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Thread: What were families told?

  1. #1
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    Default What were families told?

    Hi again - its me that pesky woman and DW110 Sunderland.

    We have now found some of the crew families, and it would appear that we were all told different stories (some of which can be backed up by official documents) of when, where and how the Sunderland crashed. Was it policy in those days of 1944 to not tell relatives information about crashes etc as to coin a phrase "loose lips sink ships" all we were told was that my cousin had been KIA and if we wanted to repatriate the body to contact xyz. One of the other families got a bit more information from RCAF but it was totally wrong, both in location and type of mission. Just wondering.

    Also can someone explain to me - I know you will all know - what the designation WOP/air stands for and is it different from W/op.air (at a guess I would say Wireless Operator - am I right!)
    Thanks again for everything
    Dyan

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    Dyan,

    I've been researching all the RAFVR (Meteorological Branch) personnel who died during WW2 (about 60), and whenever I've been able to trace family members it is clear none were ever told anything about the manner in which their relative died - that is without exception. Also - without exception - stories had been passed down through the years, but in every case they were wrong. I should add I know the exact details of every death.

    Brian
    Last edited by Lyffe; 1st June 2008 at 13:57.

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    Dyan, that is true what Brian wrote.

    I have similar experiences.

    In once case the wife of killed pilot was told he died in crash and that was all. I recognized this when I wrote her full details of my reserach including that there are still parts of the wreckage on the crashsite. It was very emotional for her as I know from her daughter to finally find out the details of her husbands death (she never married afterwards).

    In other case I have seen the letter from the RCAF HQ in which is written "With regret I would like to infom you that your son was killed in air accident and the Court of Inquiry is held but I hope you will understand that we can not provide you any more details about the accident."

    So only few relatives who were visited by colleagues who know the right cause of the death can find out the true story...


    Pavel

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    I contacted three families of those killed in Wellington X3171 and all three were told that they were killed returning from a mission to Germany (all told different cities as the target).

    The aircraft however crashed during a cross-country training exercise over Northumberland.

    Other families I have been in touch with were either told nothing at all or given inaccurate information, this goes for Post War crashes too.

    Jim
    Jim Corbett

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    Hi Dyan
    First your guess is correct, W/op is Wireless operator. The Air, on it's own,could have 2 possibilities. The most common is Air Gunner as the 2 trades were taught together and when the course finished the AG Flying badge was awarded, the indication of Wireless skills was shown on a badge worn on the arm showing a cluster of lightning flashes.The second simply shows that the individual was employed in the air and not as a Ground Operator, of which there many thousands. At the time of Qualification whether an individual would operate as a W/op or a Gunner was still in the future for him. On Bomber Command it was usually one or the other but on the larger Coastal a/c it could be either and if Coastal, in wartime, followed the practice that we used later post war then an individual would have rotated through the duties on a long patrol to provide variety and freshness at each position, which would also have included simply being a lookout for periods. The smaller Coastal a/c didn't have the scope for rotation that the large ones did and on Bombers there was a definite need for permanent manning of the gun positions.
    As to the information given to Next-of Kin there are several factors. First it was never considered a good idea to give out information in detail about an a/c loss, low level security but a factor none the less. Secondly a significant number of a/c simply didn't come back and at the time the N-o-K were informed, the reasons why were simply not known both for losses over land or over the sea. Thirdly individuals in the chain of Command were often simply trying to be kind and much of the misleading information comes from this as they tried to avoid suggesting the more unpleasant ways of losing one's life that war can bring and trying to make it appear that the loved-one had been engaged on something directly useful to the fight, say reporting a Training crash as being due to enemy action. Even this is probably an oversimplification.
    Regards
    Dick

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    The family of the rear gunner in my research has believed for the past 62 years that their beloved son and brother (he had 12 brothers and sisters) was machine-gunned to death trying to run away from his crashed Lancaster. They were very relieved and grateful to know at last that he was killed in the crash along with the rest of the crew. And yet, the MOD continue to deny us researchers open access to files from WWII in case surviving families are upset! I detect a hint of hypocrisy!
    Max

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    Max
    There may be hyprocrisy but it is much more likely to be a"disease" that infects Politicians and Civil Servants who will tell of their responsibilities but when faced with them will back away if the responsibility means something not quite "nice"! They cannot believe that the public has the courage to face unpleasantness,when they themselves do not, and in this day and age they are afraid of being sued!! for causing distress.There is no doubt that some of the details can be gruesome or reflect badly on individuals but this is only a minority and should be dealt with by sensitive handling, not by a total ban.
    Dick

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    I'm not sure you are quite correct Dick; I've yet to see a service record that records anything else other than (for example) 'Killed in action'. I doubt there would ever be grisly details:

    a. Because that is not the function of the form
    b. It would be unlikely that such details would be available to those reporting the death to those responsible for maintaining the record.

    As usual I'm happy to be proven wrong.

    I suspect that rather than the manner of death, the argument for not releasing records is that a minority will include details of misdemeanours (ie theft, embezzlement, cowardice) that could cause embarrassment, or destroy a memory of someone who was believed to be good - and that would benefit no-one.

    Brian

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    Hmm, Britain is an EU member, so perhaps a complaint to the latter will help?
    I can understand that informations of intimate contents could be kept closed, but what is the secrecy in files like Missing Aircrew Report? Americans released them years ago, and nobody is complaining, and nobody was sued for that.

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    Hi Brian
    I had in mind an Australian Casualty File that I read online, on a member of a Halifax crew who was killed with his British colleagues when their a/c came down in Allied territory and exploded on impact. The post war efforts to identify individuals included a report from the time of the crash by the Canadian Army Padre who spent some trying to piece together the remains for burial and was faced with small portions of people from which he made a creditable attempt to name those involved as individuals beyond the Sqn crew listing. The basic Sqn records would not show the detail but post war additions by MRES and the like could well be there and they might. As I said it could be handled sympathetically on an individual basis at the time as could the possibility of a bad disciplinary record. I believe we, the public, have more courage and sense than we are credited with and the answer is not a blanket ban to last long enough so that all who could be affected are themselves deceased.
    Regards
    Dick

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