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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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61 Squadron Crest
01/02.01.1944 No. 61 Squadron Lancaster III LM377 QR-F F/O. George E. Sharpe

Operation: Berlin

Date: 1st/2nd January 1944 (Saturday/Sunday)

Unit: 61 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: LM377

Code: QR-F

Base: RAF Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire.

Location: Büren, Germany

Pilot: F/O. George Edward Sharpe J/21834 RCAF Age 23. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Basil George Imber 1609563 RAFVR  Age 19. Killed

Nav: F/O. Bill’ Ernest Arthur Chenery Willard 50789 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. ‘Vern’ Alfred Vernon Shirley 151431 RAFVR Age 26. Killed (1)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. ‘Jock’ Alexander Ross 1368936 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr (Mid upper): Sgt. ‘Bill’ William John Churcher 965799 RAFVR  Age 23. Killed (2)

Air/Gnr (Rear): Sgt. ‘Dev’ Henry Patrick 1545237 RAFVR Age 22. Killed (2)


Lancaster III LM 377 QR-F left RAF Skellingthorpe at 23.56hrs. on 1st January 1944 for an operation to Berlin.

Above: crew of LancasterLM377 (courtesy Jeanette Bray)

On the outward journey they were shot down by a night-fighter. Thought to have been possibly the Luftwaffe ace Hptm. Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (3) of Stab NJG2 with combat taking place at around 02.00 hrs.


Above left: F/O. ‘Vern’ Alfred Vernon Shirley and right: Sgt. ‘Dev’ Henry Patrick (courtesy John Vernon Shirley and Jeanette Bray)

They crashed 800 metres North of Büren, 10 km NNE of Neustadt am Rübenberge, Germany

(1) The son of F/O. Alfred Vernon Shirley would very much like to hear from anyone who has any other information - we would be happy to pass it on.
(2) It is thought that originally there were two different air gunners serving with this crew, possibly they were a Sgt. C. Wilce and a Sgt. J. McQuillan - still researching this but would appreciate any feedback.
(3) He had no less than 6 claims for aircraft shot down during this raid. Hptm. Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a total of 83 kills to his credit. He was shot down and killed on the 20/21st January 1944 at Lubars, near Magdeburg - thought to be by a Mosquito.) and Hptm. Dr. Horst Patuschka from 7./NJG2. (Also a German Night Fighter ace with a total of 23 - 25 kills to his credit. He was killed on the 6/7th March 1943 near Bizerta, Tunisia due to engine failure.)

Burial details:

F/O. George Edward Sharpe. Hanover War Cemetery. Collective Grave 16.F.4-7. Son of Edward B and Ethel M Sharpe of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Sgt. Basil George Imber. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave 16.F.1. Son of Victor George and Irene Ella Imber of Frome, Somerset, England.

F/O. Ernest Arthur Chenery Willard. Hanover War Cemetery. Collective Grave 16.F.4-7. Son of Arthur Frederick and Maud Willard of Forest Hill, London, England. He was known in the crew as “Bill”.

F/O. Alfred Vernon Shirley. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave 16.F.3. Son of Alfred and Florence Shirley and husband of Violet (née Samson) Shirley of Rugby, Warwickshire, England. 

Further information: Known as Vern, he was born on the 20th of November 1917 and was the first son. He attended New Bilton County Primary School and won a scholarship to Lawrence Sherriff Grammar School, Rugby where he excelled in running. On leaving school he worked at the offices of LMS Railway, Rugby before getting a job in the offices of Rugby Cement. At first he joined the army on January 15th 1940 but after fifteen months, transferred to the RAFVR based at Wolverhampton, England.

Hoping to become a pilot, he was sent to Canada on the SS Oriente, an American ship which had an escort of seven other American ships leaving Gourock on the 16th of June arriving in New York on June the 27th, having sunk 2 U boats and being chased by another on their way. Further training at 6 SFTS at Dunnville but didn’t make the grade so switched to training as a bomb aimer. Returned to England sometime in 1943 after further training and was based at Skellingthorpe. He married Violet Samson on the 17th February 1940 at St.Oswalds Church, New Bilton, Rugby. Their only son, John Vernon was born on the 31st of March 1941. In November 1946, Violet died in her home town of Grimsby and John was bought up by his Grandmother in Rugby. Had his parents survived the war they had planned to emigrate to Canada.

Sgt. Alexander Ross. Hanover War Cemetery. Collective Grave 16.F.4-7. Son of James And Elizabeth Ross of Edinburgh, Scotland. He was known in the crew as “Jock”.

Sgt. William John Churcher. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave 16.F.2. Son of James Richard and Ann of Cardiff and husband of Ellen Churcher of Adamstown

Sgt. Henry Patrick. Hanover War Cemetery. Collective Grave 16.F.4-7. Son of Arthur and Edith May Patrick of Babthorpe, Yorkshire, England. Further information: Sgt. Patrick lived at Babthorpe Farm near Hemingbrough, East Yorkshire with his father and younger brother Joseph (Joe) and sister Cicely. His mother had died on the 21st August 1939. Henry attended Hemingbrough School and worked on the farm after leaving school. He also played cricket for the Hemingbrough cricket team.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. Thanks to Jeanette Bray (niece) of Sergeant Patrick for the family information and photograph also to John Vernon Shirley (son of F/O. Shirley) for the information and photographs of his father. If anyone has any further information  or knew Flying Officer Shirley please make contact. Thanks also to Bryan Oldham. Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', ‘Bomber Command Database’, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and  2', 'Kracker Luftwaffe Archives'. Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), 'Paradie Archive'. Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Pages of Outstanding Interest
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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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