05/06.10.1942 No. 425 Squadron RCAF Wellington III X3943 KW-G Sgt. Michael Francis O'Driscoll
Date: 5/6 October 1942
Unit: No. 425 Squadron RCAF. Motto: 'Je te plumerai' ('I shall pluck you').
Badge: A lark volant. The badge is derived from the squadron nickname 'Alouette', and the motto comes from the refrain of the French Canadian folk song. The lark is shown in hovering position indicative of a bomber over the target about to strike the enemy. Authority: King George VI, January 1945.
Type: Vickers Wellington III
Base: RAF Dishforth, North Riding of Yorkshire
Location: Boyton Hall Farm, Finchingfield, Essex
Pilot: F/Sgt. Michael Francis (Mike) O'Driscoll R/90547 RCAF Age 23 - Killed (1)
Nav: F/Sgt. James Bertram (Sandy) Sandiford R/83908 RCAF Age 20 - Killed (2)
Air Obs/Air Bmr. F/Sgt. John Marshall (Johnnie) Armstrong R88084 RCAF Age 27 - Killed (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/Sgt. Albert Clifford (Cliff) Challis R/82327 RCAF Age 22 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/Sgt. John Gordon (Johnnie) Howells R/93192 RCAF Age 21 - Killed (5)
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A force of 257 bombers comprising 101 Wellingtons, 74 Lancaster, 59 Halifaxes and 23 Stirlings was despatched on this raid to bomb Aachen. Icing and severe electrical storms played havoc with navigation over the UK and continued to be bad over Germany. Lack of accurate Pathfinder marking over the target resulted in most of the aircraft failing to bomb Aachen, their bombs falling on other areas. Reports from Aachen estimated little more than 10 aircraft actually carried out the raid with their bombs falling mainly in the southern suburb of Burtscheid killing 5 people and injuring 39.
The majority of Pathfinder marking seems to have been made over the Dutch town Lutterade some 17 miles north west of Aachen where more than 800 houses were seriously damaged, 83 people killed, 22 injured and 3000 rendered homeless.
A total of 10 aircraft were lost and a further 6 crashed in England possibly in thunderstorms.
REASON FOR LOSS
Posted to No. 22 OTU at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford on 26 May 1942 Mike O'Driscoll, Sandy Sandiford, Johnnie Armstrong, Cliff Challis and Johnnie Howells were thrown together in the time honoured ritual that was crewing up.
Sandy and Johnnie Howells however were already well acquainted, having attended public and high school together in Toronto and had also enlisted within several weeks of each other. Sandy and Johnnie were both engaged to Toronto girls Louise Caddel and Elsie Wegg respectively and the two couples were to be married in a double ceremony as soon as the airmen returned home from overseas.
Whilst at 22 OTU the crew are known to have taken part in the 630 bomber raid on Dusseldorf on the night of 31 July/1 August 1942 flying in Wellington 'P bar.1588'.
On 22nd June 1942, an organisation order was issued authorising the formation of a fifth RCAF bomber squadron overseas. The order carried unprecedented significance in that its heading included after the squadron number the words 'French-Canadian'. This made the unit unique in RCAF history. Designated No. 425, it actually came into existence three days later (25 June 1942) at Dishforth, Yorkshire, as a unit of No. 4 Group.
Flying commenced in August and on the 14th the crew was posted to the Squadron which was declared "Operational" in early October, the original aircrew strength being twenty 5-man crews.
On the night of 5/6 October 1942 425 Squadron was given its operational baptism when eight of its Wellingtons were detailed to take part in the bombing raid on Aachen, Mike O'Driscoll and his crew were one of the eight.
The eight Wellingtons of 425 Squadron took off from RAF Dishforth at roughly 18.30 on 5 October.
Heavy thunderstorms all over the UK were claiming victims even as the bomber force set out. No. 156 Squadron was so badly affected that of the twelve aircraft detailed for the raid only five managed to get airborne.
The violent electrical storm and its habitual accompaniment, icing was a continuous threat and two aircraft of 425 Squadron were forced to turn back with severe icing.
Little is known regarding the fate of Wellington X3943 and its crew except that having taken off at 18.47 it crashed at 19.55 hours less than 200 miles from Dishforth at Boyton Hall Farm, Finchingfield, 8 miles northeast of Braintree, Essex. However it would seem likely that the cause of the crash was directly linked to the thunderstorm and/or its attendant severe icing. Some RAF records state that the aircraft was returning from the operation, in view of the time of the crash this would seem to indicate that the aircraft had turned back probably due to icing.
All five crew perished in the crash, the cause of death of each of them was recorded as due to multiple injuries and burns. The five bodies were taken to the mortuary at RAF Debden near Saffron Weldon, North Essex. The five were laid to rest side by side on Friday 9 October at Saffron Weldon Cemetery with the two pals from Toronto, Sandy Sandiford and Johnnie Howells lying adjacent to each other.
A SAD INDICTMENT OF THE TIMES
On 11 June 2019 Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Lindsey Weightman. Lindsey shared with us the following story as related to her by her mother, Mrs Honor Wilson Weightman nee Hartley now in her 96th year.
Honor was due to meet Mike O'Driscoll to go dancing in Ripon near RAF Dishforth where he was based. Whilst waiting for him under the clock just outside the Lawrence Ballroom she was approached by an airman who asked
"You waiting for Mike?"
"Yes" she answered
"Well he's had it." said the airman (his exact words)
But though Honor always considered herself to be a very caring person she admits that her first thought was, "Oh! How will I get into the dance without a ticket?" Yet that was her initial reaction.
Looking back she can only think that those of her generation were just products of an era that had grown so accustomed to death that they did not find it shocking.
The memory of the event has stayed with Honor all these years.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/Sgt. Michael Francis (Mike) O'Driscoll was born on 23 April 1919 at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Canada the son of Michael Joseph O'Driscoll and Gertrude O'Driscoll nee Mulligan. The family lived at 142 Pine Street in Sault Ste. Marie
He was educated at Sacred Heart (1926-31) and Collegiate Institute (1931-35) both at Sault Ste. Marie. After leaving school he worked briefly as a Clerk and afterwards for 4 years as a Stock-keeper at the Chromium Mining and Smelting Corp. He engaged in hockey, bowling, skiing, basketball and swimming. He enlisted at North Bay, Ontario on 3 March 1941 when he was described as 5'7" tall and weighing 150 lbs.
After training at No. 7 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF Windsor, Ontario from 15 July 1941 to 5 September 1941 he continued his training at No. 16 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Hagersville from 13 September 1941 to 5 December 1941 when he was awarded his Flying Badge and promoted to Sergeant.
He embarked for the UK on 8 January 1942 where he was posted to No. 3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at RAF South Cerney near Cirencester in Gloucestershire. (No 3 SFTS was redesignated No 3 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit on 1 March 1942). On 26 May 1942 he was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire from where he was posted to No 425 Squadron RCAF at RAF Dishforth, North Riding of Yorkshire on 14 August 1942
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 5 June 1942
(2) F/Sgt. James Bertram (Sandy) Sandiford was born on 6 June 1922 at Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada the son of a South African born pensioner and veteran of the Boer War and Great War Bertram Emmanuel Sandiford and Canadian born mother Laura May Sandiford nee Reid.
He had four brothers, Lawrence John Sandiford (1907-1979), William Thomas Sandiford born 1909, Leonard Emanuel Sandiford born 1918 and Alvin "Al" Sandiford born 1920
(We are informed by his nephew Paul Sandiford that his uncle James was known as Bernie by his family and it is therefore assumed that he was nicknamed Sandy by his crew mates)
The Sandiford family lived at 26 Greyton Crescent, Toronto Canada.
Educated at Duncan B. Hood Public School (1928-1936) Toronto and Vaughan Road Collegiate (1936-1940) Toronto, he enjoyed swimming and playing tennis, basketball, volleyball and hockey
When Sandy enlisted at Toronto on 9 December 1940 he was 5'6¾" tall weighing 137 lbs with a medium complexion hazel eyes and dark brown hair.
After initial training at No. 1 ITS at RCAF Victoriaville, Quebec, Composite Training School at RCAF Trenton, Ontario, No. 5 Air Observer School at RCAF Winnipeg, Manitoba and No. 7 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Paulson, Manitoba he was awarded his Air Observers Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 20 December 1941 and the following day he was posted to No. 1 Air Navigation School at RCAF Rivers, Manitoba.
He embarked for the UK on 9February 1941 and from No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre he was posted to No. 3 (Observers) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Bobbington in Staffordshire on 14 April. On 26 May 1942 he was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 20 June 1942.
(3) F/Sgt. John Marshall (Johnnie) Armstrong was born on 28 July 1915 at Kingston, Kings County, Nova Scotia, Canada the son of Owen Hartley Armstrong (a Farmer) and Ida Maud Armstrong nee Marshall. He had four siblings; Winifred Viola Armstrong born 1904, Manning Reginald Armstrong born 1906, Gertrude Pauline Armstrong born 1911, Douglas Owen Armstrong, DOB unknown.
Educated at Kingston schools 1920 -1931 John Armstrong then studied Engineering at Acadia University 1931-1932 before studying Commercial Business at the Maritime Business College. He was employed by George A. Chase Ltd., General Merchants and Exporters of Port William, Nova Scotia, as an Accountant and Bookkeeper from 1935 to 1940.
When he enlisted at Halifax Nova Scotia on 2 February 1941 he was 5'5½" tall weighing 146 lbs with a dark complexion, green eyes and black hair.
After a month at No. 1 Manning Depot in Toronto he trained in Ontario at No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Jarvis No. 1 Initial Training School (RCAF Toronto), No. 3 Elementary Flying Training School (RCAF London), No. 1 Composite Training School (RCAF Trenton), No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School (RCAF Mountain View) and in New Brunswick at No 10 Air Observer School (RCAF Chatham) and No. 2 Air Navigation School (RCAF Pennfield Ridge). He was awarded his Observers Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 17 January 1942.
He married Florence Elliott Gates on 24 August 1941 at Port William, Nova Scotia.
He embarked for the UK in March 1942 where after a month at No. 3 PRC was posted on 25 April to No. 3 Air Observer School at RAF Bobbington in Staffordshire and on 26 May to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 17 July 1942
(4) F/Sgt. Albert Clifford (Cliff) Challis was born on 31 August 1920 at Cobourg, Ontario Canada the son of an English born parents Albert Edward Challis (a Gardner) and Edith Lilian Challis nee Hemming. The family lived at 9 Lisgar Road, Ottawa, Ontario. He was educated at Crichton Street School (1927-1932) York Street School (1932-1934) and Lisgar Collegiate (1933-1936) all in Ottawa. After leaving school he worked for the Department of National Revenue as an Office Boy/Clerk. He engaged in tennis, hockey, softball and paddling and skiing.
When he enlisted at Ottawa on 19 December 1940 he was described as being 5'8½ tall weighing 134 lbs with a fair complexion, brown eyes and hair.
After training at No. 5 Service Flying Training School (RCAF Brantford, Ontario), No. 1 Wireless School (RCAF Montreal, Quebec) and No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (RCAF Jarvis, Ontario) he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 8 December 1942.
He embarked for the UK in January 1942 and after six weeks at No. 3 PRC was posted to No. 1 Air Armaments School at RAF Manby Lincolnshire for an Empire Air Training Scheme Refresher Course on 8 March 1942. On 16 May 1942 he was posted to No. 7 Air Gunnery School at RAF Stormy Down in Wales and on 26 May 1942 to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 8 June 1942
(5) F/Sgt. John Gordon (Johnnie) Howells was born on 20 September 1921 at Toronto, Ontario, Canada the only child of a Welsh born father, Ivor Searl Howells (a Painter and Decorator) and an English born mother, Ethel Kate Howells nee Hooper of 571 Oakwood Avenue, Toronto. He was educated at John R. Wilcox School and Duncan B. Wood School (1927-34) Vaughan Road Collegiate (1934-38) and Weston Vocational (Night classes - Auto Mechanics) 1939-40). From 1935 until he enlisted he worked part-time and concurrently for four employers as a Newsboy, Salesman, Clerk and Painter and additionally from 1940 as a Newsboy and Salesman for The Globe and Mail of Toronto. An accomplished Guitarist he also played baseball and hockey.
When he enlisted at Toronto on 13 February 1941 he was 5'11"tall and weighed 140 lbs. After initial training at RCAF Toronto he was posted to No. 4 Wireless School at RCAF Guelph on 6 July followed by a posting to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Jarvis, Ontario on 23 November. He was awarded his Air Gunners Badge on 20 December and promoted to Sergeant on 22 December 1941.
He embarked for the UK on 8 January 1942 and on arrival was posted to No. 3 PRC.
On 14 February he was posted to No. 1 Signal School at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, on 11 April to No. 2 Observers Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Millom, Cumbria and on 26 May 1942 to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire.
He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 22 June 1941.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) F/Sgt. Michael Francis (Mike) O'Driscoll was buried at Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex. Grave reference: Compartment 39. Grave 26.
His epitaph reads:
Rest in peace
(2) F/Sgt. James Bertram (Sandy) Sandiford was buried on 9 October 1942 at Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex. Grave reference: Compartment 39. Grave 17.
His epitaph reads:
His duty bravely done
To his Eternal home
(3) F/Sgt. John Marshall (Johnnie) Armstrong was buried on 9 October 1942 at Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex. Grave reference: Compartment 39. Grave 15.
(4) F/Sgt. Albert Clifford (Cliff) Challis was buried on 9 October 1942 at Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex. Grave reference: Compartment 39. Grave 14.
His epitaph reads:
No greater love
(5) F/Sgt. John Gordon (Johnnie) Howells was buried on 9 October 1942 at Saffron Walden Cemetery, Essex. Grave reference: Compartment 39. Grave 16.
His epitaph reads:
"He that believeth in Me,
Though he were dead,
Yet shall he live"
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - March 2017
With thanks to the sources quoted below.