03/04.11.1943 No. 57 Squadron Lancaster I W4822 DX-P Ist. Lt. Donald R. West DFC
Date: 3/4th November 1943 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 57 Squadron
Type: Lancaster MkI
Base: RAF East Kirkby, Lincolnshire
Location: Hechtel, Belgium
Pilot: 1Lt. Donald R. West (DFC Posth.) USAAF Age 25. Killed
2nd Pilot: Fl/Lt. Robert Sinclair Clements RCAF Evaded capture
Fl/Eng: Sgt. William Frederick Neill 53166 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Nav: P/O. Norman F. Buggy 147138 RAFVR PoW No. 3348 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria (L3)
Air/Bmr: F/O. James McPhail Elliot RAFVR Age 22. Evaded capture
W/Op: Sgt. Harry Francis McKernin 1079134 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt.Francis Patrick Heaton 1699714 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Edmunds 1392733 RAFVR Age ? Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off from RAF East Kirkby at 17.22 hrs to attack Düsseldorf. 589 aircraft taking part. Bombing commenced at 19.42 - 20.11 hrs causing extensive damage to housing and industrial premises.
The allies lost some 18 aircraft - all to the Luftwaffe night fighters, a further 13 returned with damage. Lancaster W4822 was intercepted and shot down at 19.36 hrs by Oblt. Werner Baake of 3./NJG1, his 20th abschüsse of the war. The aircraft eventually crashing at Hechtel, Belgium.
Left to right: Fl/Lt. Robert S. Clements, F/O. James McP. Elliot (courtesy Gordon Lodge)
F/O. Robert Clements (RCAF) said in his Evasion Report:
‘I was second out of the aircraft and I landed in a field near Exel - I hid my parachute, Mae West and helmet and made straight for the shelter of some woods, where I took out my maps and tried to ascertain my position. I thought I was in N.E. Belgium. I started walking South West by my compass, but found out later that it had been affected by the zip fastener on my gloves and also the fly-button compass which I had sewn on to my shirt cuffs, so that I was actually walking due West. About midnight I came out of some woods and saw an aircraft burning on the ground nearby. A German patrol was coming up the road towards it, so I waited until they had passed and then made my way as quickly as possible through the fields in the direction they had come from.’
After he returned to England, but with the war still in progress, Don’s friend and air bomber, Jim Elliott wrote to Don’s parents:
"Even on that terrible night, when we were under the maximum of strain with both gunners dead and Don at the controls of a burning plane, there was no panic because the skipper was calm. In his quiet tone he told two of the crew to go back with extinguishers and try to control the fire. Without hesitation or question they did so, and worked heroically amid the smoke and exploding ammunition, but all in vain, using all of the extinguishers without controlling it. Then came the order from Don to abandon the aircraft. As bombardier and nearest the bomb hatch, I went first, so from then on my information ceased… Don had his parachute on, Mr. and Mrs. West, but knowing him as I did, I’m certain he would wait until everyone had left before moving. It grieves me to say it, but I’m afraid Don, your son, and my pal, made the supreme sacrifice, for our united cause that night. In a vain attempt to save the remainder of the crew (one other member was left) he hadn’t left himself enough time to get out before the crash came."
Jim Elliot and Maybelle West continued to correspond after the war, and Maybelle West visited Elliott in Scotland in September of 1953. For his actions that evening, Donald West was posthumously awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross, and the California Air Medal...
57 Squadron Lancasters
Although Maybelle West wanted her son to have a proper burial, she understood that the recovery of Don’s remains was impossible. She at least knew that her that her son was a hero. The navigator, Norman Buggey, who had safely parachuted from the plane but had been captured by the Germans, wrote this after the war:
"The complete calm and self possession of Don West, the pilot, and his refusal to leave the controls while there was still remote possibility of saving some of the crew, was superb. I am afraid his action cost him his life."
(1) Hptm. Werner Baake survived the war with a total of 41 abschüsse, became a flight captain with Lufthansa. He was killed in an car accident at Heilsbronn on the 15th July 1964.
Crew graves (courtesy Michel Beckers)
The crew were initially buried at the Brusthem Airfield cemetery, then reburied at Heverlee after the war.
1Lt. Donald R. West (DFC Posth). Son of Floyd and Maybelle West, of Fresno, California, USA. Further information: Joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on 27th August 1941. An experienced pilot with 560 hours of flying time. 7th September 1943, Don transferred to the US Army Air Force (USAAF.) Since he was a trained pilot with experience in flying Lancaster bombers, the USAAF simply left him at his post at East Kirkby when he changed services. The USAAF listed him as being on "Detached Service” with the 57 Squadron of the Royal Air Force.
Sgt. William Frederick Neill. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 7.D.1-4. Son of William Frederick and Margaret Neill, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, husband of Mary Elizabeth McCombe Neill.
Sgt. Harry Francis McKernin. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 7.D.1-4. Son of H. and Minnie McKernin, of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Sgt.Francis Patrick Heaton. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 7.D.1-4. Son of John Francis and Ellen Heaton, of Wigan, Lancashire, England.
Sgt. John Edmunds. Heverlee War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 7.D.1-4. Next of kin details unavailable - are you able to assist?
Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered, November 2014. With thanks to Gordon Lodge of 57 Squadron for photos of Fl/Lt. Clements and Fl/Lt. Elliot.
The beautiful Memorial to 57 and 630 Squadron crews at East Kirkby