Date: 20 February 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 11 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit
Squadron Badge: None
Type: Airspeed Oxford Mark II
Base: RAF Wrexham
Location: Moel y Gamelin near Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Pilot Instructor: F/Sgt. Robert Mead (see Note 1) Sinclair R157835 RCAF Age 23 - Killed
Pupil Pilot: Sgt. Christopher Bewick 817070 RAF (Auxiliary Air Force) Age 28 - Killed
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'Intelligent and confident, keen alert type, physically fit for full flying duties, good aircrew material, probably suitable for commission after training.'
Thus wrote the interviewing officers on Monday 9 March 1942 when Robert Mead Sinclair presented himself at No. 1 Recruiting Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. At the time, Robert Sinclair, aged 21, was in his third year at the University of British Columbia studying Arts, his ultimate ambition being to become a Doctor.
Born on 24 November 1920 at Hutton, British Columbia, the only child of Robert Hamilton Sinclair, a Manager of a Finance Company, and Emily Alice Sinclair nee Meaden of 2142 West 51st Street, Vancouver, he had attended Maple Grove School, Vancouver from 1927 to 1935 and Magee High School, Vancouver from 1936 until 1939 before moving on to study at university. To help with his university fees he worked for Bloedel Stewart and Welch, Logging, during the summers of 1940 and 1941. A Cadet in the Canadian Officers' Training Corps (COTC) at Vernon UBC from September 1940 to March 1942 he also played rugby and was a track athlete.
11 days after his interview, Robert Sinclair enlisted in the RCAF, but for reasons unknown, immediately took a period of unpaid leave until 29 April after which he reported to 3 Manning Depot at Edmonton, Alberta. On enlistment he was described as being 5'8" tall weighing 145 lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair
A posting to 7 Service Flying Training School at Fort Macleod, Alberta on 23 June until 16 August was followed by a posting to 4 Initial Training School at Edmonton, where, on 25 August, Sqn/Ldr. C. F. Burt, the Reviewing Medical Officer, observed that Aircraftsman 2nd Class R. M. Sinclair was: 'Fit. Average Pilot Material. Very Keen to be a pilot. A bit tense. Intelligent, quick.'
His next posting was on 8 November, to 5 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF High River, Alberta from where, some 9 weeks later he received the following impressive report.
'Excellent ground school results - studious and a hard worker. Average flying ability - slightly weak in Airmanship and has a tendency to slip and skid going in and coming out of turns. Conduct good.'
On 16 January 1943 he was posted to 3 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Calgary where some 15 weeks later on 30 April, he received his Flying Badge and was promoted to Sergeant. He also received another splendid report from the training officers which read:
'Above average in GIS. High average pilot, keen and quick thinking when in the air, good all round results throughout his course. Pleasing appearance, slightly immature looking, never air sick.'
Following 14 days pre-embarkation leave Robert Sinclair reported to 1 Y Depot at Halifax, Nova Scotia and on Thursday 27 May 1943 bid farewell to his homeland as he embarked for the UK where he duly disembarked on 4 June and the following day was posted to No.3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth where he would spend the next six weeks prior to being posted to 7 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit (7 (P) AFU) at RAF Peterborough on 21 July.
At 7 (P) AFU he graduated from Course No. 50 on 10 September 1943 with a mark of 59% and received the following comments
'Definitely suitable as a flying instructor. Capable of soloing an operational type at night, An average pilot.'
21 September 1943 found Robert Sinclair at RAF Montrose, Forfarshire, on the East coast of Scotland and the home of No 2 Flying Instructors School which was equipped with Avro Tutors, Airspeed Oxfords, Miles Magisters and Masters.
On 30 October he was promoted to Flight Sergeant and a month later posted to 1541 Beam Approach Training Flight at nearby Stracathro. On Course No 18 from 30 November to 6 December he achieved an impressive 71.5% pass and earned appropriate comments from the Commanding Officer: 'Above average as SBA [Standard Beam Approach] Pilot. Average as SBA Instructor. Qualified to Instruct in SBA. A reliable pilot who has done well on this course.'
This marked the culmination of his training as a Flying Instructor and on completion of the course he received the following report
RAF - FORM 364 (b)
Flying Instructors' School Report on an Officer or Airman Pilot undergoing a Flying Instructor's Course
UNIT 2 FIS
From 22 September 1943 to 8 October 1943
Principles of flight - Very keen and worked well7
Navigation = good average
Assessment of ability
As pilot - day average - night average
As Flying Instructor - average
As B.A. Instructor - average
Remarks of Chief Instructor.
A promising Instructor. His voice and manner are satisfactory and his knowledge of the instructional is very sound. Flies accurately and smoothly. Recommend B (ME) Cateory
Commanding Officer's comments - I concur.
On 13 December 1943, following 14 days leave, Robert Sinclair was posted to 11 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit to commence duty as a Flying Instructor. Although the unit was based at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, he was, from the start, based at its satellite station, RAF Condover, some 10 miles south of Shawbury. On 31 January 1944, 11 (P) AFU relocated to RAF Calveley in Cheshire, 15 miles South East of Chester with RAF Wrexham serving as its satellite airfield.
Whilst Robert Sinclair was growing up in Vancouver, some 4500 miles or so to the east, Christopher Bewick, was doing likewise in Scotland.
Christopher Bewick was born in 1915 at Nigg Parish, Kincardineshire/Aberdeen Scotland, the son of Christopher Bewick, a Marine Engineer and Alice Mary Bewick nee Carsey. He had four siblings: Elizabeth Bewick born 1908, Isabella Hart Bewick born 1910, Alice Mary Bewick born 1913 and Florence Bewick 1917–2012. The family lived at 131 Oscar Road, Garden City Aberdeen. After leaving school Christopher Bewick junior worked in the telephone department of the Aberdeen Post Office.
On Thursday, 26 February 1942, he married Olive Mitchell MacDonald at Holburn Central Church, Aberdeen. Following their marriage Christopher and Olive lived with Olive's widowed mother at 43 Ashvale Place, a tenement building near Aberdeen City centre.
There are few details of Christopher Bewick's service details but the Court of Enquiry Form 412 includes the following details of where he had trained and how he had been assessed
22 Elementary Flying Training School, RAF Cambridge - "Average
34 Elementary Flying Training School, RCAF Assiniboia, Saskatchewan Canada - "Average"
32 Service flying Training School, RCAF Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Canada - "Average"
The date of his posting to 7 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit is not known but on Sunday, 20 February 1944, his fate became inexorably linked with that of Flying Instructor, F/Sgt. Robert Sinclair.
11 (P) AFU
1. Fl/Lt R. M. Berry
2. F/Sgt. L.H. Harriden
3. F/Sgt. F. Mortimer
4. Sgt, G. J. Quinlan
5. J.C. Mytton
6. R.J. Jones
7. W.E. Evans
11 (P) AFU
8. Fl/Lt Petheram
9. F/O. G. Moore
10. LAC F.J. Walker
On the night of Sunday, 20 February 1944, F/Sgt. Robert Sinclair was authorised by Fl/Lt R.M. Berry to give one hour's dual instruction in aerodrome survey to pilot under training, Sgt Christopher Bewick. Aerodrome survey consists of flying within sight of the airfield and pundit lights* at a definite height, in this particular case 2400 feet.
* By 1937, all airfields used for night flying were equipped with a Pundit Beacon which used red lamps to flash the two-letter Pundit Code in Morse. The beacon was visible all around in azimuth. The Morse code sequence was programmed for each beacon with a disc sequencer, a rotating disc with a ring of brass studs placed into it.
During wartime the red beacon became a familiar marker for returning bomber crews, signalling the end of a mission.
A Pundit Light was a mobile Pundit Beacon. As well as the obvious ability to move these mobile lights to temporary airfields they were also used to camouflage the airfield location from the enemy. The codes and their offset to the airfield location were distributed to flight crews and would change periodically.
With Robert Sinclair in the instructor's customary position on the starboard side and Christopher Bewick in the pilot's seat on the port side, Oxford Mk II X7064 took off from RAF Wrexham at 2025 hours. It was mainly cloudy over 3000 feet with occasional snow flurries, visibility was 3 to 6 miles and wind speed was 15-20 mph.
On leaving dispersal the aircraft called on the R/T 'Taxying out' but failed to call up after taking off and again when leaving the circuit. The R/T log records that this was the only message received from the aircraft.
At 2125 a Royal Observer Corps observer, J C Mytton, on duty at a ROC post one mile NW of Ruthin saw the navigation lights of an aircraft, which he identified by sound as an Oxford, flying dangerously low approaching from the south east. The aircraft then went out of sight. When next seen a few minutes later it was flying on a reciprocal course in the direction of Bryneglwys. "Darky"[sic] watch was being maintained but no calls were received. "Darkie" being a system of homing at night on radio bearings provided by base on requested
At approximately 2130 hours a special constable, W. E. Evans, at Bryneglwys saw the navigation lights of an aircraft circling the area for three or four minutes. It then ceased circling and headed east in the direction of Moel y Gamelin mountain which is approximately 1800 feet above sea level. About two minutes later there was a bright flash near the summit of this mountain and the witness realised the aircraft had crashed. The time was then 2145 hours.
Weather at the time of the crash was light wind from the North, clouds 10/10 overcast 3000 feet. Very dark but visibility was clear according to witnesses Sgt, G. J. Quinlan and W. E. Evans.
The aircraft was later identified as Oxford X7064 by Fl/Lt Petheram (technical) who formed the opinion that the aircraft was flying straight and level and under power in an easterly direction at the time of impact.
There was no evidence of engine failure or of inefficient working of any accessory and no evidence of any attempt to use parachutes. The aircraft struck the mountain side approximately 100 feet below the summit.
According to witness F/O. G. Moore both occupants were killed on impact. It was later determined that Robert Sinclair had suffered 'Complete dislocation of right foot at ankle joint Fractured skull and lacerations of face.'
It was confirmed that:
The Airframe Log Book, Engine Log Book and Form 700 all in order and showed no inspections outstanding
The Flight was correctly entered in the Flight Authorisation Book and Night Flying Log
The R/T Log records no calls from X7064 after becoming airborne in the flight in question but there is evidence that F/Sgt Sinclair called ground Station before taking off.
The Pilots Flying Log Book shows F/Sgt Sinclair was an average pilot and a "B" Category instructor.
Diagnosis of cause and contributory factor.
The cause of the accident was, in my opinion, due to F/Sgt R M Sinclair, the instructor concerned, losing sight of the aerodrome and pundit lights and as a result became lost. Whilst attempting to locate his position in very dark conditions, he failed to pay sufficient attention to his height with the result the aircraft finally crashed into high ground approximately 1750 feet above sea level. The main contributory cause was
(a) failure of R/T equipment (there is evidence to show that the R/T was working on the ground [witnesses: 1. Fl/Lt R. M. Berry, 2. F/Sgt. L.H. Harriden and 10. LAC F.J. Walker], but no evidence to show that it was working in the air)
(b) failure on the part of the instructor to originate "Darky" calls.
A further contributory cause was the lack of searchlight assistance.
This accident is not being investigate by the Accident Investigation Branch
Signature of Investigating Officer - S/Ldr W Griffiths
REPORT OF COMMANDING OFFICER
I concur in conclusions (a) para 1 to 8 [i.e. Brief description of the accident and attendant circumstances as per the account of the accident above]
As regards (b) [i.e. Diagnosis of cause and contributory factor - above]
(a) I cannot agree since either (a) the pilot disobeyed orders for Night Flying by not effecting R/T contact before leaving the circuit or (b) if the R/T was unserviceable in the air the pilot would have returned to base.
The need for strict compliance with Standing Orders for Night Flying is continually stressed particularly in respect of R/T.
I have no recommendations to make
5 March 1944 R J Divers Commanding RAF Station Calveley
The Group Commander concurred in the report of the Commanding Officer
10 March 1944 R C Bailing G/Capt SASO for Group Capt Commanding 21 Group
WOII. (See note 2 below) Robert Mead Sinclair. His funeral took place at Blacon near Chester on 24 Feb 1944 at the same time as the body of P/O Heal of the RCAF was also interred. The service was conducted by the RCAF Chaplain and Service honours were accorded. The coffin was carried by airmen of the Unit and wreaths were sent by the Officers, NCOs and airmen of the Unit. A photo of the ceremony was sent to Mrs Sinclair.
He lies in Blacon Cemetery. Section A Grave 1072
His epitaph reads:
Resting from a fligh
Sgt. Christopher Bewick was buried at Aberdeen (Allenvale) Cemetery on Friday 25 February 1944, the day before his second wedding anniversary. His father had been laid to rest in the same cemetery some three weeks earlier, having died on 31 January 1944 aged 58.
Section 5. Grave 94.
Christopher Bewick is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Meade or Meade
There would appear to be some confusion regarding Robert Sinclair's middle name which was presumably a derivation of his mother's maiden name of Meaden. Some sources, including the Commonwealth Graves Commission and Canadian Virtual War Memorial spell the name with a final 'e' i.e. MEADE. However all RCAF records with the exception of his Medical Board Report record the name as MEAD, including amongst others, his Service Book, Estates Branch records, Attestation Papers and Pay Records.
The verification of his birth by the Provincial Board of Health also records his name as MEAD.
The document below would appear to be written by Robert Sinclair and in which he also records his name as MEAD.
Though not totally conclusive, the odds would seem to favour MEAD and it is this spelling that has been used in this account
Dated 1 November 1944, a letter from G/C. T. K. MacDougall RCAF Records Officer for Chief of the Air Staff, Ottawa to the Mr. R. H. Sinclair, the father of Robert Mead Sinclair included the following remarks re his son's promotion to Warrant Officer Second Class
I am directed to advise you that your son, Robert Mead [sic] Sinclair, has been promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer Second Class with effect from April 30th 1944.
This promotion follows procedure adopted by the Royal Canadian Air Force, that all aircrew members of the service, if recommended by their Commanding Officer, should at the end of the required lapse of time from their last promotion be promoted to higher rank. This promotion procedure has been made retrospective in order to extend the same recognition to those who have unhappily lost their lives.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - May 2021.
With thanks to the sources quoted below and also to aviation researcher, Simon Gerrard, for bringing this loss to our attention.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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