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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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RAF Bomber Command Crest
21.12.1943 No 1679 HC Flight Lancaster II DS615 F/O. John J. McGavock DFC

Operation: Training (night circuits and landings)

Date: 21st December 1943 (Tuesday)

Unit: No. 1679 H.C. Flight.

Type: Lancaster II

Serial: DS615

Code: -

Base: RAF Wombleton (Topcliffe)

Location: Topcliffe airfield, Yorkshire

Pilot: F/O. John Joseph McGavock DFC J/17116 RCAF Age 24. Killed (426 Squadron) (1)

Pilot 2: F/O. Thomas Ernest Major J/21628 RCAF Age 24. Killed (408 Squadron)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Kenneth Forster 1581900 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (408 Squadron)

Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Robert Thomas James Welch R/101969 RCAF Age 24. Injured (Critically) (2)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. James Arthur Lawrenson 1454834 RAFVR Age 21. Slightly Injured

Air/Gnr: Sgt. W.R. Clapham RAFVR Slightly Injured


Took off from Topcliffe at 21.10 hrs for night circuits and landings practice. This Lancaster was fitted with dual flight controls for training, it is not clear who was flying the aircraft at the time.

The Lancaster was seen to approach the airfield but from reports the pilot thought that he was in danger of undershooting and very rapidly opened up the throttles which caused both port engines to choke out and DS615 veered out of control and struck a glancing blow to Halifax II DT548 before crashing with considerable force on the airfield.

F/O. John McGavock DFC, F/O. Thomas Major and Sgt. Kenneth Forster were killed instantly, Fl/Sgt Welch was critically injured, died some 48 hours later. Sgt. Lawrenson and Sgt. Clapham remarkably escaped with only slight injuries and were treated at the station sick quarters.

Details of F/O. John Joseph McGavock's D.F.C. (Presented to his parents on 12th December 1944)
"This officer has taken part in numerous attacks against all types of enemy targets including such heavily defended areas as Hamburg, Mannheim, Essen and Cologne. He has also participated in several mine-laying operations. Pilot Officer McGavock's quiet determination to complete his allotted tasks, regardless of adverse weather or enemy opposition, has proved him to be an outstanding captain of aircraft who inspires the utmost confidence in his crew."
On 22nd April 1943, G/C J.L. Plant, Commanding Officer added his remarks:
"This officer has a physique and bearing which inspires confidence in his crew. He carried out his operations with determination and is considered to be one of the outstanding pilots of his squadron."

(1) McGavock Lake in Manitoba is named after F/O. McGavock

(2) Welch Lake in Manitoba is named after Fl/Sgt. Welch

Burial details:

F/O. John Joseph McGavock DFC. Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery Sec C. Row G. Grave 19. Son of Frank and Theresa McGavock, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

F/O. Thomas Ernest Major. Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery Sec C. Row G. Grave 20. Son of William and Rose Major, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sgt. Kenneth Forster. Stoke-On-Trent (Hartshill) Cemetery Grave 9232. Son of Joshua and Ada Forster of Campbell Road, Stoke on Trent, England.

Fl/Sgt. Robert Thomas James Welch. Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery Sec C. Row H. Grave 7. Son of James A. Welch and Clara W. Welch, of Boissevain, Manitoba, Canada.

For further details our thanks to the following, Margaret Bryant, Pauline Lawrenson, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', 'Bomber Command Database', Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

20.10.2018 - Sgt Forster NoK details.

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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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