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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 Bomber Command Crest
27 OTU Wellington III X3547 Flt Sgt. Watson, Middlewich, Cheshire

Operation: Training

Date: 20th March 1943 (Saturday)

Unit: 27 OTU

Type: Wellington III

Serial: X3547

Base: RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire

Location: Crewe, Cheshire.

Pilot: Flt Sgt. Leonard David Watson 402813 RAAF Age 24. Killed (1) (2)

2nd Pilot: Sgt. Douglas Williams 1316166 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Nav: Flt Sgt. William Dennis Keith Forbes 401498 RAAF Age 23. Killed

Bomb Aimer: Sgt. John Ernest Rouse 1318732 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Frank Ronald Conway 1218971 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Leonard John Coppins 628893 RAF Age 22. Killed

Air Gnr: Sgt. Henry Thomas Holley 911325 RAFVR Age? Killed

Air Gnr: Sgt. Leslie Frederick Hills 997003 RAFVR Age 25. Killed

We would like to appeal for any relatives of this crew to contact us. A memorial is being planned to this crew and perhaps to some others that also crashed in the same area. Subject to sufficient funds being raised.


Took off from RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire on a cine camera gun training exercise.

Report from 949 Balloon Squadron states 'At 15:19 hrs. reports that an aircraft had crashed following hitting a cable at 1,000 ft. Both DPL's operated causing the aircraft to dive steeply and crash.
The Balloon ripped and was later recovered with armaments. All eight crew bodes were recovered and taken to Crewe Mortuary and identified.


The British added two refinements to their balloons, 'Double Parachute Link' (DPL) and 'Double Parachute/Ripping' (DPR) The former was triggered by the shock of an enemy bomber snagging the cable, causing that section of cable to be explosively released complete with parachutes at either end; the combined weight and drag bringing down the aircraft. The latter was intended to render the balloon safe if it broke free accidentally. The heavy mooring cable would separate at the balloon and fall to the ground under a parachute; at the same time a panel would be ripped away from the balloon causing it to deflate and fall independently to the ground.

We are indebted to Mr. Steve Bratt, from Crewe, Cheshire, who, for a number of years, has been researching this and other losses in the area. Steve has supplied us with accurate information on the possible crash site. Further to this a Mr. Alan Clark the founder of the Peak district air crashes also provided Steve with the barrage balloon reports from the area after researching them at Kew.

To prevent low fights and pinpoint bombing by the Luftwaffe, the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) put up huge barrage balloons. Each balloon was moored to a wagon by a steel cable. These cables were strong enough to destroy any aircraft colliding with them. On the wagon was a winch that enabled the RAF Balloon Command to control the height of the barrage balloon. The balloons achieved the main objective of discouraging dive bombing and low-level attacks.

There were several 'other incidents' in the same area, indeed even on the same day, an Airspeed Oxford DF477 also crashed in similar circumstances, just 6 minutes earlier! Another Wellington crashed earlier in the war, again, 'similar circumstances.'

Map showing probable crash locations. With thanks to further assistance on these locations by Mr. Steve Bratt.

Canada, 1941. Sir Clive Baillieu, director general of British Purchasing Commission pins the "Wings" on Australians in Canada

Left to right: LACs R.L. Melville, Croydon; R.W. Baxter, Albury; E.H. Brown, Upper Undulla Terra; M.J. Moore, Taree; W.R. Cundy, Scone; D. Mckenzie, Bondi, Sydney; E.E. Green, Clarence River; Squadron Leader Gordon MC; A.T. Little, Narrandera; Sir Clive Baillieu, E.I. Bloomfield, Manly; G.F. Coombes, Lavender Bay, Sydney; R.B. Smith, Bowral; D.K. Lloyd, Hamilton; L.D. Watson, Casino; G. Sweeney, Dorrigo; W.W. Bleasing, Braidwood.

(1) Flt Sgt. Watson escaped an earlier incident on the 16th November 1941, when the Wellington R1785, on a non-operational flight swung on landing and ran off the strip at Holme-on-Spalding Moor airfield, the aircraft was slightly damaged and no injuries were reported.

1942 Ishmalia, Egypt. Members of 458 Squadron RAAF. Left to right: 400357 Sgt. Morris William Shapir, Sgt. J.R. Milleron US AAF, 404635 Sgt. E.A. Jones, 402813 Sgt. L.D. Watson and 404306 Sgt. A.A. Taylor

(2) Sadly James and Nina Watson lost three sons during the war, all serving in the airforce:

Plt Off. Malcolm Douglas Watson 420314 RAAF killed on Saturday, 18th March 1944. Flying a Halifax III LV827 with 466 squadron. On an operation to Frankfurt when shot down with the loss of all seven crew.
Fg Off. Maxwell Thomas Lockwood Watson 420328 RAAF killed on Wednesday, 22nd September 1943. Flying a Lancaster III JA859 with 460 squadron. On an operation to Hannover when shot down with the loss of all eight crew.
All three brothers enlisted at Casino, Queensland, Australia with their sister, who served with the WAAF

Leonard David Watson was born on the 30th October 1918 in Glenbrook, New South Wales. Educated at Sytherlan Intermediate High School from 1931 - 1932. Len had worked as a clerk with his two brothers and his father at the Northern Co-Op Meat Company, Kyagle Road, Casino for over three years.

Len enlisted on the 14th October 1940 at No. 2 Recruiting Centre, Sydney and was sent to No. 2 Initial Training School, NSW for two months basic training. LAC L.D. Watson embarked for Canada to complete further training and this is where he gained his "Wings" Len left Canada and arrived at No 3 PRC (Personnel Reception Centre) Bournemouth on 17th July 1941.

Leonard's first posting was to 21 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Moreton-in-March, Gloucestershire. Len was then posted to 458 Squadron in October 1941, Holme on Spalding Moor and then in El Shallufa, Egypt. It was while Len was in Egypt that he completed his first "tour of duty" having completed over 40 operational flights. Returning to the UK in December 1942 and after a short time at No. 2 PRC he was posted to No. 27 OTU to become an instructor.

Burial details:

Flt Sgt. Leonard David Watson. Byley (St. John) Churchyard, Cheshire. Sec.E. Grave 14. Inscription Reads: "ALL THAT HE CAME TO GIVE, HE GAVE AND WENT AWAY". Son of James and Nina Beryl Watson, of South Casino, New South Wales, Australia.

Casino Airman Sgt. Pilot L. Watson Memorial Service

The many expressions of sympathy that one heard pay tribute to his excellent character and to a young man held in the highest esteem and loved by all" stated Rev. C.M. Mayes in his address at a memorial service for the late Sgt. Pilot Len Watson at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church yesterday morning. "The service was attended by a large congregation of parishioners and representative citizens

Sgt. Pilot Watson, who was the youngest son of three sons of Mr and Mrs James Watson serving abroad in the RAAF.lost his life recently as the result of an accident whilst flying in England

In his address Mr Mayes said "A memorial doesn't need to be a dead thing, a stone, a tomb or a tablet - it can be a very live thing. We do not need skilled craftsmen to carve our memorial, we carve our own. What lovelier memorial can we have than this, that one should be remembered in human hearts

There is a simple saying on a plaque in the meeting place of the St. Pancras Rotary Club. All that he came to give, he gave, and went away" That could have been said of our Master Christ. Could we wish anything better to be said of us, when we have finished the journey. How true it is of him whose memory we are honouring to-day. He was only 24 having completed 50 operational flights many of which were over Germany, and had entered a rest period of instructional work. On March 20 at 2.30pm while piloting a Wellington bomber, his machine hit a balloon cable and thus he lost his life by pure accident

The many expressions of sympathy that one heard pay tribute to his excellent character, and to a young man held in the highest esteem and loved by all. He had a buoyant happy spirit, a victorious faith that never gave way to depression, and was slow to criticise. He always saw the best in life and missed little that was worth seeing. On one occasion he wrote to his father telling of the great comfort he received reading his Bible. On another occasion after a hazardous trip over Germany he concluded by saying "The knowledge that the truth sustains us sees us through: ahead shines a light of peace to come" Behind his happy disposition was a deep sincerity and a strong faith in the prevailing power and will of God. It is not true to say that such a promising life cut off so soon, was wasted. Many of the greatest men and woman who have done a lasting work for humanity lived a few short years. The greatness of a man's work is not measured by the length of his service but by its quality

"In Human Hearts" This memorial, like our Lords, is in human hearts, unlike all great leaders, who have substantial memorials there was no memorial erected to our Lord. His memorial is in human hearts: They build Him no memorial. Yet the farthest sea, Can yield no spot that's barren of His place. Surely this is the greatest of all memorials, to live in the hearts of those who love one - that is the memorial that is given to Len Watson. We know how sad his loved ones are, but what a comfort and joy to them to know that one who has played so noble a part does never grow old, but is eternally young - All that he came to give, he gave, he gave and went away

During the service Mr. J. McKinnon sang "There is no Death" and the Junior Choir sang an appropriate number. At the conclusion of Mr. Mayes address the large congregation stood in silence as a mark of respect. Those present included:

The Mayor Ald. A E Robinson;
Mrs Robinson, the Town Clerk;
Mr J.W. Every-Burns representing Casino Municipal Council;
S/Sgt. J. H. Cockerill representing the commanding officers and headquarters staff 22nd Battalion;
Lt. J. Druice, Lt. A. Cashell and Sgt. J. W. Thompson representing G. Coy 22nd Btn VDC;
Members of the Air Training Corps, WAAF, RSS AND AILA;
Mr G.S. Brown secretary;
Sqn Ldr. Williams RAAF;
From the Casino Red Cross Mrs. Elsmer Jones, President.
Casino WVS. Mrs H. J. Waddell, President;
Casino GPL. Miss Moffit, President;
Casino CWA. Mrs M. See, President;
Casino Rotary Club Mr .K. Middleton secretary;
Members of the staff of the Northern Co-operative Meat Co. Ltd.

Sgt. Douglas Williams. Cadoxton-Juxta-Neath (SS. Cattwg and Illtyd) Churchyard. Son of John Oscar and Elizabeth Williams, of Neath, Wales.

Flt Sgt. William Dennis Keith Forbes. Byley (St. John) Churchyard, Cheshire. Sec.G. Grave 14. Inscription Reads: ""INTO THY HANDS, O LORD" HIS DUTY FAITHFULLY DONE". Born on the 18th September 1919 in Prahran, Victoria. Son of Keith Angel Forbes and Eileen Forbes, of 68 Verdon Street, Williamstown, Victoria, Australia.

Sgt. John Ernest Rouse. Wandsworth (Streatham) Cemetery. Block 14. Grave 650. Son of Frank and Lilian Rouse, nephew of Mrs. F.C. Rouse, of Tooting, Surrey, England.

Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Conway (Credit: Sally Jowitt)

Sgt. Frank Ronald Conway. Ecclesall (All Saints) Churchyard. Sec. C. Grave 3108. Inscription reads: ""DEAD HE IS NOT, BUT DEPARTED, FOR OUR LOVED ONES NEVER DIE" A LOVING AND BELOVED SON". Son of Frank Thompson Conway and Nelly Conway, of Sheffield, England.

Flt Sgt. Leonard John Coppins. Hucknall Cemetery. Sec. North. Class C. Grave 2100. Inscription reads: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN. HE LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS COUNTRY". Son of William James Coppins and of Florence Coppins (nee Bellis), husband of Eileen Coppins, of Hucknall, England.

Sgt. Henry Thomas Holley. Mortlake Cemetery. Plot 10. Sec. B. Grave 1. Son of Mrs. A.J. Holley, of Hammersmith, England.

Sgt. Leslie Frederick Hills. New Southgate Cemetery. Sec.A.C. Grave 994. Inscription reads: "IN LOVING MEMORY". Son of Frederick J. Hills and Louisa M. Hills, of Enfield, Middlesex, England.

Researched for relatives of the crew. With thanks to Steve Bratt, Alan Clark and Kate Tame. Thanks to Sally Jowitt for the photograph of the grave marker for Sgt. Conway (Sep 2021). Update to narrative by Aircrew Remembered (Sep 2021).

RS 16.09.2021 - Addition of grave marker for Sgt. Conway and update to narrative

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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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