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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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502 Squadron crest
15/16.09.1942 No. 502 Squadron Whitley V Z9365 YG-A P/O. Alan Edward Coates M.i.D.

Operation: Anti-submarine patrol

Date: 15/16th September 1942 (Tuesday/Wednesday)

Unit: 502 Squadron (Coastal Command) - Motto: Nihil Timeo ( I fear nothing)

Squadron Badge: A red hand erased. The red hand is taken from the arms of Ulster, 502 being the Ulster Auxiliary Squadron. The hand is erased though, instead of couped

Type: Whitley V

Serial: Z9365

Code: YG-A

Base: RAF St. Eval, Cornwall

Location: Bay of Biscay

1st Pilot: P/O. Alan Edward Coates M.i.D. NZ/40643 RNZAF Age 31 - Missing believed killed (1)

2nd Pilot: Sgt. Alexander Bridges Coburn NZ/414594 RNZAF Age 27 - Missing believed killed (2)

Obs: Fl/Sgt. Herbert Arthur Roberts 1164473 RAFVR Age 20 - Missing believed killed (3)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. William Harvey R/92554 RCAF Age 25 - Missing believed killed (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Reuben Ellam 1112387 RAFVR Age 26 - Missing believed killed (5)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Thomas James Edwards 918604 RAFVR - PoW No. 27199 Camp: Stalag Lamsdorf - 344 (6)

We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK


Whitley Z9365 took off from base at 1305 hours on 15 September 1942 detailed to carry out an anti-submarine sweep and failed to return. No signals were received and nothing further was heard from the crew or of the aircraft after take off.

A Sunderland Flying Boat, airborne at 0400 hours on 16 September covered the same patrol as Z9365 but returned without sighting either crew or aircraft.

It later transpired that a wireless operator/ air gunner of the crew Sgt. Thomas James Edwards had been captured and was a prisoner of war and on repatriation made a liberation statement detailing what had happened to the aircraft and crew.

Following a battle with several enemy aircraft during which the pilot Alan Coates was wounded, the Whitley was forced to ditch in the sea about 150 miles west of Brest.

On ditching the aircraft broke in two and the big dinghy sank with the tail half. Alexander Coburn and William Harvey were last seen struggling in the sea. After some time Thomas Edwards discovered a small dinghy into which he climbed along with Alan Coates, Herbert Roberts and John Ellam.

Wounded pilot, Alan Coates and Herbert Roberts who had suffered concussion both died later that day whilst John Ellam died from exposure during the night.

Thomas Edwards who was picked up by a French fishing boat, was captured by the Germans on 30 September and remained a prisoner of war until liberated in 1945.

In a letter from the Air Ministry to No. 4 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit dated 7 October it is stated that 'German Death Cards are held for 'Ellam, Coburn and Coates but no burial details'

It seems the Whitley was attacked by Fw. Henry Passier of 13 KG who was himself wounded in combat a couple of days later on 17 September 1942 when his aircraft was shot down by an enemy destroyer, one other crew member was killed, the others being rescued from the sea.


(1) P/O. Alan Edward Coates M.i.D. (shown left) was born at St Heliers, Auckland, New Zealand on 15 November 1911 the son of Thomas Joseph Coates and Edith Agnes Maud(e) Coates nee Brookfield. He had five siblings: Grahame Drakeford Coates (1907-1989), Thomas Ivon Gregory Coates (1910-1989, Edith Betty Coates (1915-2011), Guyon Thomas Coates (1918-1920) and Joseph Leonard Coates (1918-2005)

He was educated at Auckland Grammar School and after leaving school became a Dairy Machine Fitter.

Alan Coates was provisionally accepted for RAF SSComm (Southern Sector Communication Flight) mid-1939 but after the scheme lapsed on outbreak of war he enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He commenced pilot training at RNZAF Levin Ground Training School on 13 February 1940. After further training at 2 Elementary Flying Training School at Bell Block, New Plymouth and 2 Flight Training School at Woodbourne he was awarded his Flying Badge on 2 August 1940 and om 21 September promoted to Sergeant.

On 6 October 1940 he embarked for the UK and after a short spell at No. 1 Depot was posted to 2 School of General Reconnaissance on 14 December and on 8 March 1941 to 3 (Coastal) Operations Training Unit at RAF Chivenor in Devon and posted to 502 Squadron at RAF Limavady, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 10 May 1941.

He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 1 May 1942

In 1942 he married Elsie May Duckham at Redruth Cornwall: their son Alan P. Coates was born the following year.

In the London Gazette of 1 January 1943 it was promulgated that P/O. Alan Edward Coates had been Mentioned in Despatches.

(2) Sgt. Alexander Bridges Coburn (Cockburn) (shown right) was born on 26 July 1915 at Hairini, Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand the son of George Cockburn and Elspeth Cockburn later of Mount Albert, Auckland. Alexander Cockburn chose to use the variant of his surname i.e. Coburn, during his service in the RNZAF. Prior to joining the air force he was a Credit Manager.

In June 1939 he married Veronica Sheahan.

(3) Fl/Sgt. Herbert Arthur Roberts was born in 1922 at Leicester the son of Herbert Edward Roberts and Nellie Frances Roberts nee Leaney . He had three siblings: Frances K. Roberts born 1924, Edward L. Roberts born 1926 and Stella J. Roberts born 1933. Herbert Edward Roberts died in 1937 and in 1939 Nellie Frances Roberts lived with three closed persons (probably three of her children) at 19 Bradfield Close Leicester.

(4) Fl/Sgt. William Harvey was born on 20 March 1917 at Cowdenbeath, Fife, Scotland the son of Gordon Harvey (a Miner) and Mary Ann Harvey nee Gairns. The family lived at 13 David Street, Buckhaven, Fife.

On 28 December 1922 they sailed from Greenock, Renfrewshire via Liverpool on the Canadian Pacific ship Metanga disembarking at St John New Brunswick.

The family settled in Carbon, a village in central Alberta and where his sister, Christina Jordan Gairns Harvey was born about 1925.

William attended the local Primary School (1923-31) and the High School (1931-1934).

His enjoyed playing several sports including golf, curling, baseball and softball and his hobby of woodwork was to stand him in good stead when he came to making a living.

After leaving school he worked as a Carpenter, a Bookkeeper at Carbon Transport and from 25 July 1938 he was employed by the Bank of Montreal as a Janitor. His father had left the family about 1930 and from his early teens William had become the sole support of his mother and sister. He took an active interest in Church and Sunday School work and was highly regarded in Carbon and district.

When he enlisted at Calgary, Alberta on 13 February 1941 he was 5' 4½" tall weighing 126 lbs with a medium complexion, blue eyes and medium [sic] hair. After training at 3 Service Flying Training School and 2 Wireless School both at RCAF Calgary and 8 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Lethbridge, Alberta he was awarded his Air Gunner Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 8 November 1941.

He embarked for the UK on 13 December 1941 and on arrival was posted to 3Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth.

He was posted to 1 Signals School at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire on 20 January 1942 and to 3 Radio School at RAF Prestwick, South Ayrshire, Scotland on 19 March 1942.

He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 8 May and on 9 June he was posted to 3 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit at RAF Catfoss near Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire.

He was posted to 502 Squadron at St Eval, Cornwall on 4 August 1942.

He is commemorated on the Scottish War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.

(5) Sgt. John Reuben Ellam was born on 26 February 1916 (birth registered at Huddersfield West Riding of Yorkshire) the son of Willie Ellam and Frances Hannah Ellam nee Harrap/Harrop of Grange Moor, Yorkshire, England. He had two siblings: William G. Ellam (1914-2002) and Wilfred Ellam (born and died 1918)

Following the death of her husband Willie, Frances married Thomas B. Stott in 1919 but Thomas also sadly died less than three years later leaving Frances again a widow with two young children to look after. She married farmer Robert Searby in 1922 and they went on to have five children half siblings of John Reuben Ellam, they were: Joanna Searby born 1923, Frances Searby born 1925, Harry Searby (1928-1991), Margaret Searby born 1931 Ronald Searby (1932-2006)

In 1939 the family lived at Goat Hill Farm Grange Moor near Huddersfield. At that time John Ellam' occupation was a Tailor

John Reuben Ellam is commemorated on the nearby Kirkheaton Church Roll of Honour.

Somewhat ironically, a neighbouring village to Grange Moor bears the same name as the aircraft in which John Ellam sadly lost his life - Whitley.

(6) W.O. Thomas James Edwards - Nothing further known, if you have any information please contact our helpdesk


Having no known grave the following are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial in Englefield Green, near Egham, Surrey

P/O. Alan Edward Coates M.i.D. Panel 115.

Sgt. Alexander Bridges Cockburn (Coburn). Panel 117.

Fl/Sgt. Herbert Arthur Roberts. Panel 75.

Fl/Sgt. William Harvey. Panel 104.

Sgt. John Reuben Ellam. Panel 82.

Researched for Jonathan Taylor-Smith relative of Sgt. John Ellam and for all the other relatives of the crew.

With thanks to our Canadian friend and colleague Dave Champion for additional information about this loss and Fl/Sgt William Harvey RCAF. Auckland Library Heritage Collection.

RW 04.06.2020 Substantially revised and including additional information courtesy Dave Champion
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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', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. 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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