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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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97 Squadron Crest
19.02.1936 No. 97 Squadron Heyford IIA K4034 F/O. Robert H. Page

Operation: Training Exercise

Date: 19th February 1936 (Wednesday)

Unit: No. 97 Squadron

Type: Handley Page Heyford IA (1)

Serial: K4034

Code: Not known

Base: RAF Boscombe Down

Location: English Channel off Sainte-Adresse, France

Pilot: F/O. Robert Humphrey Page RAF Rescued (2)

Px: Sgt. Walter Job RAF Age 34. Drowned

Px: AC1. Cyril Adolphus Tregannon Bickham RAF Age 23. Drowned

Px: AC2. William Watkin RAF Age 24. Missing - believed drowned

REASON FOR LOSS:

In the early hours of the morning the pilot transmitted that they were very low on fuel and that despite circling the area trying to land the aircraft they were forced to ditch in the Channel. The Croydon control tower sent out a message at just before 04:00 hrs for all vessels in the area to look out for a twin-engined night bomber lost over the Channel. The last message was sent at 03:30 hrs in the area of Fecamp.

Inhabitants of houses along the shore of Sainte-Adresse stated that they heard the roar of the engines the machine circled around before it struck the water about 250 yards from the Regatta Palace. They could hear the crew shouting from the crashed aircraft.

A well known local swimmer M. Tanguy dashed off in a light canoe also in the boat assisting M. Tanguy was M. Grieu the chief pilot of the Havre Aero Club. Cars in the area had drawn up with their headlights on to aid the rescue.

When they reached the bomber it had already started to sink, all four of the crew were still alive, they managed to pull F/O. Page from the water, but the canoe overturned and all three had to swim ashore but were unable to rescue the others as they then disappeared, apparently all trying to swim to safety. They took him back to the shore and alerted the authorities who sent out three tugs to attempt rescuing the others.

The Under Secretary for Air told the House of Commons that the aircraft had been in communication with Andover Wireless Station throughout the flight. He told them that the aircraft was provided bearing to return to Northolt as conditions at their own base were unsuitable.

He went on to advise that it was necessary to train pilots in low cloud conditions however they were recalled when the conditions became too bad.

(1) Handley Page Heyford a twin-engine British biplane bomber of the 1930s. Although it had a short service life, it equipped several squadrons of the RAF as one of the most important British bombers of the mid-1930s, and was the last biplane heavy bomber to serve with the RAF. The aircraft was named for and first deployed at RAF Upper Heyford, near Bicester in Oxfordshire. - max speed: 142 mph. Range: 920 miles. Engines: 2 × Rolls-Royce Kestrel II-S liquid-cooled V12 engine, 575 hp (429 kW) each.

(2) Possible that this is the same Pilot of a BOAC Liberator G-AGDR AM918 who was the subject of a friendly fire incident. Shot down by two pilots from 317 Squadron (Polish) on the 15th February 1942. On a non-stop flight from Cairo to England and shot down 5 miles southwest of the Eddystone Lighthouse near Plymouth, Devon, England. All crew and passengers lost without trace. The Court of enquiry found that the pilots were under instructions from their ground control to intercept and shoot down the aircraft - the court found that the the contributory cause of the accident was lack of proper control by the ground staff.

Burial details:

Sgt. Walter Job. From Amesbury, Wiltshire, England. No further details - are you able to assist?

AC1. Cyril Adolphus Tregannon Bickham. From Bodmin, Cornwall, England. No further details - are you able to assist?

AC2. William Watkin From Mellor, Derbyshire, England. No further details - are you able to assist?

With a great many thanks to David Gapp who’s Grandfather was at the time was working in Le Havre for an Import - Export company. His father along with Jimmy Gapp and two other brothers were living with their parents at Ste Adresse at the time. The family made good their escape just before the arrival of the Germans. His father also described the event on the rear of the photograph of the aircraft in the Channel. Also to our Kate Tame who discovered a great deal of reference to this and another loss that day for the RAF. Also to the British Newspaper Archives. For further details our thanks to the following sources shown below.

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 (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', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, 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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