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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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Bomber Command Crest
14.01.1945 No. 1654 HCU Sterling III EF204 P/O. Holditch

Operation: Training

Date: 14th January 1945 (Sunday)

Unit: No. 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit

Type: Sterling III

Serial: EF204

Code: -

Base: RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire

Location: Barnby In The Willows

Pilot: P/O. Robert William Holditch 189857 RAFVR Age 22. Survived - badly injured

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Norman Thompson 2210578 RAFVR Age 30. Killed

Nav: Sgt. Charles Henry Gilbert 1804542 RAFVR Age 34. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. Graham Douglas Wright 178378 RAFVR Age 19. Killed

Air/Bmr: Sgt. James William Humphrey 1586576 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Gerald Richard Best 1608602 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. O.M. Aldrich RAFVR Age ? Survived - injured


Taking off from RAF Wigsley in Nottinghamshire on a 'Bullseye' exercise. The exercise consisted of navigating to a target gaining experience on evading searchlights. Then to simulate bombing, often undertaken with fighter aircraft.

During the final stages of the operation, the crew encountered severe weather with thick banks of cloud covering the ground. During the descent through the cloud the aircraft hit the ground near Barnby In The Willows at 23:35 hrs.

The rear gunner escaped with slight injuries but the pilot succumbed to his at the hospital at RAF Rauceby on the 17th January. The bodies of the crew were claimed by the families and buried at various locations as described below.

Aircraft previously used by 623 Squadron and then transferred to 1654 HCU on the 29th November 1944. Manufactured by Short and Harland - fitted with the Hercules VI engines.

L-R: P/O. Holditch, Sgt. Gilbert, Sgt Best, Sgt. Thompson and F/O. Wright.

Burial details:

P/O. Robert William Holditch. Thorney Churchyard (St. Helen). Grave 552. Son of Robert Reginald Holditch and of Hilda Edith Holditch (née Holmes), of Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, England. Of New Zealand. Grave inscription reads: "Glory And Beauty Have Passed Away".

Sgt. Norman Thompson. Peel Green Cemetery. Sec. F. Grave 16833. Husband of Florrie Thompson of Salford, Greater Manchester, England.

Sgt. Charles Henry Gilbert. Southgate Cemetery. Sec. HD. Grave 1182. Son of Charles Arthur William and Maud Elizabeth Gilbert and husband of Freda Gilbert. of North Wembley, England. Grave inscription reads: "In Loving Memory Of My Dear Husband Charles Henry Gilbert Who Died On Active Service. Remembered With Deep Affection By All The Family".

F/O. Graham Douglas Wright. Carshalton Churchyard (All Saints). Sec. V. Grave 8. Son of Albert Nelson Wright and Olga Isabel Wright, of Carshalton, Surrey, England. Grave inscription reads: "In Proud And Loving Memory Of Our Dear Son".

Sgt. James William Humphrey. Thorney Churchyard (St. Helen). Grave 553. Son of Mr. and Mrs. James Henry Humphrey, of Penge, Kent, England. Grave inscription reads: "He Bade No Last Farewell He Waved His Hand To None Took His Flight Ere We Knew That He Had From Us Gone".

Sgt. Gerald Richard Best. Peterchurch Churchyard (St. Peter). S.W. of church. Son of James Raymond and Evelyn Sybil Best, of Peterchurch, Herefordshire, England.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Steve Hunnisett and for the photographs of some of the graves of the crew our thanks to NZ War Graves, Bob, Iain MacFarlaine.

SM/KTY 10.02.2019

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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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