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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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214 Squadron Crest
20/21.09.1941 214 Squadron Wellington II W5452 BU:U Plt Off. Cyril W. Abrey

Operation: Berlin

Date: 20th/21st September 1941 (Saturday/Sunday)

Unit No: 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron

Type: Wellington B.II

Serial: W5452

Code: BU:U

Base: RAF Stradishall, Suffolk

Location: RAF Manston

Pilot: Plt Off. Cyrill William Abrey 69490 RAFVR Age 26. KiA

2nd Pilot: Sgt. Laurence Douglas Kissack 1169259 RAFVR Age 26. KiA

Obs: Plt Off. John Benjamin Ruston J15002 RCAF Age 26. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. John Aitken 953705 RAFVR Age 21. KiA

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Ivan John Green 1154443 RAFVR Age? KiA

Air Gnr: Plt Off. L.W. White Survived - injured.


Take off was at 19:24hrs from RAF Stradishall.

Wellington W5452, with six air crew members from 214 Squadron on board, took off from RAF Stradishall, in Suffolk, on an operation over Berlin. The mission successful, the aircraft was on its return flight when, low on fuel, it was diverted to RAF Manston, in Kent, due to heavy fog in Stradishill.

Attempting an emergency landing, the Wellington crashed into some trees, five of the airmen perished, one was badly injured in the accident. (With thanks to S.J. Hearn for additional information - June 2016)

Above: crew of W5432 (courtesy David Loaring - in addition to a copy sent in by Michel Beckers) (Note: The aircraft depicted in this photograph if not W5432. This Serial number was assigned to a Wellington B.II which was powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin X and not the Bristol Pegasus or Bristol Hercules Radial engines)

References record that 20 heavy bombers lost during this operation, some 17 were lost just as a result of accidents!

214 Squadron Wellington undergoing routine repairs at RAF Stradishall (courtesy IWM)

Above left and centre Plt Off. John Benjamin Ruston. Right: Sgt. Ivan John Green (courtesy Michel Beckers and Mike Tallis)

Burial details:

Plt Off. Cyrill William Abrey. East Finchley Cemetery and St. Marylebone Crematorium. Sec. T5. Joint grave 97. Inscription: "BECAUSE OF YOU WE WILL BE GLAD AND GAY". Son of William John and Flora Abrey, of Muswell Hill, England.

His brother 21 year old Sgt. Gerald John Abrey 1385479 was also killed (They share the same grave)

Earlier on the 20th January 1943 whilst serving as a pilot with 487 (RNZAF) Squadron. Flying on a Ventura II AJ171 EG-D on a low level dummy attack on Corby Steel Works when the aircraft collided with a 65 ft high tree and crashed at 11:45 hrs near Kings Forest Lodge, some 5 miles north west of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England. One other crew member was also killed, 25 year old Fg Offf. Frederick Douglas Drake J12307 RCAF from London, Ontario, Canada. Another crew member, Sgt. Aldridge RCAF was injured but survived.

Above: Sgt. Kissack from the local Isle of Man newspaper (Courtesy of Ivor Ramsden)

Sgt. Laurence Douglas Kissack. Kirk Braddan New Churchyard (St. Brendan) Grave 4008. Son of Percy Douglas and Vera Helen Kissack, of Derby Haven, Isle of Man.

Plt Off. John Benjamin Ruston. Rowley Regis Churchyard (St. Giles) Plot D.12. Grave 391. Further information: Son of Rev. and Mrs George Ruston of Dutton Baptist Church, Dutton, Canada. Born in the Bronx, New York City on 14th July 1914 - left for Dutton Ontario, Canada in the mid 1920’s with his English parents and family. Survived by his two sisters Mrs. Johnny Loaring, Mrs. Claude Smith, two brothers - Dr. Frank Ruston of Hamilton and Henry Ruston. Enlisted in RCAF in June 1940 - won the James A. Richardson Trophy as the most proficient Aitr Observer at No. 2. Air Observers School, Edmonton, Canada.

Ruston Lake, Thunder Bay, Ontario was named after P/O John Ruston in 1960

Above: HMS Fiji 1941

His brother in law, Lt. Johnny Loaring was rescued whilst serving in the Royal Navy on the cruiser ‘HMS Fiji’ in the Mediterranean on the 22nd May 1941. 241 crew were lost, but a further 23 survived and were picked up.

David Loaring sent additional information regarding Plt Off. Ruston:

My Mom was Ellen (Ruston) Loaring, Dad was Johnnie Loaring (called Johnnie to avoid confusion with my Mom's brother John) The airman concerned is my Mom's brother, John Benjamin Ruston. Soon after the war broke out, they rushed my Dad's graduation from UWO in London, Ontario (Maths/Physics), he joined the Royal Canadian Navy, he married my Mom, and somehow got her to England where he could keep an eye on her (she was quite pretty). My Dad served on loan to the Royal Navy. My Mom's parents were from England, her Dad's family from west of Birmingham.

Although they were now living in Canada, there were a lot of relatives still living in England, so except for the war, my Mom enjoyed seeing all the relatives. I think the crash site may have been not too far from Birmingham -- I don't know.

My Mom's Dad's Father became a Baptist preacher in his old age, and the family built their own Church with it's own cemetery, including the Ruston family plot where Plt Off John Ruston was buried (since relocated, I think, to St. Giles Anglican Church cemetery, as the old family Baptist Church is no longer there).

My Mom's Dad also became a Baptist preacher, and they held a service for John Ruston back home at Dunwich Church, in Dutton, Ontario, not far from London. My Mom sent one letter home to Canada a few days after the crash, and then a more complete letter a few days later:

Written Sept. 29, 1941 My dearest ones;

Now I feel as if I must start a long letter to you trying to tell you as much as I can about everything.

First of all I have been so relieved to hear a little bit more of the circumstances governing the accident. It has rid my heart of any feeling of hate to learn that it was not the direct result of Germany's action. Johnnie said his fists clenched when he first saw my face and realised what must have happened, but now I feel it has been proved to us that it was an occurrence of nature and that God had simply chosen that time to put an end to those boy's lives here on earth.

First of all your dear John's navigation was perfect. In spite of the weather he brought the crew back to his aerodrome – and there, close to the ground was dirty, thick, soupy fog. Five times they attempted to land without success. They were unable to see the flare path. They were in touch with the ground crew by wireless so were sent to another aerodrome. There their first attempt was unsuccessful as fog still enveloped them. Then as they rose to land again, their petrol finally gave out and they crashed. The tail of the plane broke away, saving the life of the tail gunner. He is in hospital but they think he will recover. John never regained consciousness and died on the way to the hospital, so he could not have suffered. His body was not knocked about as the others were.

The pilot was the nice Isle of Man boy with whom John spent his leave – the darling of the Island. I shall sent a note to his parents when I get their address. They must be very sick, – and he was engaged.

John's body was sent to Dudley and Will Parkes (Daddy's cousin) who is funeral director met it at the station and took it to Cawney Bank House. We felt sick to think of John going that way to that beautiful old place where he had had happy visits previously. The whole family loved him dearly and sorrow as we do –especially dear Mary with whom John had had many talks. John's pine box was put on a table in the lovely old hall and Mary ironed a very large flag which completely covered it. On this sat a bowl of red, white, and blue flowers and nothing more.

On Thursday Walter Davy, a Toronto boy, who was commissioned the same time as John was, was sent out from (censored) bringing with him the sincerely meant sympathy of every man at the RAF Station. He came a most indirect tiresome route as he thought the funeral might be that day and he feared he would be too late. He arrived very tired and worried on the stroke of three. Aunt Tillie said it did them a lot of good to have him there. He stayed on until Saturday. He was with John at school but they did not become friendly until they were together over here. He is a navigator too, and seemed to have had great respect for John and to have been upset by his death. I wanted to put my arms around him. His hair was red though not as pretty auburn as John's and it is getting very thin on top. He has promised to come down here to see us.

He finished his twenty-nine trips safely. That was all they had him do. Then he has just completed an instructional course and returned to (censored) to await Orders.

Johnnie couldn't get off till Friday about three in the afternoon so we got the train then and reached Dudley shortly after nine. Cawney Bank House and garden were so very beautiful – lovely flowers everywhere. It seems somehow right for John to have come back there, but not that way.

About noon Aunt Mary, Uncle Fred, Auntie Fan and Uncle Ben arrived and we all had dinner. At two-thirty the relatives had gathered and they started the service at the house. Uncle Alfred started the tunes. We sang "Prepare me, Gracious God", and Mr. Banks spoke in prayer. Then Mr. Parkes lined up the chief mourners and the bearers, – all cousins, – Maurice Jones, Reg and Leslie Ruston, Ralph Ruston, Polly Harold's son and Frank Jeavons picked up the box with the flag still on it and carried it shoulder high down the lovely winding walk. Johnnie was with me a few yards from John in the box, and it seemed as if I felt worst then to think I would never see my dear straight smiling brother again.

You were constantly in my mind all day. I felt glad to be so near to the last of John, but how I would have liked to have been with you, too. We drove slowly along to the chapel, – Aunt Tillie and Uncle Harry, Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Jim, in the big black funeral car with Johnnie and me. The blue sky and autumn sunshine made beautiful weather and I thought of how much John loved fair weather and happy faces. Service men saluted as we passed through the streets, – saluted the flag that covered John's body, I guess. The home guard in uniform were in front of the chapel and lined the walk to the door. John was carried into the chapel and placed on a bench in the aisle. We sang "Oh God our help in ages past", to the usual tune. Mr. Banks read different pieces of scripture. He had intended to give an address but did not have time because of a funeral at four. We sang "Sovereign Ruler of the Skies" and then another prayer.

Then we went back to the cars and up the top of the hill to Rowley Church yard. Away across in the fresh air, with a little hill close by, John was placed over his grave, right beside Granny and Grandfather. He couldn't have been closer to them. Then we sang a hymn from Grandfather's collection, for the death of a young person, "When blooming youth is snatched away", – to the tune of "Revelation" in the Union Tune book.

Then the flag was removed, showing large brass hinges on the light wood box and a wooden plaque on which was nicely printed in Old English lettering,


As we had approached the grave planes above formed the observers wing or wreath, I am not sure which. I did not see it but others mentioned it. Anyway it was a kind thought. The relatives and bearers went back to Cawney Bank House for tea. The feeding business at funerals seems so awful to me but I guess it is a necessity. Uncle Alfred took Uncles Fred and Ben off with him to see Aunt Alice. I went down with Uncle Harry to bring them back and to say hello to Auntie. She minds her lameness at times like that when she would like to be with everyone else.

All the uncles were very dear. I think Uncle Alfred felt the loss of John very greatly, as having no children he seemed to take his nephews to his heart. But sincere sorrow was felt by everyone who had ever met John because he left such an impression on everyone. Even A.R.P. wardens whom he met at Letchworth and Dudley, who remembered the gentlemanly way he said "sir" to older men, no matter what their rank, – sent notes of sympathy. Walter Davy said John always seemed so happy to all of them. I guess it was his pleasant smile, because I know that he was not always really happy.

Mary Price was very very upset inside, though others might not have noticed. John had many talks with her, I think, and in many ways she was like a sister to him, and would wait on him hand and foot when he was there. She is a dear girl – true blue – and you don't find it out at first.

Johnnie had to go after the funeral on Saturday so Mary slept with me Saturday night. She had felt so dreadfully upset, but had thought of "Give me a calm and thankful heart" and she wanted to be thankful that they had known John for even a little while. It seemed to me that whenever I went to Cawney Bank House I saw John – leaning with his back to the fireplace or sitting on the garden seat. It still seemed as if he must be sleeping in late and would arrive eventually feeling lazy.

They are moving from Cawney Bank House in the next three months to a house which they have bought in Dudley. Their house will be taken over by the hospital for now, as it is, and used for convalescent patients. I think they will feel sad to leave the beautiful old place. I thought it never looked more beautiful than on Saturday with the rustle of Autumn breezes, leaves starting to fall on the lawn, and the vivid warm colors of the late flowers.

We brought a kitten back with us from Cawney Bank House – black with white paws, bib, and tummy. It is cute and active and well behaved. Johnnie and Walter, the airman, kept it in a hotel room in London, Saturday night at the Regent Palace. Johnnie asked at the desk if they had room for all three of them. The girl brought some milk for the kitten too.

Betty Tibbetts and her father were at the funeral. I spoke to them. Betty looked very well and somehow prettier than when she was in Canada.

We sat around a nice fire in the drawing room Sat. night and Aunt Mary, Uncle Fred, Aunt Fan and Uncle Ben seemed to enjoy it. Aunt Tillie passed some nice compliments to Uncle Ben about how young he looked. Aunt Tillie read a letter which Dad had written to Aunt Eliza when her boys joined up, but it was too much for me. I had to go up to my bedroom to have a fresh cry and it wasn't long before Mary joined me at it, and we got it out of our systems again.

In the morning I went up to John's grave with some of the relatives but I didn't have much feeling because I didn't think of John's straight body lying there. He seemed most alive in my memory of all he had been to us.

Mr. Banks spoke very nicely. We sang "God's ways are just", and I can't remember what else. Mr. Banks spoke a lot about the cause for which people were fighting not just being a battle between nations but a religious conflict.

After dinner I returned with mother's relatives to London and went on to Letchworth for the night with Uncle Fred and Aunt Mary as Johnnie was on night duty in Portsmouth. I saw Uncle George and Aunt Florence, Honor and Alf and all the children. Auntie Florence gave me nine fresh eggs from their hens – was I pleased!

I got back to our little home the next afternoon and it is good to have a job to do. We are happy here.

A letter arrived from Jeanne Oldershaw mentioning my two Johns so much that I could not read it at first, but I can now, – and I read one from you to brother John, mother, which reached Letchworth on Monday too late for him to see.

Flowers were sent by many of the neighbors around Uncle Harry's street and from the Commanding Officer and Officers of (censored) Squadron, – from the airmen of (censored) Squadron, – from the Warrant Officers flight serg'ts and serg'ts. Dr Crossky sent a wreath and Betty Price's family some flowers.

It was nice of Anna Thompson and Winnipeg Mccolls to send cables to us. Thank you for letting us know about the service at Dunwich. Loarings just cabled how nice it was.

I haven't given up hope of coming back to you some day. I hope you won't grieve too much about John. We will miss him so much at times, but he did the job he felt he must do and that was the way his life here was brought to an end.

It leaves a blank when letters from him arrive no more. He seemed like my family here so I am lonely without him, but I am thankful that I have Johnnie. I shall try to send you some snaps and photographs soon. Until then, I hope you will all be kept well and do not get too low-spirited.

Remember "He never takes away your all." With much love always,

Your Ellen.

Sgt. John Aitken. Carlisle Cemetery (Dalston Road) Ward 16. Sec. D. Grave 37. Inscription: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS". Son of Thomas and Elizabeth Aitken, of Carlisle, Cumbria, England.

Above: grave of Sgt. Ivan John Green (courtesy Mike Tallis)

Sgt. Ivan John Green. Rowley Regis Churchyard (St. Giles) Plot M.28. Grave 1554. No further details, are you able to assist?

Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered April 2015. We were contacted in January 2016 by David Loaring - his mother was the sister of Plt Off. Ruston and provided additional information. With thanks to S.J. Hearn for additional information - June 2016. Grave photo courtesy Peter from the genealogy forums. To Mynwent on FindAGrave for grave photo of pilot. Thanks to Thanks Ivor Ramsden MBE, Director of the Manx Aviation and Military Museum, for clarification of aircraft version in the crew photograph and the image of Sgt. Kissack (Oct 2022).

Other sources as listed below.

RS 15.10.2022 - Clarification of aircraft version in crew photograph and Sgt. Kissack image
CHB 05.01.2023 Canadian geographical feature Ruston Lake added

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