Operation: Bombing bridge over River Po
Date: 21 April 1945
Unit: 18 Sqd
Type: Boston V
Base: RAF Rimini
Pilot: Sgt. David Kennedy Raikes 1807677 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Navigator: Fl/Sgt. David Millard Perkins 1801441 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
W/Op/Gunner: Fl/Sgt. Alexander Thomas Bostock 1818442 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Gunner: W/O. John Penboss Hunt Aus/433038 RAAF Age 20 (some records 21). Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
One evening in April 1945, they took off on a mission to attack a bridge on the River Po, then carry out a wider reconnaissance.
By this time, the Allies had been fighting their way up through Sicily and the Italian peninsula for nearly two years.
Rome had fallen the previous summer.
Now, further north, German resistance was finally collapsing, and soon the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini would be dead. The men aboard the Boston bomber were all very young. The oldest was only 21.
If they could have survived just 10 more days they would have seen the Allied victory in Italy.
And with the coming of peace in Europe shortly afterwards, their lives would have stretched out before them.
But they never returned from their mission. It is believed their plane was brought down by German anti-aircraft fire, and that everyone on board died in the crash.
L-R: David Raikes : David Perkins : Alexander Bostock : John Hunt
Now, 68 years after they were killed, the crew have been laid to rest at a Commonwealth war cemetery in the city of Padua. As relatives of the men looked on, the strains of the Last Post drifted across the hundreds of white headstones in the cemetery.
The wreck of the plane was found by an Italian group called Archeologi dell'Aria - amateur enthusiasts who have so far found 16 missing aircraft. The organisation's founder, Fabio Raimondi says a local man in his hometown of Copparo, near Ferrara, once told him a story about a plane coming down in nearby farmland at the end of the war.
The wreck had burned for two days, then the carcass was picked over for some of its more valuable metal.
But at some point it seems that either German or Italian forces covered much of the wreckage in the crater that the crash had caused.
"During the search, we found - in among the melted aluminium - a watch," says Raimondi.
"To my amazement, I discovered that on its back there was a number.
"I went online, typed it in, and I got to the Australian National Archive. I found out who he was... and that he had been missing in action."
Raimondi says that as he and his team dug down and worked to retrieve the remains of the crew, he thought of the relatives of the men who had never come home. "It was very emotional, the work of several months for us volunteers," he says.
"To find and identify the remains of four flyers is very important. With the funeral we close this circle.
The pilot, David Raikes, was an aspiring poet, and his family published some of his work posthumously.
Among the poems was a piece called Let It Be Hushed, in which he reflected on the loss of comrades - other crews that had failed to return from missions.
Let It Be Hushed
Let it be hushed; let the deep ocean close
Upon these dead. Others may laud the parts they played,
Raise monuments of marble in their names.
But we who flew with them and laughed with them,
We other crews who, living side by side,
In outward contacts slowly came to know
Their inmost parts, would rather leave untouched
The wound we healed, the love we buried there.
These men knew moments you have never known,
Nor ever will; we knew those moments too,
And talked of them in whispers late at night;
Such confidence was born of danger shared.
We shared their targets, too; but we came back.
Lightly we talked of it. We packed their kit,
Divided up such common useful things
As cigarettes and chocolate, rations stored
Against a rainy day that never came.
'And they cast lots among them!' Someone said,
'It was a pity that he wore his watch;
It was a good one, twenty pounds he said
He paid for it in Egypt. Now, let's see,
Who's on tonight. Ah, Taffy - you've a good one!
You'd better leave it with me.' And we laughed.
Cold were we? Cold at heart. You get that way.
Sometimes we knew what happened; how they crashed.
It was not always on the other side.
One pranged upon the runway, dipped a wing,
The navigator bought it, and the gunner.
The other two got out, a little shaken.
Bob crashed when doing an air test, just low flying
- At least they think it was, they couldn't say.
The plane was burning fiercely when they found it;
One man thrown clear, still living, but he died
On way to hospital. The loss was ours, -
Because I shared an aeroplane with Bob.
We had to get another D for dog.
And some did not come back. We never knew
Whether they lived - at first just overdue,
Till minutes changed to hours, and still no news.
One went to bed; but roused by later crews,
Asked 'Were they back yet?' and being answered 'No',
Went back to sleep.
One's waking eyes sought out the empty beds,
And 'Damn', you said, 'another kit to pack';
I never liked that part, you never knew
What privacies your sorting might lay bare.
I always tried to leave my kit arranged
In decent tidiness. You never knew.
But that is past. The healing river flows
And washes clean the wound with passing years.
We grieve not now. There was a time for tears,
When Death stood by us, and we dared not weep.
Let the seas close above them, and the dissolving deep.
This poem is featured in our Poetry of Direct Personal Experience section here.
On the night of that raid on the bridge on the Po, back at base, as the "minutes changed to hours", comrades would have asked of David Raikes and his crew, "were they back yet?"
And, eventually, the time would have come to pack his kit.
Raikes' poem was read out at the funeral by his nephew, and his brothers Roger and Tim were among those listening at the graveside. It was particularly touching that Sgt Raikes' younger brother was there for the ceremony - he said it was very important that his brother and crew had a final resting place at last.
Now, in that cemetery in Padua, where they will lie forever, the Italian earth has closed upon David Raikes and his fellow flyers.
Lest we forget: Padua War Cemetery
Sgt. David Kennedy Raikes. Padua War Cemetery. Coll. grave VI. B. 10-13. Son of Lt.Col. Wilfrid Raikes and Elizabeth Gentle Raikes. Grave inscription: 'A Gentle Poet 'Inspired By Joy Of Giving - In The Hope Of Giving - What I Could To Life' DKR'
Fl/Sgt. David Millard Perkins. Padua War Cemetery. Coll. grave VI. B. 10-13. Son of Leonard and Annie Millard Perkins, of Sydenham, London. Grave inscription: 'Much Loved Son, Brother And Uncle Who Gave His Life For All Of Us. We Will Remember Him'.
Fl/Sgt. Alexander Thomas Bostock. Padua War Cemetery. Coll. grave VI. B. 10-13. Son of William and Ada Bostock, of Kimberley, Nottinghamshire. Grave inscription: 'His Life A Cherished Memory. His Loss A Silent Grief'.
W/O. John Penboss Hunt. Padua War Cemetery. Coll. grave VI. B. 10-13. Son of Benjamin James Hunt and Jeanette Ellen Hunt; husband of Jean Audrey Hunt, of Lidcombe, New South Wales, Australia. Grave inscription: 'Reunited With Mum'.
Source: BBC Magazine, Guernsey Poets