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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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38 Squadron Crest
30/31.05.1940 No. 38 Squadron Wellington Ic R3162 HD-H F/O. Rosewarne

Operation: Dunkirk evacuation

Date: 30/31st May 1940 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit: No. 38 Squadron

Type: Wellington Ic

Serial: R3162

Code: HD-H

Base: RAF Marham, Norfolk

Location: Veurne, Belgium

Pilot: F/O. Vivian Allen William Rosewarne 40021 RAF Age 23. Killed

Pilot: P/O. Roy Baynes 42479 RAF Age ? Killed

Obs: Sgt. John Knight 581515 RAF Age 19. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: AC2. James Campbell Adams 630069 RAF Age 20. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Dennis Douglas George Spencer 755611 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Dolan 902515 RAFVR Age 34. Killed


Taking off from RAF Marham in Norfolk at 22:25 hrs providing close ground support for the British Expeditionary Foce during it's withdrawal to Dunkirk. Ten aircraft were sent to bomb Dixmude and Ypres (5 aircraft to each).

Flying Officer Rosewarne's aircraft was one of those sent to Dixmude. The aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed on a farmer's field near Veurne. The entire crew were killed and are now buried at Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension.

"An Airman’s Letter to his Mother”, written by F/O. Vivian Rosewarne to his mother was published in The Times on the 18th June 1940:

"Dearest Mother: Though I feel no premonition at all, events are moving rapidly and I have instructed that this letter be forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids that we shall shortly be called upon to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I have handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.

First, it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and on one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately, for I shall have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no one calling himself a man could do less.

I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks; in the way you have given me as good an education and background as anyone in the country: and always kept up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle has been in vain. Far from it. It means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.

History resounds with illustrious names who have given all; yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire where there is a measure of peace, justice and freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilization has evolved, and is still evolving, than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. Today we are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand united for years after the war is won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing: every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principle like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered – I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot nor can anything ever change it.

You must not grieve for me, for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death; only a queer elation ... I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat and sleep, prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace.

I firmly believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our mettle because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.

I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and known men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled and I am prepared to die with just one regret: that I could not devote myself to making your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.
Your loving son"

The letter was found by Group Captain Claude Hilton Keith, Station Commander at RAF Marham, amongst Rosewarne’s possessions after the plane and its crew went missing. As can be seen by the statement preceding the letter in The Times, the letter had been left open in order for it to be checked by a censor before it was sent to the mother. When sending it to Rosewarne’s mother the Group Captain asked whether he might publish it anonymously. The mother agreed and the letter was duly published in The Times.

According to letters from Rosewarne’s mother written in 1946 and 1947 after her visits to the site of his death, the farmer, in whose field the bomber came down, told that the plane circled the town twice before choosing the field to make a forced landing. Unfortunately the plane hit a tree and overturned, killing the crew. If the crew had bailed out, the plane might have landed on Veurne killing civilians.

Mrs Rosewarne was given part of the of the propellers on which the Germans had written the statement “This flyer and crew died like heroes.”

The letter caused quite a reaction. The Times printed it in pamphlet form almost immediately and sold over 470,000 copies within five months. The paper received over 10,000 letters requesting copies and it was reprinted at least three times. It was translated into a number of languages including Arabic.

On July 18 The Times reached agreement with Putnam & Co. Limited for the letter to be published in book form with drawings by Thomas Derrick. The book was published in August. American and Canadian editions were published over the ensuing months and the book was sold across the world. It was also reproduced in card form for hanging in schools and public places by Simpkin Marshall Limited during the autumn of 1940.

The letter was also reproduced in other media. The BBC broadcast the letter on two occasions during 1940, in full on July 8 and extracts during its Childrens Hour programme on September 3.

Most significantly, in 1941 it was turned into a short five minute film for showing in cinemas as part of the programme prior to the main feature. It was written and directed by Michael Powell, the director of films such as The Thief of Baghdad, 49th Parallel and The Battle of the River Plate, and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The letter was read by John Gielgud. The film was shown widely in America as propaganda for the British war effort at a time when the USA was still a neutral country. Finally, Frank Salisbury, the distinguished portrait painter, was commissioned to paint a posthumous portrait of Rosewarne in June 1940. The original painting is now in the possession of the RAF Museum at Hendon.

Burial details:

(Grave photographs available on request)

F/O. Vivian Allen William Rosewarne. Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave B.1. Only on of Vivian Samuel Rosewarne and Lilian Alice Rosewarne (nee Noall) of Wimbledon Park, Surrey. His death notice in the Times dated December 23rd 1940 reads: "Here Abideth Faith, Hope And Charity".

P/O. Roy Baynes. Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave D.5. No further details - are you able to assist?

Sgt. John Knight. Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave A.10. Son of John Davies Knight, and of Delia Knight, of Brentford, Middlesex, England. Grave inscription reads: "Into The Mosaic Of Victory Was Laid This Precious Piece".

AC2. James Campbell Adams. Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave A.12. Son of Isaac and Catherine Campbell Adams, of North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland. Grave inscription reads: "Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends".

Sgt. John Dolan. Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave A.11. Son of Patrick and Ann Dolan and husband of Mary Ann Louise Dolan, of Canning Town, Essex, England. Grave inscription reads: "Deep In Our Hearts Your Memory Is Kept We Loved You Too Well To Ever Forget".

Sgt. Dennis Douglas George Spencer. Veurne Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave D.7. No further details - are you able to assist?

Researcher Stephen Hunnisett for Aircrew Remembered - March 2019. For further details our thanks to News UK Archives, Wikipedia and the following sources.

SH/KTY 04.03.2019

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