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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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149 Squadron Crest
17/18.05.1943 No. 149 Squadron Stirling III BK701 OJ-G P/O. John Edward Hill

Operation: Gardening

Date: 17/18 May 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit: No. 149 Squadron

Type: Stirling III

Serial: BK701

Code: OJ-G

Base: RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk

Location: Loire Estuary, France

Pilot: P/O. John Edward Hill 144186 - PoW No. 1345 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria L3 (1)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Thomas Smith 1021395 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (2)

Nav: Sgt. Sidney Biddulph 1482431 RAFVR Age 28 - Killed (3)

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Joseph Edward Boyes RAFVR 1482187 Age 21 - Killed (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. J. A. Boland 1330592 - PoW No. 1233 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus 357 (5)

Air/Gnr (MU): Fl/Sgt. Sidney Robert Shankster 1430291 Age 20 - PoW No. 1270 Camp: Stalag Luft Heydekrug L6 (6)

Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. Cecil Claude Daniels Scotney 531018 Age 25 - Killed (7)

We would like to appeal to relatives of the crew for further details and/or photographs.


The 17th of May 1943 was alive with news of the previous night's bombing of the Ruhr Valley dams by 617 Squadron: but as exciting as the news might have been, the crew of Stirling BK701 was rather more pre-occupied with thoughts of its own impending contribution to the RAF offensive. That night No 3 Group Bomber Command, was to dispatch 5 Stirlings, including BK701, and a Lancaster to lay mines in French waters off La Pallice. Code named Cinnamon by Bomber Command the area was the location of the Kriegsmarine U-Boat Base. Each of the Stirlings was to lay four 1500lb sea mines whilst the Lancaster was to lay six.

A Stirling of 149 Squadron being loaded with 1500lb sea mines at RAF Lakenheath in March 1944

Courtesy IWM

Taking off at 22.51 in fine weather conditions Stirling BK701 G-George later crossed the French coast where returning crews reported seeing light tracer North of Bayeux and that controlled fighter patrols over the Brest Peninsular were in evidenced from enemy wireless traffic. Just north of the target area there was a solitary searchlight situated on Île de Ré. Visibility over La Pallice was excellent with no cloud with the moon above the horizon being 85% of full.

P/O. Hill in his report recalled what happened next.

'Hit by AA fire when flying low over Loire Estuary. Went out of control and dived into sea. Biddulph (was) heard shouting and we tried to find him in the dark but failed......Boyes, Smith and Scotney presumably drowned, remainder in dinghy. Did not see Biddulph after we hit the sea and fear he must have been trapped in the aircraft which sank rapidly by the head.'

P/O. Hill later added:

'Previously stated Biddulph was heard shouting but now believe it was Boyes (shout?) we heard and I understand French Red Cross confirmed (he was?) dead.'

Fl/Sgt. Shankster in a statement to Mr Thomas Smith said:

'Your son, Biddulph, Boyes and Scotney unable to escape from aircraft which sank immediately making it impossible for us to have helped them in any way.'

Notes on the front of the RAF Loss Card say that

1. Boyes and Smith were both buried at St. Hilaire de Riez.

2. Biddulph and Scotney were believed to have been 'trapped in aircraft'.

3. Smith 'Drowned, hatch failed to open'.

Scale 1" = 25 Miles

The three surviving members of the crew were captured and spent the rest of the war in various prison camps as detailed in their biographical details below.


1. Fl/Lt. John Edward Hill - After being taken prisoner he was sent to Stalag Luft 3 Sagan and Belaria in Lower Silesia, Germany (now Poland).

Sgt. 1318242 John Edward Hill was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 6 April 1943 (London Gazette 1 June 1943), confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 6 October 1943 (London Gazette 8 October 1943). He was further promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) on 6 April 1945 ) London Gazette 27 April 1945)

2. Sgt. Thomas Smith - Born c1921 the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Smith of Glasgow, Scotland.

3. Sgt. Sidney Biddulph - Born 1914 in Prestwich, Lancashire, the son of David Platt Biddulph and Gertrude Biddulph nee Nicholls of Manchester and husband of Elsie Biddulph nee Sharp and father of Graham L. Biddulph of Moston Manchester.

4. Sgt. Joseph Edward Boyes - Born 1921 in Holbeck, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Samuel Boyes and Amelia Boyes nee Hanby of Beeston, Leeds.

5. Sgt. J.A. Boland - After being taken prisoner he was sent to Stalag Luft 1 at Barth Vogelsang in Prussia, then to Stalag Luft 6 at Heydekrug, East Prussia , now Lithuania and finally to Stalag 357 Kopernikus at Thorn in Poland - nothing further known, can you help

6. Fl/Sgt. Sidney Robert Shankster - After being captured he was sent first to Stalag Luft 1 at Barth Vogelsang in Prussia and later to Stalag Luft 6 at Heydekrug, East Prussia. Stalag Luft 4 at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland) was opened in May 1944 and in July 1944 3200, mainly American prisoners were transferred there from Stalag Luft 1: Fl/Sgt. Shankster was one of the 800 RAF NCOs included with the Americans. Stalag Luft 6 was located in a clearing in the middle of a dense a pine forest and the prisoners were taken by train to Kiefheide and from there marched the last 2.5 km to the camp itself.

Sidney Robert Shankster was born 8 February 1923 at Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, the son of Robert Sidney Shankster and Freda Irene Shankster nee Barnes. His father was a jockey for Lord Derby hence the family were at the time living in Newmarket. His childhood was spent partly in Newmarket and partly in Twickenham where his father had been born in 1903. The Shankster family were in the building trade and it is thought that he was working in that industry prior to enlisting in the RAF c1940. Whilst serving in the RAF Sidney met Irene Beatrice Sabin who was also in the air force. After the war they were married on 22 September 1945 in Irene's home city of Leicester where they then settled and had two children, Pauline and Robert Walter. It seems that the couple separated in the 1950s and he died in Coventry in 1970 aged 47.

Fl/Sgt. Sidney Robert Shankster and Irene Beatrice Sabin on the occasion of their marriage 22 September 1945

Courtesy Yvette Shankster and Robert Walter Shankster

We would like to thank Yvette Shankster and Robert Walter Shankster for providing additional personal details of Fl/Sgt Sidney Robert Shankster and for granting permission to use the photograph of him with his wife, Irene Beatrice Sabin. Our thanks also to Richard Cripps for kindly providing the photograph of his grandfather John Edward Hill and Alison Hurlock for the photograph of Cecil Claude Scotney.

7. Sgt. Cecil Claude Daniels Scotney - Born 1918 at Elford, Staffordshire, the son of Percy Thomas Scotney and Mary Louise Scotney nee Palmer, husband of Sarah Jane Scotney nee Inskip and father of Harold Percy Scotney of Kempston, Bedfordshire.

Sgt. Cecil Claude Daniels Scotney

Courtesy Alison Hurlock


Sgt. Thomas Smith - Buried at St. Gilles-Sur-Vie Communal Cemetery, Vendée, France - Joint grave. (2)

Sgt. Sidney Biddulph - No known grave - Commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial Panel No. 142 (3)

Sgt. Joseph Edward Boyes - Buried at Saint Hilaire-de-Riez Communal Cemetery, Vendée, France - Grave No. 1 (4)

Sgt. Cecil Claude Daniels Scotney - No known grave - Commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial Panel no. 164 (7)

The six Commonwealth Graves at St. Gilles-Sur-Vie Communal Cemetery. Sgt. Thomas Smith is buried in the joint grave furthest from the camera with an unidentified casualty.

Researched by Roy Wilcock for Aircrew Remembered - July 2015. Sources: RAF Loss Card, Bomber Command Report on Night Operations, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Bomber Command Database.

RW 13.08.2015 Photograph of Sgt. Scotney added

RW 16.12.2015 Additional information re F/O. Hill added

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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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