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Kids of the Yokum Special



The story of rear gunner, Gib McElroy, with biographies of the crew of Lancaster LM513, the 'Yokum Special'


INTRODUCTION

The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.

The Duke of Wellington 1815.


'Boys at War' by Russ Margerison, will forever remain the definitive story of the loss of Lancaster LM513 CF-Y, shot down over Belgium whilst engaged on a raid on Duisburg on the night of 21/22 May 1944. The book is also central to the archive report by Jack Albrecht

In his book, the former mid upper gunner relates the story of his early life, the formation of the crew, training, operations, the terror of baling out of a blazing bomber, his evasion and eventual capture along with wireless operator Dick Reeves, and the deprivations that followed whilst prisoners of war.

But what of the other crew members, what were their backgrounds and their experiences, and what became of Gib, Dave, Brick, Dick and Russ, when peace finally broke out in 1945?

Our well respected Canadian colleague, David Champion, aviation researcher and regular contributor to Aircrew Remembered, was a friend of Gib McElroy, the rear gunner, for almost three decades and following Gib's death in 2020, determined to mark his passing by telling his story and that of his crew mates. Having previously worked successfully with Aircrew Remembered Senior Research Editor, Roy Wilcock, Dave invited him to collaborate with him on this project.

The story of Gib and the other crew members has been painstakingly compiled from Canadian records researched by Dave and edited by Roy. Due to delays in availability of certain records, the story has taken more than 12 months to complete.



'What will it take for me to put you behind the wheel of a brand new Buick?'

Dave Champion first encountered Gib McElroy in May 1993 at a monthly luncheon of the RCAF ex-POW Association in Ottawa.

By his own admission, Gib had always been a 'talker' and 30 years of selling cars had honed his patter to a fine art, but his honest, straight forward approach, and promise of a square deal, had, without exception, ensured his popularity with customers. A rare accolade in North America, where a car salesman enjoys less than a stellar reputation.

'Although I had written him (and about 200 other ex POWs) in 1992 this was the first time that I had met him in person and when the head of the ex POW chapter introduced me to him, I shook his hand, and with the slyest of smiles on his face, Gib blurted out "Dave, what will it take for me to put you behind the wheel of a brand new Buick?"'

'Gib was 69 and retired, but old habits die hard and his well rehearsed sales pitch was delivered with aplomb and I am pretty certain that had I been in the market for a Buick, he would have made a phone call.'

Gib and Dave chatted freely and easily, and before the day was done, the die was cast, spawning a friendship that endured for almost 30 years.

'I never went to his house nor he to mine and I never did buy that Buick!' said Dave. 'At the time I met him, I lived in the US, and would drive the 10 hours to Ottawa to do research, so we didn't even live in the same town. When I would come up, I'd let him know, and if he wasn't busy, we'd meet for a chin wag. Always about the war. If we couldn't meet we'd talk on the phone. Once I moved overseas in 2003, my trips to Ottawa became less frequent and phone calls non-existent. Once I learned he was slowing down I decided, as I did with most veterans I met, to "bother" him less and less.'

'One thing he often did, right into his 90s, was to revisit his alma mater in Ottawa and talk to the kids about the war.' recalled Dave. One such visit was on Remembrance Day 2001, when Gib became the latest veteran to speak in the Alumni Association’s series of speakers to the Lisgar student body. The text of his talk was later published in Alere Flammam, (Volume XVII 2nd Issue Spring 2002), the newsletter of the Lisgar Alumni association. For simplicity, all quotations from Gib's speech are marked 'LAA 2001'.

In 1954, together with thousands of other Canadian ex PoWs, Gib submitted a 'Statement concerning Claim for Maltreatment' to the War Claims Commission in Ottawa. Details derived from the statement are marked 'WCC 1954'.

Gib, sadly died in 2020 at the ripe old age of 96. He had survived so many duels with death that his ultimate passing seemed almost an anti-climax. But Gib had passed peacefully in his sleep, having died from natural causes. It was no more than he deserved.

Dave had lost a good mate.




PART 1

THE CREW

Having undergone several changes of personnel, including their captain, the following were the seven who commenced operational flying with 625 Squadron in March 1944 and apart from the Rouen raid of 18 April 1944, which Russ, Dick and Gib missed through being on leave, were to fly a total of 18 ops together. The cosmopolitan crew consisted of three British, three Canadians and an American captain serving in the RCAF.




THE AMERICAN

Max Eugene Dowden (Pilot), was born on 4 October 1916 at Albany, Delaware County, Indiana, USA, the son of Homer Lawson Dowden (a Barber)and Daisy Dowden nee Cunningham. For reasons unknown his father was known as Homer Lesson Dowden.

He had one sibling, a brother, Charles Lawson Omer "Jr" Dowden, born 8 July 1920.

In about 1930 the family moved to Santa Cruz, California where they resided at 92 Cedar Street and later at 126 Center Street.

Educated at Albany (1921-1930) and later at Santa Cruz High School (1930 to 1934) Max was a member of the Hi Tow Tong Honor Society, and a high school basketball star, later holding the scoring record in the city cage league. He was also a member of DeMolay, a Masonic organisation dedicated to preparing young men to lead successful, happy, and productive lives. He also played tennis, baseball, football and golf. His hobbies included fishing and hunting and he was a keen amateur radio enthusiast and proficient in Morse code.

After leaving school in 1934 he worked as a salesman at Herb Coats' store selling radios refrigerators and sporting goods. In 1937 he went to work as a Salesman at Roy Fulmer's Radio Store on Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz. In 1938 he became a self employed contractor, through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the main federal agency handling mortgage insurance. Max worked in the far Western States.

During this time he also took flying lessons and soloed. At the time of his enlistment he had 12 hours solo flying experience and 10 hours duel.

On 1 May 1940 he married Dora Alvena Sherrell at Moab, Utah: the marriage sadly ended in divorce in 1943.

Lacking the required two years of college, his desire to join the US Army Air Corps was thwarted, so on 2 August 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Vancouver, British Columbia. On enlistment he was described as being 6' 1¾" tall, weighing 183 lbs with a dark complexion, brown eyes and brown hair and was given service number R122069.



Max Dowden's RCAF Identity Card. A rare example of a USAAF casualty on an RAF flight to have a RCAF ID card in his file.



After training at 4 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2 Initial Training School at RCAF Regina, Saskatchewan, 19 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF Virden, Manitoba and 12 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Brandon, Manitoba, he was awarded his Flying Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 3 July 1942 and immediately commissioned as a Pilot Officer with the new service number J.12572.

On 1 August 1942 he was posted for flying instructor training at 2 Flying Instructor School at RCAF Vulcan in Alberta. On successful completion of the course on 26 September 1942, the examining officer reported that he 'should become a very good instructor with experience'.

He commenced his instructor duties at 9 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Centralia (aka RCAF Exeter) Ontario on 29 September 1942 but within 7 weeks he faced a charge of 'Negligently Damaging His Majesty's Aircraft'.


In mitigation, Max Dowden wrote the following statement:


O.C. No. 2 Squadron

Sir.

After having completed a routine instruction flight I returned to aerodrome and landed. As I started to taxi I noticed that the aircraft was taxying [sic] to [sic] fast. This was due to the idling speed of the engines and the fact that we were taxying slightly down wind. I tried to slow down by throttling back and using brake but found I had absolutely no brakes on my side. I instructed the student to slow the aircraft which he was able to do although he had very little right brake. I then instructed him to taxi in. As he started in, the aircraft started rolling to [sic] fast. I told him to slow it down. We were now taxying down wind with throttles closed fully and the engines idling around 550 rpm. The aircraft started to swing to the left and I yelled at the student to apply right brake. He did, but found his right brake gone completely. I immediately took control. As we were too close to the end aircraft parked near the strip, to ground loop to the left I used throttle to try and run between the row of aircraft off into the mud. The aircraft continued to swing so I throttled back, closed both switches and crashed into the parked aircraft. The aircraft I was flying, 7269, had not been on the ground since taking off this morning.

M. E. Dowden P/O.


The Brake Test Report


Notwithstanding the results of the brake test Max was 'Logged and "Reproved" for the taxying accident involving damage to three Anson aircraft'




Despite this setback, his performance as an instructor met with the approval of his Assessing Officer who on 29 December 1942 remarked:

'A capable instructor and officer. Lacks interest in instructing at this time but is confident and co-operative at all times. Recommend retention of his commission'

And on 27 January 1943

'A conscientious and hard working junior flying instructor, worthy of promotion. Request that he be granted the rank of Acting Flying Officer.'

He continued his duties as an instructor at 9 SFTS until 24 August 1943, when he was posted to 1Y Depot at Halifax Nova Scotia.

On 13 September he embarked for the UK. Following arrival on 19 September, he was posted to 3 Personnel and Reception Centre at Bournemouth followed on 26 October by a posting to 82 Operational Training Unit at RAF Ossington in Nottinghamshire for night bomber training on Wellington bombers.

On 15 December 1943 Max was transferred to US Forces. Now a 1st Lieutenant he was given the US service number O-886262 but remained attached to the RAF and five days later was posted to 11 Base at RAF Lindholme in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Navigator Dave Weepers arrived at 11 Base the following week, and the two became room mates.

*

Those of a certain age, may remember Range Rider, the 1950s TV western series, and in particular the introduction during which his sidekick, Dick West, was proclaimed 'All American Boy', an expression still used today in describing a stereotypical young American male. Max Dowden was, without doubt, the epitome of the 'All American Boy'; tall, athletic, clean cut, with a pleasing personality; he was one of those individuals who are unbelievably successful at everything they do. After leaving school aged 18, he had become a successful radio salesman and aged just 22, took the daunting step of becoming self employed in a totally new venture, selling Mortgage Insurance. He took flying lessons, soloed, and when turned down by the USAAF, simply picked up his bed and travelled 1000 miles north to Vancouver, where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Within 11 months, he had not only been awarded his Pilot's badge but had also been commissioned as a Pilot Officer. Just two months later, he qualified as a flying instructor and despite it being a job he disliked, it was a position that he was forced to endure for a year, but of course, he was inevitably good at it.

By September 1943 Max was in the UK and the same USAAF that had rejected him, now decided that they were keen to have him in their ranks. His career was on hold until his transfer to the USAAF in December 1943, and was then immediately loaned back to the RAF. It was then all systems go, or should have been. Posted to 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, West Riding of Yorkshire for training on four engine bombers, he discovered that before he could get started, there was the small matter of finding himself a crew.

So, when Gib, Russ, Frank, Dick and Taffy (later replaced by Art Brickenden) came knocking, the 27 year old, 1st Lieutenant Max Eugene Dowden, obliged. Oozing self confidence, father figure Max, soon had the five young lads, eating out of his hand and though initially apprehensive about his advanced years, all such doubts were dispelled once he was able to get them aloft and demonstrate his undeniable prowess as a pilot.

Posted, to 625 Squadron at RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire on 11 March 1944, Max proved his worth to the crew, as his coolness on operations earned him their utmost respect, in the most trying of circumstances.

They came to trust Max implicitly, so when he accepted a bet of £6 from a bunch of other pilots, to fly round a 30 feet high water tower with one wing below the top of it, the lads had no qualms about joining him, which was just as well since Max chose to perform the feat during a practice flight, with all of them on board. He won the bet of course, as well as a reprimand from the Squadron CO.

But, as far as the crew was concerned, Max could do no wrong and where he led they would follow.



THE BRITISH


Francis Harold Rowlands 'Frank' Moody (Flight Engineer), was born in 1924 at Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of John Thomas Rowlands Moody (a Goods Number Taker on Railway) and Annie Moody nee Earnshaw. He had two siblings: Florence Gwyneth Rowlands Moody (1914-1996) and Jack Rowlands Moody (1918-1997)

Educated at Stile Common School he was later employed by A Williamson and Co., Textile Machinists of Priestroyd Mills , Firth Street, Huddersfield. He was also a member of the A.T.C., a Civil Defence Messenger and later a Police Messenger.

In 1939 the family lived at 15 Ashenhurst Avenue, Newsome, Huddersfield

2206935 Sgt. Francis Harold Rowlands Moody was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 20 May 1944 (London Gazette 18 July 1944)





Richard Ernest 'Dick' Reeves (Wireless Operator), was born on 10 July 1923 at Lambeth, London, the son of William George Thomas Reeves (a Printer's Cutter) and Rosa Alice Reeves nee Spinks. Dick Reeves had 5 siblings: William George Edward Reeves (1914-1973), Rosa Elizabeth Reeves later Graham (1916-1981), Gladys Ethel Reeves later Angus (1918-1993), Hilda L. Reeves (1920-1921) and Edna J. Reeves (born and died 1927).

Following the death of Dick Reeves' father in 1926, his mother, Rosa Reeves, married Walter Henry Cranefield at Camberwell the following year. They were to have the following four children together, being half siblings of Dick Reeves: Walter Gerald Cranefield (1928-2003),Connie Cranefield born and died 1929, Margaret Emily Rose Cranefield (1930-2003) and Derek Arthur Cranefield (1933-1989).

In 1939 the family lived at 4 North View, Thurrock at which time Dick Reeves was a Wooden Box Maker.




Russell 'Russ' Margerison (Mid Upper Gunner), was born on 7 November 1924 at Blackburn, Lancashire the son of Robert S Margerison (a Labour Master - Queens Park Hospital) and Maud Margerison nee Withnell. He had five siblings Elsie Margerison (1913-1917), Eva Margerison (1914-1915) Douglas Margerison (born and died 1916),Edna Margerison (1917-1918) and Colin Margerison (1919-1938). The family lived at 30 Observatory Road, Blackburn. Before joining the air force Russ was an Apprentice Compositor.

He volunteered for the RAFVR on his 18th birthday in November 1942 and was called up on 10 May 1943.



THE CANADIANS


David James 'Dave' Weepers (Navigator), was born on 10 August 1917 at Galt, Ontario, Canada the son of Scottish parents James Weepers, a Machinist, and Susan Weepers nee McIntyre. He had 2 siblings: Norman Weepers and Margaret Weepers

He was educated at Victoria Public School, Galt (1922-1929) and Galt Collegiate (1929-1934). After leaving school he was employed as a Sales-Clerk by Wilson Services, Galt, from 1934 to 1939 and Fleming Motors Ltd, Galt, from 1939 to 1940 and also took a Business correspondence course during 1939/1940.

From 1940 until enlisting he was employed by the Department of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa as a Clerk-Accountant. In Ottawa he lived at 89 Cambridge Street.

He played golf and tennis, enjoyed swimming and making model planes.

He enlisted on 16 June 1942 at No. 10 Recruiting Centre at Hamilton, Ontario and became LAC Weepers, David James R168355. He was described as being 5'9" tall weighing 153 lbs with a medium complexion, brown eyes and brown hair.

To meet the aircrew educational requirements Dave was required to attend and pass a Pre-Entry Educational Course at Ontario Training College at Hamilton. He duly passed the three week course on 7 July 1942, and the following day was posted to 1 Manning Depot at RCAF Toronto. Ground training at 6 Initial Training School at RCAF Toronto from 28 September to 4 December 1942 was negotiated successfully but his time at 20 Elementary Flying Training School, at RCAF Oshawa, Ontario, which had begun on 29 December, was brought to an untimely conclusion on 19 February 1943 with the following report:

'This student's flying progress is insufficient to warrant further training. Displays poor air sense and co-ordination. Landings indicate decided lack of of judgement in height and distance. Slow to absorb instructions. Recommended for Air Navigator.'

Although the report was made up to 19 February 1943, Dave had been posted to Combined Training School at RCAF Trenton on 30 January 1943. Eventually re-mustered as a Navigator on 9 March, he was posted to 1 Air Observer School at RCAF Malton, Ontario on 21 March. He graduated from Course 72 on 6 August 1943 when he was awarded his Navigator Badge, promoted to Sergeant and immediately commissioned as a Pilot Officer service number J28845.

He enjoyed 14 days embarkation leave until 20 August when he presumably bid an emotional farewell to his family and made his way to 1YD at Halifax Nova Scotia in preparation for embarkation to the UK on 26 August 1943. Disembarking in the UK on 1 September he was posted immediately to 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth.

After almost two months at Bournemouth, on 26 October, he was posted the 450 miles north, to 1 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit, based at RAF Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Dave was to spend the next two months at Wigtown where training was undertaken using Avro Ansons.

On 28 December 1943 he was posted to 11 Base at RAF Lindholme, West Riding of Yorkshire.

At RAF Lindholme, Dave became a room mate of Pilot, Max Dowden, who had been posted to 11 Base the previous week. Shortly afterwards, they were sought out by Dick, Russ, Frank, Gib and Taffy (later replaced by Art Brickenden), desperately seeking a replacement pilot and navigator.

Dave Weepers was promoted to Flying Officer on 6 February 1944 and following heavy bomber training the Dowden crew was posted 625 Squadron at RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire on 11 March 1944.



Arthur William 'Brick' Brickenden (Air Bomber), was born on 18 June 1923 at Toronto, Ontario, Canada the son of William Thomas Brickenden (a Mechanical Engineer) and Lorena Brickenden nee Girard. He had four siblings: Dorothy Gladys Brickenden (1926-1992), Marianne Grace Brickenden (1930-2005), Gordon James Brickenden (1932-2015) and Ruth Lorena Brickenden (1939-2014).

The family lived at 32 Fallingbrook Crescent, Toronto.

Art, as he was known to his family, was educated at Balmy Beach Public School, Toronto (1928-1937) and Malvern Collegiate Institute, Toronto (1937-1942). He played basketball, baseball and tennis, as well as enjoying skating and swimming.

He left school on 6 April 1942 and immediately enlisted in the RCAF at Toronto. He was 18 years and 9 months old, 5' 8" tall weighing 144 lbs with a fair complexion, dark grey eyes and red hair and given service number R160204.

Like most boys of his age, he wanted to be a pilot, and following initial training at 5 Initial Training School, based at the Ontario Provincial School for the Deaf at Belleville, Ontario, he was posted to 13 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF St. Eugene, Ontario on 7 November 1942, where he commenced flying training.

Within three weeks however, it became clear that Art was struggling, and it was decided that he should discontinue flying training. The Chief Supervisory Officer's reports reads:

'This student's general flying and landings have been above average until he was given a solo check. Whenever a solo check was mentioned, landings became poor. Did not seem to be able to judge height from ground on landings. Poor airmanship and circuits, takeoffs and landings. Judgement very poor and erratic. Poor pupil. Discipline poor. Not considered suitable for any type of aircrew. Appears anxious to impress one on his keenness to fly but emotionally unstable. Poor ocular muscle balance tests. Medical category lowered to A3B'.

Quite a damning report and it must have seemed to Art that his days as potential aircrew, let alone pilot, were well and truly over.

But the Supervisory Officer who considered him 'not suitable for any type of aircrew' was to be proven to be a poor judge of character, when on 29 December 1942 Art was remustered as an air bomber and on 5 February 1943 commenced training at 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Jarvis, Ontario followed on 2 May by a posting to 1 Air Observer School at RCAF Malton where on 11 June 1943, he was awarded his Air Bomber Badge and promoted to Sergeant.

On 30 June 1943, he embarked at New York for the UK where, following arrival on 8 July, he was posted to 3 Personnel and Reception Centre at Bournemouth.

On 27 July he was posted to 4 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF West Freugh at Wigtownshire, near Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. On completion of training at West Freugh on 31 August, he was posted to 81 Operational Training Unit at RAF Whitchurch in Shropshire followed on 30 November, with a posting to 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It was here, that following the problems with their original pilot and illness of their navigator (see Gib McElroy's account) that Art Brickenden, along with his remaining crew mates, Dick Reeves, Russ Margerison, Frank Moody and Gib McElroy crewed up with Max Dowden and Dave Weepers. Following heavy bomber training, the crew was posted to 625 Squadron at RAF Kelstern on 11 March 1944 on which date Art Brickenden was promoted to Flight Sergeant.



PART 2

GIB MCELROY (REAR GUNNER)



Fl/Sgt. Gilbert Francis Joseph McElroy, to give him his official title, was born in Ottawa, Ontario on 5 March 1924, the son of John James McElroy (1883-1956) and Mary Jane Elizabeth McElroy nee O'Meara (1879-1936). He had a sister Mary, 17 years his senior as well as two older brothers, William born in 1913 and Edmund born in 1917. Three more siblings sadly died as infants.

(His siblings were Mary Kathleen McElroy 1907-1995, William John McElroy 1913-1996, Edward Patrick McElroy 1915-1916, Edmund McElroy 1917-1995, Gilbert Francis McElroy 1919-1919,Isabelle McElroy 1919-1919)

Following his mother's death in 1936 when he was 12 years old, Gib was raised by his sister Mary.

In his early years he attended St Patrick's School and afterwards became a student at Lisgar Collegiate Institute where he became a renowned football player.

Well known to Gib and also a student at Lisgar was Charlie Kelly. Their respective families were friendly, went to the same church and lived in the same Centretown neighbourhood in Ottawa, Gib's family at 40 Somerset Street West and Charlie's at 54 Clegg Street.

Charlie was three years older than Gib and following his enlistment in the air force when he was only 17, Gib took a keen interest in his progress via the local newspapers, eagerly awaiting the day when he could do the same and join his pal Charlie in the RCAF.

Gib later learned that on the night of 7/8 November 1941, Charlie's plane, Whitley Z6839 of 51 Squadron, had crashed in Holland whilst on a bombing raid to Berlin and Sergeant Charles Joseph Kelly R54380, the Observer of the crew, had been captured by the Germans and was now a prisoner of war.

But in those early years at Lisgar, Gib had little realised the significant part Charlie was to play in his later life, extending even into his twilight years.

'Labour Day week-end 1939, Germany invades Danzig and Poland, England and France declare war on Germany. Canada will follow in a week. I was 15, attending Lisgar. My biggest worry was that the war would be over before I could get into it.

The spring of 1942, on my 18th birthday, I enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force to be a fighter pilot, but the RCAF rule was that if they thought you could not fly a plane solo in two hours, they would not spend any more time training you - it was mass production. I re-mustered to air gunner so, with a four-month course, I would be overseas. I went overseas in June 1943 and was immediately put into a crew, seven of us ranging in age from 18 to 23. We spent four months training together on different aircraft, sleeping, eating, living together.' (LAA 2001)

Gib had applied to join the RCAF on 5 March 1942, his 18th birthday, but his actual enlistment was in August 1942. In 1943, after training at 9 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF Mont Joli, Quebec he was awarded his Air Gunner Badge and promoted to Sergeant.

August 1943 found him at 81 Operational Training Unit at RAF Whitchurch in Shropshire as a member of the crew of pilot Fred Wade and undergoing training on Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers. In October 1943 the crew was posted to 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Blyton in Lincolnshire for training on Lancasters. It was here that things took a turn for the worse

'The last night of training our pilot crashed on landing and this necessitated a little more training, but just one week later he crashed another Lancaster. We never saw that pilot again; poor Fred had lost his nerve and developed what the Air Force called LMF or "lack of moral fibre". Shortly afterwards the crew's navigator was taken ill with appendicitis.' (LAA2001)

The 5 remaining crew members were posted to 1656 HCU at RAF Lindholme near Doncaster in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and desperately in need of a pilot and navigator.

'We quickly got another pilot but we had to go through another four months* of training for him to get accustomed to the various aircraft and crew. When I met Max Dowden, our new pilot, I asked how old he was and he answered "28". My face went white, I thought, my God, he is too old; we will never finish a tour with this old man - he is too old to be flying; he should be on a ground job. This was a young man's war.' (LAA 2001)

* It was indeed four months from the breakup of the original crew to the Dowden crew being posted to 625 Squadron but the conversion training only took 5 weeks.

Max Dowden's room mate was F/O Dave Weepers, another Canadian, and a navigator, who, somewhat fortuitously, was also seeking a crew. Thus, the crew was now complete and comprised:

Captain/Pilot, 1st Lt. Max Eugene Dowden (Max) USAAF actually aged 27, a former Salesman from Santa Cruz, California, USA. He had enlisted in the RCAF in 1941 and having been an instructor with the RCAF in Canada for 11 months prior to embarking for the UK, was an experienced pilot. On 15 December 1943 he reported to the USAAF No. 12 Replacement Control Depot at Chorley, Lancashire, to be sworn in to the USAAF, and having held the rank of Flying Officer in the RCAF, he became, 1st Lieutenant Dowden of the USAAF attached to the RAF.

Sgt. Francis Harold Rowlands Moody (Frank) RAFVR aged 19, from Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire - Flight Engineer.

F/O. David James Weepers (Dave) RCAF aged 26, a former Sales Clerk from Galt, Ontario who had enlisted in 1942 - Navigator

Sgt. Arthur William Brickenden (Brick) RCAF was 20 years old and from Toronto, Ontario. He had enlisted on leaving school in 1942 - Air Bomber.

Sgt. Richard Ernest Reeves (Dick) RAFVR aged 20, had been a Wooden Box Maker in civilian life and hailed from Lambeth, London - Wireless Operator/Air Gunner:

Sgt. Russell Margerison (Russ) RAFVR age 19. Formerly an Apprentice Compositor from Blackburn, Lancashire. Volunteered for the RAFVR in 1942 - Mid Upper Air Gunner

And then there was Gib., - the Rear Gunner.

'We finally arrived on a Squadron in March 1944 [14th] and started flying on operations.' (LAA 2001)

Four days later Max flew his mandatory 2nd Dickey trip and on 18 March he led his own crew to war - a raid on Frankfurt followed by a repeat performance on 22 March, then Berlin on the 24th and Essen on the 26th.

'Our fifth trip was to Nuremberg [30 March]. This raid was a catastrophe. The RAF suffered its heaviest losses of the war, 106 out of 850 aircraft sent out, in eight hours. We barely made it back to England before we ran out of gas and crash landed just north of London. I was the only casualty on this trip. I had frozen my face. It was 50° below at 20000 ft., and I had the perspex (glass) cut out of the back and sides of my turret to allow better vision of the German night fighters.' (LAA 2001)

On 29 March, the day before the Nuremberg raid, 625 Squadron had received a brand new Lancaster III, serial LM513, delivered direct from the factory of A. V. Roe at Yeadon near Leeds. The Dowden crew were allocated the Lancaster for its maiden operational flight, a raid on the marshalling yards at Aulnoye on the night of 10/11 April. Apart for a raid on Aachen on 11 April, LM513 was then flown exclusively by the Dowden crew.

Popular at the time, especially in the USA, was the comic strip Li'l Abner featuring the Yokum family of hillbillies living in the fictional village of Dogpatch. Yokum was adopted by many USAAF crews when giving nicknames to their aircraft such as , Mammy Yokum, The Yokums, Bombing Yokum etc. Thus, probably at the instigation of Max and being coded CF-Y, Lancaster LM513 became 'Yokum Special'.

For 13 operations flying the Yokum, their luck held and their faithful steed brought them safely home, but as May 21 dawned, their good fortune was about to run out.

'Time does not allow mention of our other operations, except the night of May 21 1944. We had bombed Duisburg and we were on our way home over Belgium when we were hit from the port bow down, that is the left side, front lower. Port engines were shot out and tracers were shooting over my head. The pilot radioed "abandon aircraft, abandon aircraft". When I finally managed to centralise my turret and open the doors to get into the fuselage for my parachute, the whole port side of the aircraft was on fire. I snapped the chute onto my harness, opened the side door and rolled out. While descending I was swinging from side to side and I thought, I hope I don't tip upside down.' (LAA2001)

Russ Margerison, extricated himself from the mid upper turret and saw that the whole fuselage forward of his position as far as the armour plated door, was a blazing inferno, thus denying him any means of escape in that direction.

Beyond that door, Max and Frank were strenuously fighting the controls in an attempt to keep the stricken bomber airborne long enough for the others to get out. Navigator Dave Weepers, made his way to the front escape hatch and baled out first, followed by Art Brickenden and finally Dick Reeves.

Meanwhile, Russ saw Gib exit via the rear door and after struggling to clip on his chute, followed him out.

Gib continued, 'I landed in a field and ran till I found some trees; it was 1:30 a.m. I curled up and slept till dawn. I wandered for about three or four days until I was picked up by a Belgian quisling and turned over to the Germans.' (LAA 2001)

Following his capture Gib was transported in a lorry along with several bodies, two of which he saw were those of Max Dowden and Frank Moody. One of the Germans had Max's watch and another had Frank's lighter.

Gib was captured near Meer in Belgium close to the Dutch border and initially held at Antwerp from 27 May until 3 June when he was taken to Brussels. At Brussels he was held in solitary confinement on bread and water until 7 June and apparently faced a firing squad, though no further details are known about that incident. From Brussels he was taken to Frankfurt and the notorious Dulag Luft, officially a transit camp for newly captured air force prisoners of war, but in fact, an interrogation centre. At Dulag Luft, Gib was once again held in solitary on bread and water from 11 until 17 June. 'During [the] night, guards woke you up every hour to sign your name.' (WCC 1954)

From Dulag Luft he was taken 500 miles east to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau, Silesia, Germany (now Bąków, Opole Voivodeship, Poland), where he arrived on 20 June 1944. (WCC 1954)

[The Germans] quickly put me into a Prisoner of War camp. This was a brand new camp and I was the 87th man to enter'. (LAA 2001)

Stalag Luft 7 was opened by the Luftwaffe in June 1944 for RAF non-commissioned officers and took new prisoners until December 1944.

In Gib's claim to the War Commission, he states that the dates of his time at Antwerp, Brussels and Dulag Luft are approximate, and indeed this proved to be the case. According to 'The Long Road' by Oliver Clutton-Brock and Ray Crompton, Gib arrived at Stalag Luft 7 on 13 June with Trupp 2. Opened a week earlier, on 6 June 1944 to house RAF NCO flying crews, the camp held 230 prisoners by July.

New groups of Allied prisoners arrived almost daily, and as each one approached, Gib was at the fence, eagerly calling out 'Anyone from Ottawa?' until finally on 30 July his plea was answered with the arrival of Trupp 16. From among the 94 new prisoners a hand went up and a voice answered 'Yes, I am'. Gib was flabbergasted to see that the hand was that of his childhood pal, Charlie Kelly.

Charlie Kelly had been a prisoner for more than two and a half years in Bavaria, first at Stalag 7a at Moosburg and then at Stalag 383 at Hohenfels. Amazingly, in June 1942, some 18 months after his capture, as Charlie languished in a German prison camp, a letter addressed to him was delivered to his parents home in Ottawa containing his call up notice for military training. In accordance with usual bureaucratic policy the mistake was later deemed to be Charlie's fault for not having notified the authorities of his 'change of address!'

After the war Gib was to recall 'I'll tell you, to have somebody like Charlie with me was just like I had my big brother with me.' (Interview - Ottawa Citizen 21 September 2013)

Having been a PoW for so long Charlie knew all the tricks of the trade and wasted no time in passing his wealth of knowledge on to Gib, among them, how to make a stove out of empty powdered milk cans.

'We slept in small huts like rabbit huts. There were few Red Cross parcels, about one per man in three weeks. The Germans did not have the transportation to get the parcels to us. We were always hungry.'(LAA 2001)

'January 18th [1945], 2.30 in the morning, blinding snowstorm, the Jerrys woke us up and on to the parade square and informed us we were going on a forced march immediately.

The Russians were advancing and Hitler had given orders: no POWs to be retaken. By now the camp had grown to 1700 men. You can imagine 1700 hungry men walking out of the camp on a dark cold snowy morning. We walked for about a month, sleeping in sheds, barns and deserted factories with occasional slices of black bread, cabbage soup and what we could steal.' (LAA 2001)

'Marching night and day in zero temperatures with very little and inadequate clothing, little or no food. I suffered frostbite on my face and toes. This exposure and fatigue as well as lack of medical assistance resulted in amoebic colitis. During forced march civilians threw stones and spit at us.'(WCC 1954)

'Eventually we came to a rail yard [4 February], City of Goldberg] and we were herded into box cars; 65 squeezed into a French box car. The doors had barely closed and the train moving, when I felt I was going to be sick. I ...squeezed my way to a small opening in the far wall. Standing on someone’s shoulders I was sick to my stomach, and at this moment my bowels let loose. I was in this box car three days and nights. Eventually, we reached our destination, but we had about a five-mile walk to our new camp, Luckenwolde [sic], 30 miles south of Berlin, where we were greeted by 40,000 POWs: Russian, Polish, Norwegian, American, English. By the time we reached Luckenwolde, many of us were lousy and had diarrhea [sic].' (LAA 2001)

'Transported in box cars 65-70 men in each small European box car. The cars were not open during the trip. We were so crowded that we were unable to sit down. There was no toilet facilities. My stomach was sick and I had diarrhoea at the same time. City of Goldburg to Luckenwalde (Stalag 3A) 5 to 9 February 1945.' (WCC 1954)

'Sometime in April, the Russian army, on their way to circle Berlin, liberated us. About one month later, they allowed us to make our way to allied lines, England, and home. It was a wild experience, but I am proud to be a Canadian and a veteran'. (LAA 2001)

Faced with the approach of the Russian army, the guards fled the camp, leaving the prisoners to be liberated by the Red Army on 22 April 1945, but if the prisoners thought that they would be free to leave, they were sadly disappointed. General Otto Ruge, former C in C of the Norwegian armed forces, who had taken over as commander of the camp, was taken away to meet the Russian commander and Wing Commander Richard Charles Marler Collard DSO., DFC the Senior British Officer, was appointed camp commander in his absence. At the request of the Russians the Wing Commander ordered all except foraging parties to stay put and not leave the camp.

On 4 May, (via American War correspondent and PoW, US Army Captain Edward Beattie*), Richard Collard reported their situation and camp conditions to SHAEF and the following day an American ambulance convoy arrived. With Russian consent the American sick, and six seriously sick British, were removed.

*For further information see: https://ww2ondeadline.com/2020/09/12/war-correspon...

But on 6 May, when Captain Sinkavitch, an American prisoner of war Contact Officer from SHAEF arrived with a convoy of about 50 trucks and orders to evacuate American, British, Norwegian and French PoWs, the Russians refused to play ball. Against the will of the Russians, evacuation of the Americans was commenced, and 22 trucks were loaded with men. Most of these 22 trucks had gone when the Russians decided to stop the evacuation, and fired their sub machine guns over the tops of some of the trucks as they moved off. The remaining trucks were then sent away empty.

On 7 May, Captain Grant, another American prisoner of war Contact Officer, arrived with another convoy of trucks. Collard persuaded him to visit General Famin at Marshal Koniev's Headquarters to try to obtain an agreement to evacuate, rather than risk an unofficial evacuation. Meanwhile, the convoy parked outside the camp. On his way to the Russian headquarters Grant met some Russian staff officers who told him they were coming to Luckenwald from General Famin with instructions about the repatriation. Grant therefore returned to the camp.

8 May. Early in the day it became clear that the Russian officers had not brought any instructions about repatriation. Consequently it was decided to load the trucks with Americans and British and then confer with the Russians about approval to depart. Whilst the conference was in progress however, the lorries began departing, either due to a misunderstanding of Grant's orders, or ill discipline on the part of the negro drivers. By this time, most of the lorries had gone, but those that remained were unloaded when it became clear that the Russians were prepared to use force of arms to stop any further evacuation. The Russians then ordered Grant to leave with the remainder of the lorries empty.

Dave Champion recalled that:

Gib told me his "escape" story

His day started in a ditch after he walked two miles from the camp. After the Yank convoy was turned back, word was spread throughout the ranks and the US trucks and ambulances would wait up the road for any PoWs who wanted to make a run for it. Gib chose to leave, 'I didn't like the look of those buggers' [the Russians]. He boarded a lorry driven by two black fellows from Georgia, (Red Ball Express), who drove the truck to the Elbe like a bat out of hell!

By 15 May 1945 Gib was back in England and within a month had been repatriated to Canada.


THE FATE OF THE OTHER

Russ Margerison and Dick Reeves

Russ Margerison and Dick Reeves were sheltered by the Belgian underground for over 7 weeks; they were eventually betrayed and captured.

The Long Road, by Oliver Clutton-Brock and Raymond Crompton, records that they were 'Betrayed and captured at Antwerp 11 July 1944'.

They were captured in a wave of arrests organised by the Belgium traitor René Van Mulem and his KLM false evasion line. See https://aircrewremembered.com/gallery/picture.php?...

Russ and Dick were later transported with Trupp 15 to Stalag Luft 7 where they arrived on 27 July 1944. Later they were prisoners at Stalag 3A and after liberation by the Russians, like Gib, made a run for home. They were eventually flown to England on 21 May 1945. Russ had also been promoted to Flight Sergeant whilst a prisoner of war.

Further information about their incarceration and liberation can be found in the archive report by Jack Albrecht and in more detail in Russ's book 'Boys at War'.


Arthur (Art/Brick) Brickenden

Details of what happened to Art Brickenden after landing by parachute are not known but in October 1947 Madame de Bie-Denye of 16 Franklin Roosevelt Place, Antwerp, formerly of the Resistance Movement, wrote to the Canadian Military Mission in Minden, requesting information about Art Brickenden and Dave Weepers whom she said she had personally assisted during the German occupation of the Low Countries. She particularly wished to know if they had survived and also enquired after Frederick Haldenby and Charles N. Davidson both of Ontario. see https://aircrewremembered.com/haldenby-frederick.h...


According to The Long Road by Oliver Clutton-Brock and Raymond Crompton, Art was betrayed at Antwerp on 25 July 1944. Following his arrest he was sent to the Dulag Luft satellite camp at Wetzler and on 5 August was transported with Trupp 21 to Stalag Luft 7.

In his liberation statement Dave Weepers says that he and Brickenden were captured together.

But Stalag Luft 7 being a camp for NCOs only, Flying Officer Dave Weepers was sent to Stalag Luft 1 at Barth Vogelsang where he arrived on 4 August 1944.

Dave and Art were captured on 11 July 1944 in Antwerp in the same wave of arrests as Russ and Dick and organised by René Van Mulem.

Along with Russ, Dick and Gib, Art ended up at Stalag 3A which was liberated by the Red Army on 22 April 1945. Whilst he was a prisoner of war, Art Brickenden was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2 on 11 November 1944. Although still effectively held against his will by the Russians, he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 1 on 11 May 1945.

Details of how he escaped the clutches of the Russians are not known but by 26 May 1945 he was back in England.


Dave Weepers

Few details of what happened to Dave Weepers after parachuting from the stricken Lancaster are known but 'Boys at War' refers to Theresia Snoeys having hidden Dave for several weeks and that she later received a citation from the Canadian Government for her bravery in doing so.

As in the Brickenden service file, reference in Dave Weepers file is made to Madame de Bie-Denye 16 Franklin Roosevelt Place, Antwerp, formerly of the Resistance Movement, requesting information about Brickenden and Weepers whom she had helped during the German occupation. She wished to know if they had survived.

In his liberation statement Dave Weepers says that he was captured with Art Brickenden who according to The Long Road by Oliver Clutton-Brock and Raymond Crompton, was betrayed at Antwerp on 25 July 1944. Also in the liberation statement there is a note in relation to Dick Reeves which states that Dave had 'received note from him through Belgian underground dated [obscure apart from '44]. No knowledge as to success [of his] evasion'

After being captured Dave's ID tags were taken by the Germans and he was eventually sent to Stalag Luft 1 at Barth Vogelsang where he arrived on 4 August 1944. At the camp he was held in the South/West Barracks where he was one of 18 men bunking in Barrack 10 Room 11.

Stalag Luft 1 was liberated by Russians on 1 May 1945 and by 13 May 1945 Dave was back in England.




PART 3

AFTER PEACE BROKE OUT

DICK

Dick Reeves married Maud Victoria Whippy (1924-2010) at Thurrock Essex in 1945. They went on to have four children: Christopher J. Reeves, born 1946 at Braintree, Valerie A. Reeves, born 1951 at Chelmsford, Richard A. Reeves, born 1963 at Thurrock and Stephen Russell Reeves, born 1966 at Thurrock.

Dick Reeves died at Truro, Cornwall, on 27 January 1991, aged 67. His address at the time of his death was, Camelot Knights Hill, Kenwyn, Truro.



RUSS

After the war Russ Margerison became a newspaper reporter.

On 2 November 1946 he married Betty Coldwell (1926-2009) at Huddersfield and they later four sons.

Russell Margerison died on 4 October 2014 at Blackburn, age 89. He was buried at Pleasington Cemetery and Crematorium,

Blackburn, Lancashire.



BRICK/ART

Art Brickenden arrived at 3 (RCAF) Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth on 26 May 1945 on which date he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and issued with the new service number J.96549. He was on leave for 14 days from 1 to 14 June 1945.

Repatriated to Canada he was posted to 1 Repatriation Depot at Lachine, Quebec on 8 July and on 20 July to 4 Release Centre at RCAF Toronto, Ontario. He was granted 42 days leave until 30 August 1945 and the following day transferred to the Reserve on Retirement.

He was recorded as having flown 20 sorties (150 hrs operational and 70 hrs non operational) although the 625 Squadron ORB would indicate that he flew 19 sorties including 21/22 May 1944 raid on Duisburg.

On discharge he was stated to be 'Very anxious to attend Toronto University in Medicine' 'and this also recommended by the RCAF.'



Art Brickenden made it to Toronto University as evidenced by the above photograph from the University Year Book of 1950, and went on to practise as a Doctor of Medicine.

He married Clara Marie Hulse and together, they had two daughters, Anne and Lisa.

Arthur William Brickenden died on 19 March 1976 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when he was 52 years old.


DAVE

By 13 May 1945, Dave Weepers was back in Bournemouth at 3 RCAF Personnel and Reception Centre. He underwent a medical examination and chest X-rays on 18 May 1945 and on 22 May began a 14 day period of privilege leave. However, on 27 May he was recalled from leave and somewhat hastily, repatriated to Canada, embarking at Southampton on 31 May 1945. Seven days later he disembarked at Halifax, Nova Scotia and travelled first to 1 Repatriation Depot at RCAF Lachine, Quebec from whence he was posted to 1 KTS at Trenton Ontario on 12 June and despite having volunteered for service in the Pacific Theatre, he first had the matter of 6 weeks leave to negotiate.

Following his return to Trenton on 25 July, he underwent an X-ray inspection of his chest and the following report was made on 3 August to 1 Regional Medical Board RCAF, Toronto.

'A small circular area of increased density ¼" in diameter is present in the right 2nd interspace. This has an appearance suggestive of tuberculosis, the activity of which should be determined clinically. Refer to chest consultant.'

On 16 August 1945 he was seen by S/L Thom - Internist at 1 RBM who reported that:

'Referred because of shadow in X-ray. This officer has no symptoms of tuberculosis, examination of his chest is negative and a chest plate taken in 1942 shows a shadow in the 2nd interspace similar to that described in the report of 3 August 1945'

13 September 1945

The Medical Board reported that he was 'with underground until taken PoW on 20 July. No sickness while in PoW camp. Chest X-ray - suspicious lesion 2nd rt. interspace, also present in enlistment film.'

The diagnosis was: 'N.A.D.[nothing abnormal discovered] Pulmonary Scarring - Etiology [cause] not determined'

16 Oct 1945 Toronto

To Commanding Officer

No 4 Release Centre

'Retirement authorised by No.1 A.C. letter C.CANJ28845(ROA) d/19 Sept 45 and is to be carried out under the provisions of K.R. (Air) Para 151 (1) (i)

This officer's certificate is to bear the words "On completion of a term of voluntary service during an emergency and was transferred to Class"E" of the General Section of the Reserve.'

On 31 October he was posted to 4 Release Centre, Toronto

On 1 November 1945 following a further chest X-ray the Regional Medical Board reported that

'The bony thorax is normal. The diaphragm and costophrenic angles are clear. The heart and great vessels are within normal limits. The trachea is in the mid line.

The left lung field is clear.

Radiating upwards and laterally from the right hilus, there is an accentuation of the linear markings which terminate in a soft, more or less flocculent increase in density, measuring approximately 1.5 cm in diameter. The remainder of the right lung field is essentially clear.

DIAGNOSIS

Radiographic findings are consistent with a pulmonary tuberculous process, the activity of which must be assessed clinically and the patient is referred to the DVA for appropriate investigation.'

'No 1 KTS Toronto, Ont

2 November 1945

MEDICAL BOARD CLEARANCE

CAN. J28845 T/F/O Weepers D.J.

Med Category A4 B b

Med profile 111 111 O

The above noted individual is considered fit to engage in any type of employment

No. 4 Release Centre

Medical Board

Toronto, Ont.'

Dave Weepers was recorded as having flown 20 sorties (120 hrs operational and 200 hrs non operational). The 625 Squadron ORB would indicate that he flew 19 sorties including 21/22 May 1944 raid on Duisburg.

After leaving the air force Dave was employed as the manager of the E. M. Coleman Milk Transport Company, a position that he held for 16 years until his death in 1962.

In 1948 he married Doreen J. Perrin and they went on to have three children: Jimmy, Diane and Donna.

Dave Weepers died on 22 April 1962 aged 45





OBITUARY

The Evening Reporter, Galt, 23 April 1962

DAVID JAMES WEEPERS born 10 August 1917 died 22 April 1962

A lifetime resident of Galt and district, David James Weepers, 45, Hamilton Highway RR I, Galt, died suddenly Sunday at his home. Mr. Weepers, who was born in Galt and had lived here, or in the district, since birth, was the son of the late James Weepers and Mrs Susan Weepers. He was a member of the RCAF overseas, and was a prisoner of war in Germany for one year. The deceased was manager of the E. M. Coleman Milk Transport Company for the past 16 years. He was also a member of Knox's Presbyterian Church. Surviving are: his wife the former Doreen Perrin; one son, Jimmy; and two daughters, Diane, and Donna; one brother Norman Weepers, of Galt; and one sister Miss Margaret Weepers; Mr. Weepers is also survived by his mother Mrs. Susan Weepers. Friends will be received at T. Little Funeral Home, 39 Grand Ave., N., Funeral service will take place Tuesday at 2 p.m. Interment will be in Mount View Cemetery.

The Evening Reporter, Galt, 23 April 1962

Funeral service for the late David James Weepers, who died Sunday at his home, took place Tuesday at 2 p.m. from Little's Funeral Home, 39 Grand Ave., N., Rev. R. A. Jackson of Knox's Presbyterian Church officiated at the service. Interment followed in Mount View Cemetery [Waterloo Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada]. Pallbearers were: E. M. Coleman; Edward Taylor; Norman Rung; Arthur McKilligan; John Furlong; and Marshall Furlong.



PART 4

GIB


They had travelled more than 100 miles from the Repatriation Depot at Lachine, Quebec, all of them anticipating long awaited reunions with their loved ones. The train had barely come to a halt, when the 40, recently liberated prisoners of war, spilled out of the railcars onto the platform, where a crowd of several hundred awaited their arrival.

Sporting new uniforms and looking well, the airmen eagerly pushed through the assembled throng, scouring the crowd for their loved ones and very soon, amid squeals of joy and yells of recognition, arms were flung around necks and rib crushing hugs were the order of the day. Mothers held sons, wives kissed husbands urgently and siblings simply hugged and wept; each and every one, savouring the moment they feared would never come, and sadly for many, never did.

It was the night of Sunday June 10 1945, and among the 40 arrivals at Union Station, Ottawa, was Warrant Officer, Gilbert Francis Joseph McElroy and though history does not record who was there to meet him, surely his nearest and dearest were waiting for him.

Four months later, on 2 October 1945, Gib was demobilised.


For most returning servicemen, especially PoWs, reintegration into civilian life was not easy, but if Gib had his problems, they were, soon tempered by happiness. In October 1948 he was betrothed to Chloe Margaret Turner and on Saturday 27 November 1948 they were married at the Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church in Ottawa. Standing beside Gib was his best man, one Charles Joseph Kelly, late of Stalag 3a.

Following a reception at the home of the bride's father, Gib and Chloe left by plane for Montreal and Quebec city for their honeymoon.

'The couple', according to the marriage report in the Ottawa Citizen, 'will live in Ottawa', and presumably, they did initially, but by 1950 they had moved to Apt 8, 4875, Walkley Avenue, Montreal. They were still there in 1952, at which time Gib was employed by Canadian National Railways.

On 10 June 1952, Chloe gave birth to their daughter, Kerry, and in 1954, another daughter, Jane Theresa, arrived, by which time Gib and his family had relocated to 108 Concord Street, Ottawa. The date is not known, but Chloe later gave birth to a third daughter named Patricia.

Many years hence Kerry was to marry Lee Tremblay, Jane Theresa would wed Steve Aubrey and Patricia married Lee Wilson. Eventually, there would be six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Jane sadly died in 2003 and Chloe died on 22 December 2014 aged 90.




Gib and his mate Charlie Kelly, remained close friends and Gib was Godfather to Charlie's eldest son, but as years passed, they eventually lost touch.

By March 1954 Gib and family were living at 2 Tormey Street Apartment 6, Ottawa.

Renfrew, is a town about 60 miles west of Ottawa in Eastern Ontario, and on Friday evening, 16 July 1954, Gib was a passenger in a car driven by Clarence Drummond heading east on Highway 17 (now known as the Trans Canada Highway). At 9.30 they were about two and a half miles east of Renfrew, when Clarence lost control and the car hit a ditch and overturned onto its roof. Clarence escaped with cuts and bruises, whilst Gib sustained several fractured ribs. Both men were released after treatment at Renfrew Victoria Hospital.


As referred to earlier, in 1954 thousands of Canadian former PoWs submitted a 'Statement concerning Claim for Maltreatment' to the War Claims Commission in Ottawa. Gib submitted his on 19 July 1954 and his claim was duly assessed in the sum of $200 as itemised in the following document.


He was duly paid the $200 on 13 October 1954, by which time his address was 108 Concord Street, Ottawa.

Almost a year to the day following the car crash at Renfrew, Gib's good fortune once more held firm as he escaped unhurt from another, more serious accident.

Still working as a fireman, shovelling coal on steam engines for Canadian National Railways, he was one of a five man crew on a freight train travelling from Montreal to Ottawa on Monday 18 July 1955. The Ottawa Citizen of Tuesday July 19 1955 reported that:

'24 cars demolished in wreck at Maxville

Two dozen freight cars were reduced to a splintered mass of waste wood and twisted metal but the five-man crew escaped unhurt, when an Ottawa bound CNR freight train thundered through an open switch at the station and turned over here late last night. Only victims were some Livestock in cars on a nearby siding.

Locomotive tilted

Only three of the 32 cars remained on the track in the resulting wreck five more cars at the rear of the train remained upright but off the rails, the remaining 24 Freight cars being demolished.

The 250 ton Northern type locomotive (no 6101) plowed through 150 feet of earth, smashed through a coal shed before it came to rest tilted at a 45 degree angle, half buried in the soil.'









'"A bombing by an enemy could not have caused any greater destruction. I don't understand how we escaped alive", fireman Gilbert McElroy of 108 Concord Avenue, an RCAF veteran, told the citizen, as he inspected the wreckage.

The wreck happened at 11:35 p.m., when the train, Advance 401, was 4 hours out of Montreal. It was due in Ottawa an hour later.

Fireman McElroy has had many mishaps in his lifetime but they all paled compared with this narrow escape of last night.

"I was a gunner in the RCAF and was in three crash landings and had to bail out once. About a year ago I was badly hurt in an auto smash near Renfrew, but how I got out of this one alive I'll never know."'

And the Ottawa Journal of Tuesday 19 July 1955 added:

'Inside the engine cab, engineer Thomas Bradley, 53, of Ottawa, remained to shut off the throttle and valves before he pulled himself through the window to safety. Today the engineer's quick action was credited with saving a disastrous boiler explosion and greater damage. Other crew members were Gilbert McElroy, head brakeman, Charles (Bud) Leslie, conductor, Frank Norton, and rear end Brakeman, Joseph B. Lynch, all of Ottawa'

Further details of the crash can be seen at https://churcher.crcml.org/circle/Wreck%20Details/...

Gib's good fortune held as he is survived several further car crashes, but no further details are known.

On 26 November 1958 he was paid a further $100 being a 50% increase in maltreatment awards to ex PoWs as authorised by the Government. By this time he had moved again and was living at 1001 Gregg Street, Ottawa.

Towards the end of the 1950s it seems that all was not well with Gib. He had become a heavy drinker, his marriage ended in divorce, and his wife was left to raise their three children alone.

Many years later, following Gib's death, his grandson Joe Aubrey (Jane's son), was to recall that:

'Gib was a wonderful grandfather to me, but I think he struggled to be a good husband and father, probably because of his childhood and wartime experiences.'

Gib began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and remained sober for the rest of his life, becoming a well known speaker throughout Eastern Ontario and a mentor to those needing his help.

Dave Champion remembered that: 'For 60 years henceforth he remained a recovered alcoholic, helping countless others deal with their addiction. He was very proud of his sobriety'.

And grandson, Joe Aubrey added, 'While many people made a big deal of his war service, I think he took greater pride in helping other alcoholics.'

By 1960, in continuance of his evolving lifestyle, Gib decided that his working life also needed a change of direction and he became a car salesman, employed by C. Connelly Motors of Richmond Street Ottawa, at which time he was living at 1001 Gregg Street, Ottawa.The following year C. Connelly Motors was bought out by Fern Turpin and became Turpin Pontiac Buick Ltd., the company for which Gib was to work for the next 30 years during which time he become a well respected car salesman, noted for his honesty and fair dealing: attributes not usually associated with the profession.



After returning home in 1945, Gib had stayed in contact for a while the other air gunner of the crew, Russ Margerison from Blackburn in Lancashire, but eventually they had lost touch. In 1977, Gib was given a copy of The Nuremberg Raid, a book by Martin Middlebrook detailing the operation of 30 March 1944, notorious for the heavy losses sustained by RAF Bomber Command and a raid in which the Dowden crew had taken part. He noticed that A. W. Brickenden, was mentioned in the book and wondered if 'Brick' might be able to help him trace Russ, so in March 1977 he went to Toronto in the hope of tracking him down, only to discover that 'Brick' had died the previous month. In desperation Gib contacted Martin Middlebrook for help, but unknown to them both, Russ was also trying to find Gib and in due course the two finally made contact.

On the weekend of 5 August 1978, Russ travelled to Toronto where he was reunited with Gib - some 33 years after they had last seen each other. The years melted away as they enjoyed a most nostalgic reunion reminiscing about their time in the air force.



That smile of his was infectious. And genuine. I think he loved making people laugh. The picture of him in 1978 on the couch with Russ Margerison is a winner - Dave Champion


After the war, Russ had become a newspaper reporter, and in 1986 had a book published about his wartime experiences entitled 'Boys at War' (first published by Ross Anderson Publications in 1986 and in 2005 by Northway Publications ISBN 0 9537040 8 4)

Gib and Russ met up again on Tuesday, 25 July 1989, and enjoyed more reminiscences of their time as 20 year olds, manning the gun turrets of Lancaster LM513 CF-Y, affectionately known to them as the Yokum Special. Gib had also become an enthusiastic volunteer for the RCAF Prisoner of War Association, and the following day, he and Russ attended the Royal Canadian Air Force PoW Association reunion at the University of Ottawa campus.



They were just kids from different sides of the Atlantic, but fate made them friends who had to grow up ... and fast!


Around 1980, Gib had fallen in love with Theresa Lavigueur, a relationship that was to last for the rest of their lives. In his retirement Gib curled in winter and golfed in summer and along with Theresa, played for years at the Edgewood Club in Ottawa, and later in Arnprior. He golfed until he was 88.

In 2013, following a series of falls, Gib moved into Perley and Rideau Veterans Health Centre at Riverview in Ottawa where he was once more surprised by his long lost pal, Charlie Kelly. Charlie had moved into Perley a few weeks earlier, and was living a few doors away, on the same floor as Gib. Alas, their time together was to be short lived as Charlie passed away on 29 March 2014, in his 94th year.

'It was like old times being with him' Gib said 'He looked after me in the prison camp, but when we got here Kelly was beginning to go down the other side. I tried to watch out for him. Kelly and I looked after one another. He's passed on now and I miss him terribly.' (Ottawa Citizen 27 May 2016)

Gib wasted no time in becoming involved in various activities available at Perley, he sang in the choir, attended music therapy classes, played bingo and somewhat inevitably, became President of the Veteran' Residents Association and during that time met Prime Minister Stephen Harper, provincial premiers and foreign dignitaries.

Theresa eventually joined Gib at Perley Health.

In a Perley Health Feature day before Gib's 91st birthday he said of his prisoner of war camp life:

'After lights out, one Canadian fella would sit in the hallway, play his accordion and sing some of the popular songs - everybody listened to him and everybody went to sleep crying because they were homesick'

'Although specific song titles don’t come to mind, Gib says he enjoys the choir as a regular activity and for the memories it stirs. He looks forward to Tuesday rehearsals that give him a “light-hearted feeling”. The song sheets help remind him of the lyrics to the old War standards and introduce him to new songs like Rainbow Connection, made famous by Kermit the Frog. Music was important in Gib’s childhood home on James Street, feeding those good memories and positive feelings. He recalls the Sundays when his brother and sister, both gifted singers, would gather around the piano to entertain the family. When six-year-old Gib walked into the room to join in, inevitably somebody would yell for mother to “call Gilbert into the kitchen!” I’ve been with the choir for over a year. I like the people there,” he proudly proclaims. “But I still don’t think I’m any good as a singer!” McElroy chuckles and returns another smile, a charismatic combination that must have helped him to earn the master salesman ring that signifies his post-war success as an automotive salesman.'

https://soundcloud.com/cbcottawa1/perly-veterans-s...



Gilbert Francis Joseph “Gib” McElroy passed away peacefully on 30 May 2020 aged 96. Being in the midst of the Covid pandemic, his funeral was necessarily subject to the restriction in force at the time. He was buried at Notre-Dame of Ottawa Cemetery, Ottawa, Section 15-3.



'I have survived damn near everything! If I was afraid I would be dead'




CONCLUSION

Frank Moody, the 19 year old Flight Engineer was a proud Yorkshireman from the small village of Newsome near the West Riding town of Huddersfield . In Frank's world, the only people like Max Dowden were in the Hollywood flicks shown twice nightly, at the local flea pit. Max must have seemed like a film star to Frank, and to be his right hand man was surely the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Did this devotion perhaps manifest itself when following Max's declaration to Russ, 'If we get hit, I'll ride the baby down', Frank instantly added, 'And me!'.

Dick Reeves was last out of Lancaster LM513 on the night of 21/22 May 1944 and thus the last to see Max and Frank alive. In a letter to his mother, Dick described those final moments before he baled out.

'We were on the way home after leaving the target, Duisberg. Everything seemed to be going fine. The heavy flak, which has been causing us so much bother, was left far behind. The Belgium coast was 10 minutes flying time ahead. One's thoughts were dwelling upon the sanctuary of home, the hot rum, the interrogation and bed. Suddenly our little world was shattered. Peace turned into tumult. A night fighter had approached from dead ahead and sprayed the kite with cannon. Max gave the order to abandon aircraft. The poor old girl was in a sad plight. The navigator, bomb armer [sic], rear gunner and mid-upper baled out. I was the last living member to go. I sat over the hole Mam, and looked at Max and Frank. The 'kite' was going into an uncontrollable dive and those two men were struggling to hold a semi-useless stick. They held the 'Yokum' up for those extra precious seconds that five comrades might live. This was a night which will vividly remain with me for ever. Yes, I can say I have walked with heroes.'

(Courtesy: Santa Cruz Public Library Heroes Online)






Santa Cruz Sentinel 27 April 1945

'Medals in honor of the valor of her son, First Lieutenant Max E. Dowden, reported missing in June 1944, have been presented to Mrs Homer L. Dowden of 126 Center Street.

The Air Medal and two Oak Leaf Clusters, awarded to Lieut. Dowden by the commanding general of the United States strategic air force in the east were presented to his mother through the Salinas army air base of the Fourth air force.

The citation reads as follows:

For meritorious achievement while participating in aerial bombardment missions against the enemy from March 15 1944 to March 30 1944; April 10 1944 to April 26 1944 and April 27 to May 10 1944. The courage, coolness and skill displayed by Lieut. Dowden upon these occasions, reflects the highest credit upon himself and armed forces of the United States'.









'Boys at War' offers no clue as to Max's motives for his stark statement 'If we get hit, I'll ride the baby down' which in the event, foretold his and Frank Moody's, eventual demise.

Max Dowden had been successful in all he did, extremely confident, a first class pilot, admired and respected by all, yet such attributes often come at a price - an inherent fear of failure.

'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'




THE GRAVES OF MAX DOWDEN AND FRANK MOODY

In his book, Russ Margerison recalls being told by an eyewitness to the crash, that the bodies of Max and Frank were thrown clear. Gib McElroy said that saw their bodies in the back of the lorry in which he was transported after being captured. Frank was later identified as being buried in a grave at Fort 3 Cemetery at Deurne and was later re-interred at Schoonselhof Cemetery, but for some reason the remains of Max Dowden have never been positively identified which is rather strange considering that when Gib saw his body in the lorry, it seems to have been intact and recognisable.

Although a grave at Schoonselhof bears an inscription 'Believed to be Lieutenant M. E. Dowden' there is no evidence to suggest that he is actually buried in the grave and the United States authorities do not accept that he is. In American files, there is evidence to suggest that one of the unknowns at the Ardennes American Cemetery could be Max Dowden

Max Eugene Dowden is meanwhile memorialised on Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England.

A request for more information has been made to CWGC and research into United States Military records is ongoing. Results will be published here when available.

Frank Moody was initially buried at Fort 3 Cemetery at Deurne, Antwerp, Belgium, in Grave No. 200 marked 'Moody' and on 21 December 1945 re-interred in Grave IVa.E.10 at Schoonselhof Cemetery, Wilrijk, Antwerp.



EPILOGUE

Russ, Dick, Dave, Brick and Gib, are all now sadly deceased, but each and every one of them never forgot the sacrifice made by Max and Frank that allowed them to live on.

Gib outlived them all, and perhaps the last word should be his. The phrase that he wrote on the flyleaf of Russ Margerison's book, "Boys at War", is perhaps the most appropriate tribute to Max Dowden and Frank Moody.

"We flew, we fell, we lived"





ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Stan Sagan and Kirklees Local Studies Library for their kind assistance in providing the news cutting re Frank Moody from the Huddersfield Weekly Examiner.



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RW 6.11.2023

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

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