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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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207 Squadron crest
14/15.01.1942 No. 207 Squadron Manchester I L7523 EM-M Fl/Sgt. Basil C. Wescombe

Operation: Hamburg

Date: 14/15th January 1942 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit: No. 207 Squadron

Type: Manchester I

Serial: L7523

Code: EM-M

Base: RAF Bottesford, Lincolnshire

Location: Holmpton, East Yorkshire

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Basil Courtney Wescombe 523056 RAF Age 25. Killed

Pilot 2: Fl/Sgt. Frederick Edward Thomas 1111152 RAF Age 26. Killed

Obs: Sgt. Eric Ronald Harper 925454 RAFVR Age 19. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Leonard Sieve 902414 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt.Claude Raymond Westbury 961733 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. ‘Jack’ John Thomas Howe 1194389 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker 641700 RAF Age 19. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

L7523 took off from RAF Bottesford at 1735 hours some 15 minutes late due to a technical problem.

The aircraft was airborne for 3 hours and 10 minutes, and given the cruising speed of an Avro Manchester was 185 mph and that they returned with an engine on fire it is not possible for the crew to have reached Hamburg and unlikely that they came under enemy fire.

At 2045 the elder of three Misses Walker was sitting in the kitchen of Cliff House Farm in the hamlet of Holmpton on the Yorkshire coast. She heard a loud popping sound of a throttled back the engine at low altitude and rushed outside to see the plane pass low to the south, with flames apparently coming from the rear.

Seconds later the plane hit the ground and there was a flash and explosion. The source of the fire is unknown, but possibly an uncontrollable fire in the port Vulture engine would have given the same appearance to a ground observer. The Home Guard were soon on the scene arriving from a nearby Observation Post on the cliff-top. It took the Withernsea Police and the Auxiliary Fire Service over an hour to reach the crash site. They found a deep crater filled with wreckage, and propaganda leaflets (nickels) printed in German were being blown about in the stiff breeze. Amongst the debris were also three bodies. The Fireman returned to their depot at 0155 and by 0246 it was established that the wreck was that of a British bomber.

The Home Guard carried the remains of the crew to Cliff House Farm where they remained overnight in one of the farm buildings. The next morning farm workers found a sorry sight. Soldiers were already guarding the impact point and the tail unit had been thrown over a nearby hedge. Small fragments of airframe were spread over a wide area, with apparently the bomb load already been jettisoned. A freezing rain was falling from a leadened sky and within a short period the farm workers' clothes were frozen stiff. Later that morning the bodies were conveyed by RAF ambulances to RAF Catfoss (2 Coastal Operational Training Unit) near Hornsea.

Another witness of the crash was a 14 year old boy who was looking out of the window of his house in Holmpton. He saw the plane travelling North away from the River Humber parallel to the coast. The plane had flames pouring from it and ultimately crashed on the crest of Mill Hill approximately half a mile from the Rocket House in Holmpton. He places the time of the crash much later at about 2300 hours and was at the scene within minutes, but could not approach the aircraft because of the intense fire and bullets firing in all directions as the stored ammunition exploded.

Despite having crashed in Yorkshire, no Aircraft Accident Card summarising results of an investigation has been traced. The subsequent inquest held at the farm established that L7523 had jettisoned her war load out to sea, and concluded that the aircraft had probably been damaged by enemy action as there was a suggestion of battle damage on the aircraft, forcing an early return and culminating in the crash. (Memorial Dedication at Holmpton)

Burial details:

Fl/Sgt. Basil Courtney Wescombe. Falmer Church, Sussex in the 7th Grave from gate - Pathside. The Son of George Courtney Wescombe and Elsie Wescombe and the husband of Audrey Ruby Constance Wescombe, of Bitterne Park, Southampton, England.

Fl/Sgt. Frederick Edward Thomas. St. Mary’s Church, Brandesburton, East Yorkshire. Grave 8, RAF Section. Born on the 1st September 1915. Son to Frederick Lee and Mary Grace (née Curran) of Hillhead, Glasgow, Scotland.

Sgt. Eric Ronald Harper. Streatham Cemetery, London. Grave 305, Block 9. The Son of William and Hilda Maud Harper, of Tooting, Surrey, England.

Fl/Sgt. Leonard Sieve. Failsworth Jewish Cemetery, Manchester. Grave N.31. The Son of Myer and Lydia Sieve; nephew of Joseph Sunlight, of Knutsford, Cheshire, England.

Sgt. Claude Raymond Westbury. Nottingham Church Cemetery, St. George Sec. Grave 12058. The Son of Herbert and Mary Westbury, of Nottingham, England.

Sgt. ‘Jack’ John Thomas Howe. Winfield Cemetery, Nottingham, Grave B.3. The Son of Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Howe, of Rugby, England.

Above: Understood to be Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker on the left of these two crew members (insert Sgt. Walker) in front of Wellington T2972 KG-G (This aircraft went on to survive over 50 operational sorties with 311 Squadron (Czech) before it was finally scrapped in 1944 )

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker. Frankby Cemetery, Wirral. Grave C.9. Born 21st January 1922, in Wallasey, the son of Harold Hood Sydney Walker and Mabel Gibbs Walker (née Burcher). They lived in Wallasey, Merseyside, England.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Mike McQaid and also to Mike Berrell of The Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society. Also to Lisa West and the family of Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker for photographs and information - September 2017. Julia and Keld, Irish, Meersbrooke for other grave photographs. Thanks to John Jones for NoK details for Flt.Sgt. Thomas and the narrative from the Memorial Dedication at Holmpton. Further sources as quoted:

RS 05.04.2019 - Update of NoK details for Flt.Sgt. Thomas and addition of Memorial Dedication

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', 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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