28.05.1942 No. 20 O.T.U. Wellington IC Z8852 -L Sgt. Bruce Wallace McClennan
Date: 28 May 1942 (Thursday)
Unit: No. 20 Operational Training Unit
Type: Vickers Wellington IC
Code: Call sign "L"
Base: RAF Elgin, Moray, Scotland
Location: near Fodda Bridge (1 mile east of RAF Elgin)
Pilot: F/Sgt. Bruce Wallace McClennan R/85669 RCAF Age 21 - Injured, died later that day. (1)
Obs: Sgt. Robert George Ashley (known as George) Brathwaite Aus/403312 RAAF Age 27 - Safe but injured (2)
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Albert Edward Browes Aus/406305 RAAF Age 26 - Safe but injured (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Douglas Crompton 1164438 later 155340 RAFVR Age 21 - Safe but injured (4)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Pierre Cecil Bion R58350 RCAF Age 28 - Safe but injured (5)
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REASON FOR LOSS
Took off at 00.05 from Elgin for a night exercise...returned to base at 02.20 to discover the weather was absolutely appalling with sleet reducing visibility to a minimum. Not surprisingly the crew overshot the flare path and while going round again flew into some trees near Fodda Bridge, a mile to the east of the airfield. (Courtesy Bomber Command Losses - Operational Training Unit Losses 1940-47 by W.R. Chorley)
Despite the aircraft catching fire all five crew members survived the crash although Bruce McClennan was to die from his injuries later the same day. The other four were also injured but had it not been for the courage of Canadian rear gunner Sergeant Pierre Bion the outcome might well have been far worse.
Following a long spell in hospital RAAF Air Bomber Albert Browes was later engaged on instructional duties but in September 1943, after going before a medical board, he was repatriated to Australia. On his arrival home the Daily News (Perth) of 22 September 1943 published a report of his ordeal that provides some additional details about the crash as follows:
"It was on a flight to Norway that the crash occurred. The bomber had got two thirds of the way over when it was called to base.
They ran into dirty weather, the plane iced up, there was a 34deg. drift to port and the plane was almost unmanageable. The pilot reached his base but the port motor cut out and the machine crash landed in a pine forest.
W/O. Browes, the bomb aimer, was trapped in the nose but the Canadian rear gunner who was unhurt got him out and also attended to the injured.
W/O. Brown had a dislocated shoulder, severe lacerations of the right knee, burns and abrasions".
Pierre Bion's bravery, although a little understated in the Australian newspaper, was recognised by the award of the British Empire Medal (Military Division) promulgated in the London Gazette of 14 August 1942. The citation reads:
"One night in May 1942 Sergeant Bion was the air gunner of an aircraft which was recalled through bad weather. The pilot attempted to land but collided with some high trees on the hillside. The aircraft immediately caught fire. Sergeant Bion managed to extricate himself from the aircraft and assisted the wireless operator [Douglas Crompton], who, whilst in a very dazed condition, was endeavouring to get free. Having taken him to safety Sergeant Bion returned to the burning aircraft and, with the assistance of the navigator [George Brathwaite] extricated another member of the crew who had been trapped in the second pilot's seat [this was presumably the bomb aimer Albert Browes]. Leaving the navigator to attend to this member Sergeant Bion returned to the aircraft and unaided extricated the pilot (who was suffering from a compound fracture of the left leg and was unable move) and carried him to a place of safety. Unfortunately the pilot died a few hours later. Sergeant Bion who had sustained lacerations, abrasions and an injury to his left knee, displayed presence of mind and complete disregard for his own safety whilst performing his gallant rescue work".
Bruce McClennan was indeed very seriously hurt and he was rushed to Dr. Gray's Hospital at Elgin. According to hospital records he had been thrown out on crashing and his condition on admission was as follows:
"Lacerated wound of left thigh, on antero-medial aspect [i.e. in front and toward the middle line] roughly circular, about 7" diameter. Sartorins and gracilis muscles [in the front of the thigh] lacerated and quadriceps partly divided. Femoral vessels exposed. There was also a spiral fracture* of the left femur about the middle of the shaft."
* A spiral fracture can occur when a rotating force is applied along the axis of a bone and often occurs when the body is in motion and creating a forceful twisting or jerking whilst one extremity is planted, fixed or trapped.
"There was also a laceration 3" long on dorsum [back] of left hand and a vertical laceration from the L. angle of the mouth to the chin."
At 10.00 a.m. his "left leg was amputated at mid-thigh and other lacerations sutured. Blood transfusion was set up but death occurred at 4.45 p.m. 28.5.1942." (See biographical details at No. 1 below)
27 OTU No. 15 Pilots Course 5 February 1942 - Photograph courtesy David Champion
Front L-R: Sgt. Drowther, P/O. Lamb, Sgt. Ball. Rear L-R: Sgt. Cantor, Sgt. Wilmot, Sgt. B.W. McLennan, Sgt. McNullin.
Navigator George Brathwaite escaped with slight injuries but he was sadly killed four weeks later when his aircraft Wellington T2723 ZT-N was shot down over Holland returning from a raid on Bremen. (See biographical details including a link to the story of the loss of T2723 ZT-N at No. 2 below)
Air Bomber Albert Browes was seriously hurt having sustained a dislocated shoulder, severe lacerations of the right knee, burns and abrasions: injuries that required a lengthy stay in hospital and in due course his repatriation to Australia. (See biographical details at No. 3 below)
Wireless Operator Douglas Crompton was also badly injured suffering severe injuries to his left arm and wrist. He too was first taken to Dr Gray's Hospital at Elgin but the following day he was transferred 100 miles south to Stracathro EMS Hospital at Brechin, opened in 1939 specifically for military casualties. His service record fails to give the date but he was later transferred to No. 2 Airmen's Convalescent Depot "The Leas" Hoylake on the Wirral. This former school was specifically for NCOs (No.1 Airmen's Convalescent Depot was for Commissioned ranks and was based at Loughborough). It was the 16 November 1942 before he was deemed fit enough to resume his training at No. 20 OTU at Lossiemouth. (See biographical details at No. 4 below)
Pierre Bion as noted in the citation had sustained lacerations, abrasions and an injury to his left knee. In November 1943 he was repatriated to Canada where he continued to serve in the post war RCAF. (See biographical details at No. 5 below)
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/Sgt. Bruce Wallace McClennan was born on 24 August 1920 the son of Gordon Albertus McClennan and Muriel Helena McClennan nee James. He had one known sibling, a sister Helen Dorothy McClennan born in 1919 but who sadly died in 1924.
He was educated at Humewood School (1925-32) Toronto and Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute, Toronto (1933-38). After leaving school he worked as a Shoe Salesman for T. Eaton & Co. Ltd. of Toronto until enlisting in the RCAF. A keen sportsman, he engaged extensively in hockey, swimming, baseball, tennis, badminton and skiing whilst also playing football and golf moderately. When interviewed for the air force he was described as a tall, slender, young man with a mature, pleasant and confident personality, a clean cut boy of above average intelligence. He enlisted at Toronto on 17 December 1940: he was 5'9" tall weighing 135 lbs with a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair.
After training at No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Jarvis, Ontario, No. 3 Initial Training School RCAF at Victoriaville, Quebec, No. 1 Elementary Flying School at RCAF Malton and No. 5 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Brantford, Ontario he was awarded his Pilot's Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 1 September 1941. After three weeks pre embarkation leave he was on his way to the UK having embarked at Halifax on 27 September. In the UK he was first posted to No.3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth and on 4 November to No. 20 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Lossiemouth for training on Wellingtons. On 5 January 1942 he was posted to No. 27 OTU at RAF Lichfield and was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1 March. He returned to RAF Lossiemouth on 4 May.
(2) Sgt. Robert George Ashley (known as George) Brathwaite LL.B. (Sydney), was born on 22 March 1915 at Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand the son of Harold Ashley Brathwaite and Agnes Maud Brathwaite, later of 32 Wattle Street Killara, New South Wales, Australia. He had one known sibling, a brother Peter Langley Brathwaite who was killed in Syria on 13 June 1941 whilst serving with the Australian Imperial Forces. Prior to enlisting George Brathwaite was a Barrister and Associate to Mr Justice Street.
He enlisted at Sydney on 6 January 1941 and embarked for Canada on 13 June 1941.
After losing her son Peter in Syria Mrs Brathwaite applied to have George returned to from training in Canada in order that he should not have to risk his life also. Her request however was refused.
George Brathwaite was killed on 26 June 1942 when his aircraft Wellington T2723 of No. 20 OTU Captained by Sgt. Norman William Levasseur RCAF was shot down over Terschelling, Holland whilst returning from a bombing raid on Bremen. To read the story of this loss click here
He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial Panel 119 at Canberra, in the Ku-ring-gai World War 2 Book of Remembrance and on the World War 2 Honour Roll in the War Memorial Chapel at St. Martin's Church, Killara, NSW.
(3) Sgt. Albert Edward Browes was born on 11 October 1915 at Dronfield, Derbyshire the only child of George Edward Browes (a Shovel Finisher) and Mabel Browes nee Johnson.
The family emigrated to Australia arriving at Fremantle on board RMS Ormonde on 2 May 1920 and later settled at 30 Salisbury Street, Maylands a suburb of Perth, Western Australia. Prior to enlisting Albert was a Carpenter by trade. He was also Captain and Chief Instructor of the North Beach Surf Life Saving Club and a member of the Western Australia Association's examining board.
Albert Browes enlisted in October 1940 and after training at No. 1 Initial Training School, RAAF Somers, Victoria he was posted to No 1 Wireless Air Gunners School at RAAF Ballarat.
Whilst he was stationed at Ballarat, Albert married his fiancée and champion lady surf star Miss Gwendoline O'Brian at Wesley Church, Perth on 6 February 1941.
There later followed a posting to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAAF Evans Head, New South Wales. He then embarked for the UK where he took an advanced wireless operator's course before being posted to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield in Staffordshire. He was then posted to No. 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland.
Shortly after he left for the UK his wife Gwen gave birth to their son Derek Edward born 12 January 1942. As already noted Albert was repatriated to Australia in September 1943.
Nothing further is known if you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(4) Sgt. (later Flight Lieutenant) Douglas Crompton was born on 1 November 1920 at Blackheath, Rowley Regis, Staffordshire (now West Midlands) the son of George Crompton (a Galvaniser at a steel tube manufacturing factory) and Beatrice Crompton nee Rose. He had four brothers and one sister and was educated at The County High School, Oldbury from 1931 to 1936. After leaving school he trained as a Draughtsman at Stewarts and Lloyds, steel tube manufacturers. Douglas played football for Beaumont Rovers Football Club and had a trial for Aston Villa.
He enlisted at No 2 Reception Centre RAF Cardington, Bedford and the following day was allocated to no. 1 Receiving Wing at Torquay for physical training and lectures prior to moving for the next stage of training to No 3 Initial Training Wing also at Torquay on 15 July. On 7 September 1940 he was posted to RAF Yatesbury, Wiltshire to begin pilot training. Douglas failed his pilot selection and having been re-mustered as a Wireless Operator was eventually posted on 2 March 1941 to No. 2 Signal School also based at RAF Yatesbury for training in Morse code, wireless operation, maintenance and repair. On 26 September he was posted to No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man. On completion of his gunnery course he was awarded his air Gunners badge and promoted to Sergeant and this probably just prior to 18 November 1941 when he was posted to No. 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire for training on Vickers Wellington Bombers.
At 27 OTU he crewed up with the other four and on 5 May 1942 the fledgling crew was posted to No 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland for further training on Wellingtons.
After convalescence at No. 2 ACD, Hoylake, Douglas Crompton returned to No. 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth on 26 November 1942 where he necessarily had to crew up with four new crew mates. To read a continuation of the story of Sgt. Douglas Crompton and this new crew click here
(5) Sgt. Pierre Cecil Bion (later Flight Lieutenant) was born 22 November 1913 at Ganges British Columbia the son of Captain Paul Bion and Marie Bion. He enlisted at Vancouver on 17 July 1940.
After training at No.2 Initial Training School at RCAF Regina, Saskatchewan, No.2 Wireless School at RCAF Calgary, Alberta and No.3 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Macdonald, Manitoba he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 17 March 1941. He embarked for the UK 4 June 1941. He was commissioned on 19 November 1943 (J/44113) and repatriated to Canada where on 29 December 1943 he married Catherine Kay Agatha Markey at Ottawa, Ontario. He served in the post war RCAF (service number 26425) retiring with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
He died on 20 July 1987, at Victoria, British Columbia aged 73.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIAL AND EPITAPH
F/Sgt. Bruce Wallace McClennan was buried at Lossiemouth Burial Ground, Moray, Scotland - Grave No. 1138
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - January 2017
With grateful thanks to Carole J. Hirst, the daughter of Flight Lieutenant Douglas Crompton, for providing photographs of her father, biographical details and service record.
Thanks also to the following sources: