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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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158 Squadron Crest
07/08.06.1944 No. 158 Squadron Halifax III LW719 F/O. R.E. Johnson DFC

Operation: Versailles

Date: 07/08th June 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)

Unit: No. 158 Squadron

Type: Halifax III

Serial: LW719

Code: NP-K

Base: RAF Lissett, Yorkshire

Location: Over target area - returned RAF Hunsden, Hertfordshire

Pilot: F/O. Russell Edward Johnson DFC J/87545 RCAF - Safe

Fl/Eng: F/O. Norman Alfred Moyse 185031 RAFVR - Safe

Nav: Fl/Sgt. Albert Douglas Hitchcox R/179631 RCAF - Safe

Air/Bmr: F/O. Lloyd Cuthbert J/89780 RCAF - Safe

W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. Walter N. Wright R/110960 RCAF - Safe

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. William Edward Walker R/208164 RCAF - Safe

Air/Gnr: P/O. William Gowans J/89889 RCAF Age 19. Killed


Taking off just after midnight at 00:17 hrs on an operation to bomb the railyards and facilities to prevent German reinforcements from reaching Normandy, reports set that the bombing was very accurate from the 337 aircraft force (195 Halifaxes, 122 Lancasters and 20 Mosquitoes) The bomb load consisted of 2 x 500 lbs. GP, 11 X 500 lbs. ANM bombs and carried a fuel load of 1562 gallons - enough for a 6.5 hours flying.

Not without a huge cost to the allies with 17 Lancasters lost and 11 Halifaxes over the different targets. On the Versailles part of the nights operation 3 Halifaxes and 3 Lancasters were lost with one other crashing during take off.

158 Squadron lost LK863 NP-C Through enemy anti-aircraft fire. The pilot, P/O. Ivan Victor Seddon AUS/426394 RAAF from Brisbane, Australia evaded capture (along with all 6 other crew members) and rejoined allied forces when they liberated Paris.

The other aircraft, which happened to be the aircraft that crashed on take off, LK760 NP-E flown by Fl/Sgt. Thomas Harold Sinclair 391424 RAF, a New Zealander attached to the RAF escaped injury with all his 6 other crew members. The Halifax was written off. (The pilot was later awarded the DFC and AFM for his actions during and after the war).

It seems that P/O. Gowans was hit by anti aircraft fire and killed. The pilot managed to nurse the damaged Halifax back to England and made an emergency landing at RAF Hunsden in Hertfordshire. On examination he was found to have multiple bullet wounds to his left chest and head. The Station Sick Quarters presumed that the death must have been instantaneous. Aircraft damage was described as rear turret damaged by flak, bulkhead at entrance shot away, fuselage holed on port side of leading edge of main plane and bomb doors jammed closed.

Prior to joining the Squadron just the previous month on the 01st May, the crew had trained together as a crew with 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit. W/O. W. Jackson 1132462 RAF who joined the squadron from 102 on the 17th June 1944 was detailed to take his place with the crew. It is understood that all the crew went on to survive the war.

Above - Spring 1944. crew with P/O. William Gowans 2nd from left. Names on reverse: Fl/Sgt. William Walker, P/O. William Gowans, F/O. Lloyd Cuthbert, W/O. Walter Wright, Fl/Sgt. Albert Hitchcox and F/O. Russell Johnson DFC - not known who is missing.

Jim Szpajcher explains more: "For the record, two other brothers served in the Canadian Army during the war, and one of them, John, was with the Calgary Highlanders. He was wounded south of Caen, on July 20th 1944, two weeks or so after Willie was killed, but he recovered, and served with the Highlanders until the end of the war. Jimmie, the other brother, was with the Canadian Army Forestry Corps, in England. With the two sisters, that made a total of 5 of the Gowans family which served in the Canadian forces during the war. They had moved to Canada, with their parents, to a farm in rural Alberta in 1926, after all ten children being born in the Glasgow area of Scotland".

Buried Details

It is understood that he was buried at 14:45 hrs at the same time as 30 year old, Sq/Ldr. William Brodie Anderson DFC J/8924 RCAF from 429 Squadron. They are buried side by side. His grave inscription reads: "He was Faithful To The End".

P/O. William Gowans. Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 49.G.10. Son of James and Helen Gowans, of Eckville, Alberta, Canada. Grave inscription reads: "Think Of Him Still As The Same. I Say, He Is Not Dead, He Is Just Away!".

Researched for Jim Szpajcher (his wife's father was the younger brother of William) who contributed a great deal of information and photographs. Page is dedicated to the relatives of this crew member with thanks to sources as shown.

KTY - 27.02.2018

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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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