14/15.01.1942 207 Squadron Manchester I L7523 EM:M Flt Sgt. Wescombe
Date: 14th/15th January 1942 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit No: 207 Squadron
Type: Manchester I
Base: RAF Bottesford, Lincolnshire
Location: Holmpton, East Yorkshire
Pilot: Flt Sgt. Basil Courtney Wescombe 523056 RAF Age 25. KiA
Pilot 2: Flt Sgt. Frederick Edward Thomas 1111152 RAF Age 26. KiA
Obs: Sgt. Eric Ronald Harper 925454 RAFVR Age 19. KiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Leonard Sieve 902414 RAFVR Age 23. KiA
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt.Claude Raymond Westbury 961733 RAFVR Age 21. KiA
Air Gnr (Mid Upp): Sgt. ‘Jack’ John Thomas Howe 1194389 RAFVR Age 20. KiA
Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker 641700 RAF Age 19. KiA
Vincent Holyoak, the author of 'On the Wings of the Morning' visited Cliff House Farm on the 50th anniversary and interviewed the Walker sisters who had witnessed it. The farm house has now entirely disappeared due to coastal erosion. He also met with Flt Sgt. Wescombe's widow and daughter at East Kirkby in 1993 where the Panton brothers kindly allowed them to sit in the Lancaster. It was incredibly moving to witness, when the hangar doors were opened, and they could smell and see the Lancaster for the first time they hugged and they cried. Flt Sgt. Wescombe's widow climbed into the pilot's seat and recalled that he had often described to her what it was like to fly a Manchester and there and then she felt closer to him than she had in many years. She also recalled that for months after his loss her little daughter thought that every man was her daddy.
Above: Left to Right: Sgt. Westbury, Sgt Howe (Courtesy of Vincent Holyoak), Sgt. Walker.
Above: Sgt. Harper (Courtesy of Vincent Holyoak)
REASON FOR LOSS:
L7523 took off from RAF Bottesford at 1735 hours some 15 minutes late due to a technical problem.
The aircraft was airborne for 3 hours and 10 minutes, and given the cruising speed of an Avro Manchester was 185 mph and that they returned with an engine on fire it is not possible for the crew to have reached Hamburg and unlikely that they came under enemy fire.
At 20:45 the elder of three Misses Walker was sitting in the kitchen of Cliff House Farm in the hamlet of Holmpton on the Yorkshire coast. She heard a loud popping sound of a throttled back the engine at low altitude and rushed outside to see the plane pass low to the south, with flames apparently coming from the rear.
Seconds later the plane hit the ground and there was a flash and explosion. The source of the fire is unknown, but possibly an uncontrollable fire in the port Vulture engine would have given the same appearance to a ground observer. The Home Guard were soon on the scene arriving from a nearby Observation Post on the cliff-top. It took the Withernsea Police and the Auxiliary Fire Service over an hour to reach the crash site. They found a deep crater filled with wreckage, and propaganda leaflets (nickels) printed in German were being blown about in the stiff breeze. Amongst the debris were also three bodies. The Fireman returned to their depot at 01:55 and by 02:46 it was established that the wreck was that of a British bomber.
The Home Guard carried the remains of the crew to Cliff House Farm where they remained overnight in one of the farm buildings. The next morning farm workers found a sorry sight. Soldiers were already guarding the impact point and the tail unit had been thrown over a nearby hedge. Small fragments of airframe were spread over a wide area, with apparently the bomb load already been jettisoned. A freezing rain was falling from a leadened sky and within a short period the farm workers' clothes were frozen stiff. Later that morning the bodies were conveyed by RAF ambulances to RAF Catfoss (2 Operational (Coastal) Training Unit) near Hornsea.
Another witness of the crash was a 14 year old boy who was looking out of the window of his house in Holmpton. He saw the plane travelling North away from the River Humber parallel to the coast. The plane had flames pouring from it and ultimately crashed on the crest of Mill Hill approximately half a mile from the Rocket House in Holmpton. He places the time of the crash much later at about 23:00 hours and was at the scene within minutes, but could not approach the aircraft because of the intense fire and bullets firing in all directions as the stored ammunition exploded.
Despite having crashed in Yorkshire, no Aircraft Accident Card summarising results of an investigation has been traced. The subsequent inquest held at the farm established that L7523 had jettisoned her war load out to sea, and concluded that the aircraft had probably been damaged by enemy action as there was a suggestion of battle damage on the aircraft, forcing an early return and culminating in the crash. (Memorial Dedication at Holmpton)
Above: Senior Archivist from Humberside County Council response to query regarding the loss of Manchester I, L7523 and the crew. (Courtesy of Vincent Holyoak)
Flt Sgt. Basil Courtney Wescombe. Falmer Church, Sussex in the 7th Grave from gate - Pathside. The Son of George Courtney Wescombe and Elsie Wescombe and the husband of Audrey Ruby Constance Wescombe, of Bitterne Park, Southampton, England.
Flt Sgt. Frederick Edward Thomas. St. Mary’s Church, Brandesburton, East Yorkshire. Grave 8, RAF Section. Born on the 1st September 1915. Son to Frederick Lee and Mary Grace (née Curran) of Hillhead, Glasgow, Scotland.
Sgt. Eric Ronald Harper. Streatham Cemetery, London. Grave 305, Block 9. The Son of William and Hilda Maud Harper, of Tooting, Surrey, England.
Flt Sgt. Leonard Sieve. Failsworth Jewish Cemetery, Manchester. Grave N.31. The Son of Myer and Lydia Sieve; nephew of Joseph Sunlight, of Knutsford, Cheshire, England.
Sgt. Claude Raymond Westbury. Nottingham Church Cemetery, St. George Sec. Grave 12058. The Son of Herbert and Mary Westbury, of Nottingham, England.
Sgt. ‘Jack’ John Thomas Howe. Winfield Cemetery, Nottingham, Grave B.3. The Son of Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Howe, of Rugby, England.
Above: Understood to be Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker on the left of these two crew members (insert Sgt. Walker) in front of Wellington T2972 KG:G (This aircraft went on to survive over 50 operational sorties with 311 Squadron (Czech) before it was finally scrapped in 1944 )
Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker. Frankby Cemetery, Wirral. Grave C.9. Born 21st January 1922, in Wallasey, the son of Harold Hood Sydney Walker and Mabel Gibbs Walker (née Burcher). They lived in Wallasey, Merseyside, England.
Researched by Kelvin Youngs (Webmaster) and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Mike McQaid and also to Mike Berrell of The Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society. Also to Lisa West and the family of Sgt. Maurice Robert Walker for photographs and information (Sep 2017). Julia and Keld, Irish, Meersbrooke for other grave photographs. Thanks to John Jones for NoK details for Flt Sgt. Thomas and the narrative from the Memorial Dedication at Holmpton (Apr 2019). Many thanks to Vincent Holyoak for the photographs and updates to this report and for sharing the visit of Flt Sgt. Wescombe's family to East Kirby (Jan 2023).
Other sources listed below: