No 49 Squadron Avro Manchester Mk I L7469 EA-? Sqr/Ldr Peter Morrice De Mestre DSO DFC
Operation: Emden, Germany
Date: 6/7th June 1942 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: No 49 Squadron
Type: Avro Manchester I
Base: RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire
Location: North Sea near Borkum
Pilot: Sqr/Ldr. Peter Morrice De Mestre DSO DFC 41678 RAF Age 24 Killed (1)
2nd Pilot: Sgt. Albert Francois Buttel 403717 RAAF Age 22 Killed (2)
Obs: P/O. Ronald Henry James Thorndyke 119173 RAFVR Age? Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. George Clive Whitfield 1166974 RAFVR Age 32 Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Douglas Stephen Halliday 1360282 RAFVR Age 22 Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Lewis James Jones 924063 RAFVR Age 20 Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Maxwell Elliott Whitehill 407022 RAAF Age 29 Killed (3)
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REASON FOR LOSS:
Sqr/Ldr De Mestre and crew took off at 23.13 from RAF Scampton for an operation on Emden. Nothing further was heard from this aircraft. The aircraft was shot down over the North Sea some 20km North West of Borkum
Avro Manchesters of No 49 Squadron line up with Lancasters at RAF Scampton. RAF Scampton (both courtesy of IWM)
Combat took place at 3,500 mtrs at 00.20hrs and was credited to Obit. Lugwig Becker, of 6/NJG2 his 20th abschusse (shooting down) of the war. He was also credited with two other aircraft on this operation. 233 aircraft took part in this operation the first on this city since November 1941 with the loss of 9 aircraft. The returning crews reported good bombing results and this was later confirmed by reconnaissance photographs
Above: Obit. Lugwig Becker, of 6/NJG2 who was credited with the shooting down of this aircraft (courtesy Tom Kracker)
Map showing the area of the crash site
Left: No. 35 Bombing Leaders Cource, Lincolnshire March 1942 Sgt. Thorndyke is front row last on the right. Right: Air Gunners Coarse, Evans Head, New South Wales Maxwell (Max) Whitehill is sitting front row far left (both courtesy Australian War Memorial)
Sage War Cemetery and Runnymede Memorial
Lutheran Cemetery: The funeral of Sgt. Albert Francois Buttel and Fl/Sgt. Maxwell Elliott Whitehill on the 24th June 1942. The funeral with full military honours was attended by by a guard of honour from the Luftwaffe, headed by an Officer, a Naval band played chorale music and wreaths were laid by two Luftwaffe guards. A chaplain gave an address at the side of the graves and the ceremony was concluded by the firing of a salvo
Sqr/Ldr. Peter Morrice De Mestre DSO DFC. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 65. Son of Etienne George and Charlotte Julia De Mestre. No further details. Are you able to help? (1) Born in 1917 at Bishop's Cannings, Wiltshire and educated Cheltenham College where Peter was in the football XV. Peter Morrice De Mestre was granted a commission in the RAF on the 4th March 1939. Awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) in September 1940. The citation in the London Gazette dated 24th September reads 'This Officer was captain of an aircraft detailed to attack the oil tanks at Bordeaux one night in August 1940. On his first run over the target at 2,000 feet his aircraft and one engine were severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and the glare from searchlights prevented his bombs being dropped with accuracy. In spite of the serious condition of his aircraft, and the continuous gunfire, he made a second attack and dropped his bombs with success. On the return flight, with his wireless apparatus smashed, the damaged engine failed whilst still over France, but with splended determination he managed to cross the sea and made a forced landing on the English coast without causing any injury to his crew. Pilot Officer De Mestre has many times pressed home his attacks on the enemy with equal courage and determination' Acting Squadron Leader De Mestre was awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) as per Supplement to the London Gazette 26th May 1942 and he was on his 2nd operational tour of duty
Sgt. Albert Francois Buttel. Sage War Cemetery, Germany. Grave Ref: 7. C. 5. Son of Mark Albert and Jane Laidlaw Buttel of Oatley, New South Wales, Australia. (2) German documents confirm that Sgt Buttel and Fl/Sgt Whitehill's bodies were picked up by an Advanced Patrol Boat on 20th June and were initially buried with full Military Honours on the 24th June 1942 in Lutheran Cemetery at Borkum. Albert Francois Buttel is remembered on the Oatley War Memorial, New South Wales
P/O. Ronald Henry James Thorndyke. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 72. Son of Henry John and Charlotte Thorndyke, Essex.
Sgt. George Clive Whitfield. Sage War Cemetery, Germany. Grave Ref: 11. A. 10. Son of George and Sarah Whitfield. Husband of Joan Mary Whitfield of Compton Abdale, Gloucestershire
Sgt. Douglas Stephen Halliday. Sage War Cemetery, Germany. Grave Ref: 11. D. 1. Son of Herbert Frank and Ada Lilian Halliday of Kew Surrey
Sgt. Lewis James Jones. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 87. Son of Arthur and Annie Christian Jones of Reading, Berkshire
Fl/Sgt. Maxwell (Max) Elliott Whitehill. Sage War Cemetery, Germany. Grave Ref: 7. C. 2. Son of Herbert Adam and Ethel Whitehill. Husband of Jean Bessie Whitehill of Colonel Light Gardens, South Australia. (3) German documents confirm that Fl/Sgt Whitehill and Sgt. Buttel's bodies were picked up by an Advanced Patrol Boat on 20th June and were initially buried with full Military Honours on the 24th June 1942 in Lutheran Cemetery at Borkum. Born on the 29th April 1913 in Gawler, South Australia. Maxwell enlisted in Adelaide. .
Right: Memnon (courtesy of The Allen Collection
Maxwell (Max) Elliott Whitehill. He embarked for the UK on the 28th January 1941 on board the Merchant ship Memnon. On the 11th March the ship was torpedoed off the coast of South Africa.
Remarkable adventure of RAAF Men including Maxwell Elliott Whitehill
'To be torpedoed, to struggle 600 miles in open lifeboats under a blistering sun in shark-infested waters, to be cast into dungeons, and to escape at last into British territory, were among the experiences of six men of the RAAF who have reached England five months after leaving Australia. The names of the men are: Sergeant Air-Gunners Eric Hensel, Max Whitehill. Jim Rollins. Arthur Jones, Clifford Fort and Vivian Lewis. Their ship was sunk on March 11 and, with other survivors, they entered two lifeboats, three Australians being in each.
Eric Hensel gave the following account 'After we had been torpedoed we had only time to lower two lifeboats. One, containing Whitehill, Lewis and Fort, was almost dragged down by the sinking ship. 'A Spanish ship, which picked up our SOS, made no attempt to rescue us so we hoisted sail and headed for Africa
'There were 22 men and we had only 13 gallons of water and small quantities of tinned milk, biscuits and bully beef., Frequently only sea anchors prevented the lifeboat from swamping. 'We had only shorts and shirts and the tropic sun scorched our flesh all day. Huge sharks ceaselessly circled the boats, which became separated on March 13. An extract from Whitehill's diary, alter he had been nine days adrift, reads: 'Everyone is weak and sick. The chief officer, taking soundings at 7.30 am almost fell overboard in his excitement when the line showed 20 fathoms. We were only 20 miles from land. We gave three cheers when we sighted Africa at 10.25 am. Half an hour later the chief electrician died of exposure.
One boatload reached Dakar (French West Africa) on March 23 and stopped alongside a French passenger ship which was just about to put to sea. Whitehall says 'The skipper sportingly told us to keep to the seaward side of his ship, hidden from people on the harbour. Then we went aboard. A number of us collapsed and the crew gave us bread, meat and fruit and gallons of wine.
Passengers threw down cigarettes when they heard we were RAAF men. I had not smoked previously and I've not stopped since. These Australians escaped, undetected and reached Bathurst (Gambia, British West Africa) on March 24 and the British authorities flew them to Freetown (Sierra Leone).
The other boat, containing Hensel. Rollins and Jones, reached Dakar on March 24. The men exhausted and parched with thirst, were taken to the military hospital and were well treated. Later, the three RAAF men and a Melbourne seaman, Peter Ryan, from another torpedoed ship, walked 30 miles along the beach in an effort to escape. They asked a native to sail them to Bathurst but he informed the police and they were taken back and imprisoned in dungeons at Fort Gamelln. However, an American official at Dakar named T. C. Wasson, who was vice-consul stationed in Adelaide, supplied the Australians with cakes and cigarettes.
Six weeks later the RAAF men were taken by train to a prison camp 700 miles from Dakar and on the edge of the Sahara Desert. There they were imprisoned in mud huts and given revolting food. The Australians planned to knock out the native guards and attempt to escape. After three weeks they were sent to Gambia, subsequently joining their comrades at Freetown. The Australians are none the worse for their experiences and are waiting for postings to their RAF squadrons'.
Transcribed from The Newcastle Sun Newspaper Thursday 17th July 1941 (see credit)
Researched by: Kate Tame Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew. With special thanks to Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker Archive, The Allen Collection Imperial War Museum, London Gazette, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - Bomber Command War Diaries, W R Chorley - Bomber Command Losses 1942.