The Crew of Lancaster R5694 EM-F
RAF Bomber Command was formed in 1936 in response to the potential threat posed by Germany’s increasing airpower. At the time, it was thought that a strong bomber force would prove to be a deterrent against aggression as bombing would result in complete and inescapable destruction on both sides. War however came despite the threat of the bombers. The Nazi Blitzkrieg of 1940 quickly defeated France, leaving Britain to fight on alone. After the RAF's famous victory in the Battle of Britain the country found itself on the defensive, and to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, only the bombers offered a chance to take the fight right into the heart of Nazi Germany.
In the early years of the war, Bomber Command crews, although poorly equipped with only medium bombers and lacking sufficient technology to bomb accurately, continually assaulted German military and industrial targets. Their success was limited, but the appearance of taking the fight to the enemy was just as important in raising the morale of the British people as was the actual damage inflicted.
In 1942, Bomber Command received a new aircraft – the Avro Lancaster – and a new leader – Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris. Accepting that precision bombing was proving impossible, the War Cabinet sanctioned 'area bombing', the targeting of whole cities to destroy both factories and their workers. The deliberate targeting of German and Italian cities caused the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians. At the time, this wholesale destruction was judged necessary to defeat an enemy that seemed on the brink of victory, although today, some historians take the view that the offensive was immoral and unjustified. On a strategic level the offensive failed to bring about the collapse of civilian morale that was its intention. Others maintain that the attacks made a decisive contribution to the Allied victory. Vast numbers of German soldiers and planes were diverted from the eastern and western fronts, while Allied bombing attacks virtually destroyed the German air force, clearing the way for the invasion of the continent.
One thing no one doubts however, is the bravery of the thousands of men who flew and died in Bomber Command. Most of the men who served as flight crews were very young, the great majority still in their late teens or early twenties. Crews came from across the globe – from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all corners of the Commonwealth, as well as from occupied nations such as France, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The mortality rate among Bomber Command crews was staggering. With operational losses of up to 50 percent (IWM), a crew member had a worse chance of survival than an infantry officer during World War I. In total, 55,573 airmen died flying with Bomber Command (BC Memorial) during the Second World War, among them the eight young men who formed the gallant crew of Avro Lancaster R5694 EM-F. We salute them and remember the sacrifice they made to assure our future.
Flight Lieutenant Raymund Joseph Hannan, D.F.C
The pilot of R5694 EM-F on the fateful evening of November 25th, 1942, was New Zealander, Raymund Joseph Hannan.
Ray was born on August 9th, 1917, in Hāwera in the Taranaki region of New Zealand's North Island, the son of first-generation New Zealander, John Joseph Hannan, and his wife, Helen Mary Hall. Ray’s paternal grandparents and his maternal grandmother had all emigrated to New Zealand from Ireland in the latter quarter of the 19th Century. The family later moved to Palmerston North in the Manawatū-Whanganui region, and it was here that Ray grew up with his brother, Noel, and four sisters, Elizabeth, Joan, Madelyn and Elaine. Ray enjoyed sports, particularly hockey, and in the late 1930s, he played for the 'Black Sticks', the New Zealand national men's field hockey team.
Having already served a year with the RNZAF, Ray came to the UK in August 1939, and in September he volunteered for service with the RAF and was selected for pilot training. Ray completed his ab initio training at the Cambridge Flying School and his further training at No 10 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Yatesbury in Wiltshire and No. 28 EFTS at Meir near Stoke-on-Trent. The time taken to qualify as a pilot could vary considerably. At the start of the war it could be as little as six months or about 150 flying hours, although on average it took longer - 200-320 flying hours - especially later on in the war when the pilot training pathway became more stringent (RAF Museum).
Having passed all the required ground course examinations and flight tests, newly qualified pilots like Ray received their Pilot’s Wings and were transferred to Operational Training Units (OTUs) to prepare them for front-line duties. Ray was posted to 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore where he would learn to fly the Avro Hanson and Handley Page Hampden. The London Gazette recorded Ray as being granted a short-service commission as Acting Pilot Officer on probation from March 23rd, 1940. He was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer for the duration of hostilities on September 11th.
In late 1940 Ray contracted a severe case of chicken pox and was admitted to the Leicester Isolation Hospital on the city's Groby Road. There he met and fell in love with registered fever nurse, Barbara Matthews Lowe, a farmer’s daughter whose family lived at Wymeswold in Leicestershire. The couple married in the spring of 1941.
In February 1941, having completed his operational training with 14 OTU, Ray was transferred to 49 Squadron at RAF Scampton. In the early months of the war the squadron was employed on reconnaissance, mine laying and leaflet dropping, but began bombing raids on Germany in the spring of 1940, and throughout the following months many important targets were attacked including ports, industrial centres, shipping, and airfields. The squadron operated the Handley Page Hampden, a British-built, twin-engined, medium bomber; the crew of four were packed into such a cramped fuselage that the aircraft was affectionately known as the ‘Flying Suitcase’.
Ray flew his first twelve missions with 49 Squadron as a co-pilot before flying his first sortie as captain on May 5th. The mission was a 'gardening' operation, the term given by the RAF to the practice of dropping mines near ports and harbours, and in busy shipping lanes. The mission report stated: Landfall on French coast made then flew at 6000' to gardening area. Bright moon enabled to find position and vegetable successfully planted from 800' in allotted position. No opposition from Flak.
Ray flew a total of 29 operational sorties with 49 Squadron, including attacks on the German cities of Bremen, Kiel, Cologne, Hamm, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Hannover and Berlin. His final mission with the squadron was on August 5th when several aircraft from 49 Squadron attacked the German city of Ludwigshafen on the River Rhine. On July 13th, 1941, Ray was promoted to Flying Officer, and on August 25th he was transferred to 25 Operational Training Unit as an instructor. For those who, like Ray, survived their first tour of operations, a break of several months - usually spent as an instructor with a training unit - would be followed by a second and final tour.
Formed at RAF Finningley in March 1941 as part of Bomber Command’s No. 7 Group, 25 OTU initially trained pilots on the Handley Page Hampden, but in April 1942 became a training unit for Vickers Wellingtons, the long-range, twin-engined aircraft that was one of the the RAF’s principal bombers and which, together with the Hampden and the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley, bore the brunt of bombing raids over Germany during the early years of the war.
In October 1941, Ray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Established by George V in 1918, the DFC was awarded to Officers and Warrant officers for an act or acts of valour and courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.
While serving with 25 OTU as an Acting Flight Lieutenant, Ray was involved in a serious incident that cost the life of one member of his seven man crew. On April 28th, 1942, Ray and the trainee crew of Wellington DV473 were undertaking a night-time, cross-country training flight when a propeller broke off following an engine fire. With the aircraft unable to maintain height on just the one engine, the order was given to bail out. Wireless operator / air gunner 20-year-old Sergeant William Alan Winthrop, who was occupying the rear turret at the time, failed to evacuate and was killed when the aircraft crashed into farm buildings at Rawcliffe Bridge, near Goole in Yorkshire. Three other members of the crew were injured.
In the summer of 1942, Ray and Barbara were blessed by the birth of a baby daughter whom they named Susan Elaine, and on September 26th, having served a few weeks with 26 OTU at RAF Little Horwood, Ray was posted to 207 Squadron conversion flight at RAF Swinderby in preparation for his second tour of operations flying the Avro Lancaster. It is during his time at Swinderby that Ray would have met the comrades who were to form his crew.
After a couple of weeks of training on the Lancaster, flying circuits and landings by both day and night, plus a few cross-country flights. Ray was posted to 207 Squadron at RAF Langar. Pilots on their first tour of operations would typically fly their first few operational sorties with an experienced second pilot acting as aircraft captain, however, Ray was on his second tour of operations, and his first sortie with 207 Squadron was flown as captain. Over the next few weeks Ray and his crew undertook four missions with the squadron. The mission details from the squadron operation record book (ORB) bring to life the frightening reality of the dangers that bomber crews faced every time they took off.
October 17th, 1942
Lancaster MkI W4191 EM-Q
F/O R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper
Take off 12.24
Landed 22.30 at RAF Croughton [Northamptonshire]
Primary Le Creusot attacked at 18.11 from 4000 feet with 14 SBC x 30lb incendiaries in conditions of good visibility and no clouds. Target clearly identified and bomb bursts seen across shed in centre of steel works. All three works well hit, numerous fires starting throughout after bombing. One stick of bombs on railway siding. Aircraft took off late and caught up formation near South Coast. Successful. No photo.
By late 1942, very few RAF operations were undertaken in daylight, one of the exceptions was the raid, codenamed 'Operation Robinson', that Ray and his crew took part in on October 17th. A force of 94 Lancaster bombers from No. 5 Group, including 15 from RAF Langar, penetrated deep into enemy airspace in broad daylight to attack the Schneider steel and weapons factories and a nearby power station in the town of Le Creusot, in the French Region of Burgundy. German defences in the area were relatively weak, so the attack was carried out at low altitude in order to minimise French civilian casualties. Intelligence reports and reconnaissance flights carried out during the following days confirmed that the raid had been successful although some damage was caused to civilian residential areas.
The Bomber Command personnel employed to keep the Avro Lancaster flying, taken at RAF Scampton c. 1942.
Front row: flying control officer, WAAF parachute packer, meteorological officer, seven aircrew (pilot, navigator,
bomb aimer, flight engineer, wireless operator/air gunner
and two air gunners). Second row: flight maintenance crew (fitters, maintenance mechanics, electrical mechanics, instrument repairer, radio mechanic). Back rows: bomb loading team and WAAF tractor driver with a bomb train of Small Bomb Containers (SBCs).
Flight Lieutenant Raymund Joseph Hannan DFC,
pilot of Lancaster R5694 EM-F.
Ray (front row, third from right) with the New Zealand
men's field hockey team.
Ray and Barbara on their wedding day in June 1941.
A Hampden from 49 Squadron being loaded for a mission © IWM
The Memorial Scroll received by Ray's wife, Barbara,
following his death.
Lancaster bombers from No. 5 Group flying over Montrichard in France en route to Le Creusot, Oct 17th, 1942.
October 22nd, 1942
Lancaster MkI R5756 EM-D
F/O R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper
Take off 17.44
Landed 03.30 RAF North Luffenham [Rutland]
Primary target Genoa attached at 21.46 hours from 10,000 feet with 8 SBC x 4lb incendiaries in good visibility and no cloud. Identified visually and bombs seen to burst near aiming point, but results not pinpointed. Several large fires seen, two in centre of town. Photo shows fires.
October 22nd marked the first RAF area bombing raid on an Italian city with a large force of heavy bombers taking off from various RAF bases to attack the port city of Genoa. They dropped a total of 179 tons of bombs with the aiming point being the picturesque Piazza De Ferrari in the centre of the city. The raid was followed up by a second attack the following night and further attacks on the city were undertaken throughout the next few weeks. The Pathe News reel (left), filmed during the October raids, was played in cinemas throughout the country and gives a dramatic sense of what Ray and his crew would have witnessed that night.
October 24th, 1942
Lancaster MkI R5756 EM-D
F/O R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper
Take off: 12.36
Landed: 21.59 [Langar]
Primary target Milan attacked at 17.08 hours from 6,000 feet with 4 SBC x 4lb incendiaries and 6 SBC x 30lb incendiaries in conditions of 8-9/10th cloud. Identified visually but bursts not pinpointed. Large fire observed in centre of town. Uneventful trip. Port outer revs and boost dropped and would not pick up.
On October 24th, in another rare daylight bombing raid, Ray and his crew were part of a force of over 70 Lancasters that dropped 135 tons of bombs, including 30,000 incendiaries, over the Italian city of Milan. The aiming point was the Duomo Di Milano, the city’s beautiful cathedral, the earliest parts of which date from the 14th Century. Although there was significant damage to various areas of the city, the bombers failed to hit the cathedral on this occasion although the building was severely damaged in later raids.
November 13th, 1942
Lancaster MkI R5745 EM-T
F/Lt R J Hannan, Sgt J K B Lee, Sgt B L Litolff, Sgt P J Thompson, Sgt B L M Jenkin, Sgt J B Burton, Sgt R E D Piper
Took off 18.18
Landed: 04.25 at RAF Tangmere [West Sussex]
Primary Genoa attacked 22.20 from 10,000 feet in good visibility with 2 x 1000lb G.P. 7* SBC 90 x 4lb incendiaries. Identified visually by flares but bursts not seen. More searchlights than usual but inaccurate. Intercom and T.R.9 both packed up. Photo plotted aiming point A.
This was the fifth area bombing raid on the city of Genoa. A force of 70 heavy bombers attacked the main city and the port area causing significant damage. Genoa was systemically blitzed throughout the war, and by 1945, three-quarters of the city’s industrial plants had been destroyed. Much of the city’s cultural and historical centre also suffered with many beautiful churches and palaces reduced to rubble.
Avro Lancaster pilot's instrument panel.
The grave of F/Lt Raymund Joseph Hannan DFC,
St. Mary's Churchyard, Botttesford.
It can be seen from the above mission details that Ray and his crew flew a variety of different aircraft with 207 Squadron. While bomber crews often stayed together as a team and in the same aircraft with which they could become intimately familiar, it was not unusual for them to fly another aircraft - for example, if their plane had been damaged or if another one more appropriate for the mission became available, and Ray's crew had probably not been together long enough to have been allocated a specific aircraft. Crews would sometimes split up as a result of reassignment, injuries or illness, with individuals moving to different aircraft. This seems to have been the case for the fateful mission scheduled for November 25th. Ray’s crew on the previous four missions had included Sgt Bernard Leo Litolff, however for the raid on Bad Zwischenahn, Litolff was dropped and two new crew members added, John Sanders and Albert Roberts.
It is interesting to note that aircraft faults were recorded on two out of the four sorties that Ray’s crew flew. The Field Detectives’ report ‘The Search for the Crash Site of Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5694 EM-F’ provides an insight into the possible circumstances surrounding the fatal crash of November 25th, 1942, but in reality, we will likely never know the exact cause, and a fault or damage to the aircraft may have been a contributory factor.
Ray Hannan is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard in Bottesford together with four of his crew. Ray’s wife, Barbara, was devastated by his death and never remarried. She continued to live in Leicestershire with her parents and daughter, Susan, initially in Wymeswold then later in Long Whatton, before moving to Gloucester. Barbara died in November 2006; she is buried beside her parents at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Long Whatton.
The Goadby Marwood History Group is immensely grateful to Ray's daughter, Sue, and grandchildren, Charles and Annabel, for sharing their memorabilia.
Flight Sergeant John Kennerleigh Barnett Lee
At 29 years of age, John Kennerleigh Barnett Lee, known to his friends and family as Ken, was the oldest member of the crew of R5694 EM-F, and as the navigator he had a pivotal role to play. Prior to 1942, the RAF operated twin-engined medium bombers like the Handley Page Hampden, each of which had a crew comprising two pilots, the second acting as navigator/bomb aimer, plus dual-role aircrew acting as wireless operator and air gunner. When the heavy bombers were introduced, a flight engineer replaced the second pilot and the other crew members were given single, specialised roles. As the navigator, Ken would have been responsible for keeping the aircraft on course at all times, reaching the target and then the home base. He would have needed to maintain a high level of concentration for virtually the whole of the flight, which could be as long as ten hours or more.
Ken trained for his role as a navigator with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Besides sending troops, aircrew, and sailors to Britain to participate directly in the fight, it was decided in 1939 that Canada would assume a secondary training role and train all Commonwealth aircrew. The scheme was called the British Empire Air Training Plan (BETP) and undertook to train aircrew on a scale never seen before. The BETP was later renamed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) at the request of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In November 1941, Ken was recorded on the nominal roll of No. 28 Air Observers Course at Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick. Following his training in Canada, he returned to the UK and was posted to 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore for advanced training in preparation for front-line duties. On July 21st, 1942, he was transferred to 207 Squadron.
Ken’s first operational sortie with 207 Squadron was from RAF Swinderby on August 27th on board Avro Lancaster Mk1 R5549 EM-H captained by experienced pilot, Squadron Leader William Denys Butterworth ‘Babe’ Ruth DFC. The mission was a large-scale bombing raid on the German city of Kassel, location of the Fieseler aircraft plant which built the Messerschmidt 109 and Focke-Wulf 190. The operation involved over 300 aircraft from four different Bomber Command Groups and a total of 31 aircraft failed to return, more than ten percent of the bomber force. R5549's mission report stated: Primary target Kassel town centre attacked at 23.54 hours from 11,500 feet, with 1 x 4000 lb H.C. and 10 SBS x 30lb incendiaries in very hazy conditions. Target identified visually and centre of town was in sights at release. Bomb bursts were followed by several fires. 16 bundles G41 nickels dropped with bombs. Aircraft slightly holed in front by flak.
Ken Lee (left) pictured with two of his comrades. The white flash on Ken's forage cap indicates aircrew in training.
The Fiesseler aircraft factory in Kassel, central Germany.
Ken flew on two further bombing raids with Ruth. On September 1st Ruth’s crew joined a force of 230 aircraft on a mission to attack the German town of Saarbrucken, but the Pathfinders had mistakenly illuminated the wrong location and the small, non-industrial town of Saarlouis was accidentally bombed instead causing widespread damage to the town and surrounding villages. On September 4th, Ruth and his crew were part of a force of 250 aircraft that attacked the coastal city of Bremen, location of aircraft manufacturer, Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, as well as several important shipyards.
On September 29th, Ken joined 207 Conversion Flight at RAF Swinderby where he became part of Ray Hannan’s crew in training. Together with the rest of the crew he transferred back to the main squadron on October 15th ready for further front-line operations.
Ken was the only one of R5694’s eight crew members who survived the crash, although tragically he died the following day. His grave marker at St. Mary’s Churchyard in Bottesford gives his date of death as November 26th, 1942, the day after the crash.
The Goadby Marwood History Group is extremely grateful to Ken’s niece, Penny Buchan, who now takes up his story:
My uncle, John Kennerleigh Barnett Lee (Ken) was born in 1913, the fourth son of James Lee and Sybella Margaret Augusta Barnett.
His father James came from a long line of Devon farmers and, at this time, farmed at Manor Farm, Kennerleigh, just north of Crediton, Devon. His mother, Sybella, always known as Birdie, was from South Africa. The story of their meeting is a romantic one.
We understand that James went to South Africa around 1899/1900 to fight in the Boer War when he met and fell in love with Sybella, the daughter of Captain Charles Barnett and Maria Morkell, then of Somerset West. They did not approve the match and James returned to England without her. He was not to be deterred and returned to South Africa to try again. Sybella was evidently quite a spirited young lady. She was born in Yokohama where her father was serving and she often dressed in Japanese style clothing. She had studied in Paris under Sarah Bernhart and was quite a figure in Cape society. Apparently Ketawyo, the King of the Zulus, had offered 1000 head of cattle for her hand in marriage but she had refused to be his ‘third’ wife. It seems the idea of a different life in a new country was appealing, presumably she was in love with James, agreed to marry him and return to England. They married in 1904.
They had five sons, James Barnett, 1906, Charles Alexander Barnett, 1908, Stanley William Barnett 1910, John Kennerleigh Barnett 1913 and Cedric Barnett 1914. Sadly, James Lee died in 1916 and Birdie and her family had to move from the farm and went to live in Exeter.
We don’t know a lot about their young life. Tales told by Stanley, my father, give a picture of young boys having a fairly typical outdoor life with some interesting escapades, one concerned some high jinks when Charles broke his leg and was confined to a wheelchair for a time.
We think they all went to Exeter Grammar school. Charles, Stanley and Cedric played Rugby for Exeter. It seems Ken enjoyed being out of doors. My brother John, named after Ken, remembers our father talking about he and Ken going camping and fishing together. My mother remembered Ken as a kind and delightful young man who could sit at the piano and play anything.
We know Ken worked as a cocoa buyer/trader for Nestle, records show him travelling from Lagos to England on two occasions, the last in 1940. My cousin, Jeremy Lee, has a carved wooden tray made in West Africa, presumably a gift from Ken to Birdie.
Ken had joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve probably before he went to Africa, then joined the RAF on his return and went on to become a navigator based with RAF Bomber Command. In 1942 he was with 207 Squadron flying in Lancasters, based at RAF Langar.
He was killed in November 1942, returning from a mission, when their plane was diverted due to poor weather conditions but crashed near Goadby Marwood when all the crew were killed. Ken is buried at St. Marys Church, Bottesford.
The War must have been a terrible time for Birdie. Her five sons were all in the armed forces. James joined the Devon regiment, finally going to Burma; Charles was in the Navy, much of it on convoy escort; Stanley joined the Royal Signals and was posted to the Middle East in late 40/early 41 finally returning in June 1945; Cedric, the youngest, was also in the Devon regiment and was wounded in Germany. All but Ken returned and lived until their seventies.
Birdie continued to live in Exeter with Charles, his wife Phyllis and their son Jeremy. She died in 1966 aged 96.
Sergeant Bryant Leonard McKenzie Jenkin
Ray Hannan, was not the only New Zealander on the crew of R5694 EM-F, wireless operator / air gunner, Bryant Leonard Mckenzie Jenkin, was born in the spring of 1918, in the town of Stratford near the slopes of the beautiful Mount Taranaki, just 20 miles north of Hāwera, the birth place of his ‘skipper’.
In 2020, using a well-known commercial family history website and with the help of records provided by our research colleague, Vince Holyoak, author of On the Wings of Morning, Goadby Marwood History Group was able to trace and make contact with members of Bryant’s family in New Zealand.
We are extremely grateful to Bryant’s nephew, Murray Jenkin, who now takes up his story:
My uncle, Bryant, was born in Stratford, Taranaki, New Zealand, on 13th May, 1918, to Robert John Jenkin, and Phyllis Constance Annie Jenkin. He was the youngest of five boys, three of whom survived to adulthood. He attended Midhurst Primary School, and Stratford Technical High School, leaving at 15 years of age. He was employed as a council contractor by the Stratford Borough Council, working at the local abattoir. He was training to become a meat inspector.
Bryant was active in sports all his life, cricket, tennis and swimming, and was a competent piano player. Music was at the top of his favourite hobby list. His older brothers were Milton Jenkin, and Spencer Jenkin. Milton was a school teacher, and considered an essential worker in New Zealand, so he was not required to enlist for military service. Spencer joined the Air Force in New Zealand, as a telegraph operator, this being his employment in the Post Office. He was a very effective Morse code operator. Spencer served in New Zealand in various stations, working on Pacific communications. After Bryant’s death, Spencer was not sent overseas for service.
Bryant applied to enter Aircrew Training in New Zealand on 12th July 1940. He was enlisted at the Initial Training Wing in Levin, NZ, in May 1941, and on completion of this initial training, embarked by sea for Canada, under the Empire Air Training Scheme, a pathway that many young New Zealand men took. He left behind his fiancée, Sadie.
Initially he was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at Wireless School, then Paulson, Manitoba for Gunnery and Bombing School. He was promoted to Sergeant, winning a Wireless Operator and Air Gunner badge. In January 1942, he was posted to No 1 Y depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia, ready to embark to the United Kingdom. Sergeant Bryant Jenkin arrived at No 3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth, UK, on 20th January 1942. He was posted to No 1 Signals School, Cranwell, Lincolnshire, on 24th February, then to No 14 Operational Training Unit, Cottesmore, Rutland, on 21st April.
His first operational flights were with this unit, in Hampden aircraft, two-night flights, bombing Bremen and Düsseldorf in Germany, acting as Wireless Operator & Air Gunner. From here he was posted to No 207 Squadron at Bottesford, Nottinghamshire, 14 August 1942. A short time was spent at Dunholme Lodge with Unit N 1485 flying in Whitley aircraft, for torpedo and gunnery training, then he returned to 207 Squadron, now at Langar, Nottinghamshire. Numerous training flights and four operational flights went from this airfield over the next two months, with Bryant as wireless operator, all piloted by Ray Hannan in Lancaster aircraft, so they must have known each other well by this time. Operational flights went to Le Creusot in France, Genoa, Milan and Genoa again. All flights had durations of 9 to 10 hours, two commenced in daylight, two totally night flights.
The flight of aircraft R5694 EM-F on 25th November, 1942, went to Bad Zwischenahn in Germany, known to be the home base for Luftwaffe in northern Germany. The plane turned back after being unable to complete its objective, and came into poor weather conditions when trying to land.
Bryant’s grave is at the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, in Bottesford, along with several other crew members, including the pilot Ray Hannan. The New Zealand symbol of the silver fern is on the headstones of these two men. This graveyard is impeccably maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the same as graveyards elsewhere in the UK and Europe. There is also a memorial for Bryant at his parents’ gravesite in Stratford, Taranaki, New Zealand, and his photograph is in the Roll of Honour gallery in Stratford township.
Ken's mother, Birdie, in traditional Japanese dress.
Ken Lee, probably taken before he enlisted, c. late 1930s.
Sergeant Bryant Leonard McKenzie Jenkin.
Bryant (right) with his older brothers, Milton John (centre)
and Gowan Spencer (left).
It is interesting to note from Murray’s account above that Bryant completed his operational training with 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore, the same OTU that his skipper, Ray Hannan, had completed his training at two years earlier. Bryant’s time with 14 OTU was to serve as a ‘baptism of fire’.
In the spring of 1942, Bomber Command leader, Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris, implemented his area bombing strategy against industrial centres, while at the same time targeting the morale of the enemy civilian population. Harris took the opportunity to demonstrate the potential of area bombing by ordering huge-scale attacks on several German cities. The first of these was on the night of May 30th, and the target was the industrial city of Cologne. The tactic was to overwhelm city defences by sending 1,000 bombers overhead in the space of 90 minutes. The Cologne raid was followed up by another of similar scale on the city of Essen on June 3rd, with a third and final 1,000 aircraft raid against Bremen on June 25th.
These, now infamous, massive raids required more aircraft and crews than Bomber Command had available in its operational squadrons, so crews from OTUs, who were near the end of their courses and were rated as efficient, participated in the operations.
On June 25th, Bryant joined the four-man crew of Handley Page Hampden 2139, piloted by Sergeant Watt, for the raid on Bremen. The contemporary newsreel footage from the U.S. Office of War Information (left) allows us an insight into the planning surrounding the raid and a glimpse of the destruction that Bryant and his crewmates would have witnessed that night.
Bomber Command lost 48 aircraft during the raid, five percent of those dispatched, however, the heaviest casualties were suffered by the OTUs of No. 91 and 92 Groups RAF, which included 14 OTU. The groups lost over ten percent of the aircraft dispatched.
In January 1944, the Nottingham Evening News published a police notice that could have tantalising links to Bryant: “Nottm police have in their possession a chromium plated cigarette case engraved “To BLM Jenkin from U.A.O.D. 1941"”. The initials and the spelling of the name Jenkin without an S are unusual enough for the chance of there being two people in the Nottingham area with the same name and initials to be remote. U.A.O.D. refers to the United Ancient Order of Druids, so we assume Bryant was a member. Perhaps he lost the case when out on the town in Nottingham sometime in 1942, although there is another more disturbing possibility. Our research colleague, Raymond Glynne-Owen, co-author of 207 Squadron: RAF Langar, 1942-1943, explains how an airman’s personal effects would be dealt with if he failed to return from a mission:
When aircrew failed to return, any effects were collected from the hut where they slept and the locker that they had in the crew locker rooms by the Committee of Adjustment, overseen by the Adjutant. These would be logged, the list would be sent to relatives, and they would be asked if they wanted the effects forwarding. In the meantime, they were sent to a central repository. Sometimes things went walkabout before the Committee could do their job, sometimes there was an understanding among hut mates or other friends that they could take what they wanted (rather than somebody else doing it further down the line).
It was quite common for larger items (bicycles, even cars) to be auctioned off on the squadron, the proceeds to go to dependents. But - as in the spring of 1943 when 467 Squadron's Adjutant, F/Lt Burfield-Carpenter, was cashiered from the service at Bottesford for stealing aircrew effects from the Committee of Adjustment's ‘secure’ storage - it's possible that the cigarette case went missing as part of an ‘inside job’. It's conceivable that Burfield-Carpenter was already up to his tricks at the time of Bryant's death (467 arrived at Bottesford on the 24th November), and that, since Bottesford was the parent station and Langar merely the satellite, he had oversight of, or at least access to items recovered by the Committee of Adjustment at Langar.
Bryant Jenkin is buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church in Bottesford alongside his crewmates. His personal effects (minus the cigarette case) were sent to his family in Stratford, New Zealand, among them was his flying log book which gives a fascinating insight into Bryant’s time as a trainee airman and his brief time flying operations. The item is a treasured possession of Bryant’s nephew, Murray Jenkin.
The grave of Bryant Leonard McKenzie Jenkin,
St. Mary's Churchyard, Bottesford.
Below are three pages from Bryant's logbook detailing the training and operational flights he undertook as part of Ray Hannan's crew during October and November 1942.
Sergeant Albert Roberts
There were two wireless operators / air gunners on board R5694 EM-F for the fateful mission to Bad Zwischenahn, New Zealander Bryant Jenkin, and Liverpudlian, Albert Roberts.
Albert had not previously flown with Ray Hannan’s crew, he was drafted in for the mission on November 25th to replace wireless operator / air gunner, Bernard Leo Litolff, who had flown with the crew on their previous four sorties, but who was unable to fly on this occasion, probably due to sickness or injury. Litolff, who like Albert was born and raised in Liverpool, returned to active duty in early December and flew on another nine operations with 207 Squadron before being killed in action on March 12th, 1943, when Lancaster L7586 EM-A, captained by Flying Officer Michael Eugene Doble, was lost on a raid against the German city of Essen.
Albert Roberts was born in 1921 in the Toxteth district of Liverpool to dock labourer, John James Roberts and his wife, Sophia Uhde. The youngest of eight children, he grew up at the small family home on Dorrit Street. Sadly, Albert’s father died in September 1939, shortly after war was declared.
Several of Albert’s older siblings were over 20 years his senior and had families of their own, so Albert had a number of young cousins with whom he had much in common, however, he had little in common with his siblings with the exception of his sister, Anne. Albert and Anne were very close and she never really got over her brother’s untimely death. Tragically, she died just a few years later.
Albert’s maternal grandparents were both German and had moved from Hanover to Liverpool in the second half of the 19th Century, so with the two countries of his mixed heritage at war, Albert must have had very conflicting feelings. His enlistment in the RAF is thought to have been a source of friction with his mother who was concerned that he may be required to drop bombs on the homes of his German relatives. Albert’s nephew, Peter Hughes, recalled Albert as being very clever and technically minded and it is possible that he saw the RAF as an opportunity to get away from family life in Liverpool and to experience new and exciting horizons.
Despite the family’s misgivings, Albert enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserves in July 1940. On the outbreak of war, the Air Ministry employed the RAFVR as the principal means for aircrew entry to serve with the RAF. On being accepted for aircrew training, civilian volunteers like Albert took an oath of allegiance and were then inducted into the RAFVR before returning to their civilian occupations for several months until they were called up for aircrew training. During this waiting period a recruit could wear a silver RAFVR lapel badge on his civilian clothing to indicate his status.
In early October 1940, Albert was called up and posted to No. 10 (Signals) Recruits Centre at Blackpool. He would likely have been billeted in one of the local sea-side boarding houses which were requisitioned by the Air Ministry to house new recruits, while requisitioned hotels, ballrooms and other local amenities were utilised as training venues.
Albert undertook further training throughout the first eight months of 1941, including at No 2 Signals School at RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire and No. 5 Bombing & Gunnery School at Defoe in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, before being posted to 19 Operational Training Unit on September 6th in preparation for frontline duties. Serving with 19 OTU at the same time as Albert was fellow Liverpudlian, Bernard Litolff.
Originally formed at RAF Kinloss, Morayshire, in May 1940, 19 OTU trained crews on the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, one of the RAFs twin-engined medium bombers. The unit opened a satellite at nearby Forres, known colloquially as Balnageith, in January 1941. The local terrain was challenging for the five-man crews and numerous crashes occurred with several Whitleys ending up in the Moray Firth, or even worse, flying into mountains.
On November 1st, 1941, having completed their operational training both Albert Roberts and Bernard Litolff were transferred to 44 Squadron, however, neither flew on operations and just a couple of weeks later both were transferred to 207 Squadron at RAF Bottesford. In the early months of 1942, 207 Squadron was still operating the Avro Manchester, the British-built, twin-engined, heavy bomber that was the forerunner of the Avro Lancaster.
Albert flew his first mission with 207 Squadron on February 22nd, 1942, on board Manchester L7468 EM-Z captained by Flight Lieutenant S E ‘Pat’ Pattinson. The target was the dock installations in the German coastal city of Emden, but the aircraft suffered a serious technical fault and was forced to return to the airfield without completing the mission. Albert flew two further sorties in February, both with Flight Sergeant Desmond Burman ‘Tubby’ Nixon at the controls. The first of these was a Nickel raid to Paris on February 24th. Nickel was the codename used by the RAF for raids where propaganda leaflets were dropped instead of armaments. The second was a Gardening mission along the Frisian coast on February 27th.
On June 1st, Albert flew on his first sortie aboard one of the recently arrived Lancaster bombers as part of Nixon’s crew, however, the aircraft was forced to turn back because of a technical fault with one of the engines. Albert flew on four more missions, one with Pattinson and three with Nixon, only two were successfully completed, the other two were aborted due to aircraft faults. On August 15th, after a six-week break from operations possibly due to illness or injury, Albert was posted to 207 Conversion Flight for training on the Lancaster, he returned to the main Squadron, now based at RAF Langar, on September 12th where he re-joined Pattinson’s crew.
During September 1942, Albert flew another four missions with Pattinson before once again taking a six-week break. He returned to active duty on November 7th as part of the crew of Lancaster R5745 EM-T, captained by Flight Sergeant John Whyte. The mission was the fourth and largest area bombing raid against the port city of Genoa and was the heaviest raid suffered by an Italian city at that point in the war. R5745’s mission report stated: Primary target Genoa attacked at 21.53 hours with 1 x 4000lb and 1 SBC 90 x 4lb incendiaries from 9500 feet on a heading of 0450. Clear visibility allowed target to be seen visually. Bomb bursts seen. Photograph of aiming point taken. Sortie completed.
The attack on Genoa was to be Alberts last sortie before the fateful mission to attack Bad Zwischenahn on November 25th. He is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard in Bottesford alongside his crewmates Ray Hannan, Ken Lee, Bryant McKenzie and Peter Thompson. Following the fatal crash, a notice announcing Albert’s death was published in the Liverpool Echo on Tuesday December 1st. After many successful operational flights over enemy territory, including Genoa, Stuttgart, Essen and Cologne, Sgt Albert Roberts RAFVR aged 21, youngest son of Mrs. and the late Mr. John Roberts of 43 Dorrit St, Liverpool 8, has lost his life on active service. Before the war he was a junior draughtsman at the Automatic Electric Company, and was an old boy of Holy Trinity School, Toxteth and Toxteth Technical Institute.
The Goadby Marwood History Group is very grateful to Sophia Hughes, granddaughter of Albert’s sister, Sophia, for sharing with us her family memorabilia and her father’s recollections of his uncle.
Sergeant Albert Roberts.
Dorrit Street, Toxteth, Liverpool, where Albert and his family lived in the 1930s.
Trainee wireless operators of No. 10 (Signals) Recruits Centre receiving Morse code instruction at the Olympia Exhibition
Hall at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool ©IWM. To pass the initial stage of the signal training course, recruits needed to be able to use the Morse code equipment to send and receive messages at a minimum 12 words per minute.
The grave marker of Sergeant Albert Roberts,
St. Mary's Churchyard, Bottesford.
Lancaster R5694 EM-F Memorial Fund
Goadby Marwood History Group is raising funds to honour the sacrifice made by Ray, Ken, Bryant, Albert and the rest of the crew of R5694 EM-F with a permanent memorial that will be located on a public footpath near the banks of the small stream where the aircraft crashed almost 80 years ago. If you would like to contribute please follow the link below.