08.12.1941 411 (Grisly Bear) Squadron RCAF Spitfire Vb AD264 DB-A P/O. John Ronald Coleman
Incorporating the story of Sgt. Donald Alexander (Don) Court R78092 RCAF.
Flying 411 Squadron Spitfire Vb AA840 DB-D on the same operation, Sgt. Court, aged 21, also failed to return; no trace of him, or his aircraft, was found.
Operation: Low Ramrod 15
Date: 8 December 1941 (Monday)
Unit: 411 Squadron RCAF
Squadron Badge: A bear rampant. Motto: Inimicus inimico (Hostile to an enemy). Authority: King George VI, October 1942.
Type: Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vb
Base: RAF Hornchurch, Essex.
Location: Off the coast of Pas-de-Calais, France,
Pilot: P/O. John Ronald (Jack) Coleman J5816 formerly R63006 RCAF. Age 23 - Killed
Jack had travelled more than a hundred miles for his interview at RCAF Moncton, but the results had made the journey worthwhile.
Interviewing officer F/O G.W.C. Kinney was favourably impressed, if his remarks were anything to go by:
'Good, clean cut lad, intelligent, polite, pleasing, not nervous, should be excellent material for pilot or observer - likes mathematics. Above average.'
It was Thursday, 26 September 1940 and almost 3000 miles away, the Battle of Britain was in full swing over South East England. But although fighter pilots were in great demand, the RAF could ill afford to wait for Jack.
'Jack', was John Ronald Coleman, a 22 year old bookkeeper from St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the second youngest of seven children born to his recently deceased parents.
He enlisted on Monday 7 October 1940, at No 1 Mobile Recruiting Unit, RCAF, at St. John.
Just two days later, and 700 miles west of St. John, Don Court was enlisting at Toronto. At his interview on 12 September, he had also received similar glowing remarks from his interviewing officer, F/O. W. F. Hendershot, who wrote:
'Fine type - clean cut and intelligent. Above the average in appearance and conversation. Education and deportment would recommend him as officer material. Above average.'
'Don' was Donald Alexander Court. He was 20 years old, and prior to enlisting he had been a a student at the University of Toronto. The son of Accountant, George Alexander Court and Teca May Court, he had a brother and a sister and lived in the Weston neighbourhood of Toronto.
Though hitherto unknown to each other, Jack and Don's futures were inextricably linked.
Following enlistment Jack and Don were both posted to 1 Manning Depot at Toronto and on 23 October, 100 miles east to RCAF Trenton.
Two months later, on 23 December, they were both posted to Course 14 at 1 Initial Training School based at the Eglinton Hunt Club, Toronto. The four week training course concluded on 27 January 1941 with Jack graduating 17th of 186 and receiving another set of impressive remarks from the CO:
'This Airman, decisive, dependable type. Quiet, retiring disposition. Shows spirit of co-operation and willingness to accept responsibility. Should make a very good pilot.'
And Don, graduating 59th, once more received comments from the CO that mirrored Jack's.
'Very good pilot material with plenty of the right spirit. Modest, well-mannered, keen, alert young airman who put his best into his work at this school.'
There followed a brief parting of the ways as Jack and Don found themselves on opposite sides of Lake Ontario at different Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS).
Jack was posted to Course 19 at 9 EFTS, at RCAF St. Catharines, Niagara on the Lake, for seven weeks from 28 January to 17 March 1941 whilst Don was also on Course 19 but at 1 EFTS, RCAF Malton, Toronto, during the same period.
They were reunited on Course 25 at 2 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Uplands, Ontario from 7 April to 27 June and at wings day, 16 June 1941, they were among the 52 graduates (46 RCAF, 5 RAF and 1 Australian,) of Course 25 being presented with their Flying Badges. With the RCAF Band in attendance, Group Captain Curtis made the presentations, and afterwards tea was served in the Drill Hall to the graduates and their guests.
Jack had finished a commendable 7th of 52, whilst Don was a respectable 33rd.
On 21 June they were both promoted to Sergeant and the following day, Jack, possibly as a result of his strong showing at Uplands, was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
They embarked for the UK on 6 July 1941 and on arrival, posted initially to 3 Personnel and Despatch and Reception Centre at Bournemouth. On 3 August they joined Course 7 at 53 Operational Training Unit at RAF Llandow in South Wales, for training on Spitfires.
Jack Coleman yet again excelled, and on 16 September 1941, following completion of training, received these plaudits from his CO:-
'This pilot, through his own hard work, has made himself one of the best pilots in the flight. Above average. An asset to any squadron.'
On Tuesday, 16 September 1941, Jack and Don plus three other sergeant pilots, were posted to 411 Squadron, based at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire.
411 Squadron, RCAF, had been formed at RAF Digby on 16 June 1941. Equipped with the Mark I Spitfire, limited operations commenced on 21 August 1941, prior to the Squadron being declared fully 'Day' operational on 27 August.
In October, the Squadron began re-equipping with the Spitfire Mark Vb and on 16 October, having received its full quota of 20 of these machines was declared 'non-operational' while converting to the Mark Vb. The following day, however, word was received that they were to be allowed a mere two days to convert; thus a very busy two days of training ensued .
On 8 October 1941 the Squadron ORB recorded that:
'At the request of 12 Group, two Canadian Sgt. Pilots volunteered for the MSFU [Merchant Ship Fighter Unit]*. No reply has been received advising whether they have been accepted. Pilots are Sgt. Sills (see below) and Sgt. Court.'
* The Merchant Ship Fighter Unit (MSFU) was a RAF operational aircraft unit based at RAF Speke, Liverpool, during World War II. Its role was to provide pilots, crews, support personnel and aircraft to operate from 35 merchant ships fitted out with a catapult on the bow, referred to as Catapult Aircraft Merchant ships (CAM ships), a stop-gap initiative to provide air support to convoys out of reach of land in the early part of the war when aircraft carriers were scarce.
Most notable was the inability of the CAM ship to recover the aircraft (i.e. converted Mk1 Hawker Hurricanes that were near the end of their useful lives) and as a result launches out of reach of land, were one way flights that required the pilot to bail out, or ditch in the sea, when the aircraft's fuel was exhausted. While every effort was made to pick up the pilot, operational factors such as the convoy being under U-boat attack could mean that a ship may not be detached to pick up the pilot. On the convoys to Russia, the low sea temperatures meant that the pilot had a low potential survival rate, unless picked up very soon after landing in the sea.
Since Don Court and John Sills continued to serve with 411 Squadron, they were, presumably, rejected by MSFU.
On 25 October 1941 Jack Coleman was detailed for his first operation. In the event, it was a most inauspicious start to his operational career.
The ORB records that:
'The Squadron departed on a Sea Sweep from Coltishall during the afternoon. Nothing was sighted.
P/O. Coleman taxied into a Hurricane damaging both this machine as well as his own while manoeuvring for take off. The damage was soon rectified and he returned to this station later in the afternoon.'
Jack Coleman was flying Spitfire Vb W3215 DB-C, a presentation aircraft named The Marksman, paid for by the workforce of Marks and Spencer Ltd.
The Form 765, Accident Report, includes the following details:
Hours flown on type 65 Hours. Flown solo all types 170
Damage repairable at unit
Summary of pilot's report:
Pilot was No 2 in Yellow section detailed to take off from Coltishall on a Sea Sweep at 1442 hrs. on 25.10.41. On taxying [sic] out for take off he was following No. 1 and did not notice Hurricane Z3459 (257 Sqn) dispersed on his taxying path, till his leader turned out to avoid it, he applied his brakes but failed to stop on very slippery ground so he switched off and collided with the said Hurricane causing damage as set out below.
Technical report by unit's specialist officer
Damage to Spitfire Vb W3215. Two starboard exhaust manifolds damaged. Top engine cowl slightly scored. Superficial damage to airscrew. Engine being shock loaded. Engine found within limits.
Remarks by Unit Commander
Primary cause of accident:
Pilot was taxying in a straight line and failed to see Hurricane directly ahead in time to avoid hitting it, bearing in mind the slippery nature of the aerodrome surface at that spot.
Diagnosis of secondary cause of accident:
On firm ground the accident could have been avoided, but he was unaware that ground was so slippery at that spot.
Casualty Signal action would seem to be unnecessary in a case like this and it is recommended that the use of such action be confined to cases where there is more than trivial damage. 26.10.41
P/O. John William Sills who with Don Court had volunteered for the MSFU, was shot down over France on March 1942 whilst taking part in a bomber escort operation with 411 Squadron. He was 21, and lies in Pihen-lès-Guînes Cemetery, Row C, Grave 2. He was shot down whilst flying Spitfire Vb, W3215, the aircraft in which Jack Coleman had had his accident at Coltishall on 25 October 1941.
It would be two weeks later before Jack Coleman was again detailed for operations. On 9 November 1941, flying Spitfire Vb W3950 he was one of 6 pilots taking part in a Sea Sweep from 12.05 to 13.35.
411 Squadron relocated to RAF Hornchurch in Essex on 22 November.
On 24 November, Jack was again allocated Spitfire W3215 DB-C when he flew with three others on convoy patrol, taking off at 14.10 and returning to base at 15.20 and on 30 November he flew two convoy patrols with Fl/Lt Boomer, the first from 08.50 to 10.10 in Spitfire AD117 DB-F and the second from 13.00 to 14.20, this time flying Spitfire AA844.
A week later, on Sunday 7 December, Jack was once again flying Spitfire W3215 DB-C, one of four pilots on convoy patrol from 09.10 to 10.15. The day is particularly remembered for the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, which lead to the United States' formal entry into the Second World War the next day.
CIRCUSES, RAMROD AND HURRIBOMBERS
Developed by the RAF, 'Circus' operations commenced on 10 January 1941, and involved bombers, with a mass escort of fighters, being sent over German occupied northern Europe, primarily to entice Luftwaffe fighters into combat, to be then attacked by the superior number of RAF fighters accompanying the bombers. Formations comprised between 6 and 30 light and medium bombers, escorted by up to 16 Squadrons of fighters. The Luftwaffe could not afford to ignore formations of this size.
An explanation of Circus terminology, including Escort, Close Escort, High Cover and Top Cover and their duties can be found at the foot of the page.
There were also several variations of Circus, one of which was Ramrod: similar to 'Circus' but with the intention of destroying the target. Low Ramrod operations were a low altitude variation of the standard Ramrod.
By 1941, the Hawker Hurricane, having become totally outclassed by the newer German Messerschmitt Me109F and Focke-Wulf Fw 190A, was being sent to the less demanding theatre of North Africa whilst the new Hurricane IIB was being built as a fighter bomber fitted with racks to allow it to carry two 250 lb or 500 lb bombs and colloquially become known as the 'Hurribomber'.
REASON FOR LOSS
On the morning of Monday, 8 December 1941, whilst the United States was still reeling from the shock of the Japanese attack, and contemplating its response, 11 pilots of 411 Squadron were being briefed for a Low Ramrod operation scheduled for later that morning, and being the 15th of the series was coded Low Ramrod 15. 8 'Hurribombers' of 607 Squadron were to be the bomber element of the operation.
Among those being briefed were Jack Coleman and Don Court for what was to be Don's first operational flight.
It was a cold and frosty December morning; typically fine and clear, and at RAF Hornchurch, following a conference at 1030 hrs., 11 Spitfire Vb's of 411 Squadron and 11 more of 64 Squadron began taking off at 1100 hrs. Joined by a further 11 of 603 Squadron, from the nearby satellite station of RAF Fairlop, the Hornchurch Wing was complete.
Jack Coleman was allocated Spitfire Vb, AD264 DB-A. Bearing the name "Paisley" AD264 was a presentation aircraft paid for by the employees of Ferguslie and Anchor Thread Mills in Paisley, Scotland and built at Castle Bromwich, whilst Don's aircraft, Spitfire Vb AA840 DB-D, had been built at Eastleigh in Hampshire - both fighters having been delivered, new, to 411 Squadron, two months earlier, on 2 October 1941.
Some 30 miles South of RAF Hornchurch, a similar scenario was unfolding at RAF Biggin Hill in Kent, as 10 Spitfire Vb's of 124 Squadron and 10 of 401 Squadron, having taken off at 10.55, were joined by 11 Vb's of 72 Squadron from RAF Gravesend, a satellite of RAF Biggin Hill. Thus the Biggin Hill Wing was complete, airborne and underway.
At RAF North Weald at Epping 12 Spitfire Vb's of 71 Squadron took to the air at 11.05 followed 5 minutes later by a further 12 of 222 Squadron.
Pictured above, Spitfire AD233 of 222 Squadron was flown by Czechoslovakian pilot Sgt.Václav Prerost (below) on Ramrod 15
At RAF Northolt in West London, the 1st Polish Fighter Wing was led off at 10.55 by 12 Spitfire Vb's of315 Squadron followed by a further 12 of 303 Squadron at 11.00 and 13 more of 308 Squadron at 11.05.
The bomber force of 8 "Hurribombers" of 607 Squadron based at RAF Manston in Kent took off at 11.05. The target was an alcohol distillery near Hesdin in the Pas-de-Calais, and although further details are not recorded, it would seem likely that it was the Fauconnier Alcohol Distillery at Hesdin.
After one Spitfire of 64 Squadron was forced to land at RAF Lympne with engine trouble and two more from 401 Squadron returned to Biggin Hill soon after take off, the 8 Hurribombers and remaining 122 Spitfires duly made rendezvous at 17000 feet over Dungeness at 11.30, and set out across the Channel with Squadron Leader Noel Joseph Mowat of 607 Squadron, leading the formation.
As far as can be determined from the Operation Record Books (ORBs), of those Squadrons involved, on approach to the French coast, the formation was arranged as follows:
Leading the formation at 15000 feet, were the "Hurribombers" and their Close Escort of 222 and 71 Squadrons, whilst stacked behind them was Middle Cover, consisting of 603 Squadron at 18000 feet, 64 Squadron at 19000 feet and 411 Squadron at 20000 feet. Above and behind Middle Cover, was High Cover, provided by the Biggin Hill Wing and comprising 71 Squadron and 124 Squadron with 401 Squadron as Top Cover.
Flying at 10000 feet were 303, 308 and 315 Squadrons of the 1st Polish Fighter Wing providing rear support. The Polish Squadrons were to remain on the coast, patrolling the Channel in the Le Touquet/Berck-sur-Mer area to protect the return of the 'Hurribombers'.
It seems that almost immediately on reaching the French coast, at about 11.35, the formation was attacked from behind by a considerable number of Messerschmitt 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s. However, as the ORBs of 607, 222, 71, 64, 124 and 401 Squadrons make no mention of the attack, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that these Squadrons at least, sped on towards the target leaving the other Cover Squadrons battling with the enemy. Of these six Squadrons only 222 suffered any loss, i.e.
'P/O. T K [Thomas Kenneth] Robinson [RAAF] failed to return and was last seen near Rousement with white smoke pouring from his aircraft.'
5 of the remaining 6 Squadrons, however, were clearly involved in combat with the enemy fighters and their records would appear to suggest that the combats took place in the coastal area. 308 Squadron records sighting enemy aircraft but with no encounter but being part of the 1st Polish Fighter Wing, would have remained at the coast on patrol to protect the return of the bomber force. Combats were recorded by the other five Squadrons as follows:
'Sgt Thompson (Rhodesian) was last heard of just before going in over the French coast. Fl/Lt Campbell and Sgt Enright (Australian) encountered several formations of Me109s and during the combat got separated. Sgt Thompson and Sgt. Enright did not return from this operation.'
'Squadron took part in No. 15 Low Ramrod operation. A number of aircraft were seen above, mainly in pairs, with the advantage of height, and the Squadron was attacked from out of the sun. Combats ensued, as a result of this engagement 2 Me109s were destroyed for the loss of one pilot, who was forced to bale out over the sea when his aircraft caught fire. He was seen to climb into his dinghy, while our aircraft patrolled over him. Base was informed and motor launches put out, but the pilot was not found.'
And this from Polish Squadrons Remembered (http://www.polishsquadronsremembered.com/315/315Squadron.html)
'After a few minutes of patrolling, F/Lt Czajkowski observed and called out three Bf-109s sneaking-up on his section. He attacked them with his wingman Sgt Czezowski. E/a started down with Polish Spitfires on their tails. They were nose-diving down to 3K. F/Lt Czajkowski got one Bf-109 at that level and sent it crashing to the sea. Meantime, S/Ldr Janus trounced another one. Air became full of individual duels for few minutes. One Bf-109 got F/Lt Groszewski only to be damaged by P/O Kornicki in return. F/Lt Groszewski jumped out landed in the sea. He was O.K. seating in his dinghy while P/O Kornicki's section hung around. Section from British squadron stationing [sic] in Biggin Hill changed [with] Poles, but did not find floating pilot. Rescue boats got under attack of German fighters while approaching the area. Thus, for a price of one of its pilots, 315 destroyed two and damaged one Bf-109s.'
(Suffered no losses but had this to say of the attack)
'F/O. Gladyeh saw a pilot bale out of a Spitfire and circled him to give R/T position. He was then attacked by a FW190 which was in turn attacked by St Adamek and after two bursts was seen to crash into the sea. F/O. Gladyeh and Sgt. Adamesk returned alone refuelling at Kenlay. Our Casualties: Nil. Enemy aircraft destroyed one FW 190.'
(Was the most badly hit)
'This fine cold day turned out to be one of the unhappiest days in the Squadron's history.
Our Squadron was middle cover at 18000ft but became detached over Le Touquet and heavily attacked by both Me 109s and Fw 190s. A sharp fight took place but with our planes outnumbered and with no cover from above we left Le Touquet with F/O. Fawkes, P/O. Falconer and Sgt. Bennett missing. Owing to patrols finishing at 10.50 we flew 3 aircraft short (these having guns u/s from convoy patrol) P/O. Lambert shot down 1 109 E and saw it crash into the sea. Sqn/Ldr Forshaw, Fl/Lt Douglas Hamilton and Sgt. Rawson all fired at enemy aircraft without success that could be observed.'
(This, regarding its involvement in the action and the fate of Jack Coleman and Don Court)
'By the time the wing reached 10000 feet on their way down to the Target, Jerries began to appear - ME109s and FW190s. Our Yellow Section was attacked by six and the Section Leader, P/O. McFarlane (admitted to Commissioned rank on November 17th) turned towards them, getting several bursts at them with no apparent effect. Several other pilots also managed to fire their guns, but no claims were made. By this time the bombers had done their work (there is some doubt about this point) and the Wing therefore left for a more hospitable clime. Several distress signals from pilots were heard but it was impossible to ascertain who were responsible. During this operation we lost our first two pilots by enemy action - P/O. J. R. Coleman of St. John, NB and Sgt. D.A. Court of Toronto, Ontario. It is believed they were shot down but in the scramble which resulted no particulars were ascertained. One Spitfire was seen to be smoking badly and going straight in. Both lads were exceptionally fine pilots and well liked. They will be greatly missed. This was their first contact with the enemy.'
As noted in the 411 Squadron ORB above, there was indeed more than some doubt concerning the Hurribombers having done their work - the 607 ORB is most enlightening regarding the matter:
'The French coast was crossed at 15000 feet about 10 miles N of Le Touquet and 607 Squadron in echelon of 2 fours with 2 supporting Squadrons on either side continued to dive until they were at ground level just beyond Montreuil. They followed up the valley of the Canche river, in which the target was known to be just S of the large forest of Hesdin. Sqn/Ldr. Mowat machine gunned a small factory alongside the railway opposite the South west end of the forest of Hesdin near Aubin St-Vaast when still short of the target, and at the same time, unintentionally, pressed the bomb release switch. Seeing the bombs fall, 6 pilots, thinking that the target had been reached, also released their bombs on this factory and its surrounding warehouses and sheds. The factory consisted of a large brick building and some narrower warehouses made of wood; it is difficult to say what type of a factory this was but pilots seem to think it was probably a saw mill surrounded by storage sheds. One of the buildings appeared to have been damaged by fire before this attack was made. Bombs were seen to fall into the factory area and it was left with holes in the walls and roofs and overhung with smoke. Realising that most of the pilots had bombed the wrong factory, S/Ldr Mowat decided not to proceed further. A wide right hand turn was made opposite the clearing in the forest at Guisy and course set for the French coast, which was crossed at Merlimont south of Le Touquet at low altitude. Enemy aircraft, mostly ME109s, were seen on landing grounds between Campagne-Les-Hesdin and Montreuil and were machine gunned by some pilots but from a closer inspection, most of these aircraft are thought to have been dummies with perhaps one or two real ones among them. No flak was experienced on entering France or over the target, but on re-crossing the coast on the way out some light flak was encountered which followed the aircraft out to sea. The Controller had given warning of the presence of enemy aircraft over the coast on entering France but none were seen. A ME109 was seen by one pilot in the distance as the squadron left France but no attacks were made. The Channel was re-crossed at sea level to Hastings.
Weather: Ground haze over Rendezvous, over Channel visibility good with slight haze: 2/10ths cloud at about 4000 ft over Channel and target area. Own casualties nil: Enemy casualties nil'.
All 8 Hurribombers landed safely back at RAF Manston at 12.30.
For most of those involved the operation had lasted little more than 90 minutes from take off to return. Alas for 7 pilots there was to be no return. 2 more were to spend three and a half long years before being liberated and able to return home.
THE NEW ZEALAND PILOT WHO LED RAMROD 15
Wing Commander Noel Joseph Mowat DSO. MiD. NZ/2404, RNZAF, was killed on 7 November 1946 when Avro Anson C.XIX TX175 crashed at Pelkum, Germany whilst on a transit flight. W/Cdr Mowat was 32 and one of five passengers killed in the crash together with the pilot and navigator of the aircraft. For further information click here
THE FATE OF JACK COLEMAN AND DON COURT
These Canadian airmen had enlisted within two days of each other and spent most of their training together, eventually joined 411 Squadron together and to all intents and purposes, died together. To have been laid to rest next to each other, would have been a fitting end to their story, but such a conclusion was not to be.
For the family of Jack Coleman the wait for the sad news of its loss was to be relatively short. On 12 January 1942 a letter from Fl/Lt. Gordon S. Screaton, RCAF Casualties Officer for Director of Personal Services to Jack's sister, Eileen Coleman of 92 Waterloo Street, St John, New Brunswick, included the following:
'Spitfire aircraft, one of which was piloted by your brother, took off from the base at 11 a.m. on 8 December 1941, detailed to cover bomber aircraft in a strike over enemy territory. At approximately 11.35 a.m. a considerable number of enemy aircraft intercepted the squadron off the coast of France. In the combat which ensued one of aircraft was seen to go down with smoke pouring from it, but as the pilot did not, or was unable to advise his identification, it is not known whether this was your brother, or another pilot who also failed to return to base. No further information has, however, been received either of your brother or of his aircraft.'
On 12 March 1942 a further letter from the same officer informed Eileen Coleman that 'a report from the International Red Cross Committee states that Pilot Officer John Ronald Coleman has been buried at Pihen about 6½ miles S.W. of Calais.'
The details had been verified to the IRC by a German Totenliste.
Finally on 18 January 1947, following enquiries by 1 Missing, Research and Enquiry Unit, RAF, it was determined that Jack Coleman's body had been washed ashore at Wissant, recovered on 11 December 1941, and buried at Pihen-lès-Guînes Communal Cemetery. During the German occupation, the beach at Wissant had been out of bounds to French civilians and therefore no information was forthcoming about the several airmen found on the coast at Wissant during the war.
P/O. John Ronald Coleman lies in the British Military Plot Row B Grave 9. His gravestone bears no epitaph
At least the family of Jack Coleman had closure, but for Don Court's family there was to be no such comfort.
In a letter of 25 February 1943 from Don's father to the RCAF Casualties Officer in Ottawa Mr Court says that:
'We have received a letter from Sergeant Bruce Randall, who was in the same squadron as Donald at the time of the raid over France, December 8 1941. In this letter he states:
It seems that the formation was attacked from the rear and Sgt. Jack Long saw one of our planes roll over on its back and dive. Who this was, or whether the aircraft had been hit, is not known. One parachute was seen but the identity of this man is also unknown. The other lad missing that day was P.O. Jack Coleman of St. John, N.B. There has been no word of Don, as far as I know no word of Jack Coleman either.'
No trace of Don Court was discovered, and a letter to his father of 13 November 1945 from a RCAF Casualty Officer for Chief of the Air Staff, included the following:
'It is indeed regretted that despite all possible efforts, no information has been received regarding your son since he was reported "missing" on 9 December 1941'.
The letter also explains that a RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Unit had been set up and was endeavouring to obtain further information in liberated territories concerning circumstances of aircrews reported as casualties and 'Immediately any word of your son is received, you will be at once advised'.
No such information regarding Don was forthcoming and a letter from Wing Commander W.R. Gunn, RCAF Casualties Officer to Don's mother stated that 'due to lack of information concerning him since he was reported missing, it must be regretfully accepted and officially recorded that he does not have a "known" grave'.
The letter goes on to say that accordingly Don would be commemorated on a Memorial to British aircrew boys with no known grave, to be erected at Runnymede, England.
Sgt. Donald Alexander Court was, in due course, commemorated on Panel 60, Runnymede Memorial, Surrey UK and also on the War Memorial of Victoria University in the University of Toronto.
P/O. John Ronald Coleman (known as Jack), was born on Thursday 27 June 1918 at Hampton, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of John Louis Coleman and Margaret Cecilia Coleman née Forrestall. He had six siblings: Alphonsus Joseph Coleman, born 1901, Louis William Coleman, born 1902, Mary Catherine Coleman born 1907, Sarah Gertrude Coleman, born 1909, Eileen M. Coleman, born 1917 and Gerrard M. Coleman, born 1920 and the family later moved to St, John, New Brunswick.
His father sadly died in 1937 aged 64, followed a year later by Jack's mother, aged 62. After their deaths he lived with his sister Gertrude, at 228 Duke Street, St John with brothers Alphonsus and Gerard and sister Gertrude.
Jack Colman was educated at St. Vincent's Boys School, St John, (1924-1932) and St. Vincent's High School (1932-1935) and after leaving school in 1935 was employed as a Bookkeeper/Cashier at W.C. Pittfield & Co. Ltd., until 1937 when he was employed in a similar position at Hugh MacKay & Co., until 1939. In 1939 he took up a position as Traffic Clerk and Assistant Order Clerk for Imperial Oil Ltd., until joining the RCAF the following year.
On enlisting at St. John, New Brunswick, on 7 October 1940, he was described as being 5'9" tall, weighing 147 lbs with a fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. His sporting interests were baseball, basketball, hockey, swimming, badminton and tennis.
Sgt. Donald Alexander (Don) Court was born on 28 January 1920 at Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the son of Accountant, George Alexander Court and Teca May Court, née McLachlan. He had two siblings: P/O. George Lachlan Court, RCAF, born 1914 and Teca Patricia Court (1917-2008). The family lived at 8 Humberview Boulevard, Weston, Toronto, Ontario.
Don was educated at Humber Heights Consolidated School, Weston from 1926 to 1932 and Weston Collegiate from 1932 to 1937. He then studied Arts at the Univerity of Toronto until joining the RCAF.
On enlisting at Toronto Ontario on 9 October 1940 he was described as being was 5'9¼" tall, weighing 163 lbs with a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. His sporting interests were tennis, baseball, skiing, skating, hockey and swimming.
OTHER BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
Sgt. Edwin George Enright, AUS/402960, RAAF. Spitfire AA864 - Missing believed killed
Age 29 he was the son of Edwin Patrick and Eileen Mary Enright, of Bruthen, Victoria, Australia.
Panel 62, Runnymede Memorial, Surrey UK.
Panel 121, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT.
Delegate War Memorial, Delegate, NSW.
Sgt. Charles Leonard Alex Thompson 777899 RAFVR (of Southern Rhodesia) Missing believed killed Age 21 - no further details
Panel 53, Runnymede Memorial, Surrey UK.
P/O. Thomas Kenneth Robinson, AUS/404769, RAAF. Spitfire AB805
Age 24 the son of Robert James Robinson and Mary Robinson, of Albion Heights, Queensland, Australia.
Buried: Plot 10. Row A. Grave 20. Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, France.
His epitaph reads
Beloved son of M. and R. Robinson
"Greater love hath no man"
Roll of Honour: Brisbane, Queensland.
Panel 129, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Kapitan Bernard Groszewski, P/0544, PAF. Spitfire BL323
Buried: Plot 12. Row D. Grave 12. Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, France.
F/O. Stephen Guye Hawksworth Fawkes, 86366, RAFVR. - Missing believed killed
Age 23. Born 1918 in South Africa, the son of Stephen Hawksworth Fawkes and Pauline Louise Fawkes née Radloff, of Ladybrand, Orange Free State, South Africa.
Panel 30, Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, UK.
PRISONERS OF WAR
Fl/Lt. James Alexander Reid Falconer, 61218, RAFVR. PoW No. 1419. Camp: Stalag Luft 3
Born 14 Nov 1919. Edinburgh Address: Abingdon Lodge, Barnton. On 26 June 1939 a Student. Source: Flying Certificate, Cambridge Aero Club.
Sgt. Harold Bennett 1181163, RAFVR. PoW No. 90091. Camp: Stalag 383, Hohenfels, Bavaria
Born on July 26 1921 in Bermondsey, died 9 January 2015 aged 92
This was the story of Low Ramrod 15 and the loss of Canadian pilots Jack Coleman and Don Court whose careers were so closely mirrored, as well as the 5 other pilots, equally worthy of remembrance. It is doubly tragic in that the operation was aborted due to the accidental release of his bombs by the bomber force leader, Sqn/Ldr. Mowat. Thus the alcohol distillery went unscathed, at least on this occasion, later attacks were more successful.
The location and other details of the factory/saw mill destroyed in the attack remain, as yet, unanswered. Requests for information to the Mayor of Aubin-Saint-Vaast and the Fauconnier Company have, so far, elicited no response.
However, examination of satellite views of the area would seem to show a possible site in an area that fits the following description in the 607 Squadron ORB:
'Mowat machine gunned a small factory alongside the railway opposite the South west end of the forest of Hesdin near Aubin St-Vaast'
The images below show the area in question which includes numerous felled trees.
If you have any further information relating to the site of the bombed factory/saw mill, please contact our helpdesk.
CIRCUS OPERATIONS TERMINOLOGY
Operational instructions were ready by December 1940 and included the following details regarding positional flying.
The bomber force is required to cross the French coast at not less than 17000ft. This height is not to be reduced during the actual bombing attack and withdrawal until the English coast has been regained.
An ESCORT WING will usually consist of three squadrons and is to fly in the following manner
The CLOSE ESCORT Squadron is to fly at 1000 ft above, and slightly behind, the higher or highest box of Bombers throughout the attack and subsequent withdrawal to safety behind the English coastline. They are not to leave the bombers except to repel attacks actually made on the Bombers until approaching their respective Home bases.
The remaining two Squadrons of the ESCORT WING, are to fly one on each flank, behind and not more than 3000ft and 5000ft respectively, above the highest box of Bombers and are to engage enemy aircraft which menace the formation of Bombers.
After the attack has taken place they are to continue to escort the Bombers on their homeward journey until the French Coastline has been re-crossed, and the Bombers are well set on their course for home. They are then free, together with the HIGH COVER WING to take advantage of the situation, and seek out and destroy enemy aircraft
HIGH COVER WING
In certain circumstances a Wing of two or three Squadrons may be detailed HIGH COVER to the Bombers in addition to the Escort Wing . The HIGH COVER WING is to fly behind the ESCORT WING and with their Squadrons stepped downwards at intervals of 2000 to 3000 ft from not less than 30000 feet and to the flanks of the Escort Wing as indicated hereunder
Close Escort 18000
Lower Escort 20000
Higher Escort 22000
Lowest High Cover 25000
Middle High Cover 27000
Top High Cover 30000 or higher but in visual contact with Squadrons below
High Cover Squadrons, other than the Top Squadron, are permitted to reduce height to attack enemy aircraft in the air. The Squadron flying at the top and acting as Above Guard to the other Squadron or Squadrons is to maintain a protective position above the other Squadrons, and only fight if forced to do so for the protection of the remainder.
After the bombing attack has taken place the HIGH COVER WING is to continue to give cover to the Bombers and the Escort Wing during the withdrawal until the former with their Close Escort have re-crossed the French Coastline and are well set on their course for home. They are then to provide High Cover to the two Escort Squadrons of the Escort wing, who also become free from their escort duties to seek out and destroy aircraft.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the pilots who took part in Low Ramrod 15 - 5 February 2023
With thanks to the sources quoted below.