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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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24.10.1943 207 Squadron Lancaster I W4121 EM:B Flt Sgt. Lawrence R. Wright

Mission: Milan

Date: 24th October 1942 (Saturday)

Unit No: 207 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: W4121

Code: EM:B

Base: Langar, Nottinghamshire

Location: Crashed in the sea off of Cabourg, France.

Pilot: Flt Sgt. Lawrence Ritelli Wright, 1378917 RAFVR Age 21. MiA

Flt Eng: Sgt. William Bell, 953518 RAFVR Age 24. KiA

Nav: Flt Sgt. Sydney Douglas Gowshall Roberts, 924483 RAFVR Age 24. MiA

WOp/ Air Gnr/ Bomb Aimer: Sgt. Lionel Horace Bell 1164373 RAFVR Age 22 KiA

WOp/ Air Gnr: Sgt. Albert John Victor Hunt 405489 RNZAF Age 24. MiA

WOp/ Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. John Francis McCallum, R75315 RCAF Age 21. MiA

Air Gnr/ Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Dennis Kilvington Potter, 628018 RAFVR Age 21 KiA

Air Gnr (Mid Upper): Sgt. William Clifford Colwill, R90227 RCAF Age 23. KiA

Air Gnr (Rear): Sgt. Walter George Woodhouse, 1436485 RAFVR Age 20. KiA


Ten Lancasters from 207 Squadron were detailed to be part of an 88-bomber daylight raid on the city of Milan.
For this operation, the normal procedure where the attacking force would form up into the bomber stream at some point over the UK was not to be followed. Each crew was to make their way separately under cloud cover across the English Channel and by a direct route over France to Lake Annecy where they would rendezvous before crossing the Alps to their target 150 miles further east.

Captain Wright and crew took off from RAF Langar at 12:41 p.m. and according to the squadron records, nothing further was heard from the aircraft.

The MRES report of the investigation into the crash carried out in October 1945 states that the Lancaster which was on its first operation with a total of eight hours flying time, crashed on the sea front at Cabourg and indeed one crew member, Sgt. Lionel Bell is buried in the cemetery there his body being washed ashore on 30 December 1942.

Chorley (1994) however, in his Volume 3 RAF Bomber Command Losses 1942, states that the crash occurred “in the sea off Blainville sur Mer, France, and some 30km SE of Jersey in the Channel Islands” (p. 249). To this writer, it would seem rather unlikely given that all the bodies that were eventually washed up were found in the waters of the bay located between Le Harve to the east and the Contentin Peninsular to the west on the French coast, whereas, Blainville sur Mer lies some 75 miles to the west of Cabourg on the other side of the Contentin Peninsular.

The bodies of Sergeants Colwill and Woodhouse were washed ashore at Valognes on the 16 November 1942 and originally buried in the Communal Cemetery, Maupertus before being reinterred at Cherbourg.
Flight Sergeant Potter was found on the 17 November washed ashore at Ravenoville and was also buried at Maupertus before reinterrment at Cherbourg.
Sergeant William Bell was not found until 31 December washed ashore near Blonville sur Mer and he remains there buried in the Municipal Cemetery.
Sergeant McCallum is buried at Ouistreham on the French coast to the west of Cabourg and in all likelihood was washed ashore near there.
The remains of the other three crew members have never been found.

It will likely never be known why or where exactly the plane crashed.

Flt Sgt. John Francis McCallum

John was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on 2 February 1922. He was the eldest of two sisters and a brother and worked for the Star Phoenix newspaper until his enlistment on 22 November 1940.
Choosing to be trained as a pilot or an air gunner, John was posted to No. 2 Wireless School, Calgary, Alberta on 28 April 1941 graduating with his wireless operators badge on 14 September that year. His training was completed at No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School at Dafoe, Saskatchewan on 13 October 1941. Posted to the UK he arrived at No.3 PRC Bournemouth on 14 November 1941 and was attached to No.14 Initial Training Wing, Hastings, and then for further training as a wireless operator, he attended No.1 Signal School at Cranwell North in Lincolnshire from 9 December 1941 to 17 February 1942. Posted to No.25 Operational Training Unit at RAF Finningley near Doncaster, South Yorkshire for training as a member of a night bomber crew.
Whilst at 25OTU, McCallum was called upon to participate in the first of the “1000 Bomber Raids” against Cologne on the night of 30/31 May 1942. After taking off and setting course for the target, the starboard engine of their Wellington failed after only 15 minutes of flying time and they were forced to land at RAF Binbrook on one engine with a full bomb load.
His next posting was to 83 Squadron on 7 July 1942 and then to No.1654 Conversion Unit. Posted to 207 Squadron 3 September.
John had successfully completed two trips prior to being lost on the trip to Milan. 13/14 September, Bremen and 16/17 September, Essen.

Sgt. William Clifford Colwill

William was born in St.Thomas, Ontario on 23 September 1919. After graduating from The St.Thomas Collegiate Institute in 1940, he was working as a news carrier until he enlisted on 14 February 1941. Selected for aircrew training he was posted to Elementary Flying School at Goderich, Ontario. William however, struggled to complete his training as a pilot and after reassignment to Composite Training School, Trenton he was posted to No.1 Air Observers School at London, Ontario. He was then remustered as an air gunner and posted to the Bombing and Gunnery School at Fingal, Ontario where he graduated with his air gunners badge on 27 April 1942.
Posted to the UK in June and sent to No.7 Air Gunners School, RAF Stormy Down, Wales, until joining 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit on 10 August 1942. Posted to 207 Squadron 3 September 1942.
William successfully completed two sorties, 16/17 September, Essen, and 17 September, Le Creusot. His third to Genoa returned early due to a fuel leak on their regular Lancaster R5908. He was lost on his next sortie to Milan.

McCallum Lake, Saskatchewan was named after F/Sgt. McCallum in 2003

Colwill Lake, Thunder Bay, Ontario was named after Sgt. Colwill in 1960

Burial Details:

Flt Sgt. Lawrence Ritelli Wright, Runnymede Memorial Panel 77. Son of Robert and Mary Wright. Husband of Margaret Joan Wright, of Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

Sgt. William Bell, Blonville sur Mer Churchyard. Inscription: "HOW BRIGHT THESE GLORIOUS SPIRITS SHINE!". Son of Thomas and Mary Bell of Ardrossan, Ayrshire.

Above a stained glass window in St. Mathew’s Church, Worthing, West Sussex commemorating Flt. Sgt. Roberts. Courtesy of The IVM and © Susan Featherstone (WMR-90550)

Flt Sgt. Sydney Douglas Gowshall Roberts. Runnymede Memorial Panel 76. Son of Sydney Proctor Roberts and Alice Roberts, of Worthing, Sussex. Husband of Kathleen May Roberts, of Worthing.

Sgt. Lionel Horace Bell, Cabourg Communal Cemetery Mil. Plot Row 7 Grave 1. Inscription: 'AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING WE WILL REMEMBER THEM'. Son of Charles Harold and Daisy Victoria Bell, of Hythe, Kent.

Sgt. Albert John Victor Hunt, Runnymede Memorial Panel 117. Son of Albert Edward Hunt and of Rosa Elizabeth Hunt (Nee Coulson), of Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand.

Flt Sgt. John Francis McCallum, Ouistreham-Riva-Bella Communal Cemetery Calvados, France Grave 57. Born on the 2nd February 1922 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Son of Andre and Myrtle Sophia (née Cooksley) McCallum of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Flt Sgt. Dennis Kilvington Potter, Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery Plot 6 Row D Grave 13. Inscription: 'LIFE IS NOTHING MUCH TO LOSE; BUT YOUNG MEN THINK IT IS AND WE WERE YOUNG'. Son of Eric Kilvington Potter and Doris Potter, of Acomb, York.

Sgt. William Clifford Colwill, Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery Plot 6 Row D Grave 12. Inscription: 'IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEAR SON, WHO GAVE HIS LIFE THAT OTHERS MIGHT LIVE'. Born on the 23rd September 1919 in St. Thomas, Ontario. Son of William Mervin and Gladys Mavoureen (née Lacey) Colwill of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.

Sgt. Walter George Woodhouse, Cherbourg Old Communal Cemetery Plot 6 Row D Grave 11. Inscription: 'GOODNIGHT, GOD BLESS WALT'. Son of Bertram and Florence Woodhouse, of Erdington, Birmingham.

Researched by Colin Bamford and dedicated to the crew and their families (Nov 2022). Thanks to Richard Maddox for the information regarding the commemoration window for Flt Sgt. Roberts. (Jun 2023).

Other sources listed below:

RS 22.06.2023 - Update and inclusion of memorial window image

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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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