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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 Crest
04/05.04.1943 No. 297 Squadron Whitley V BD544 F/O. Louis Sproule

Operation: Nickel

Date: 04/05th April 1943 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit: No. 297 Squadron (38 Group) (2)

Type: Whitley V

Serial: BD544

Code: QA-B

Base: RAF Thruxton, Hampshire

Location: Weyhill, Hampshire

Pilot: F/O. Louis Andrew Sproule 116629 RAFVR Age ? Injured

Pilot 2: Lt. D.W.H. Dickson North Staffordshire Regiment - No further details

Nav: W/O. John Benjamin Burrows AUS/400317 RAAF Age 21. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Bernard Bullivant 115673 RAFVR Injured (1)

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Derrick Augustine Brooks 128963 RAFVR Injured (1)


On the 04th April the squadron sent 6 aircraft on 'Nickelling' operations over, Montluçon, Troyes, Paris, Limoges, Nantes and Rouen.

On return and understood that the aircraft had been hit and damaged by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot suspected that the fuel system had been damaged. On return they were instructed to divert due to fog however the pilot considered that he could not sales make the diversion and decided to try and land at their base, RAF Thruxton.

Above L-R: Ground crew, Fl/Lt. Arthur William Slipper, P/O. Derek Augustine Brook, Sq/Ldr. Lawrence Denis Emblem, F/O. David Pickard, Fl/Lt. Bernard Bullivant, Ground crew. (Courtesy Bruno Lecaplain and 38 Squadron Website - used with permission)

In making the final approach he apparently allowed the aircraft to get too low resulting hitting the ground about a mile short of the airfield at 01:21 hrs at Weyhill railway station. At the time Verey lights were fired as well as rockets - Mark II airfield lighting was implemented.

It was considered the main cause of the crash was pilot fatigue and mental stress and that it was not possible to identify how much fuel they had remaining as the aircraft was a total wreck, both engines thrown out of the aircraft on impact. Although the pilot initially survived he died on the way to hospital. The Australian navigator W/O. John Burrows was killed instantly. The second pilot, Army Lieutenant Dickson suffered head injuries but recovered.The other two crew members escaped with slight injuries.

(1) F/O. Bullivant and Fl/Sgt. Brooks both escaped injury and evaded capture later in the war. On the 28th July 1944 on a Albermarle P1400 the aircraft was attacked by a night fighter with the aircraft crashing near Muneville-sur-Mer. 3 of the crew were killed, 3 others evaded and made their way back to England.

(2) 297 Squadron was first formed as the Parachute Experimental Squadron on the 15th December 1941, initially they were based at Ringway in Manchester but after only a week were moved to Netheravon. In February 1942, the first Whitley aircraft began to arrive and these were used to help train paratroopers. The Squadron moved to RAF Hurn on the 4th June, and then to RAF Thruxton on the 24th October. From these bases a steady programme of training with the Airborne Forces continued, but 297 Squadron also conducted a number of "Nickel" raids; dropping leaflets over occupied territory.

Burial details:

F/O. Louis Andrew Sproule. Rutherglen Cemetery. Division Q. Grave 88. No further details, are you able to assist further?

W/O. John Benjamin Burrows. Buried at Cannock Cemetery. Division. A. Sec. 1. Grave 1175 on the 10th April. Born on the 11th July 1921 at Coburg, Victoria, the son of Alexander and Ada Frances Burrows, of Middle Brighton, Victoria, Australia and husband of Marjorie Ruth Burrows, of North-Close,The Canonry, Salisbury, England. Epitaph reads: "Still Living, Still Ours Father And Mother".

With many thanks to David Franklin who brought this loss to our attention. He discovered a clip showing a Mr. Hannah McFadyen who had been looking after the grave of the Australian crewmember for several years. Bruno Lecaplain and 38 Squadron Website. For further details our thanks to the following sources.

KTY 05.05.2018

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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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