Operation: La Chapelle
Date: 20/21st April 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: 57 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF East Kirkby, Lincolnshire
Location: Lavender Vale, Wallington, Surrey
Pilot: Fg.Off. Harold James Young J/21880 RCAF Age 26. Killed
Flt.Eng: Sgt. William Clarke (Nobby) 747313 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Nav: Flt.Sgt. Reginald Colin McIntyre (Mac) 939112 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Air Bmr: Sgt. Dennis Barber 1436500 RAFVR Age? Injured.
W/Op Air Gnr: Sgt. William Fyfe 650314 RAF Age 25. Injured (1)
Mid Upper Gnr: Sgt. Arthur Lester 1592791 RAFVR Age? Injured
Rear Gnr: Sgt. Patrick Francis Alfred Hayes 1875976 RAFVR Age 23. Injured (2)
Mrs Haidee Marie Irene Marsden-Smith Age 35. Killed
Mrs Eva West Age 63. Killed
Mr. Henry Alfred Hayes. Firewatcher Age 50. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 21:47 hrs on a 2 part bombing raid on the railway yards at La Chapelle. Bombing was considered very accurate as they were using a new target marking method. No reports were available as to actual damage and casualties in the target area.
Extract from the Court of Inquiry ref: G69015, held at RAF Croydon on the 23rd April 1944.
Fg.Off. Young was on his first operational flight as captain and pilot. Whilst over enemy territory the aircraft was hit by flak and as a result both Starboard propellers had to be feathered. Wireless and navigational equipment became unserviceable as well as the hydraulic system. Sgt Barber was wounded. A course was set for England to try and find RAF Ford to make a precautionary landing but was not successful. An attempt was made to return to base, however, on sighting a flarepath and as the Port engines showed signs of excessive overheating, a visual request was made for permission to land, which was granted.
On the first approach to land difficulty was experience in lowering the undercarriage and flaps. On the second attempt the aircraft did not touch down until well down the flarepath. The pilot opened up to go round round again at the last moment but in doing so was unable to gain sufficient height to avoid striking some homes. The aircraft burst into flames on impact.
In the opinion of the investigating officer the accident was due to an overshoot after the pilot had misjudged his landing when attempting to land at a strange airfield, with a short landing run, on only two engines and with the hydraulic system unserviceable. The circumstances leading up to the accident and the accident itself were influenced almost entirely by damage to the aircraft sustained by enemy action.
The aircraft hit houses in Lavender Vale, Wallington after clipping chimneys on houses in Foresters Drive at 02:20 hrs on Friday 21st April.
Barbara McMaster - Nurse:
"A beautiful warm day, followed by a quiet evening. The air is dense with heavily laden bombers (RAF). People uneasy. Rossy and I retired to bed early. Rossy was duty WAAF ambulance driver. Gerry came rushing up ‘Crash on Drome.’ The next few hours I seem to exist - not to live. Marty and I prepare the crash room. Blood transfusions, saline infusions, oxygen apparatus, radiant heat, etc.We learn it was a Lancaster bomber. At least two of them arrive. Sgt. Air Gunners both suffering from severe shock and abrasions .We manage to get them into bed aft a lengthy struggle with their flying kit and await the arrival of the M.O. Two more injured members of the crew arrive on stretchers but are too bad for us to do anything about and they are rushed straight to hospital (Croyden General). The bodies of the three men that had been killed outright in the crash were completely destroyed in the fire which engulfed the plane. In the morning as soon as I enter the ward they ask for a cigarette. “What has happened to Mac? The Skipper? I avoid the issue. We are not quite sure what has happened to you all."
Mr. Boorman - Fire Watcher:
"We were there inside three minutes and we pulled out the rear gunner. He was bruised and shaken, but otherwise unhurt. We took him to a house where he was given a cup of tea and a cigarette, and he very quickly recovered from his ordeal."
Mr. Desmond Allen - Civilian:
"My bedroom was a few feet above the spot where the rear gunner's turret landed in our front garden. The room had a lot of wire in it from somewhere but I was at the window very quickly. Everything was well lit by the flames and glowing bullets. The gunner was moving slowly as if under water and trying to reach the surface. By the time I had dressed he had been helped. My brother Nevil and I spent the rest of the night helping and then using a trailer pump and hoses which we had managed to drag around to gardens behind the burning houses. Mrs. Marsden - Smith was a friend. The tree mentioned by the rear gunner was a Monkey Puzzle - quite small but very prickly! (shown left) The rear end of the fuselage which had been catapulted from the other side of the houses opposite had rotated horizontally through 180 degrees."
The rear gunner, Patrick Hayes wrote a diary and what follows is his description of what happened.
We are indebted to Michael Allman who has researched this a great deal.
"After completing the bombing mission the plane was shot up by German night fighters the only thought was to get back therefore they headed for home getting as far as the English Coast then the Croydon area.
It was while we were at Scampton our next posting came which was to an operational squadron 57 at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire, so this was it at last. All of us felt that we were ready because we had learnt how to function as a crew, but that is not to say we were not apprehensive, we were young and with very little idea of what lay ahead but I remember we all claimed to be eager to put our training to good use, but I am sure too that we all privately worried about how we would stand the rigours of operational flying we would soon find out.
We did some familiarising flights to get used to terrain and aircraft and then we were on battle orders, it was an easy target in France and all the targets were on rail, road, military objectives very much easier then German cities which were heavily defended, there were still night fighters to watch out for but less flak was not such a problem, we were concentrating on the Pas-de-Calais area of France, it was to make the Germans think we would be attacking in that area they were soft targets certainly, but on what was to be the last operation of our very short time with 57 squadron.
We were shot up by a night fighter who wounded Dennis and badly damaged the two port engines, the radio, and make matters most difficult for our return to England, we had already bombed our targets, a Panzer division in a wood so our only duty was to get back, we did not want to bail out then for obvious reasons and made a fateful decision to try to get back, unfortunately we could not maintain height by the time we were back over the English Coast area, we where to low to bail out, we tried to find a airfield designated a crash airfield with long runways to accommodate damaged and hard to control aircraft, but because we could not locate it - the radio was u/s and there was an intruder about which meant enemy aircraft and so no perimeter lights would be on, so we decided to try to get back to base in East Kirkby.
We were probably too low and in a desperate situation and just at this time we could hear a squeaky noise in our headphones indicating that we were approaching barrage balloons and therefore in a short while this squeaky noise cleared and at that moment the perimeter lights of an airfield came on so we could at least have somewhere to land, but because of damage could not contact them to get clearance, so we started to fire our Very Light, and they flashed a green Aldis Light giving us permission to land, it was not a very big field but we had no alternative but to try to land, so we made a circuit and started to descend.
All seemed to go well and I thought we had touched down, and said “wizard landing skip” but almost immediately he said “don’t be too sure get ready for impact”, I grabbed the sting and bind sight with both hands and put my head in my hands, this is to avoid smashing my face into it as it is only inches away, I don’t remember the first impact just a rocking sideways and I was knocked unconscious.
I came to when I heard people running nearby and lots of shouting, I could see there was lots of flames and could hear gun ammunition exploding, I thought the aircraft was still in one piece and as I could not move I thought I was going to be burnt to death.
I was still not fully aware what was going on, I suppose due to unconscious, but as I began to appreciate fully what was going on I started to struggle to get out, just then I saw a person running by, and shouted to him to help me, he was very surprised to hear my voice because he couldn’t see where I was, in fact I was halfway up a tree still in the turret, with part of the fuselage what had broken off and being thrown some distance down the street into someone’s front garden, so the reason I summoned him was because I was away from the rest of the plane that had caught fire when it had crashed into the house, in my confused state however I thought the plane was still intact, and I was trapped so when this chap heard my voice and came to help he had quite a job, trying to lug me out of the turret, as I said it was halfway up a tree but part of the fuselage was low enough so that it could just be reached, but he was an elderly gentleman and was not having much luck until gravity took over and I fell out of the turret unfortunately right on top of him, and I was laying on my back hearing his voice asking me to get off of him, but as I was semi concussed I did not seem to be able to, luckily he managed to extract himself and went for help, two RAF medical types arrived and with their help I got to my feet and with one on each side began to walk towards an ambulance that was parked up the road near to the scene of the disaster.
It was only then I saw to my horror that everyone in the front of the plane must have perished and anyone in the two houses too. I remember calling out names of my friends and imploring the rescuer to try to get to them, and bring restrained against trying, but it was a futile gesture, it was obvious nothing could be done. The medics were going to put me in the ambulance when one of them said “don’t put him in there” and they put me on the front seat next to the driver, it was a very old vehicle and I remember being asked to hold the choke open so the driver could get the engine to start and why I should remember in the midst of such carnage I don’t know, but it seemed so normal.
They took me to what looked like a large private house, which was in front of a sort of cottage hospital, it was outside the perimeter of Croydon Airport but the staff were all service types, and they were very kind and helpful, Arthur was already there and we were both very relieved to see each other, we enquired about our other friends hoping some of them had survived, but we knew in our heart of hearts and because the nurses and doctors were so evasive, that the rest of the crew were gone we had been very close almost like brothers helping each other, supporting each other never wanting to think that this might happen, so Skipper, Mac, Nobby and Jack were gone, Dennis who had been wounded and on the crash bed had survived the crash but was obviously ill in a military hospital in Epsom, we asked to see him but were told we could not at present, after a few days they took us to the hospital, and we were able to see him for a few minutes only, as his parents were at his bedside and did not want to intrude, he was very weak and were saddened to see how ill he was, and felt so helpless not to be able to do more than wish him well and leave.
I do not know whether Dennis survived sad to say, but what moved matters rapidly from then on, first of all there was an inquest on the chaps staying in the house, and I was called to give evidence, they wanted to be sure there was no negligence on our part that had caused the tragedy. There was a RAF officer there to advise me, and when they questioned me I was to say only that the crash was due to enemy action, which was the truth, and if I was in any doubt about any of the other questions he would indicate by a nod or shake of the head, the verdict was that the deaths were due to enemy action and the RAF absolved from any blame. There was one more matter that the coroner had to deal with that was the death of Mr. Hayes who had died of a heart attack at the scene of the crash, his wife giving evidence said that he was a amateur photographer and had rushed home to get his camera and in doing so had brought on the heart attack. The verdict was misadventure, so involved a most tragic interlude, when we were fit enough, we were sent back to East Kirkby to 50 Squadron (I think this should be 57 Sq.) to continue operations.
Right: The Doncaster family household at 28 Lavender Vale received visitors just after the crash and the daughter asked Hayes and Lester to sign her autograph book which reads “Sgt Jimmy Hayes, S for Sugar”, “Sgt Arthur Lester, Many thanks and may we knock on the door next time 21/4/44”. (courtesy of Michael Allman and Alice Bevan and family)
We requested at the time to be allowed some leave, this was granted on the proviso that we did some flying before going on leave needless to say neither of us was keen, but we agreed, so on the first flight after the crash, it was just circuits bumps flight that is to say take off, circuit of the field and then a landing, the first part was no problem, but when it came to landing the unreasoning fear of an accident left us both breaking into a cold sweat and from Arthur this was to present a problem, so much so that he refused to carry on flying, for me after a time I began to feel much better about things and so the memory of fateful times seem to recede. They did not take very kindly to Arthur not wanting to fly and demoted him to air-craftsman and marked his documents LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre) which is not very nice but I suppose they cannot allow aircrew to refuse to fly even if there was mitigating circumstances or we all would be at it.
After Arthur’s demotion he was re-mustered to ground staff and posted to another airfield, I also was posted to 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe, but as a spare but I wondered what was in store, nothing was as it had been I had no idea, so here was I to go on ops."
(1) Sgt. William Fyfe died later that Friday in Croydon General hospital.
(2) Sgt. Patrick Hayes resumed flying very shortly afterwards and was shot down over Holland, but survived. Flying with 50 Squadron in Lancaster I LL840 VN-M on an operation to the Gelsenkirchen Oil Refineries. They were attacked by a night fighter and shot down. 3 of the crew taken PoW, 3 evaded capture with 2 other crew killed. Patrick Hayes sadly died on 31st October 2009.
Fg.Off. Harold James Young. Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 48. H.5. Born 4th May 1917Son of Edward James Young and Minnie Matilda Young, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. William Clarke. Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 24. D.1. Son of William and Violet Victoria Clarke, of Blackford, Cumberland, England.
Flt.Sgt. Reginald Colin McIntyre. Brookwood Military Cemetery. Grave 24. D.2. Son of Owen Ronald Colin and Clare Merle McIntyre. Reginald McIntyre - born in India 1920.
Sgt. William Fyfe. Polmont Cemetery. Sec E. Grave 163. Son of John and Margaret Fyfe, of Shieldhill, Falkirk, Scotland.
Mrs. Haidee Marie Irene Marsden-Smith. Beddington and Wallington Municipal Cemetery. Wife of Cpl. Raymond Marsden-Smith, King's Royal Irish Hussars of 57 Lavender Vale, Wallington.
Mrs. Eva West. Beddington and Wallington Municipal Cemetery, off 55 Lavender Vale, Wallington.
Mr. Henry Alfred Hayes. Beddington and Wallington Municipal Cemetery. Husband of Eva Muriel Hayes of 41 Lavender Vale, Wallington.
Researched by Linda Ibrom, Michael Allman and Colin Brown for relatives of the crew. Thanks to John Jones for copies of Court of Inquiry and Flying Accident Reports for the aircraft.
RS 12.04.2020 - Addition of Court of Inquiry findings
KTY 08.08.2015 Map added - page updated
RS 12.04.2020 - Addition of Court of Inquiry findings
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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