 Squadron.
Map of the Wellington crash site
After the collision, the Wellington lost height rapidly making them too low to bale out and bursting into flames and crashing into a field. Being wartime, no lights were allowed except in an emergency. The Wellington crashed half a mile east of Quainton Road railway station, One and a half miles North East of Westcott, killing all eight crew members.
In a letter to Bruce Blanche (nephew of F/O. Lyon), Mr. P. Bristow of Cheadle, Cheshire, ex Captain Fitter, D flight 11 OTU describes his acquaintance. with Flying Officer “Benny” Lyon who he was with at 11 OTU, Westcott and in the following letter describes the events of the night of the 15th March 1944:
“I was a fitter in the same flight as Benny Lyon which was “D” Flight. I never knew whether Benny was his real name or just a nick name that the other crews had given him. I never cease to think about him, because in spite of having been in the RAF for 12 years and experiencing the loss of many good friends during my service, I felt Benny’s death very deeply indeed, and still do after so many years. The reason for this is because I was personally involved with the events immediately before he took off on his last flight, which are as follows.
On this particular night I was the Senior Non Commissioned Officer in Charge of Night Flying. I think it was 1944, but cannot remember the month, and as my usual practice of taking over from the day party, I consulted the Form 700’s (maintenance logs for each aircraft).This was to establish how many aircraft I could put into service for that night’s ops. I selected the aircraft that had all been signed up as “serviceable” and then detailed the night party to carry out a final check. The time was 17.30 hours. The reason for this final check was to cover unknown incidents since the afternoons inspections, such as petrol bowsers fouling some part of the aircraft whilst filling up, or something that could have happened whilst the armourers had been loading the bombs; these two items were always carried out after the aircraft was signed up as serviceable.
Left: Quainton Road Railway Station Right: Crash siteThe fitters, having made their final checks, then came to me with their reports. One of the aircraft that had faults was the one that Benny and his crew came for at 19.20 hrs. I was working on it at the time. Benny asked me how long it would be and I told him it would take me about 15 minutes, providing I had no snags. He said he could not wait as he had been instructed to take off prompt at 19.30 hours. I suggested he rang the Flight Commander (Squadron Leader Bennet) and inform him of the position and to see if he would extend the time a further few minutes. Benny came back to say this was impossible and that he had to go to another section to pick up another aircraft, Benny was down in the dumps about it, because the aircraft he was taking was not dual control and as he was taking a pupil pilot he would be at a disadvantage. i climbed down off the Wellington and told Benny that I would have a word with him.The Flight Commander was sympathetic about it, but said it was most urgent and that it had to be spot on 19.30 hours.
I explained that I had not been satisfied with the port engine performance, and also it had damage to the fuselage fabric. I assured him that it would not take longer than 5 minutes.It was by then 3 minutes from the deadline and so Benny and his crew had to take this other Wellington from the other flight. I told the Flight Commander how very disturbed I was that any of our crews should take an aircraft from another flight without it being checked by us. We always regarded our own crews as our own family, they belonged to us and we felt specially responsible for them. It was most unfortunate, and I told Benny how very sorry I was, he replied by saying that he appreciated that I was only doing my job. I would never allow an aircrew to go in an aircraft that was not one hundred percent airworthy.
I saw Benny and his crew take off, and I had a very unsettled feeling, one that I had never experienced before in all my years in the RAF I had a secret fear about it all. It was about 22.00 hours when the phone in the Flight Nisson Hut rang.
I picked it up and it was the Flight Commander. I knew immediately it was bad news. He sounded upset, he said news had just come in that Benny and his crew had collided in mid-air with a Stirling but was awaiting further news, there was a possibility that they may have bailed out, he said he would keep me informed as news came in. I could not wait for him to ring me. I was phoning him every two minutes and eventually we learnt the worst. The Wellington had exploded on hitting the ground and no trace of either aircraft or crew was found. I had been through all the “ifs” and “buts” a thousand times, but whatever I come up with won’t bring them back.”
Eye witness account of the Wellington crash:
A Quainton man, Mr. Jim Bailey, who had been working in the railway stations signal box on the night of the crash recalled seeing the blazing Wellington flying low over Quainton and believed that F/O. Lyon was trying to avoid hitting the station yard, which was full of trucks loaded with fuel. The young pilot managed to miss not only the railway yard but also the house in Station road, Quainton where his pregnant wife was sleeping. Mr. Bailey and a Mr. Frank Wheeler watched the aircraft crash and explode in a nearby field by the railway line.
In 1978 following information given to them by Bruce Blanche (F/O. Lyon’s nephew), the Chiltern Historical Aircraft Preservation Group conducted a six-week dig at the site of the Wellington crash. They uncovered an engine, parachutes and other pieces of the aircraft. The remains of “O” - Orange have been thoroughly cleaned and the preservation group hopes that they will be displayed in a private museum which was to be opened at Booker. The Museum subsequently went bankrupt and sadly the whereabouts of recovered exhibits are currently unknown. We welcome any further information on these.
Memorial placed at the site of former RAF Westcott (courtesy Bruce Blanche)
From the Air Accident report:
Recommendations- Training aircraft must be warned not to fly in vicinity of routes of Bomber stream. Conclusion- Aircraft off track, struck training aircraft in flight. The lone recommendation was "Training aircraft must be warned not to fly in vicinity of routes of Bomber stream."
In reality, the night skies above Britain were filled with aircraft on training exercises, departing and returning from operations against the enemy as well as aircraft in distress or being diverted to other airfields, making the recommendations of the report impossible to implement.
11 OTU Westcott. Bomb aimers at rear, wireless operators next, navigators centre, then pilots with air gunners at front and filling in the spaces on the right of the rows. Of these ten crews, only three survived. Robert Kemp, 5th from right front row.
11 Operational training Unit was formed at Bassingbourne on the 8th April 1940 as part of 6 Group. Its role was training Bomber crews on night missions. From December 1941 to February 1942 it operated from R.A.F. Tempsford while waiting for runways to be constructed at Bassingbourne. On the eleventh of May 1942 it was transferred to 91 Group, before moving to Westcott and 92 Group in October 1942, then reverting to 91 Group on the 15th of June 1945. During 1945, the hangars were cleared to welcome home prisoners of war, as part of Operation Manna. It was closed to Military flying in August 1945, before being disbanded on the 18th September 1945.
F/O. James Henry Scott Lyon DFC Lennel Old Churchyard, Berwickshire. N.E. Extn. Grave 1500. Son of James and Muriel Emma Lyon, of 73 Foster Street, Sale, Victoria, Australia, brother of Peg (Margaret) and Gwen. Husband of Margaret Lyon, of Brighton, Victoria, Australia. Father to Rowland James Lyon, born in Coldstream on the 9th September 1944.
Further Information: F/O. James Lyon D.F.C. Date of Birth: 27th June 1922. Previous service details: Enlisted: 22nd May 1941. Musterings: Aircrew V 22nd May 1941, Aircrew V-Pilot 19th June 1941, Aircrew 11-Pilot 19th July 1941, Airman Pilot 31st July 1942. Promotions: Aircraftman 22nd May 1941, Leading Aircraftman 19th July 1941, Acting Sergeant 02nd March 1943, Sergeant 31st July 1942, Flight Sergeant 01st February 1943, Pilot Officer 09th June 1943, Flying Officer 09th December 1943, Appointed to A Commission: 9th June 1943 - General Duties Branch. Postings: 1 Recruit Centre, Melbourne 22nd May 1941, 1 Initial Training School Somers 23rd May 1941, 1 Personnel Depot Ascot Vale 19th July 1941, Embarked Sydney 01st September 1941, Disembarked South Africa 31st October 1941, 1 Training Wing Hillside 10th November 1941, 26 Elementary Flying Training School Guinea Fowl 02nd January 1942, 23 Service Flying Training School Heany 02nd March 1942, Home Establishment Rhodesia 07th August 1942, Embarked Rhodesia 25th August 1942, Disembarked United kingdom 18th September 1942, 3 Personnel reception Centre Bournemouth 19th September 1942, 14(Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit Ossington 06th October 1942, 19 Operational training Unit Kinloss 12th January 1943, 1660 Conversion Unit Swinderby 30th March 1943, 1654 Conversion Unit Wigsley 30th March 1943, 9 Squadron Bardney 21st August 1943, 11 operational training Unit Westcott 31st October 1943.
Honours / Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Citation of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Pilot Officer James Henry Scott Lyon: “Pilot Officer Lyon has completed many successful operations against the enemy in which he has displayed high skill,fortitude and devotion to duty”. 1939-45 Star, Aircrew Europe Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal 1939-45.
He married Miss Margaret Bruce at Newark on 23rd November 1943.His leave over, he was posted to 11 OTU and he and his Scottish wife lived nearby in a rented cottage, 81 Station Rd, Quainton, where they were expecting their first child. F/O Lyon DFC, RAAF was buried with full military honours a few days after the crash in the little town of Coldstream, at Lennel Old churchyard, Berwickshire. N.E.Extension. Grave 1500, in the plot belonging to his young widows family. On the 9th September F/O Lyon’s son Rowland James Lyon was born at Coldstream.
Left: F/O. James Lyon DFC
On 11th June 1943, F/O. Lyon and his crew flew Lancaster EE136 a Mark 111 - “Spirit of Russia” to Dusseldorf on its first operation.” Spirit of Russia” originally operated with 9 Sqdn., from June to October 1944, before joining 189 Sqdn. This Lancaster went on to record 109 operational missions before making its last trip on 2nd/3rd March 1945. Lyon and his crew were with EE136 till September 1943.
D.F.C. was awarded to F/O Lyon on 10.12.1943, while serving with 9 squadron for completing a tour of ops. against many German targets and showing courage and leadership. At the age of 21, he then served as an instructor (training new pilots prior to what would have been his second tour). F/O. Lyon was likely sent to 11 O.T.U. after flying numerous sorties with 9 Squadron during 1943. F/O. James “Jimmy” Lyon is also mentioned on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour and is located at panel 126 in the Commemorative Area.
Grave marker and flowers for F/O. Lyon DFC.
Above: 'Spirit of Russia"
Left: F/O. James Lyon during service with 9 Squadron
During his time flying 'Spirit of Russia' at 9 Squadron, Bardney, one of the most important operations for Jimmy Lyon and his crew was to Peenemund for Operation Hydra on the night of 17/18th August 1943.
Spirit of Russia’s last op there was to Mannheim, when F/O. Lyon and his crew brought her back from Mannheim, with holes all over her and with over a year of operational work and over a hundred ops. Finishing their tour with a raid on Kassel on 21/22 October 1943. After that, she became a spare aircraft, being flown by various crews before being transferred to 189 squadron which reformed at Bardney in October 1944.
Her final and 109th sortie was with FL/Lt. F.J. Abbott in a raid on Karlsruhe on the night of February 2/3rd 1945.
The veteran Lancaster was then transferred to 20 Maintenance Unit as Cat.E/FB, denoting damage of such severity that the aircraft was to be written off. But her usefulness was not yet over and after modest repairs she was allotted to No.1 Radio School, Cranwell on May 2nd 1946 with instructional airframe identity 5918M.
Sadly “Spirit of Russia” ended up derelict at the RAF’s School of Fire Fighting, Sutton on Hull, Yorks around 1954, joining hundreds of other wartime aircraft as fire hulks at various airfields. A sad end to a magnificent Lancaster.
Left: Fl/Sgt. Donald Victor Roy Francis
Fl/Sgt. Donald Victor Roy Francis. Oxford (Botley) Cemetery. Plot 1/2. Grave 178. Son of William George and Georgina Francis, of Wanganui, Wellington, New Zealand.
Further Information: Fl/Sgt. Francis enlisted in the RNZAF as a bandsman on 3rd January 1941. Soon after enlistment, however he applied for aircrew training and was posted to the Initial Training Wing, Rotorua on 23rd July 1942. On the 5th September 1942 he was posted to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School for elementary flying training, and on the 24th December 1942, he embarked for Canada for training under the Empire Training Scheme. Shortly after arrival in Canada, Fl/Sgt. Francis was posted to No. 2 Service Flying Training School, Macleod, Alberta where on the 14th May 1943 he was awarded his flying badge and was promoted from LAC to Sgt. Promoted to Fl/Sgt. on the 14th November 1943.
Meanwhile on the 25th May 1943 he had proceeded to No. 1 “Y” Depot, Halifax, Nova Scotia to await embarkation for the United Kingdom. Fl/Sgt. Francis arrived at No. 12 Personnel Reception Centre, Brighton on the 2nd July 1943 and was then posted to No. 14 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit, Banff, Scotland on the 3rd August 1943. While at Banff he carried out a blind flying course with No. 1512 Beam Approach Training Flight which was stationed there.
On the 28th December 1943, he was posted to No. 11 OTU, first at Oakley and later at Westcott, Bucks. At these stations Fl/Sgt. Francis crewed up and completed his training on Wellingtons. He had 392 hours as a pilot.
Left: F/O. Gerald Harman Gilbert
F/O. Gerald Harman Gilbert. Oxford (Botley) Cemetery. Plot 1/2. Grave 176. Son of Lionel Wallis Gilbert and Castillia Amelia Gilbert, of Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand.
Further Information: Flying Officer Gerald Gilbert enlisted in the RNZAF on the 1st August 1942, serving at Hamilton and Gisborne until the 26th November when he was posted to Rotorua to commence his initial training as an air observer. On completion he embarked for Canada on the 12th February 1943, where he was posted to No. 5 Air Observers School, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Commissioned to Pilot Officer on the 23rd July 1943 and embarked for the United Kingdom on the 4th August 1943, where he was initially posted to No. 4 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit as a navigator on Ansons.
His next posting was to No. 11 OTU where he trained on Wellingtons and was promoted to Flying Officer on the 23rd January 1944. He had 189 hours as a navigator.
Shown above: Left: Sgt. Robert R. Kemp. Right: These 2 crew members are either George Hudson, Rennie Taylor or Reginald Barlow - can you assist further?
F/O. Rennie Taylor. Oakworth Cemetery, Yorkshire. Sec E. Grave 270. Son of Frank W. Taylor and Ethel Taylor, of Keighley, Yorkshire, England.
Further Information: F/O. Rennie Taylor enlisted in the RAFVR on the 10th October 1941 and mobilised on the 23rd March 1942, No. 1 Recruiting Centre. 17 Initial Training Wing on 11th April 1942. Training in Canada at No. 35 Elementary Flying Training school on the 18th November 1942. No. 31 Bombing and gunnery School 5th March 1943. No. 33 Air Navigation School 12th June 1943. Awarded his air bombers badge on 23rd July 1943 and commissioned as Pilot Officer in the General duties Branch, RAFVR on the same day.
He returned to No. 6 Advanced Flying Unit, United Kingdom on the 2nd November 1943 and No. 11 O.T.U. on the 28th December 1943 for air bomber training, promoted to Flying Officer on the 23rd January 1944.
Fl/Sgt. George Hudson. Rotherham (Masbrough) Cemetery, Yorkshire. Plot D. Castle. Grave 175. Son of George Henry and Annie Hudson, of Thornhill, Rotherham, Yorkshire, England.
Further Information: Enlisted RAF on the 26th November 1940, Trade-Wireless operator Air. During 1940-1944 he served with the following units: 3 Sigs. School. 20 O.T.U., 1 A.G.S. 14 O.T.U., 1651 conversion Unit, 90 Squadron, 11 O.T.U.
Shown left: Sgt. Robert Reginald Kemp
Sgt. Robert Reginald Kemp. Pentney (St. Mary Magdalene) Churchyard. Son of William Edward and Katherine Kemp, of Pentney, Norfolk, England.
Further Information: Sgt. Robert Kemp worked on a farm and joined up when he was just 18, and was an Air cadet at 42F Kings Lynn, Air training Corps (which has been in continued existence since 1939). Robert was one of 6 children and the middle son of 3. His older brother, William joined the Royal Marines in 1937 and his younger brother, Kenneth, became a gunner in 215 Squadron S.E.A.C., as part of a Liberator crew. Robert first did his wireless training, waiting before being able to do his gunnery training, by serving as a ground wireless operator for about four months. Further comprehensive information page on the story of his brother, Kenneth Kemp. (shown below right)
Wireless Operator/Gunner: No. 3 Recruits Centre on 2nd January 1942, No 10(S) Recruits Centre on 7th January 1942, No. 4 Signals School on 1st May 1942, No. 17 O.T.U. 20th August 1942, A.C.R.C. 8th March 1943, No. 2 RS. 26th May 1943, No. 8 A.G.S. 12th August 1943, No.4 (O) A.F.U. 12th October 1943, No. 11 O.T.U. 28th December 1943, Awarded War Medal 1939/45.
Sgt. Reginald Dennis Barlow. (Birmingham (Brandwood End) Cemetery. Sec. B.3. F.C. Grave 879. Son of Mrs. F. Simpson, of Balsall Heath, Birmingham, England.
Further Information: Enlisted R.A.F. 26th June 1942, Trade-Air-Gunner. During 1942-1944, he served with the following units: 11 I.T.W., 14 I.T.W., 1 E.A.G.S., 1 A.G.S., 11 O.T.U.
Left: Sgt. Arthur Frederick Goold
Sgt. Arthur Frederick Goold. Oxford (Botley) Cemetery. Plot 1/2. Grave 177. Son of Arthur Athelstan Goold and Thelma Victorine Goold, of Auckland City, New Zealand.
Further Information: Fl/Sgt. Goold enlisted at the Initial Training Wing, Levin on the 31st August 1942, on completion of his initial training on 20th October 1941 he embarked for Canada under the Empire Training Scheme. Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he was posted to No. 2 Wireless School, Calgary, Alberta. On th 12th August 1942 posted to the Composite Training School, Trenton, Ontario where he was re mustered to an air gunner.
On 13th September 1942 posted to No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mont Joli, Quebec, then on 22nd January 1943 awarded his air gunners badge and promoted to the rank of Sgt. Promoted to Fl/Sgt. on 22nd July 1943. Meanwhile, he was posted to No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School, Dafoe, Saskatchewan, in early February 1943, where he was employed as an instructor until he was posted on 4th December 1943 to No. 1 “Y” Depot, Halifax, Nova Scotia for embarkation to the United Kingdom.
Fl/Sgt.Goold arrived at No. 12 (RNZAF) Personnel Reception Centre, Brighton on 22nd December 1943, posted to No 11 OTU, Westcott, Bucks on 11th January 1944. At this base and the satellite Aerodrome at Oakley, as air gunner on Wellingtons, he took part in numerous training flights.
11 O.T.U. Westcott. Bomb aimers at rear, wireless operators next, navigators centre, then pilots with air gunners at front and filling in the spaces on the right of the rows. Of these ten crews, only three survived. Robert Kemp, 5th from right front row.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With thanks to the nephew of F/O. James Lyon DFC - the pilot of the Wellington involved in this collision, Bruce Blanche ex Sq/Ldr. R.A.F. who also provided the photos of F/O. Lyon and photos and maps of the crash site and other information. Jean Hunt, Kenneth Kemp and family of Robert Kemp, James Liel, cousin to William Bruce, Michael A. Lister (Media and communications officer) - 42F (Kings Lynn) Squadron Air Training Corp. for the photos taken at Pentney Churchyard. The family of Joseph Spring. The family of Arthur Estcourte (Julianna Cupper, daughter and Alan and Kristeen Simpkin. The family of George Collins, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Australian war memorial, Phil Corkill, Auckland Museum, Paul Cobb and Gabrielle Fortune, “For your tomorrow” by Errol Martyn; A record of New Zealanders who have died while serving with the RNZAF and Allied Air Services since 1915, WW2 Ex RAF website, Ministry of Defence. Ron Mayhill, DFC -“Bombs on Target” (Christine Smith, Haynes publishing.) Additional details Aircrew Remembered.