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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 103 Squadron
04.10.1945 103 Squadron Lancaster I PA278 PM:F Flt Lt. Geoffrey Taylor

Operation: Dodge, Italy

Date: 4th October 1945 (Thursday)

Unit No: 103 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: PA278

Code: PM:F

Base: RAF Glatton, Cambridgeshire

Location: Crashed into the sea 30 miles off the coast of Corsica

Pilot: Flt Lt. Geoffrey Taylor 189687 RAFVR Age 24. Missing - believed killed (1)

Flt Eng: Sgt. Richard George Steel 1818104 RAFVR Age 20. Missing - believed killed (2)

Nav: Flt Sgt. Jack Anthony Reardon 1626816 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed

WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Norman Reginald Robbins 1894110 RAFVR Age 20. Missing - believed killed

Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. William John Kennedy 2208930 RAFVR Age ? Missing - believed killed

Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Lt. John 'Johnnie' Percy Whymark DSO DFC 53481 RAFVR Age 25. Missing - believed killed (3)

Believed to be an early photograph of the crew of Lancaster PA278. To date it has not been possible to put names to all of those in the photograph, except for Sgt. Steel who is on the back row 3rd from the left. (Courtesy: Mark Rogers)

It is possible that the airman seated on the left is Flt Sgt. Robbins whose brevet denotes that he was an 'Air Signaller' and the airman seated in the middle with the 'Pilots Wings’ is Flt Lt. Taylor.
It has not been possible to date to put names of the remaining crew to the other four airmen.


Senior Matron. Gertrude Irene Sadler, 254580 South African Military Nursing Service Age 41. Missing - believed killed (4)

Lance Corporal. Williamina Allan W/23244 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 37. Missing - believed killed (5)

Private. Phyllis Kathleen Doris Bacon W/77415 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 34. Missing - believed killed

Corporal. Heather Cosens Cosens W/184715 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 25. Missing - believed killed

Private. Stefania Courtman W/PAL/203386 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age early 20's. Missing - believed killed

Private. Barbara Diana Cullen MiD W/252761 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 30. Missing - believed killed (6)

Sister. Jane Simpson Annand Curran 236425 Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Age? Missing - believed killed (7)

Private. Agnes Edwards W/258692 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 28. Missing - believed killed (8)

Rhoda Alice Fraser is remembered on the Holburn Church War Memorial, Aberdeen (courtesy Alison McCall)

Private. Rhoda Alice Fraser W/155271 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 24. Missing - believed killed (9)

Private. Bessie Goodman W/143732 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 25. Missing - believed killed

Corporal. Jill Goring W/237256 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 23. Missing - believed killed

Private. Joan Larkin W/154454 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 24. Missing - believed killed

Private. Alice Lillyman W/74459 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 22. Missing - believed killed

Lance Corporal. Sheila MacLeod W/170036 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 27. Missing - believed killed (10)

Lance Corporal. May Eleanor Mann W/236937 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 23. Missing - believed killed (11)

Private. Betty Evelyn Precious W/147946 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 24. Missing - believed killed (12)

Lance Corporal. Enid Dacia Rice W/144264 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 24. Missing - believed killed

Staff Sergeant. Jessie Ellen Semark MiD W/7326 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 29. Missing - believed killed

Private. Marion Taylor W/99752 Auxiliary Territorial Service Age 22. Missing - believed killed

A further page is under preparation outlining the flying career of Flt Lt. John (Johnnie) Percy Whymark DSO DFC


Lancaster I PA278 took off from RAF Glatton, Cambridgeshire at 00:30 hrs. and was flying to RAF Pomigliano, Italy on operation Dodge. (see below) The aircraft may have been hit by lightning or may have had some kind of engine failure with the result that the aircraft disappeared. Evidence suggests that the aircraft crashed into the sea off Corsica, but after an extensive search, no wreckage or bodies were ever found. The pilot of another Lancaster reported seeing a flash in the sea at 04:40 hrs around the time that Lancaster PA278 is thought to have crashed.

Operation Dodge was the transportation of troops between the UK and overseas bases. There were two massive PoW repatriation operations that began on the 2nd of May, 1945. 'Operation Exodus', the repatriation of allied PoW's in Europe, and 'Operation Dodge' the repatriation of PoW's from Italy and the Mediterranean.

Right: 1945 A landing site Pomigliano, Italy on Operation Dodge (courtesy International Bomber Command Centre)

Daily Mail Saturday 17th November 1945 (courtesy British Newspaper Archive)

Flyers were told to look for the lost ATS plane. This newspaper story came from the Daily Mirror Saturday, November 17, 1945.

Aircrews of Lancaster bombers flying home from Italy with soldiers - passengers, were told after October 5: 'Don't take your eyes off the gound. An aircraft is missing and we must find it. But don't let your passengers know about it. The missing Lancaster was carrying seventeen ATS girls to Italy from Glatton airfield, near Peterborough, Northants. It took off at about 6am on October 4 and was never seen again (note: Glatton airfield was based in Cambridgeshire and not Northants).

The Air Ministry and the War Office were not at all forthcoming with information about this loss and little information was released to the public. Newspapers at the time around the country were given a general report on the loss of the aircraft and the missing crew and passengers and the families were not advised of the death of their relative until March 1946. Prior to this some relatives placed advert in the national newspapers, appealing for information and one was answered by Eileen Whymark, wife of the late Flt Lt. John 'Johnnie' Percy Whymark DSO. DFC.

Mrs. Whymark had been kept informed of events by her husband's Commanding Officer and colleagues of her late husband and was better informed than other as to what happened. She answered one of the advertisements, from the family of Lance Corp Mann one of the ATS girls lost in the accident. Her letter was passed to Warrant Officer Basil Henderson, fiancé of Lance Corporal Mann telling him what she knew. Warrant Officer Henderson who at the time was on the personal staff of a Major General had been unable to find out anything that might explain what had happened to this aircraft, the crew and passengers.

Mrs Whymark and Warrant Officer Henderson exchanged letter and when Basil Henderson returned to England in 1946 he and Mrs Whymark met and were later married and brought up two sons and Mrs Whymak's son Robert (Bob)

Auxiliary Territorial Service:

The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was formed in 1938. Initially, the only jobs available were cooks, clerks, orderlies, store women or drivers. But eventually there were over a hundred different roles in the ATS, including serving in anti-aircraft batteries. This expansion allowed more men to be released for front line service. More than 250,000 women served in the ATS during the Second World War, making it the largest of the women's services.

Left to right: Runnymede Memorial, Brookwood Memorial and Casino Memorial

Memorial Details:

The Runnymede Memorial: The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede commemorates by name over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe that had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

The Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial: Stands at the southern end of the Canadian section of the cemetery and commemorates 3,500 men and women of the land forces of the Commonwealth who died during the Second World War and have no known grave, the circumstances of their death being such that they could not appropriately be commemorated on any of the campaign memorials in the various theatres of war. They died in the campaign in Norway in 1940, or in the various raids on enemy-occupied territory in Europe such as Dieppe and St Nazaire. Others were special agents who died as prisoners or while working with Allied underground movements. Some died at sea, in hospital ships and troop transports, in waters not associated with the major campaigns, and a few were killed in flying accidents or in aerial combat.

Cassino Memorial: Within the cemetery stands the Cassino Memorial which commemorates over 4,000 Commonwealth servicemen who took part in the Italian campaign and whose graves are not known. The Memorial was designed by Louis de Soissons and unveiled by Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. The Earl Alexander of Tunis on 30 September 1956.

Burial Details:

(1) Flt Lt. Geoffrey Taylor. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 266. Born in 4th Qtr of 1921 in Bradford, Yorkshire, West Riding. Son of Ernest and Annie (née Parker) Taylor of Bradford Bradford, Yorkshire, West Riding, England.

Flt Sgt. Geoffrey Taylor 1506090 was granted a commission and promoted to Plt Off on probation, London Gazette 13th February 1945 and was confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Fg Off., London Gazette 20th July 1945.

(2) Sgt. Richard George Steel. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 277. Son of Leonard John and Doris A Steel of Crowle, Worcestershire Richards address at the time of his death was The Stores, Crowle, Worcestershire. He is remembered on Crowle Church War Memorial, England.

Left: Photograph of Sgt. Steel took when he was undergoing aircrew training. (Courtesy: Mark Rogers)

Right: Richard George Steel is remembered on Crowle Church War Memorial (Aircrew Remembered archive)

Flt Sgt. Jack Anthony Reardon. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel. 272. No further information of next of kin as yet. Are you able to help?

Flt Sgt. Norman Reginald Robbins. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 272. Son of Harold and Lily Violet Martha Robbins of Wembley, Middlesex, England.

Sgt. William John Kennedy. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 275. No further information of next of kin as yet. Are you able to help?

(3) Flt Lt. John 'Johnnie' Percy Whymark DSO. DFC. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Panel 266. Son of Percy John Whymark and Ruby E Whymark of 32 Waverley Gardens, Grays, Essex. John Percy Whymark enlisted in 1938 to train as an armorer, but by 1940 John had become an Air Gunner and was serving with No 41 Squadron as a rear gunner in England, South Africa and Malta completing 39 operational flights. John Percy Whymark 616289 was appointed to the commission as Plt Off 53481 on probation 27th August 1943 and posted from No 11 Base to No 101 Squadron as mid-upper gunner 14th February 1944 where he flew at least 15/20 operational flights between 15th March to 11th May 1944. He was confirmed in his appointment as Plt Off and promoted to Fg Off. on 27th February 1944. John 'Johnnie' Percy Whymark DSO, DFC had completed nearly 100 operation flights some while serving in the Middle East, with 101 Squadron and 103 Squadron. He was almost certainly the most decorated air gunner in the RAF.

John Percy Whymark was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) while serving with No 101 Squadron in 1944 and in 1945 John was awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations. The citation was published in 'Flight' December 20, 1945 reads ' Act. Flt Lt. J P Whymark, DFC, RAFVR, No 103 Squadron. - Since the award of the DFC in June 1944, this officer has been employed as gunnery leader of his squadron. In this capacity, he has done excellent work both in the air and on the ground. On his first tour, this officer participated in attacks on Benghazi, Taranto and Tripoli. During this time his aircraft was involved in two serious crashes whilst returning to base after being damaged by enemy action. Flt Lt. Whymark has also operated in Western Europe. His missions have included attacks on Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Chemnitz, Munich, Berlin and Essen. Flt Lt. Whymark has at all times displayed skill and determination while on operations'.

Eileen Whymark, via correspondence on the crash with W/O. Basil Henderson, later met and married. Basil died in 2008 and Eileen in 2014 (see 11) Lance Corporal May Eleanor Mann)

As a Plt Off. John Wymark survived an earlier incident on Wellington Ic P9265 QJ-A.

(4) Senior Matron Gertrude Irene Sadler. Cassino Memorial, Commune of Cassino, Province of Frosinone, Italy. Panel 16. Daughter of William George North Sadler and Sarah Jane Sadler of 2 Esslemont Avenue, Aberdeen Born on the 13th August 1904 in Tynemouth. Gertrude had been home on leave staying with her mother in Aberdeen and was returning to Salonika hospital, Greece when the aircraft disappeared without a trace. Sister Gertrude Irene Sadler is remembered on the Royal London Hospital War Memorial, Whitechapel, London, England.

Private Agnes Edwards is remembered on the Rhyl War Memorial (courtesy Flintshire War Memorials see credits) Private Betty Evelyn Precious is remembered on the Eaglescliffe War Memorial

(5) L/Cpl. Williamina Allan. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of William and Anne Allan. L/Cpl. Williamina Allan is remembered on the Dunoon Civic War Memorial, Argyll, Scotland.

Pte. Phyllis Kathleen Doris Bacon. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Mrs. F Bacon of Catford, London, England.

Cpl. Heather Cosens Cosens. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 22. Column 3. Daughter of Albert Olliver Cosens and Angelina Cosens of Worthing, Sussex, England.

Pte. Stefahia Courtman. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Stefania (Stefania) Courtman, (née Goldberg) recently married Albert Edward Courtman, who was in the RAMC. Returning to Italy after visiting the family of Albert in the North of England. (Information courtesy of Jill Courtman - daughter of Albert)

(6) Pte. Barbara Diana Cullen MiD. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of James Roy and Nellie Dora Shillito Cullen of Nottingham. Private Cullen was returning from home leave to her unit in Austria at the time of the accident.

Right: Barbara Diana Cullen MiD mentioned in The Nottingham Evening Post, Saturday November 1945 (courtesy British Newspaper Archive)

(7) Sister Jane Simpson Annand Curran. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 22. Column 2. No further information of next of kin as yet. Are you able to help? Miss Jane Simpson Annand Curran was granted a commission as Sister 13 July 1943 as per London Gazette dated 11 September 1942.

(8) Pte. Agnes Edwards. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Joseph and Sarah J Edwards of Rhyl, Flintshire. Pte. Agnes Edwards is remembered on the Rhyl War Memorial, Flintshire, Wales.

(9) Pte. Rhoda Alice Fraser. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of John and Georgina Fraser of 15 Allenvale Road, Oyne, Aberdeenshire. Born in 1921. Rhoda joined the ATS four years ago and had worked before enlisting for Messrs J Mowatt and Sons, fish curers, South Esplanade West, Aberdeen, and is remembered on the South Holburn Parish Church War Memorial, Aberdeen, Scotland.

"Missing on the Way to Italy from The Press and Journal Saturday, November 1945 (courtesy British Newspaper Archive)

Two Aberdeen Women Among Lancaster's Passengers - Two Aberdeen women are among twenty-five persons posted missing from RAF Lancaster which disappeared on a trip from this country to Italy. They are Sister Jane S Curran, 2 Esslemont Avenue, and Pte. Rhoda Alice Fraser, ATS, elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Fraser, 15 Allenvale Road. The plane left an aerodrome in Huntingdonshire for Italy on October 4 and never reached its destination. It was over the Mediterranean when the last signal was received from it, but it is not known at what point that it disappeared".

Pte. Bessie Goodman. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Elizabeth Goodman of Oldham, Lancashire, England.

Cpl. Jill Goring. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 22. Column 3. Daughter of John Goring and of Dorothy G Goring of St. John's Wood, London, England.

Pte. Joan Larkin. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of George Edward Larkin and of Alma Larkin of Long Eaton, Derbyshire, England.

Pte. Alice Lillyman. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Alice Lillyman and the late William Lillyman of Northampton, England.

(10) L/Cpl. Sheila MacLeod. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Claude Leopold MacLeod and of Catherine MacLeod. Sheila was born on the 9 March 1918 in Jinja, Uganda Protectorate.

(11) L/Cpl. May Eleanor Mann. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Albert Edward and Ann Mann. At the time of her death, May was engaged to Warrant Officer Basil Henderson.

(12) Pte. Betty Evelyn Precious. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Alan Montagu Precious and Lydia Elizabeth Precious of Eaglescliffe, Co. Durham. Pte. Betty Evelyn Precious is remembered on the Eaglescliffe War Memorial, Stockton-on-Tees, England.

L/Cpl. Enid Dacia Rice. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Ernest and Emily Louise Rice.

S/Sgt. Jessie Ellen Semark MiD. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 22. Column 3. Daughter of Frank and Ruby Ellen Semark.

Pte. Marion Taylor. Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, Surrey. Panel 23. Column 1. Daughter of Roland and Dorothy Oakley Taylor of Egham, Surrey, England.

Researched by Kate Tame Aircrew Remembered and for all the relatives and friends of the crew. With special thanks to Bob Whymark son of Flt Lt John Percy Whymark DSO, DFC for his contribution to this page about his father, British Newspapers Archive, Alison McCall - Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland, International Bomber Command Centre, Filintshire War Memorials. Also to Jill Courtman for information on Private Stefahia Courtman (Sep 2018). Thanks also to Mark Rogers for the photographs of Sgt. Steel and the crew (Oct 2019). Link to Plt Off. John Wymark's previous incident added (Jan 2022). Thanks to Kenneth for the correction to the memorial fo Pte. Rhoda Alice Fraser (Oct 2022). NoK details for Flt Lt. Taylor updated by Aircrew Remembered (Oct 2022).

Other sources listed below.

RS 22.10.2022 - Correction to memorial for Pte Rhoda Alice Fraser and update to Flt Lt. Taylor NoK details

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