Operation: St-Leu, France.
Date: 07/08th July 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 44 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire.
Location: Equennes - Eramecourt (Somme)
Pilot: P/O. Dewhurst Graaff 160154 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Lawrence Archibald Critchley 1822207 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Nav: F/O. Victor Davenant Purvis DFC. 158090 RAFVR Age 22. Killed (2)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Frank Gibberson 851417 RAFVR Age 33. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. John Sydney Hodge157045 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air/Gnr: W/O. Robert Bruce Groves AUS/409992 RAAF Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: W/O. Arthur Holland 1028124 RAFVR Age 29. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Lancaster I ME859 KM-S left Dunholme Lodge at 22:33 hrs. to bomb the flying bomb storage site at St-Leu. Bombing was reported as accurate resulting in the blocking of the entrance tunnels and the approach roads.
Huge losses inflicted by the night fighters with some 32 Lancasters lost. 74 aircrew being killed, 21 made PoW and a further 24 aircrew evading capture.
Above left to right: Edward, Victor, with their mother Ellen and father Joseph Purvis (courtesy Susan Uren and family, Ian Hamilton)
Above: F/O. Victor Davenant Purvis DFC. (courtesy Susan Uren and family, Ian Hamilton)
Came down at Equennes-Eramecourt (Somme). All were laid to rest in the local churchyard of this small village.
Although the crew were reported as "missing" in July 1944, Flying Officer Purvis’s family did not discover that he had lost his life till March 8th 1945!
44 Squadron lost three aircraft on this operation:
ME634 KM-P flown by Fl/Lt. Ronald F. Carnegie killed, with 3 crew evading capture, 2 made PoW and another dying of his injuries later.
LM631 KM-W flown by P/O. Kenneth J. Gowing, killed with his Fl/Eng, the other 5 evading capture.
(1) P/O. Dewhurst Graaff lost his brother, Sgt. Dewhurst Graaf, earlier in the war. On the 12th September 1941, flying with 16 OTU. Took off from Upper Heyford in Hampden I P1323 on his first night solo flight. At 21:15 hrs the aircraft dived into a field at Slade Farm near Northbrook. Also killed was his wireless operator Sgt. John H. Bendon from Penarth, Wales.
(2) Awarded the DFC on 23rd January 1944, the citation appearing in the London Gazette on 4th Febraury 1944.
“This officer has completed many sorties, including attacks on such targets as Berlin, Munich, Milan and Turin. He has displayed a high standard of navigational ability and his efforts have contributed materially to the successes obtained. In addition P/O. Purvis has devoted much energy towards the training of other members of the squadron. His example of keenness and devotion to duty has been most commendable”.
Equennes Churchyard (courtesy Pierre Vandervelden)
Left: The headstone for the grave - the individual names were inscribed on top of the grave as can perhaps be seen in the upper photograph.Burial details:
P/O. Dewhurst Graaff. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Further information: Son of Hendrik Christian and Lucy Jane Graaff of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. His brother, Sgt. Stafford Graaff RAFVR lost his life on the 12th September 1941
Sgt. Lawrence Archibald Critchley. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Son of Lawrence and Helen Critchley of Glasgow, Sotland.
F/O. Victor Davenant Purvis DFC. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Further information: Son of Joseph Cecil and Ellen Louise Purvis, brother of Annie, Joseph, Rose and Edward Purvis. Born in Gateshead, Co.Durham, England later moving to Darlington where his father was employed by the Greenfield Locomotive Workshops. His mother Ellen and daughter Annie were active members of the British Legion and supplied a Union Jack to be placed at Victor’s graveside after his death. His brother Edward (Ted) followed Victor into the Air Force but was told they would be unable to serve in the same squadron and transferred to the Royal Navy serving in the Pacific Fleet. Victor enlisted in March 1942, passing as Sergeant/Observer in March 1943 before being commissioned as Pilot Officer in July 1943. Promoted to Flying Officer in early 1944.
Fl/Sgt. Frank Gibberson. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Son of Frank and Kathleen Gibberson of Birmingham and husband of Vera Olive Gibberson of Edgbaston, Birmingham, England.
F/O. John Sydney Hodge. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Son of Hermon and Ellen Hodge of Urmston, Lancashire, England.
W/O. Robert Bruce Groves. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Son of David Govan and Elsie Isabell Groves of Seymour, Victoria, Australia.
W/O. Arthur Holland. Equennes Churchyard. Collective grave. Husband of Joan Holland of Werneth, Oldham, Lancs, England.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. Photo credits and information relating to Flying Officer Purvis to Susan Uren (nee Purvis) - niece, Ian Hamilton and the Uren family. Special thanks to Pierre Vandervelden for his beautiful memorial at Equennes Churchyard to this crew.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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