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Thread: Loss area of Wellington HF610 of 466 Sqn

  1. #11
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    Mickaël Simon of Flamanville, Normandy, pointed to an amazing site:

    http://www.absa39-45.asso.fr/Pertes%20Bretagne/Finistere/pertes_raf_finistere.html

    The site makers managed to include links to Google Maps, and to pinpoint the crash sites, as far as known. Wellington HF601 crashed at sea, very close to the shore, at the site where the monument has been erected. The site is called Lochrist Le Conquet. This site also presents far better pictures of the memorial.

    It remains curious that 3 crew would be buried in a joint grave, after a crash at sea, and that the higher ranking officer was buried in an individual grave. There is a picture of the graves on the CWGC site. As there are four headstones, space was not at a premium at this cemetery. This would indicate that the wreck burned, even if in the water, and/or that the impact was very violent.

  2. #12
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    Gentlemen,

    The friends in France have helped to shed light on this loss.

    Philippe Jegousse of ABSA 39-45 pointed to

    http://gerald.perchoc.free.fr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17&Itemi d=2

    where Gérald Perchoc desribes this loss, article dated 18/8/2006. Translation:

    The ORB of 466 Sqn of the RAAF reports that on 5/7/1943 between 22.05 and 22.11h eight aircraft took off from Leconfield, to drop mines off Brest, in the Pointe du Toulinguet area.

    That night, visibility was good, about 25 km, and the French coast was clearly visible. The mines were dropped in the target area on July 6th between 01.17 and 01.27h, from an altitude of 200 to 250 meters. Three crew reported having seen parachutes, but none saw one of their aircraft go down. Nevertheless, only seven of the eight aircraft returned to base.

    Wellington HF601, which took off at 22.11h, is officially recorded as missing with its entire crew of five: W/Cdr. J.J. Owen, pilot; F/O. F. Darbyshire, E.H. Swain, navigator; A.M. Long, Wop/Ag; and J.F. Ray, Ag.

    The memories of several citizens of Le Conquet (1) allow us to reconstruct the tragedy to a fair degree:

    On July 6th, 1943, at about 01.30h, the citizens of the hamlet of Lochrist were wakened by the noise of Flak fire, and of an aircraft flying so low that some of the houses were trembling. Flak was plentyful at Keringar and at Rospects, quite the same as in the entire entrance area of the Rade de Brest. One of the citizens looked to the sky, and saw an aircraft caught in the beams of searchlights. The aircraft received a direct hit and crashed at sea.

    The next morning the body of an airman was found under a rock at the entrance of a cave in the small bay close to Porzliogan in the direction of Bilou. Three other bodies had washed up on the sandy beach nearby.

    The next day, to the request of the Mayor, Mr. Louis Simon, some of the eyewitnesses went to salvage the four bodies that the Germans had buried in an improvised way in the sand of the higher part of Porzliogan beach. The bodies, still dressed in their flying gear, did not present any evident wounds (2).

    The entrance to the beach was mined and fenced off with barbed wire. The Germans that were present at the site indicated where to walk. The bodies were transported to the cemetery of Lochrist, using the van of Mrs. Magueur. At the cemetery, the bodies were placed in very basic coffins, made as a matter of urgency by Mr. Cleach, the local carpenter.

    Burial took place on July 8th in the early afternoon, after the priest had done the honours. Military honours were given by a party of German soldiers, who fired a volley. Many citizens attended, they assembled in honour of the Allied aviators who had given their lives for the return of liberty.

    The exact crash site was not known until a section of the fuselage and the landing gear washed ashore.

    The body of F/O. Darbyshire was never found. Therefore, his name is not included with the names of his comrades in the burial register of the city of Le Conquet.
    Nevertheless, his memory deserves to be honoured in the same way as his brothers in arms who are still buried in the cemetery of Lochrist.

    At the edge of Porzliogan beach a monument was erected on the 50th anniversary of this loss. It is visible along the scenic route from Le Conquet to Pointe Saint Mathieu.

    (1) In particular Hervé Saliou, René Floc'h, Marcel Rivoallon, Michel Leon and Jeanne Magueur.

    (2) The testimony of Mr. Floc'h mentions that the three bodies found on the beach were dressed only in their blue underwear. This would indicate that the Germans had taken the warm flying gear of the aviators.

    At the time there as a rumour, that the aircraft had made an emergency landing at sea, and that the crew was killed by machine gun fire.

    Sources: document by J. Bazire, 1993; 466 Sqn ORB.

    End of translation.

    The testimony of Mr. Floc'h, if true, would shed light on the unusual burial situation: four graves with four headstones and four bodies that were found relatively intact, coming from one known aircraft, and still three graves that are called a joint grave by the CWGC. This joint grave may have come about, not because the casualties were disfigured beyond recognition, but because some party, possibly German troops, had robbed these three casualties of their clothing, and with that of the easy means for identification. The MR&ES may have exhumed the bodies after the liberation, to try and identify the men, and may have taken the short route of declaring the graves to be a mutual one, when no ID disks or papers were found. The friends in France have been asked if the Lochrist burial register can shed some more light upon this matter.

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    Hello Rob

    You've done some excellent work on researching this crew. Well done.

    One issue is your interpretation of why the three crew were in a collective grave. If, as you described, the men's clothing had been removed, the chances of the ID discs being missing, though possible, is highly unlikely. And if they could identify the fact that one was a W/C,, and bury him seperately, then I think there has to be another reason. If the men had ben NCOs then I could understand why there are two graves - officers were often given seperate graves, if possible.

    As the bodies were re-interred by the locals then one couldn't even argue that they were buried at different times.

    An interesting quandry.

    A

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    Thanks, Amrit, but we are not there yet. I hope that some more information shall surface in France, before we call this one closed. It would be quite helpful to get the MR&ES exhumation reports from the CWGC, if these exist. But the channel to that still needs a lot of polishing. Mind you that there are indeed four separate graves, and that there were four intact bodies. The information is that the four men were all buried on July 8th, 1943. We would like to know if the men were identified there and then, meaning by the Germans, or if three, or perhaps all four, were buried initially as unknowns.

    It is difficult to speculate with British ID disks. If the disks survived the crash, which is what we can assume in this case (intact bodies, only hours in the water, no report about a burning wreck), and if ID disks were present at all, then they may have disappeared as a result of German action. I have come across several cases in which the Germans removed the identifying evidence from the bodies. That evidence was subsequently lost in the chaos of war. If the names on this identifying evidence were not noted in the cemetery register, and/or in the German Totenliste, and/or on the initial wooden crosses, or if the applicable Totenliste was lost, then who is to tell in the pre-DNA days. The MR&ES, months to several years later, had to make do with what was still there in a grave: a scrap of an aigunner's wing, a bit of clothing that appeared to be RAF, and some dental data that could not be checked because dental records were not made earlier, or not preserved in archives.

    Rank may have played a role, if the Germans directed the funeral procedure. But the Germans have seen to decent individual burial of Allied aimen, also of lower ranks, in this period, in France. We may never find out what really happened if we only have speculations about human behaviour. One German CO could have acted in the proper way, the other may not have done that. Time & place in the war plays a role here too. One cemetery keeper would be most meticulous with his entries in the register, stating time & place of body discovery and more; the other produced a cemetery with a high number of unknowns without ranks and, most revealing, without burial dates.

    We have to be prepared to be critical about each and any scrap of info that comes to us. I realize that it is not fashionable to question the quality of the work done by the MR&ES. The work load must have been overwhelming. Superfast communication technology as we enjoy it today, did not exist. And so on. Therefore, no generalizations. But what to make of an airmen that washed ashore, was identified, name written down in the cem register, who a few yars later received a CWGC headstone with no name? One of the many little mysteries that deserve re-evaluation. The mystery is not little to those who were told that the loved one was missing, and who heard nothing after that, ever.

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    hello,

    I've followed this thread with interest. Please bear in mind that France is a large country, and it's just not possible for one Frenchman to be aware of precisely what happened in each corner of the country. It takes years to have a good knowledge of WW2 air warfare in a specific area, as many forumites knows. It would equate asking a Scot about a crash in Wales... Just because it happened in U.K. !

    A minor point, the MRES reports are not held by the CWGC, but by the Ministry of Defense. CWGC is responsible for the maintenance of the graves, not for the identification of the men that are buried in the graves.

    We have discussed here last year of the possible transfer from the MoD/AHB to TNA, Kew of the MRES reports, as a class reference has been opened for that. MoD/AHB is actually considering the question, so just cross our fingers.

    From my knowledge of MRES reports and identification (through Australia, Canada and New-Zealand channels), I'm not surprised by the "partial" identification of a crew. The investigators would use any clue, pieces of uniform, ranks, laundry marks, etc, to get one step further. For example, the RAAF uniform was darker that the RAF one, and I found this difference being used to help to differentiate airmen, or to confirm other pieces of evidence.


    Joss

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    Thanks, Joss.

    I'm well aware that France is very large, having travelled there so very often, and that's why I asked ABSA, based in Brittany, about this Finistère crash. I believe that Philippe Jegousse of ABSA, who pointed my nose into productive directions, even lives very close to the Wellington HF601 crash site.

    The CWGC has informed me that they hold the GRU, GCU & MR&ES archive given to them by the MoD, and that they are in the process of digitizing it. A process expected to take several years, in which the accessibility of the achive is even more limited than before. I'm not saying that you are in error; I'm repeating what I have been told by the CWGC archive supervisor. Perhaps the CWGC holds part of that archive, another part still residing with the MoD. Fact is that the MoD, in identity claim cases, refers to the CWGC for MR&ES archive data. As the JCCC branch of the MoD refers to RAF AHB, for Casualty File information. I assume you are referring to information received in Wizernes, May 2007, from Mr. Sebastian Cox. I too shall keep my fingers crossed, but have to notice that even about such basics the information is confusing, to say the least.

    I would agree that one should comment on what people do, say, or write, and not on what they did not do, say or write. Forensic exhumation reports range from very detailed, including recorded fingerprints and detailed dental charts, to very basic indeed. The latter is the more common type. It struck me that there usually is no photographic evidence in these reports. We have no way of checking observations made there and then. It seems that the investigators at the time did not consider that their work would ever require re-evaluation. Thus it happened that a forensic report made in 1947 carries clearly less detail than the report made about the same casualty in 1946. Less detail because the process of evidence decay had progressed. No reference to the earlier autopsy made. Are we to guess which investigation team had the sharper eyes?

    One more example. An unknown RAF aviator, buried in France, was found to be buried with a badly worn ID disk. A name was seen, and this name is unknown to the CWGC. It would seem that the remaining impression of the letters was not interpreted correctly. If I had a photograph of that disk, then I could try and fit in the name of the aviator that I believe is buried in that grave, using the letter size and spacing as used on that disk. But the evidence available in 1946 was not recorded; it is lost. A simple picture taken in 1946 could have been the key to crack this case today, now that we have more information than available to the MR&ES in 1946.

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    Hi Joss,

    If I guessed right, then Mr Sebastian Cox may have referred to MR&ES material present in the Casualty Files, that are in the care of RAF AHB. This archive is said to remain closed until the year 2040. If so, then a British law must have changed, lifting the 100 year blockade. If the law did not change, then we are faced with new questions...

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    hello Rob,

    As I said, the information about the release to the public of the MRES file was mentioned on this board, not by Mr COX at the symposium.

    I'm sure that it would be possible to retrieve this thread using the archive tool of the board.

    I don't think the documents will be digitised. I'd prefer to see them the sooner, as hard copies, that wait for several more years to have a digitised (and probably pay per view) image. This could be like the PoW questionnaires that were released by the MoD some three years ago.

    The answer of the CWGC is surprising for they constantly replied for years that they never had the MRES documents... I remember reading a very interesting writing about it by Matt Poole, about two Liberator crew lost in Burma in February 1944, the reaction of the CWGC to his questions were very informative.

    I know you know France quite well, but forumites may have noticed that if many of my countrymates come to the board to ask questions, actually far less come to the board to give answers. I'm really sorry for that...

    Regards

    Joss

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    Thanks, Joss.

    I understood your phrase "here" as meaning "in France", not as "on this forum". Shall look up the exchanges you refer to.

    I share your view on what's preferable regarding document availability, but we do not call the shots in this area. Digitizing docs: I repeated the information given to me by the very person who can know, the CWGC archive supervisor. Beliefs need not enter the equasion, other than the belief that people inform us truthfully. Let's keep our fingers crossed anyway; perhaps the Australian government has shown the way to the British in this matter.

    I'm familiar with that CWGC denial - for years - too. The matter may even be more complicated. Part of the MR&ES archive is kept at the National Archives. This part is no longer classified. I had an extensive enquiry into this made by NA staff, that was executed in a splendid way. But unfortunately this yielded no material that could excite me. Perhaps the MR&ES archive has been divided in a declassified one, held at the NA, and a part that is still classified, for reasons that we can only guess.

    My list of "little inconsistencies" in statements received from official parties, is quite long, unfortunately. That's putting it mildly, you will understand. This is by no means limited to British organisations. The confusion created in that way can be summarized under one constantly recurring theme: discouraging investigators to find new answers to old questions that were buried officially decades ago. But still we carry on, and occasionally there is succes. I can only guess that the number of men lost, especially in the First World War, is so huge that the British fear the amount of work, and the expenditure associated with that, should there be a public outcry that more needs to be done about the cases of the men listed as missing-in-action.

    You really need not apologize for countrymen that produce questions rather than answers. Asking questions is perfectly valid. Furthermore, if we find a few answers, then that produces new questions. Let's enjoy the fact that you, in Aubers, France, and I, in Apeldoorn, Holland, are using not our own but an international language to discuss matters, with a bunch of knowledgeable guys reading with us, who shall contribute if they can, or who shall shoot holes if we produce nonsense.

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    Hi Joss,

    Once more. Have read the thread you are likely to have referred to. If anything, it certainly confirms my remarks about confusion.

    On it two ways are mentioned that produced MR&ES documents, kept in the closed Casualty Files in Hayes:

    - The power of authority, when a senior RAF officer ordered RAF AHB to produce the requested.

    - The benevolence of RAF AHB staff, who quoted from a Casualty File document, but who could not give out a copy of that document.

    In defence of RAF AHB, I state that both of these ways are quite possibly illegal. RAF AHB is willing to help, but bound by rules made up by the government. We must not shoot at the messenger of bad news.

    Meanwhile, it has become evident that the MoD has access to these files. This means that there are rules about accessing an archive that is declared closed. It would help if we knew these rules to the letter. That might generate creative ideas. If any-one can help with digging up those rules? Surely these rules are not classified too?

    There is one perfectly legal way to get matters in motion. The MoD has a Joint Compassionate & Casualty Center (JCCC). This office is, amongst other tasks, in charge of evaluating claims to the identity of servicemen buried as unknowns. After reception of a claim, JCCC asks both the CWGC and, in our cases, RAF AHB for support. That opens archives that are closed, or of which the existence is, or has been, denied. Then, after many months, there comes a verdict, based on the logical process of elimination. A claim shall be accepted if the case is proven to be 100% watertight; 99% is not enough. A very narrow margin for doubt is considered to be "reasonable doubt", hence a claim rejection. As far as I know, neither JCCC nor CWGC nor RAF AHB shall be actively searching for new evidence. Let alone that some-one shall fly to France and do some field work there. The French archival system is even more perplexing to the uninitiated... Forensic exhumations and the use of DNA technology are strictly not allowed. To them it is a paperwork matter, based on materials present in their archives. Any new evidence shall have to be found by the applicant. If a case is rejected, it can be re-applied, if new evidence has been found. Then again the many-months-clock starts ticking.

    This procedure holds at least the following catches:

    1. It cannot be used by the public in search of evidence, present in the closed archives. However, an application shall yield that evidence, and we trust the MoD to be frank and forthcoming with that. After that, this hitherto unknown evidence can be used in a re-application.

    2. The MoD might allow the use of DNA, in case of overriding public interests, read soil sanitary measures as they may become needed as a result of urban expansion. Furthermore, it is allowed in case of newly discovered war graves. But it is not allowed for graves of men buried as unknowns. These men are considered to be properly buried, and that is to be considered the end of it. Thy should "rest in piece". I contest that view, as these men are not properly buried; they are missing. That some-one is buried in a grave marked as "unknown" is not the same as a proper burial. I consider that to be a linguistic trick aimed at fending off matters that the government does not want to be bothered with.

    3. The procedure is extremely time consuming. Everybody is complaining about their section being understaffed, and about the backlog of work. Everybody in the relevant official positions, that is. That might well be perfectly true. If so, then again this is a government matter. You'll need more than a single MP to get this changed.

    4. In cases that some-one just wishes to have some information, this procedure may not be set in motion. Understaffed etc, you know. A question such as "to where was a certain grave relocated" cannot be difficult and time consuming to answer, unless these archives are poorly organized. Here, a full and good digitalisation is going to be a great help, taking for granted that the optical character reading process shall introduce new errors in the files.

    5. The JCCC case evaluation cannot be audited by a third, independent, party.

    6. There is most likely no handbook on JCCC case evaluation procedures, let alone one that we can read, understand, evaluate, and comment upon.

    7. The case evaluation is based mainly on logics, applied by people not trained in that field of science.

    I venture to state that the "quality of proof" requirements, expression by the MoD, are now much higher than in the MR&ES days. Then, knowledge of an aircraft crew composition, one identification by the Germans, one partial airgunners wing, and one measurable body length, could be enough for the full identification of a four man crew.

    What is needed to get matters changed, is a public demand that this should be done. That's how it is supposed to work in a democracy. The public knows that, in the end, they have to pay for what they want. The system is called "taxes". If the public remains silent, then changes shall not come, or not at any time soon. We can make noises about these matters. That's our privilege, as long as we remain polite. Perhaps that shall lead to more people sharing these views. It is all about morals. Morals too cost money.

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