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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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No. 425 Squadron Crest
9/30.06.1943 No. 425 RCAF "Alouette" Squadron Wellington X MS496 KW-Q F/Sgt. Stanley James McIlrath

Operation: Messina, Sicily

Date: 29/30 June 1943 (Tuesday/Wednesday)

Unit: No. 425 (Alouette) Squadron. Motto: "Je te plumerai" ("I shall pluck you").

Badge: A lark volant. The badge is derived from the squadron nickname "Alouette", and the motto comes from the refrain of the French Canadian folk song. The lark is shown in hovering position indicative of a bomber over the target about to strike the enemy. Authority: King George VI, January 1945.

Type: Wellington X

Serial: MS496

Code: KW-Q

Base: RAF Kairouan, Tunisia

Location: Not known

Pilot: F/Sgt. Stanley James McIlrath R112735 RCAF Age 21 - Missing believed killed (1)

Nav: F/O. Robert Burns Brown J22358 RCAF Age 28 - Missing believed killed (2)

Air/Bmr: F/Sgt. John Samuel Davidson Caulderwood R118082 RCAF Age 22 - Missing believed killed (3)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Henry Muir 1331575 RAFVR Age 30 Age 30 - Missing believed killed (4)

Air/Gnr: F/Sgt. John Percival Ernest Balderston 1943 RCAF Age 23 - Missing believed killed (5)

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The five men who were to become the crew of Wellington MS496 were posted to Course 34 at No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne, Warwickshire where they were to undertake training on the Vickers Wellington bomber.

The four Canadian members are known to have arrived there on 24 November 1942 and training commenced three days later. The first priority was to get crewed up, the peculiar ritual whereby the airmen literally sorted themselves into crews on the assumption that this would create a greater sense of bonding and camaraderie between the members of each crew and a sense of loyalty to it and each other.

Robert Brown and John Balderston, the navigator and air gunner, had become good friends on the voyage from Canada so it was not surprising that these two would remain together if at all possible. The addition of Pilot Stanley McIlrath brought the Toronto contingent to three whilst the fourth Canadian and air bomber John Caulderwood hailed from Abbotsford, British Columbia, 2500 miles west of Toronto. Completing the team was 30 year old wireless operator John Henry Muir RAFVR about whom very little is known.

After successfully negotiating the course the crew were now considered ready for operational flying and on 1 March 1943 were posted to No. 425 Squadron based at RAF Dishforth in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

News paper cutting kindly provided by Operation Picture Me

On 26/27 April 1943, 425 Squadron was made non-operational pending a move to North Africa along with No. 420 and No. 424 RCAF squadrons and as part of 205 (Medium Bomber) Group support "Operation Husky" (the invasion of Sicily which began on 9 July 1943)

On 16 May the ground and support staff sailed for Algiers arriving there on 27 May but as the airfield assigned to the squadron was neither complete nor provisioned the ground personnel were held back at Baufarik, Algeria for two weeks.

Meanwhile, back at RAF Dishforth, James McIlrath and his crew enjoyed 7 days leave, returning on 24 May to begin final preparations prior to departing for North Africa.

425 Squadron had been re-equipped with the new Vickers Armstrong Wellington B.Mk.X (Tropicalised) bombers. These 20 aircraft flew down to RAF Portreath in Cornwall where they refuelled and took off for Algeria on 4 June 1943. Enemy action over the Bay of Biscay resulted in one crew and two ground personnel passengers having to abandon their aircraft over Portugal and having landed safely by parachute the seven men were interned in that country for the remainder of hostilities. After refuelling at Gibraltar the other aircraft landed at Telergma, Algeria the same day where they remained pending completion of 496 squadron's assigned airfield at Zina, 15 km southwest of Kairouan in Tunisia. By 22 June all personnel and squadron aircraft had arrived at Zina and the squadron was declared "Operational" on 23 June.

The first operation involving 425 Squadron was on the night of 26/27 June when five Wellington Mk.Xs of 420 Squadron and ten of 425 Squadron were detailed to bomb airfields around Sciacca in Sicily. Stanley McIlrath flew as "second dickie" with the crew of Wellington HE978 which returned safely but one of the other aircraft of 425 Squadron failed to take off due to engine trouble and one other failed to return.

The next operation was on 28/29 June when the squadron aircraft was ordered to detail 14 aircraft to raid ferry slips and marshalling yard at Messina, Sicily. Flying Wellington HE970 KW-C it was the first operation flown by Stanley McIlrath with his own crew: they took off at 20.39 and landed at 02.25.

The pilot later reported that "Bomb load of 2 x 1000, 5 x 500 dropped from 8500 feet. Target was easily identified by aid of flares and was bombed accordingly. Bursts could not be seen of own bombs. A few fires observed burning in target area. Light and medium flak experienced over target. A good trip".

And that was the verdict of all the others apart from one that ran out of fuel and had to ditch with one crew member being drowned.

So when on the following evening Stanley McIlrath and his crew were detailed for a similar operation it is perhaps fair to assume that they felt no greater trepidation.


No. 425 Squadron was ordered to detail eleven aircraft as part of a total force of more than 60 Wellingtons despatched on this raid to bomb the area Northwest of Capo San Marco and the marshalling yard and surrounding area at Messina, Sicily. According to the Operations Records Book, 425 Squadron aircraft were detailed to bomb the Messina area. First away was Wellington HE976 at 21.29 followed by Stanley McIlrath and his crew took off in MS496 at 21.31 with the others taking off at intervals until 21.56 all armed with HE Bombs. Two aircraft failed to take off due to engine failure.

According to squadron records heavy and inaccurate flak was reported from Volcano and Lipani Islands whilst "flak over the target grew in intensity as attack progressed. IFF was used successfully by several aircraft over target to extinguish S/Ls [searchlights] which were operating in clusters of 10 to 12."

All the other aircraft returned safely between 02.14 and 03.03 but nothing was heard from Stanley McIlrath's crew after take off and none of the other crews had seen or heard anything of the aircraft.

Neither wreckage nor bodies were ever recovered so it is perhaps fair to assume the aircraft crashed into the sea. Whilst all other documents record that the crew were flying Wellington MS496 the Operations Record Book shows that the crew were flying HE970. It is assumed that this is a clerical error.


(1) F/Sgt. Stanley James McIlrath was born 10 August 1921 at Toronto, Ontario the son Irish born parents James Joseph McIlrath (Inspector of Police)and Frances (Fanny) McIlrath nee Hutchinson later of Whitechurch, Ontario, Canada. He had two sisters Sarah Eleanor McIlrath (1916-2016) and Francis Josephine McIlrath (1914-1927). Their mother died from breast cancer on 20 April 1936 and James McIlrath later married May Harriet Gammuck.

Stanley McIlrath was educated at Runnymede Public School (1926-34) and Humberside College (1934-39). After leaving school he joined the Toronto Police Force as a Cadet. He played hockey, rugby, rowed and engaged in track and field all extensively and enjoyed photography as a hobby.

Until he enlisted at Toronto on 2 July 1941 he lived with his parents at 516 Windermere Avenue, Toronto. He was described as being 6' tall weighing 175 lbs with a fair complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair.

Stanley's training was at RCAF stations all located in Ontario i.e. No. 5 Service Flying Training School, RCAF Brantford, No. 5 Initial Training School RCAF Belleville, No. 13 Elementary Flying School RCAF St. Eugene and 16 Service Flying Training School RCAF Haggersville where he was awarded his Pilots Flying Badge on 17 July 1942 and promoted to Sergeant.

On 2 September he arrived in the UK and on 11 September was posted to No. 6 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire. He was promoted to Flight sergeant on 17 November and the following week was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne, Warwickshire on 24 November 1942.

(2) F/O. Robert Burns Brown was born on 25 January 1915 at Toronto, Ontario Canada, the son of Scottish parents Peter Laurie Brown, an Editor and Marion McKinley Brown nee Paterson of 225 Geoffrey Street Toronto. He had three sisters, Anne Brown born 1911, Jean Brown born 1916 and Marion Brown born 1920. Their father Peter Laurie Brown died on 3 May 1942.

Robert Brown attended Port Hope Public School (1921-1929), Port Hope High School and Humberside College (1930-1933). After leaving school he worked for McCaul Publishing, Toronto in advertising and writing (1933-36), Brock Publishing, Toronto as a writer and John Inglis & Co. Toronto as a Raw Material Chaser from 1940 until enlisting in the RCAF. When he enlisted at Toronto on 21 November 1941 he was 6' tall weighing 172 lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. He engaged in swimming and table tennis extensively and softball moderately.

After training at Camp Borden, Ontario, No. 5 Initial Training School at RCAF Belleville, Ontario, No. 8 Air Observer School at RCAF L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec he was awarded his Observers Badge and commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 11 September 1942.

He arrived in the UK on 4 November 1942 and was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne, Warwickshire on 24 November.

He was promoted to F/O. 11 March 1943

(3) F/Sgt. John Samuel Davidson Caulderwood was born on 25 July 1921 at Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada the son of English born parents William John Caulderwood, a Chicken Farmer and Gladys Mary Caulderwood nee Gardiner of 1109 Gladwin Road, Abbotsford, British Columbia. He had a brother Arthur William Davidson Caulderwood born 1923 and a sister Joan Mary Davidson Caulderwood (1925-1996)

He was educated at Kitchener Public School (1927-34) and Abbotsford Public School (1934-36) and PSHS Abbotsford (1936-40). After leaving school he worked on his father's farm and part time for G.T. Gleason as a part time Truck Swamper. He engaged in hunting, swimming, fishing and softball, all moderately.

When he enlisted at Vancouver on 14 July 1941 he was 5'9" tall weighing 149 lbs with a medium complexion, blue eyes and fair hair.

After training at No. 2 Initial Training School RCAF Regina, Saskatchewan, No. 8 Elementary Flying School RCAF Sea Island, British Columbia, No. 10 Air Observer School at RCAF Chatham, New Brunswick and No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF Mountain View, Prince Edward Island he was awarded his Air Observers Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 25 April 1942 and after further training at No. 2 Air navigation School at RCAF Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick and No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF Mountain View a second time, he was awarded his Air Bombers Badge on 14 August 1942.

After arrival in the UK on 5 November 1942 he was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne, Warwickshire on 24 November.

He is commemorated on the Abbotsford Cenotaph.

(4) Sgt. John Henry Muir born 1913 c Son of John Hellens Muir and Esther Alice Muir, of Old Heath, Essex.

If you have any further information about John Henry Muir please contact our helpdesk

(5) F/Sgt. John Percival Ernest Balderston was born on 18 October 1919 at Kindersley, Saskatchewan the son of English born father Percy Balderston, a Building Contractor and Canadian born mother Ethel Maude Balderston nee Brown. He had two brothers James Emmerson Balderston born 1914 and F/Sgt. Edward Asthorpe Balderston born 1915 who was killed on 22 June 1945 when his Lockheed Ventura crashed at RCAF Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick. The family moved to Toronto in 1920 and lived at 15 Courcelette Road.

John Balderston was educated at Balmy Beach Public School (1926-34) and Danforth Technical College (1934-38). After leaving school he worked as an Insurance Clerk for Canada Life Insurance Co. until enlisting at Toronto on 22 September 1941. He also took a 1 year Commercial Art Course at Ontario College of Art, Toronto at evening classes during 1940.

When he enlisted he was 5'9" tall weighing 157 lbs with fair complexion, blue/grey eyes and fair hair. He stated that he engaged in tennis, swimming, skating and hunting all moderately. After training at No. 3 Initial Flying School RCAF Victoriaville, Quebec, No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School, RCAF Windsor Mills, Quebec and No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF MacDonald, Manitoba he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 25 September 1942.

After arrival in the UK on 5 November 1942 he was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wellesbourne, Warwickshire on 24 November.

He was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 25 March 1943


F/Sgt. Stanley James McIlrath - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial Panel 11 Column 2

F/O. Robert Burns Brown - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial Panel 10 Column 1

F/Sgt. John Samuel Davidson Caulderwood - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial Panel 11 Column 1

Sgt. John Henry Muir - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial Panel 9 Column 1

F/Sgt. John Percival Ernest Balderston - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial Panel 11 Column 1

Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - February 2017

With thanks to the sources quoted below.

RW 01.02.2017

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