462 Squadron.com

A tribute to the Crew of Halifax III, NA-240, Z5-V

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6 November 2017
Crew 48, Pilot Mervin Walter Rohrlach 462 Squadron RAAF

Crew 48 of 462 Squadron, John Scaife Sanderson, Douglas Henry Lawrence, Norman Stanley Scott, Eric Gordon Baker, Mervin Walter Rohrlach, Vivian Claude Topham, 1944.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Above, back, left to right: Nav John Scaife Sanderson RAFVR;
W/OP Douglas Henry Lawrence RAAF;
Bomb Aimer Norman Stanley Scott RAFVR

Front: left to right: R/AG Eric Gordon Baker RAFVR;
Pilot Mervin Walter Rohrlach RAAF;
MU/AG Vivian Claude Topham RAFVR.
Note the dark blue of the RAAF uniform, compared with the RAF lighter blue.

Rohrlach and Lawrence were both posted to 21 OTU, Moreton-in-Marsh on 20 June 1944. The crew of 6 would have formed soon after. They were posted to 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit at Dishforth, Yorkshire on 13 September 1944, where F/Eng Beardsmore joined to make a crew of 7. They were posted to 462 Squadron Driffield on 15 November 1944. As this photo was taken in a field of mown hay with stacks (summer), and does not include the Flight Engineer, it was most likely taken between 20 June and 13 September 1944 at 21 OTU, at/near Moreton-in-Marsh. They look relaxed and happy.

A photo of seven members of this crew including F/Eng Joseph David Beardsmore RAFVR, all in flying gear near their aircraft, is now missing. If you can assist with a copy/scan for this site and also for the Lawrence family, please make contact.

 

Crew 48 – 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham

The Crew of Halifax III MZ469 Z5-N, which failed to return from a Protective Patrol on Operations in the Ruhr area of Germany on the night of 6/7 January 1945.

Links to Crew photos;
Captain/Pilot: Mervin Walter ROHRLACH, KIA
Navigator: John Scaife SANDERSON, KIA
Bomb Aimer: Norman Stanley SCOTT, KIA
Mid-Upper Gunner: Vivian Claude TOPHAM, KIA
Rear Gunner: Eric Gordon BAKER, KIA
Flight Engineer: Joseph David BEARDSMORE, KIA
Memorial at Himley Road Methodist Church, Gornal Wood, UK (includes names of Baker and Beardsmore)
Special Duties: Leslie Gordon Marshall MANNELL (A/G) KIA. He was flying with Rohrlach's crew to dispense WINDOW.) His usual role was Rear Gunner in Crew 32, Pilot Noel Edward MARCHANT.
Wireless Operator: Douglas Henry LAWRENCE, PoW, with photos, news clippings, Caterpillar Club letter and Membership Card; and photos of family members at Hotton War Cemetery.
Additional information on Crew; Rohrlach service history (incomplete);
Lawrence service and casualty history;
Mannell service history (incomplete); Crew Ops at Driffield and Foulsham;
Crash Investigation summary (incomplete);
1991 visit to Belgium by Keith Topham;
photos of wreckage MZ469 in 1945;
Belgian documents;
correspondence from Abbé Gérard Marlaire in 2008;
excerpts from the personal Memoir "Zebra Five November", written by Douglas Henry Lawrence, Copyright 1995;
Second aircraft loss at similar time and place (Halifax NA687 6Y-A of 171 Squadron);
Possible conclusions regarding the loss of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N
See also Commemorative Panel at AWM.

Reference sources – Australian WW2 Nominal Roll; The National Archives of Australia (Service Files, Casualty Files, Loss of Aircraft File, 462 Squadron Operational Record Book); Australian War Memorial (Roll of Honour); Commonwealth War Graves Commission; Trove Online – National Library of Australia; Lawrence family photos, files, correspondence, and their research contacts.

All headstone photos on this page were supplied by and used with the permission of John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013; graves at Hotton Cemetery, Belgium.

 

Vivian Claude Topham and friend;  R/AG Eric Gordon Baker; and Bomb Aimer Norman Stanley Scott, 1944, crew 48 of 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Captioned in the Memoir "Zebra Five November" as ....
Viv and friend, Eric & Scotty

Left to right; MU/AG Vivian Claude Topham; unidentified female friend;
R/AG Eric Gordon Baker; and Bomb Aimer Norman Stanley Scott.

Location and date not known, but possibly July/August/September 1944 during their posting to 21 OTU. Lawrence was on 14 days leave from 31 August to 13 September 1944, and usually all of the crew would have leave at the same time. Lawrence and Rohrlach were also both on 7 days leave from 5 December to 11 December 1944 at Driffield.

If you can identify the young lady, or the location of the rather distinctive 'ruins' behind the group, please make contact.

 

Graves of Crew 48 of 462 Squadron, Vivian Claude Topham, Joseph David Beardsmore, Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell, Eric Gordon Baker, Mervin Walter Rohrlach, Norman Stanley Scott, John Scaife Sanderson at Hotton War Cemetery.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Seven graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N at Hotton War Cemetery. Undated (1950s ?), and unidentified visitor, who appears to be touching the headstone for Nav John Sanderson.

The sequence of Headstones is as listed below, information sourced from the CWGC documents relating to this crew. Reburial was at Hotton War Cemetery on 7 May 1947. Photos of the temporary crosses on Rohrlach's and Mannell's graves were sent to their next-of-kin in May 1949. Each cross was later replaced by the Headstone.

VI. B. 1 Vivian Claude Topham (joint grave with Beardsmore)
VI. B. 2 Joseph David Beardsmore (joint grave with Topham)
VI. B. 3 Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell (joint grave with Baker)
VI. B. 4 Eric Gordon Baker (joint grave with Mannell)
VI. B. 5 Mervin Walter Rohrlach
VI. B. 6 Norman Stanley Scott
VI. B. 7 John Scaife Sanderson

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Headstone on grave of Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

 

P/O Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF, 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

 

 

Captain/Pilot: P/O Mervin Walter ROHRLACH, 417761 RAAF, KIA

Service details from Australian WW2 Nominal Roll:-
Pilot Officer, 417761 462 Squadron, RAAF; date of birth 17 February 1918, at Caltowie, South Australia; Next of Kin Golda Rohrlach; enlisted 9 Jul 1942 at Adelaide, SA; date of death 6 January 1945; not PoW; Roll of Honour at Kimba, SA.

From Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Pilot Officer as of 30 August 1944, married on 12 June 1940.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Pilot Officer, 417761, RAAF, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 26. Grave reference VI.B.5, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of John Gustav Rohrlach and Anna Maria Rohrlach; and husband of Galda Luneen Rohrlach, Kimba, South Australia. (Note differences in Records for his date of Death, and also for his wife's name, which is listed as Golda Lureen Rohrlach in his NAA Service File. He also had a young daughter.)

PILOT OFFICER
M. W. ROHRLACH
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 26

THESE EAGLES
SUFFER WE LITTLE BIRDS
TO SING

 

At left: P/O Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF.

He was Commissioned to the rank of Pilot Officer, effective 30 August 1944. This photo may have been taken soon after to record the event.

 

 

Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF, later Pilot of Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham.Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF, later Pilot of Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham.
Photos from the National Archives of Australia: A9300, 417761

Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF.

Above left: Air Craftman 2 (AC2), from 9 Jul 1942 to 2 January 1943.

Above right: photo labelled on reverse as 6 SFTS. No 6 Service Flying Training School was at Mallala, South Australia, and Rohrlach was posted there from 1 August 1942 to 11 October 1942, at rank of AC2; and was again posted there from 15 March 1943 to 9 August 1943, at rank of Leading Aircraftman (LAC), and Sergeant.

 

 

Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF, later Pilot of Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham.Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF, later Pilot of Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham.
Photos from the National Archives of Australia: A9300, 417761

Mervin Walter Rohrlach, 417761 RAAF.

Above: These 2 photos were not identified by date or location. The photo on the right was reproduced from a negative in the RAAF Service File, but lack of quality prevents transcription of the sign. He is however wearing RAAF uniform, and his Pilot's wings are visible above his pocket, so this must be after 23 July 1943, when he received his Flying Badge and subsequent promotion to Sergeant.

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Headstone on grave of John Scaife Sanderson, 1685244 RAFVR, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

 

John Scaife Sanderson 1685244 RAFVR, 462 Squadron
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

John Scaife Sanderson 1685244 RAFVR, 462 Squadron

 

 

 

Navigator: Sgt John Scaife SANDERSON, 1685244 RAFVR, KIA

RAFVR service file not available.

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in 16 November 1944 from 1664 HCU Dishforth; 1685244, Sergeant as of 14 January 1944; Navigator; Date of birth 6 July 1922; single, next of kin Thomas Scaife Sanderson (Father), Tebay, Penrith, Cumberland; Fiancée Audrey Mary Jennings of Kendal, Westmorland.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Sergeant, Navigator, 1685244, RAFVR, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 22; 462 (RAAF) Sqdn. Grave reference VI.B.7, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Thomas Scaife Sanderson and Annie Mary Sanderson, of Tebay, Westmorland.

1685244 SERGEANT
J.S. SANDERSON
NAVIGATOR
ROYAL AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 22

"THE ETERNAL GOD
IS THY REFUGE
AND UNDERNEATH
ARE THE EVERLASTING ARMS"

 

The photo of John Sanderson shown at left, may be the one referred to in a letter dated 04 March 2006, from Keith Topham to Douglas Lawrence in 2006 ...

"...photograph of Sgt Sanderson came from his father and is a copy of a newspaper s/col picture published at the time."

At Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith, Cumbria, John Scaife Sanderson's name is recorded as "J S Sanderson" on the Memorial Plaque for Old Boys who gave their lives in WW2. The school is about 26 km (about 16 miles) from his home at Tebay, Westmorland.

Tebay World War I War Memorial is a stained glass window of St. James Church, Tebay. The Tebay World War II War Memorial is on a plaque beneath the WWI stained glass window. On the Tebay website, the names of locals who lost their lives in WW2 are listed, including John Scaife Sanderson, with photos of John and his fiancée, and some additional personal details.

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Headstone on grave of Norman Stanley Scott, 1399603 RAFVR, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

No individual portrait of "Scotty" has yet been located, however he is shown in the crew photos in the earlier section.

If you can assist with a photo, please make contact.

 

 

Bomb Aimer: F/Sgt Norman Stanley SCOTT, 1399603 RAFVR, KIA

RAFVR service file not available.

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in 16 November 1944 from 1664 HCU Dishforth; 1399603, Flight Sergeant as of 10 December 1944; Air Bomber; Date of birth 31 July 1923; single, next of kin William Geoffrey Scot, Esq., (Father), Hildenborough, Kent; Fiancee Nurse Marie Devonald, Sketty, Swansea, Wales.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Flight Sergeant, Air Bomber, 1399603, RAFVR, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 21; 462 (RAAF) Sqdn. Grave reference VI.B.6, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of William Geoffrey and Vesta Albine Scott, of Hildenborough, Kent.

1399603 FLIGHT SERGEANT
N.S. SCOTT
AIR BOMBER
ROYAL AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 21

OUR DEARLY BELOVED SON

Norman Stanley Scott is commemorated on the Hildenborough Civic War Memorial, at the junction of Noble Tree Road and Tonbridge Road, Hildenborough, Kent. His name is inscribed with the WW2 names on the lower section of the base.

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Headstone on grave of Vivian Claude Topham, 1852943 RAFVR, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

AC2 Vivian Claude Topham, 1852943 RAFVR, later Mid-Upper Gunner at 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Mid-Upper Gunner: Sgt Vivian Claude TOPHAM, 1852943 RAFVR, KIA

RAFVR service file not available.

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in on 16 November 1944 from 1664 HCU Dishforth; 1852943, Sergeant as of 24 April 1944; Mid-Upper Gunner; Date of birth 22 April 1925; single, next of kin C A Topham (Father), of Truro, Cornwall.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Sergeant, Air Gunner, 1852943, RAFVR, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 19; 462 (RAAF) Sqdn.
Grave reference Joint Grave VI.B.1-2, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Claude Anyon Topham and Ivy Evelyn Topham of Tiverton, Devon.

1852943 SERGEANT
V.C. TOPHAM
AIR GUNNER
ROYAL AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 19

DAY AND NIGHT
YOU LIVE IN OUR THOUGHTS
MUM, DAD AND KEITH

 

At left: AC2 Vivian Claude Topham, 1852943 RAFVR

 

Vivian Claude Topham's name is recorded on the Truro War Memorial. It is also on a memorial in the city post office, where both he and his father worked. (Refer to letter from Viv's brother Keith to Doug Lawrence, in later section.)

 

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Headstone on grave of Eric Gordon Baker, 3050406 RAFVR, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

Eric Gordon Baker, 3050406 RAFVR, Rear Gunner in Halifax MZ469 Z5-N, of 462 Squadron RAAF.
Photo from the Baker Family Archives, supplied by and used
with the permission of Andy Baker, UK
.

 

Rear Gunner: Sgt Eric Gordon BAKER, 3050406 RAFVR, KIA

RAFVR service file not available.

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in on 16 November 1664 from HCU Dishforth; 3050406, Sergeant as of 18 May 1944; Rear Gunner; Date of birth 13 April 1925; single, next of kin William Baker (Father), of Sedgley, near Dudley, Worcestershire.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Sergeant, Air Gunner, 3050406, RAFVR, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 19; 462 (RAAF) Sqdn. Grave reference Joint Grave VI.B.3-4, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of William and Florence May Baker of Sedgley, Staffordshire.

3050406 SERGEANT
E.G. BAKER
AIR GUNNER
ROYAL AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 19

HIS DUTY DONE
GOD GRANT US
THAT WHICH OUR SONS DIED FOR,
FREEDOM AND PEACE

 

 

At left: Rear Gunner: Sgt Eric Gordon BAKER, 3050406 RAFVR, showing his Air Gunner's Badge, which he received in May 1944. The photo is undated, but was probably taken between May 1944 and 6 January 1945. It appears to be a formal studio photo with added colouring, and may have been taken soon after he received his Gunner's Badge and Sergeant's stripes. His age then was 19.

 

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Headstone on grave of Joseph David Beardsmore, 1594654 RAFVR, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

No individual portrait of Joseph Beardsmore has yet been located, however a "possible" may be in the Himley Road Methodist Church files. Investigations are on-going.
If you can assist with a photo, please make contact.

 

 

Flight Engineer: Sgt Joseph David BEARDSMORE 1594654 RAFVR, KIA

RAFVR service file not available.

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in from 1664 HCU Dishforth; 1594654, Sergeant as of 7 August 1944; Flight Engineer; Date of birth 25 December 1923; single, next of kin Joseph Beardsmore (Father), of Dudley, Worcestershire, and cousin P/O Shortell of 214 Sqdn, Oulton.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Sergeant, Flight Engineer, 1594654, RAFVR, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 21; 462 (RAAF) Sqdn.
Grave reference Joint Grave VI.B.1-2, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Joseph and Mary Edith Beardsmore of Dudley, Worcestershire.

1594654 SERGEANT
J.D. BEARDSMORE
FLIGHT ENGINEER
ROYAL AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 21

"GREATER LOVE
HATH NO MAN THAN THIS"
PEACE, PERFECT PEACE

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Remembrance Day display, 2013, at Himley Road Methodist Church.
Photo kindly supplied by and used with the permission
of the Himley Road Methodist Church, UK, © Copyright 2013.

Remembrance Day display, 2013, at Himley Road Methodist Church, Gornal Wood, Dudley. On the central white Memorial tablet, the upper grey section reads:-

THIS TABLET
IS ERECTED TO
THE GLORY OF GOD
AND IN MEMORY OF THE
MEN OF THIS CHURCH
WHO FELL IN THE
GREAT WAR
1914-1919

TO THE
GLORIOUS
DEAD

The white panel contains WW1 names, followed by WW2 names underneath, including Baker and Beardsmore. Please see close-up photo of this section, above right.

Memorial to those who lost their lives in WW2 including Eric Gordon Baker and Joseph David Beardsmore of 462 Squadron RAAF (Himley Road Methodist Church).
Photo kindly supplied by and used with the permission
of Andy Baker, UK, © Copyright 2013.

War Memorial in the Himley Road Methodist Church, Dudley, showing close-up of Memorial to locals who lost their lives in WW2.

The Memorial wording for this section reads:-

AND ALSO THOSE WHO FELL IN THE WAR 1939-1945
LESLIE SMITH, ERIC BAKER, JOSEPH HOPSON,
JOSEPH BEARDSMORE, RAYMOND TIMMINS.
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS.

 

Sgt Eric Baker of Sedgley near Dudley, and Sgt Joseph Beardsmore, of Dudley, did not meet until they were in the RAF, and found out that they were both from the same locality in the West Midlands.

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Headstone on grave of Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell, 429052 RAAF, 462 Squadron.
Photo by John Dann, UK, © Copyright 2013.

Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell, 429052 RAAF, at enlistment, later Rear Gunner at 462 Squadron.Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell, 429052 RAAF, later Rear Gunner at 462 Squadron.
Photos from the National Archives of Australia: A9301, 429052

Above left: Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell, 429052 RAAF, on 22 October 1942, after enlistment at No. 2 Recruiting Centre, Sydney.

Above right: AC2 Leslie Gordon Marshall Mannell, 429052 RAAF, on 28 February 1943, after posting to 2 ITS, Bradfield Park, Sydney.

 

 

 

Special Duties: F/Sgt Leslie Gordon Marshall MANNELL (A/G), 429052 RAAF, KIA

Service details from Australian WW2 Nominal Roll:-
Flight Sergeant, 429052, 462 Squadron, RAAF; date of birth 1 December 1913 at Koorawather, NEW; Next of Kin Jeane Mannell; enlisted 22 October 1942 at Sydney, NSW; date of death 6 January 1945; not PoW; Roll of Honour at Griffith, NSW.

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in on 4 September 1944 from 1652 HCU Marston Moor, Yorks; Flight Sergeant as of 16 March 1944; Air Gunner; Date of birth 1 December 1913; married, next of kin Mrs Jeane Mannell (Wife) of Griffith NSW and Mother Mrs L G Mannell of Stanmore, Sydney NSW.

Casualty details from CWGC:-
Flight Sergeant, 429052 RAAF, date of Death 7 January 1945, age 31; 462 Sqdn.
Grave reference Joint Grave VI.B.3-4, Hotton War Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Leslie Gordon Mannell and Letitia May Mannell; husband of Jeane Mannell of Griffith, New South Wales.

429052 FLIGHT SERGEANT
L.G.M. MANNELL
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE
7TH JANUARY 1945 AGE 31

A DEVOTED AND LOVING
HUSBAND AND FATHER
"TILL WE MEET AGAIN"

Mannell is included in the Honour Roll of the Bushwalkers Memorial at Splendour Rock, Blue Mountains National Park. The Memorial is a simple bronze Plaque to commemorate Bushwalkers who lost their lives in WW2. It reads ...

IN MEMORY OF
BUSHWALKERS
WHO FELL
IN WORLD WAR II
THEIR SPLENDOUR SHALL NEVER FADE

Refer "Register of War Memorials in NSW" and "bushwalking.org.au"
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Douglas Henry Lawrence 437426 RAAF, Wireless Operator, 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Signature of Douglas Henry Lawrence 437426 RAAF, Wireless Operator, 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

 

Wireless Operator: F/Sgt Douglas Henry LAWRENCE, 437426 RAAF, sole survivor of this crew.

Service details from Australian WW2 Nominal Roll:-
437426, 462 Squadron, RAAF; date of birth 2 June 1923, at Medindie, South Australia; Next of Kin Albert Lawrence; enlisted 30 January 1943 at Adelaide, SA; Warrant Officer at date of Discharge on 20 December 1945; Recorded as not PoW (but believed to have been PoW).

Service details from Crew Arrival Form, 462 Sqdn:-
Posted in from 1664 HCU Dishforth, Yorks; 437426, Flight Sergeant as of 14 April 1944; Wireless Air Gunner; Date of birth 2 June 1923; single, next of kin Capt. Albert George Lawrence (Father), Muswellbrook NSW; and Mother Ivy Eliza Adeline Lawrence of Unley Park, SA.

 

At left: F/Sgt Douglas Henry Lawrence 437426 RAAF, aged 21½, December 1944, after his posting to 462 Squadron, Driffield on 15 November.
He was on 7 days leave from 5th to 11th December 1944 and may have had this formal portrait taken then.

The portrait is from the Memoir "Zebra Five November" written by Douglas Henry Lawrence in 1995. The illustration page includes the details and signature as shown.

 

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, later Wireless Operator in Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham.
Photo from the National Archives of Australia: A9301, 437426

Above: Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, at enlistment on
30 January 1943, aged 19 years and 8 months, at No. 5 Recruiting Centre, Adelaide. This photo is from his RAAF Airman's Service File.

Flight Sergeant Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, later Wireless Operator in Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham. Flight Sergeant Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, later Wireless Operator in Crew 48, 462 Squadron, Driffield and Foulsham.
Photos from the National Archives of Australia: A9301, 437426

The two photos above are also from the RAAF Service File for Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF. They were reproduced from negatives, which were either poor quality originally, or have deteriorated over time. A third negative with a left-facing profile was not usable. The sign he is holding appears to be marked "A437426 F/S LAWRENCE RS WAG". He received his Air Gunner's Badge, and was promoted to Sergeant, and re-mustered to Wireless Operator Air Gunner (WOAG), all on 14 October 1943.
RS may refer to No. 2 Radio School, Yatesbury, UK. Lawrence trained at 2RS from 15 March 1944 to 16 May 1944. During that posting, he was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 14 April 1944.
He does not appear to be wearing an RAAF uniform. The location is not recorded, but may be in the UK at 2 RS after promotion to F/Sgt.

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, with RAAF personnel in New York, newspaper 23 December 1943.
Trove Online – National Library of Australia

Newspaper report of Douglas Henry Lawrence with South Australian RAAF personnel in New York, as published in The Advertiser (Adelaide), page 3 on Thursday 23 December 1943. He had embarked from Sydney on 4 November 1943, and travelled via the USA, and disembarked in the UK on 10 December 1943.

Quote ...... "R.A.A.F. Men In New York.
The RAAF Directorate of Public Relations announced yesterday that the following RAAF personnel had recently been entertained at the Anzac Club and the Air Force Club, New York:- ........ (8th on list of names) Sgt Douglas Lawrence, Unley Park; ........ "

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, with RAAF ex-PoWs at the Boomerang Club London, newspaper 16 July 1945.
Trove Online – National Library of Australia

Newspaper report of Douglas Henry Lawrence with RAAF ex-PoWs at the Boomerang Club London, as published in The Advertiser (Adelaide), page 4 on Monday 16 July 1945.

Quote ...... " Servicemen visit South Australia House, London, July 15.
The following former prisoners of war visited South Australia House and the Boomerang Club this week:- .....
(2nd para, line 23) WO D H Lawrence ......
All are well and send greetings. "

He embarked from the UK on the 8 August 1945, via New Zealand.

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, letter from Leslie Irwin with welcome to the Caterpillar Club, 04 July 1945.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Letter from Leslie Irwin to Douglas Henry Lawrence, with welcome to the Caterpillar Club .... transcription on the right.

 

Information on the Caterpillar Club and a photo of a Caterpillar Pin may be viewed on the Hibberd Caterpillar page.

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, Caterpillar Club membership card, 04 July 1945.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Above: Caterpillar Club membership card, despatched with Caterpillar Pin to Douglas Henry Lawrence on 4 July 1945.

The accompanying letter, shown at left, is transcribed below ......
.... quote ...

4 July 1945

F/Sgt D H Lawrence Aus 437426
c/o RAAF Base P.O.
Kodak House,
63, Kingsway, W.C.2.

Dear F/Sgt Lawrence,

Referring to your letter of 2nd June, I am very sorry that it has not been possible to write sooner.

I am indeed glad that you were able to save your life with an Irvin chute and are now safely back in this country, and have much pleasure in welcoming you as a member of the club.

I am enclosing herewith your Caterpillar Pin and membership card with our compliments and he hope that they bring you Good Luck.

Yours sincerely

Leslie L. Irvin

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, in New Zealand, during his repatriation from the UK to Australia in 1945.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Warrant Officer Douglas Henry Lawrence in New Zealand, during his repatriation from the UK to Australia in 1945. He embarked from the UK on the 8 August 1945, on the "Orion", a ship which sailed via the Panama Canal, and stopped in NZ to disembark NZ service personnel. He disembarked in Sydney on 9 September 1945. His promotion from F/Sgt to W/O was effective 14 April 1945 while he was a PoW.

The Lawrence Family have advised that the photo is a view of Wellington.

Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, after his return to Adelaide as an ex-Pow, newspaper 20 September 1945.
Trove Online – National Library of Australia

Caption with names af ex-PoWs icluding Douglas Henry Lawrence, 437426 RAAF, after return to Adelaide, newspaper 20 September 1945.
Trove Online – National Library of Australia

Newspaper report as published in Chronicle (Adelaide), page 22 on Thursday 20 September 1945.

Quote .... "AIRMEN RETURN FROM ABROAD. Last week a party of 48 South Australian airmen, most of whom had been prisoners of was in Germany, returned to Adelaide, and were accorded a most enthusiastic welcome by a large crowd at the Adelaide Railway Station. The men who returned were ....... WO. D. H. Lawrence ......

Doug Lawrence is at the rear, far right, indicated by the blue arrow.

John and Aaron Lawrence at the graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N, Hotton War Cemetery, 2012.
© Copyright 2012 Lawrence Family Collection.

John Lawrence (right) and son Aaron Lawrence in front of the seven graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N, Hotton War Cemetery, 2012. It must have been a solemn and emotional occasion, knowing that John's father, Doug Lawrence, aged 21½ in 1945, could so easily have also died in the crash.

John and Aaron Lawrence at the graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N, Hotton War Cemetery, 2012.
© Copyright 2012 Lawrence Family Collection.

John and Aaron Lawrence at the graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N, Hotton War Cemetery in 2012. The main entrance is at the back right of this photo. The graves are in Section IV, Row B, No. 1 to 7.

Mark Lawrence and family at Hotton War Cemetery, October 2016, to visit graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N.
© Copyright 2016 Lawrence Family Collection.

Mark Lawrence and family at Hotton War Cemetery, in October 2016 to visit graves of the crew of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N. They are in front of the Cross of Sacrifice at the main entrance.

4 Generations of the Lawrence family in 2011 - Douglas Henry Lawrence, ex-RAAF 437426; John Lawrence, Mark Lawrence, Aaron Lawrence, and great-grandchildren.
© Copyright 2011 Lawrence Family Collection.

4 Generations of the Lawrence family in 2011 ....
At left: Great-grandfather Douglas Henry Lawrence, ex-RAAF 437426;
Doug's son John Lawrence in black shirt;
Doug's grandsons (John's sons) Mark Lawrence in green shirt, and Aaron Lawrence in grey shirt;
and two of Doug's Great-grandchildren.
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Additional Crew information
Sourced from the RAAF Service files of Rohrlach, Lawrence and Mannell, available from the National Archives of Australia (NAA, Series A9300, A9301); and 462 Squadron ORB. Service files for RAFVR are not available.

This Crew was posted to 462 Squadron during the month of November 1944, ORB Form 540 November 1944, Part III Personnel,
page 29, Officers – P/O M W Rohrlach (A.417761)
page 30, Aircrew NCOs – Scott, Sanderson, Lawrence, Baker, Topham, Beardsmore, including their correct service numbers, all listed with the rank of Sergeant, but with some errors in their initials.

All were posted "Non-Effective – Missing" in January 1945, ORB From 540, page 47
P/O Rohrlach; Flight Sergeants Scott, Lawrence and Mannell; and Sergeants Sanderson, Baker, Topham and Beardsmore.

Their Ops are recorded in a later section.

Crew Summary – By reference to the Rohrlach and Lawrence postings (full details to follow), it is probable that the original crew of six was formed at 21 OTU Moreton-in-Marsh, on or soon after 20 June 1944. Rohrlach and Lawrence had been posted there on 20 June, and crews usually formed at an OTU. They were both posted to 61 Base, 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit (1664 HCU) Dishforth, Yorkshire on 13 September 1944, and it is assumed they were posted as members of a crew of six. At 1664 HCU, Flight Engineer Beardsmore would have joined to form a crew of seven. Rohrlach and Lawrence Service Files both record their posting to 462 Squadron, Driffield as 15 November 1944. The crew Arrival Forms, where dated (3 are undated) give the arrival date of 16 November 1944. All record their previous posting as 1664 Dishforth. They relocated with the Squadron from Driffield to Foulsham on 29 December 1944.

Mannell's first and only flight with the Rohrlach Crew was in the role of Special Duties (WINDOW) on the night of 6 January 1945. His usual role was Rear Gunner for Crew 32. See further details in later section. He was was posted "Non-Effective – Missing" in January 1945, ORB From 540, page 47, with the Rohrlach crew.

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Captain/Pilot: P/O Mervin Walter ROHRLACH, 417761 RAAF – from his RAAF Service File, and Casualty File.
The information in Casualty Files is often very graphic and detailed, so may be confronting and emotional reading.

Rohrlach was survived by his wife, and one daughter, then aged 3 years and 4 months.
Perhaps she or anyone else of the Rohrlach family, might like to make contact.

Detailed information to be added, however a brief summary of his service history is as follows.

Enlisted 09 July 1942, aged 24 & 4 months; civil occupation farmer and grazier;
Postings and training in Australia – 5 RC;1 RC; 6 SFTS; 4 ITS; 1 EFTS; 6 SFTS;
Awarded Flying Badge 23 July 1943 and promoted to Sergeant on 29 July 1943; 4 ED; 1 ED; embarked 27 September 1943;
Postings and training in UK – 11 PDRC; 3 (P) AFU; 1539 BAT Flight; 21 OTU; Commissioned to rank of Pilot Officer 30 August 1944; 1664 HCU Dishforth; 462 Squadron Driffield on 04 September 1944; 462 Squadron Foulsham.
He was was posted "Non-Effective – Missing" in January 1945, ORB From 540, page 47.
Death
recorded as Killed in Air Operations 7 January 1945; date later amended to 6 January 1945.

 

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Wireless Operator: F/Sgt Douglas Henry LAWRENCE, 437426 RAAF – the following details have been taken from his RAAF Service File, Casualty File, and the Aircraft Loss File (all from NAA); also reference book "Footprints on the Sands of Time" by Clutton-Brock. Note that dates for the same event may vary by a day or two on different documents in the Service File.

1. RAAF Service History

02 December 1942 – Application for Air Crew at 5 Recruiting Centre (5 RC) Adelaide, SA; age 19 and 6 months; birth date 01 June 1923; home at Unley Park SA; education to at Unley High School 1936-1939, Intermediate and Leaving Certificates; later study and Passes in Surveying and Plan Drawing, and Accounts; Typewriting; occupation Insurance Clerk, and Clerk with S A railways; parents Albert George Lawrence and Ivy Eliza Adeline (née WINNER).

30 January 1943 – Enlisted in RAAF at 5 RC Adelaide; single;age 19 Years 8 months; civil occupation Junior Clerk; height 5 ft 11½ inches; weight 130 lbs; Vision 6/6, colour vision and hearing OK; brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion; some scars on hands; born Medindie, SA; next-of-kin father, a Captain serving with Australian Infantry Force (changes in Units and addresses due to postings), and mother at Unley Park, SA
30 January 1943 – Classified at Rank of Air Craftman 2; Mustered as Aircrew V
30 January 1943 – Posted to 4 Initial Training School (4 ITS) Victor Harbour, SA

25 March 1943 – Re-mustered as Aircrew V (G)
27 March 1943 – Promoted to LAC
01 April 1943 – Posted to 1 Wireless and Gunnery School (1 WAGS) Ballarat, Vic, for No 37 Wireless Air Gunners Course

15 September 1943 – No 37 Course, Passed, 1 WAGS, Ballarat, Vic
16 September 1943 – Remustered as Aircrew II (G)
20 September 1943 – Posted to 3 Bombing and Gunnery School (3 BAGS) West Sale, Vic, for No 37 Air Gunners Course; also "Modified Musketry" Course

14 October 1943 – No 37 Air Gunners & Musketry Courses, Passed, 2 BAGS, West Sale, Vic
14 October 1943 – Awarded Air Gunner's Badge and Promoted to Sergeant; Remustered as W.O.A.G.

15 October 1943 – Posted to 1 Embarkation Depot (1 ED) Ascot Vale, Melbourne, Vic
29 October 1943 – Posted to 2 ED, Bradfield Park, Sydney

04 November 1943 – Embarked from Australia, via the USA to the UK (refer Newspaper report of entertainment in New York)
10 December 1943 – Disembarked in UK
11 December 1943 – Posted to 11 PDRC, Brighton

11 March 1944 – Remustered as WOP/AIR
15 March 1944 – Posted to 2 Radio School (2 RS) RAF Yatesbury

14 April 1944 – Promoted to Flight Sergeant

10 May 1944 – 5 days leave to 14 May 1944 UK

16 May 1944 – Posted to 4 (O) Advanced Flying Unit (4 (O) AFU), West Freugh UK

20 June 1944 – Posted to 21 Operational Training Unit (21 OTU) Moreton-in-Marsh (Crew of 6 formed)

31 August 1944 – 14 days leave to 13 September 1944 UK

07 September 1944 – Attached to 76 Base
13 September 1944 – Posted to 61 Base, 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit (1664 HCU) Dishforth, Yorkshire (now with Flight Engineer to make a Crew of 7)

15 November 1944 – Posted to 462 Squadron, RAF Station Driffield, 4 Group

05 December 1944 – 7 days leave to 11 December 1944 UK

Ops at Driffield and Foulsham – see later section listing Crew Ops

29 December 1944 – Relocated with 462 Squadron to RAF Station Foulsham, 100 Group

07 January 1945 – Posted as "Missing in Air Operations"

PoW Details – refer to the later Section 2 – RAAF Casualty File and Prisoner of War information ........

14 April 1945 – Promotion to Warrant Officer (while he was a Prisoner of War)

Undated – Safe in the UK

11 May 1945 – Posted to 11 PDRC Brighton
23 May 1945 – 28 days leave to 19 June 1945 in UK
26 June 1945 – 7 days leave to 2 July 1945 in UK (refer to news clipping of ex-PoWs visiting Boomerang Club, London)
04 July 1945 – Caterpillar Club letter with Membership Card, and Caterpillar Pin posted to Lawrence.

Undated – Embarked from UK for repatriation to Australia (via Panama Canal and New Zealand, see photo in NZ; Memoir records embarkation date as 8 August 1945)
09 September 1945 – Disembarked Sydney; Posted to 2 Personnel Depot (2 PD) Bradfield Park, Sydney
10 September 1945 – 21 days leave to 01 October 1945 ex PoW (refer to news clipping, ex-PoWs, Adelaide Railway Station)

06 October 1945 – Posted to 5 Medical Rehabilitation Unit (5 MRU)
21 November 1945 – 25 days leave to 15 December 1945, ex PoW
17 December 1945 – Posted to 4 PD, Adelaide
20 December 1945 – Discharged from RAF on demobilisation
21 December 1945 – payment in lieu of of 67 days unused leave
At Discharge from – Trade Proficiency "Satisfactory" and Conduct Assessment "Very Good"

Aircraft Types and hours
Training
3 BAGS, Australia, Fairey Battle and Oxford, 7 hours
1 WAGS, Australia, Wackett, 22 hours
2 RS, UK, Proctor, 8 hours

Advanced Training
4 AFU, UK, Anson, 40 hours
21 OTU, UK, Wellington 80 hours
1664 HCU, UK, Halifax, 70 hours

Operational Flying
462 Squadron, Driffield, Bombing, 15 hours
462 Squadron, Foulsham, Special Duties, 15 hours

General Conduct Sheet
Certified No Entry for all locations in Australia and the UK, except for 1 ....
At 3 BAGS, West Sale Victoria, on 5 October 1943, LAC Lawrence was charged with the Offence ... " Being in possession of a camera contrary to DRO ......... dated 22/9/43 which states cameras must be disposed of or handed in to the Service Police by 26/9/43". For this Offence, the punishment awarded was "Three days confined to barracks".

Medals and Badges
Air Gunners Badge
1939-45 Star; France & Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45; Australia Service Medal; Returned from Active Service Badge.

2. RAAF Casualty File and Prisoner of War information

Lawrence PoW listing – reference "Footprints in the Sands of Time" by Oliver Clutton-Brock 2003
Listed in "Appendix 1 – The List of RAF Bomber Command PoWs", page 340

Laurence, DH, F/Sgt, AUS 462 Sqdn MZ469 HAL 6/1/45 (sic, error for Lawrence)
Target – Bomber Support
Camps – NK (Not Known)
Pow Number – (blank)
Comments – ss8. Not found (Sole survivor of crew of 8; but what does "Not found" refer to?)

From Lawrence's

Casualty File

08 January 1945 – Postal letter from Officer Commanding 462 Squadron P M Paull to Captain Lawrence with details of his son being Missing, and that no further information was yet to hand, and that his personal effects were to be gathered and forwarded to the RAF Central Depository.

10 January 1945 – telegram to father, Captain Lawrence in the AIF, and Mother at Unley Park, notifying that their son was Missing. (Received before arrival of letter from Paull)

09 February 1945 – telegraph from Air Ministry to RAAF Headquarters, advising that the crashed Halifax had been found, with 4 dead; P/O MW Rohrlach and Sgt Baker identified by Identity Discs and reclassified as Killed in Action; plus 2 unknowns

22 February 1945 – lettergrams from Air Force Melbourne to Capt Lawrence and Mrs Lawrence, advising of aircraft being found and identification of 2 crew members (Rohrlach and Baker) and their reclassification to KIA; plus 2 deceased not identified; crew of 8; no change to the status "Missing" for the other 6.

22 February 1945 – letter from Capt A E Lawrence, to Casualty Section, Dept of Air, Melbourne, acknowledging the letter from the Squadron Leader of 462 Squadron, and advising of a change of address (from NSW to Keswick, SA).

26 February 1945 – letter from Capt A E Lawrence, to Squadron Leader P M Paull of 462 Squadron, thanking him for his "very fine letter" and acknowledging his kind comments regarding his son Doug.

30 March 1945 – letter from P M Paull to Air Ministry Casualty (Missing Research), forwarding copies of reports received from 85 Group RAF; these were then forwarded to Dept of Air, Melbourne.

Confidential report on identification and burial of 4 members of the crew, who were re-buried in Marche cemetery on 15 February 1945 by members of the Parachute Bde., (four had been originally buried near the crash site, then a fifth also buried alongside) and two who had been retrieved and buried at the Marche Cemetery on 5 February 1945. Signed by Oakey and Bristow, of the 16 Air Fsn. Sigs. 85 Op. RAF.

Confidential report on identification and burial of crew which crashed as AMBLY, dated 24 February 1945, signed by F/O D H EVERETT (i.e. the crew of the other crashed aircraft).

2nd confidential report on investigation for further identification of casualties, dated 24 February 1945 and signed by F/O D H EVERETT.

17 April 1945 – Air Ministry to RAAF Headquarters advising that F/Sgt L G M Mannell be reclassified as "Missing Believed Killed in Action", as he had been identified by his Identity Discs and had been buried at Marche Military Cemetery, Belgium (advice from 151 Repair Group through HQ 85 Group). Later telegraph amended status to correctly read "Killed in Action", and that Rohrlach was also buried at the same cemetery.

20 April 1945 – telegraph from RAAF Kingsway to RAAF HQ advising that the locality of the crash was "near Hargimont Belgium about 4 miles south west Marchakeer" (sic, probably in error for Marche-en-Famenne?)

26 April – lettergrams from Air Force Melbourne to Capt Lawrence and Mrs Lawrence advising new information and burial location of those identified. No further news of their son.

14 May 1945 – lodged 14/5/45, delivery 15/5/1945 telegram to Captain Lawrence and Mrs Lawrence, advising that their son, previously Missing Air Operations, was now SAFE in UK, date not known, having been "Liberated by the Allied Armies" and anticipating that he would communicate with them direct. (First telegraph to Capt Lawrence had date incorrectly typed as 15/4/45, the second almost identical one to Mrs Lawrence was dated 14/5/45)

15 May 1945 – from Graves Registration Enquires to RAAF Overseas HQ in relation to graves in the Marche Cemetery, advising that the body identified as Sanderson, and one unknown of the same crew had been identified by a laundry mark as Scott, and that the graves be registered under those names (full details listed for both)

15 May 1945 – from Director of Personal Services, Air Ministry to Missing Research and Enquiries RAF Paris, "Casualty Enquiry No 82 Halifax MZ.469" giving details of the two crews to date, and noting that Lawrence was still unaccounted for. (Report attached to correspondence dated 21 May 1945 from RAAF Overseas HQ London to Dept of Air, Melbourne was lagging behind the news that Lawrence was actually "Safe in the UK" by 14 May.)

17 May 1945 – Red Cross Society Bureau Enquiry Service Card
"Previously reported missing 7/1/45 Now safe in UK (Liberated by Allied Armies)"

Undated – First Statement by Released RAAF Prisoners of War, taken at 11 PDRC Brighton, after 11 May 1945, when he was posted to 11 PDRC as an ex-PoW, most probably within a day or two of his arrival. The form is typewritten and unsigned, so may be transcription of the original.
(Ex-PoW Maxwell James Hibberd, sole survivor of crew 59, was known to be safe in Brussels on 10 and 11 May 1945. He was flown back to the UK as part of Operation Exodus on 11 May, and posted to 11 PDRC Brighton on 11 May. He completed his first PoW questionnaire on 12 May, and a second on 15 June 1945.)

Circumstances of Capture
W/O Douglas Henry LAWRENCE, 437426; 462 Squadron; PoW Number 11441
a. Capture date: "06 January 1945"
b. Place: "Near Jammelle" (sic, Jemelle, Belgium)
c. Events prior to capture: "Attempting to pin point myself for 2 hours and I was then picked up by German Soldiers." (Battle of the Bulge was in progress.)
d. If wounded/injured prior to capture: "Small cuts on forehead and ear. Feeling shaky and dazed."
e. Others captured with: "NIL"
f. Names of any killed and burial, if known: P/O ROHRLACH RAAF; F/SGT MANNELL RAAF; F/SGT SCOTT RAF; SGT SANDERSON RAF; SGT TOPHAM RAF; SGT BAKER RAF; SGT BEARDSMORE RAF.

1. Particulars of Op: Wireless Operator, Halifax aircraft; to attack target at Hanan on 6 January 1945. (sic, Hanau in the Ruhr)
2. Circumstance of loss of aircraft:
"While flying over Belgium I was dropping WINDOW. The next thing I knew there was a large hole opposite W/Ops position and the aircraft was out of control. I put on my parachute and stood up to speak to the pilot (the inter-com had been knocked out) but I never so much as saw him. What happened next I don't know, but I regained consciousness in mid-air. My parachute was already open. I saw no one else leave the plane. It crashed near Janelle (sic, Jemelle) in South Belgium.
3. Probable fate of other members of crew:
"All Killed. Since returning to England I have been told that they were buried in Marche Cemetery."

Question 1: Where did aircraft crash? "Near Jamelle (sic, Jemelle)
Question 2. Did you bale out? fate of others in crew?
"I believe I was blown out and I think the remainder of the crew were still inside."
(Now known that the aircraft was not blown up, but crash landed relatively intact, minus one engine. See later witness reports and photos of wreckage.)
Question 3. Any other information? "Nil"

20 June 1945 – Second Statement by Released RAAF Prisoners of War, taken at 11 PDRC Brighton, hand-written and signed by Lawrence on this date; similar pro-forma to the previous questionnaire with similar answers, but more detailed information, and also included a War Crimes questionnaire.

1. Circumstances of Capture – same answers as first statement; including PoW NO 11441

2. Events subsequent to capture and during internment

Camps: Nuremberg – 24 days, from approx. 20 Feb to 16 March
Moosburg – 40 days, from approx 20 March to 29 April

Accommodation: wooden huts and tents; bedding on floor; electric lights; no heating; overcrowded

Rations: 1 Red Cross box a week; German rations of  (one eighth) of loaf & soup per day; built own fires

Clothing & footwear: No issue at Nuremberg
At Moosburg given boots if necessary; almost any clothing if required

Bathing/washing/sanitary: Nuremberg – 1 shower per week; communal lavatory
Moosburg – bathing and washing in any receptacle available

Recreational: Nuremberg – ball games, small library, German news;
Moosburg – no sports, few books

3. Employment and pay

Assisted in Mess Hall at Nuremberg
Assisted in M I Room at Moosburg
No pay or other remuneration

4. Comforts and Mails – 1 Red Cross food parcel per week until 29 April

5. Behaviour of Internment staff: Bearable

6. Names of other Aussies seen while PoW – (none listed)

7. Medical treatment: At Oberursel for frostbite on about 10 February; treatment affected by shortages, use of paper bandages, lack of fresh dressings.

Particulars of Op; Circumstance of loss of aircraft; Probable fate of other members of crew, crash site, exit of aircraft ....... Same answers as for the first Statement, but with target clearly written as Hanau.
Information about any other Air Force personnel – No
Release: American Army liberated PoW Camp at Moosburg on 29 April 1945
Means of identification by enemy: Identity Discs and 1250 R (i.e. Identity Card for all Ranks of RAF, WAAF, and Dominion Air Forces)
Did not cause injury or death of enemy at any time.

War Crimes Questionnaire: The questions are mostly legible, however the answers are very faded carbon copies, and some have been over-typed onto questions due to misalignment of paper.
Name, rank, Service number, next-of-kin as per usual
PoW Camps: Oberursel, Nuremberg, Stalag VII (Moosburg)
War Crimes witnessed: No
Imprisonment under improper conditions: Yes, self, solitary confinement at Oberursel; overcrowding at Nuremberg
Failure to provide medical care, food or quarters: Yes, to self, at Nuremberg; insufficient medical supplies
Beatings: Yes, to self, at Euskirchen ........ After marching about 60 miles through snow, with insufficient food and water, 3 American Airmen, myself and about 200 American and British personnel (army) were brought to Euskirchen to a disused schoolroom. The Germans here, took the army personnel into a room, stripped them of excess woollen garments and valuables and told them they were registering with the Red Cross, and took their names, rank and number. I was then brought into this room, which was lit by 2 candles, and questioned by the one German and on refusing to answer his questions I was knocked around by two more, who were standing one on each side of me. I was kicked and knocked unconscious twice. As I still refused to answer the questions asked they threatened to shoot me, and kicked me towards the door. I was led down the street to an old barn where the other 200 men were sleeping and there allowed to sleep.

End of ex-PoW Statements

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Special Duties: F/Sgt Leslie Gordon Marshall MANNELL (A/G), 429052 RAAF – from his RAAF Service File, and Casualty File.
The information in Casualty Files is often very graphic and detailed, so may be confronting and emotional reading.

Mannell was survived by his wife; one son, then aged 5 years and 6½ months; and one daughter, then aged 4 years and 3½ months. Perhaps they or anyone else of the Mannell family, might like to make contact.

Detailed information to be added, however a brief summary of his service history is as follows.

Enlisted 22 October 1942, aged 28 & 10 months;
Postings and training in Australia – 2 RC; 1 BAGS; 10 EFTS; 2 ITS; 8 EFTS; 1 BAGS (2nd time);
Awarded Air Gunners Badge and promotion to Sergeant on 16 September 1943; 1 ED; 2 ED; embarked 13 October 1943;
Postings and training in UK – 11 PDRC; 27 OTU and promotion to Flight Sergeant; 1652 HCU Marston Moor; 462 Squadron Driffield on 04 September 1944; 462 Squadron Foulsham.

His usual role was Rear Gunner for Crew 32, Pilot Noel Edward Marchant, and that crew was posted to the Squadron in September 1944 (ORB September 1944, Form 540). The officer's list on page 12 includes P/O Marchant and F/O Sharpe, and the NCO's list on page 13 includes F/Sgts Tattersall, O'Donoghue and Blundell.
F/Sgt Mannell and Sgt Brocklesby were not listed in the Postings TO the Squadron in any month, however Mannell's Arrival Form was dated 04 September 1944, with previous posting 1652 HCU, Marston Moor.
Marchant's first Op was as 2nd Pilot on 17 September with Hickey, and the first op for the complete crew was on 25 September 1944. They relocated with the Squadron from Driffield to Foulsham on 29 December 1944.
Mannell had completed 21 Ops with the Marchant Crew – his 21st Op on the 5 January 1945, the evening before his fatal flight in MZ469. Mannell's first and only flight (and his Op 22) with the Rohrlach crew was in the role of Special Duties (WINDOW) on the night of 6 January 1945.
He was was posted "Non-Effective – Missing" in January 1945, ORB From 540, page 47, with the Rohrlach crew.
Marchant went on to complete a total of 38 Ops – his usual crew members each completing 36 to 38 Ops with him. There were four replacement Rear Gunners – three with 1 Op each, and one with 13 Ops with that crew.

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Operational Details for Rohrlach crew
Information from 462 Squadron RAAF Operational Record Book (Forms 541, Detail of work carried out, and Forms 540, Summary of Events).

Ops by Crew 48 at Driffield, Yorkshire 1944, and Foulsham, Norfolk 1945 – five of the permanent members of the crew flew with Rohrlach for four Ops, the usual Flight Engineer only flew 3 (substituted by Sanday). Rohrlach carried out 5 Ops, his first Op as a 2nd Pilot.

21 November 1944 – Driffield – Rohrlach as 2nd Pilot with Evans (Crew 8) in Halifax III LL601 Z5-R; up at 1718 and down at 2356; Bombed primary target from 18,800 ft at 2108 hours; Photographic report T.I.S. and faint ground detail unplotted. One of 15 squadron aircraft for bombing attack on target Sterkrade; Ground defences were only moderate and spasmodic; No combats and no aircraft damaged.

30 November 1944 Driffield – Op 1; Rohrlach & crew in Halifax III MZ341 Z5-P; up at 1630 and down at 2246; Bombed primary target from 18,500 ft at 2204 hours; Photographic report – Cloud; one of 16 squadron aircraft for bombing attack on target Duisburg; flak over target moderate to slight; one aircraft damaged; all attacked and returned safely; (MZ341 was also listed in the ORB for Carthy and crew on the same Op, however logbook details indicate that crew was in MZ431 Z5-J)

02 December 1944 Driffield – Op 2; Rohrlach & crew in Halifax III MZ402 Z5-V; non-starter due to U/S Rev Counter; one of 16 squadron aircraft detailed for bombing attack on target Hagen; 15 airborne and attacked the target and all returned safely, one landed away at Woodbridge. (On 10 February 1945, this aircraft crashed on landing, port undercarriage folding up from an unknown cause, after an Op to the Ruhr, James and crew. Number Z5-V later re-allocated to new arrival NA240, March 1945.)

18 December 1944 Driffield – Op 2; Rohrlach & crew in Halifax III MZ457 Z5-Y; up at 0251 and down at 0930; Bombed primary target from 19,000 ft at 0633 hours; Photographic report not available; landed away (location not listed, but named as Bruntingthorpe in the Lawrence Memoir); one of 16 squadron aircraft for bombing attack on target Duisburg; 14 attacked and 2 returned early – O'Sullivan in MZ306 Z5-K with loss of oxygen in Mid-upper turret; and Smith in PN168 Z5-T with GEE box completely U/S; all aircraft returned safely. Substitute Flight Engineer G A E Sanday (originally in Friend crew, later a survivor of Astill Crew 14 January 1945, KIA with Ely Crew, 24 February 1945).

02 January 1945 Foulsham – Op 3; Rohrlach & crew in Halifax III MZ341 Z5-P; up at 1644 and down at 2200; one of 8 squadron aircraft for Special Duties Flight to Nuremburg on a SPOOF raid; WINDW released in that area; Extra 8th crewman K A Saxby to dispense WINDOW (sic, Nuremberg)

ORB Form 540, January 1945, page 41
6 January 1945 – Twelve aircraft were again required for "WINDOW" operations and all aircraft took off by 1630 hours. Once again they were in two forces though very close to each other. One aircraft MZ.469-"N"/462 (Captain P/O ROHRLACH) reported missing from the operation, and another MZ.370."R"/462 (Captain F/O TAYLOR) returned early with engine trouble. (In the Form 541, an early return was also listed for Bailey crew; the last take-off was at 1635.)

ORB Form 541, January 1945, page 226
06 January 1945 Foulsham – Op 4
; Rohrlach and crew in Halifax III MZ469 Z5-N; up at 1619, the third to take off; one of 12 squadron aircraft for Special Duties Flight to the Ruhr on a SPOOF raid; 2 returned early; usual permanent crew of Scott, Sanderson, Lawrence, Baker, Topham, Beardsmore (all listed by name, rank, Service Number and crew position); 8th crew member F/Sgt L G Mannell as "Spare Bod" for dispensing WINDOW;

"This Aircraft failed to return from this Operation, and nothing further has been heard.
The crew have been reported missing."

The 12 Crews of 06 January 1945 are listed below in sequence of take-off time .....

No A/c Serial Code Z5- Pilot & crew 8th crewman for
WINDOW duties
Up Down Comments
1 MZ461 O Cookson crew 23 E G Tattersall 1610 2110  
2 LL598 A Rate crew 13 R Wilson 1613 2112  
3 MZ469 N Rohrlach crew 48 L G Mannell 1619   Failed to return, reported as Missing
4 MZ467 C Lodder crew 44 A E Best 1621 2125  
5 MZ398 X Ely crew 11 L M Holland 1623 2159  
6 PN168 T Ridgewell crew 37 J L Morton 1624 2146  
7 MZ448 W James crew 24 W W Maxwell 1626 2133  
8 NR284 Q Astill crew 52 D Whitehead 1627 2132  
9 NP990 L Anderson crew 45 D Hulbert 1628 2154  
10 MZ479 B Simms crew 38 J Whyte 1629 2138  
11 MZ306 K Bailey crew 46 D B Patterson 1633 2019 Returned early, engine failure
12 MZ370 R Taylor crew 12 H W Calman 1635 1819 Returned early, engine trouble

Photos of these aircraft may be viewed on the Halifax page.
MZ341 Z5-P Peter Rabbit
PN168 Z5-T Tommy
NR284 Z5-Q Queenie
MZ306 Z5-K King

7 January 1945 – letter from P M Paull, Squadron Leader Commanding 462 Squadron, to Air Ministry, London
From the Aircraft Loss File ...... letter quoted in part .....

"Halifax III aircraft number MZ.469, captained and flown by Pilot Officer M. W. Rohrlach was detailed for a protective patrol in the Ruhr area on the 6th/7th January 1945."

"The aircraft took off at 16.19 hours carrying 7,000 rounds of ammunition, 4 flame floats and 15 cartridges of Window. It also carried 1,808 gallons of fuel which allowed for about five hours flying time. It has not been heard of since."

7 January 1945 – 1030 hours, telegram from 462 Squadron to Air Ministry; 100 Group; Records Gloucester; HQ Bomber Command; 43 Group; 54 MU; RAAF Overseas HQ

Listed all engine numbers; Op details; Crew by name, rank, Service Number, and role;
UK kin and fiancée names & addresses – all notified;
Australian kin names & addresses – not yet notified
Equipment – WINDOW, GEE, H2S, FISHPOND, IFF

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Crash Investigations into loss of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N
There does not appear to be an official Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) Report in the usual format (a copy was usually included in each RAAF Casualty File).

However there are many documents in the Aircraft Loss File (82 pages NAA Series A11385) and in the RAAF Casualty Files (NAA Series A705) of Rohrlach (80 pages), Lawrence (48 pages) and Mannell (103 pages).

The mass of information needs to be summarised and classified into items which refer to this crew (dates, times, crash site, initial burial, subsequent reburial), and identifying and separating items which refer to (or appear to refer to) the other aircraft which crashed close by.

In light of research carried out since the early 1990s in Belgium, some of the post-war findings may no longer be relevant.
Please refer to "Possible Conclusions" in the last section.

.... Details to be added ....

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May 1991 Visit to Belgium by Keith Topham, younger brother of Vivian Claude Topham, the crew's Mid-Upper Gunner. The events were described in a his letter dated 4 March 2006, which was sent to Doug Lawrence.
The original letter was typed using an old-style ribbon-typewriter, with some over-typing, corrections and insertions. It has faded over time, and a recent scan copy was not suitable for use here.
It has been transcribed in full, as written originally by Keith. (Web site comments in italics, follow the transcription
.)

..... Quote ............

Exmouth, Devon, England
March 4th 2006

Dear Doug,

It was quite a thrill to be able to talk to you on the phone.
I am still recovering from the astonishment of being tracked down by your grandsons after 60 years. For the past few days I have spent hours going through the family attic archives, reading a thick file of letters and Air Ministry communications which have hardly been looked at in half a century.

I well remember your visit to us in Truro in the early summer of 1945, when I was 15. You were the first Australian I had met and I recall that your uniform was a darker blue than Viv’s. We left Truro the following year for Tiverton, in Devon. My father died in 1961 and my mother in 1974.

My parents had never expressed a wish to visit Viv’s grave – I suppose they felt it would be too upsetting. But I felt that someone ought to go. So, after my retirement, I wrote to a local newspaper in Marche-en-Famenne asking if they could help me to contact anyone who remembered the crash and could show me the scene. The response was, as you will see from the cuttings, quite remarkable.

There was, however, confusion at first, because two bombers had crashed within a few miles and a few hours of each other. The issue was put beyond doubt by the Roman Catholic priest, Father Gerard Marlaire, who had recovered and buried the bodies from both sites. Unfortunately, I caused further confusion by saying in my letter that six airmen had died in the crash, knowing that there was a crew of seven and that you, happily, had survived. It was not until Fr Gerard took me to the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Hotton and I saw the row of seven graves that I remembered someone saying that there had been eight of you in the plane that night. Fr Gerard was right, having insisted that he buried seven. The cemetery is in a lovely, quiet setting and is quite small in comparison with the huge ones on the Western Front. The graves are mainly of British soldiers who perished in the Battle of the Bulge which, of course, was raging when you crashed.

Father Gerard took me to the scene of the crash, in rolling open countryside near the little village of Hargimont, with distant hills and the forest of the Ardennes beyond. We were met by town councillors, children from the village school doing a history project and a number of people who had seen the wreckage. One of them gave me a model aeroplane – a Lockheed Lightning – fashioned from aluminium he had taken as a souvenir. Seeing my reluctance to accept it, as it had been his for so long, he said: “Your brother gave me my freedom. I would like to give you this”. I accepted it, of course, feeling very humble.
As the area is away from the tourist tracks, few people spoke English and my French is very basic. But with the help of a Lebanese girl who was studying English and acted as interpreter, we managed to make ourselves understood.

Fr Gerard had spoken to an RAF officer who visited the site to report on the crash. He concluded that an engine had come off – it was found some distance away – and PO Rohrlach circled the area to lose height and then attempted a crash landing. The plane ended up in deep snow in a little thicket or covert.

The village had been reoccupied by the Germans in their offensive through the Ardennes. They would not let Fr Gerard go out to the wreck and put a guard on it. When they retreated, he went out and recovered the bodies in deep snow, ignoring a warning that they might have been booby-trapped. For this and similar actions, he received a commendation from the British government.

He went out again and found two bodies in the snow, some distance from the aircraft. He said that their parachutes were not fully open and it seemed to him that they had baled out too low. My search through Air Ministry correspondence shows beyond doubt that these were your air bomber (Ft Sgt Norman Scott) and Navigator (Sgt John Scaife Sanderson). All were buried at Marche but later reinterred in the Hotton military cemetery.

Strangely, the crew of the other bomber which crashed that night are still in the little churchyard in which they were first buried and have not been reinterred.

I was told that the wreckage of your Halifax MZ469 lay there for months and was visited by many locals, who took away souvenirs. The local farmer actually made an agricultural trailer out of it. On my visit, schoolchildren had a fine time scurrying about in the thicket and coming out with corroded ammunition and pieces of windscreen. I brought back some of the bullets – not unexploded cartridges, of course!

That evening I attended a civic reception in the Hotel de Ville in Marche when the Deputy Burgomaster, wearing his sash of office, said they would never forget what our countries had done for them during the war. I still have the text of my reply: “I have been deeply moved to find so many Belgian people concerned about the fate of one young British airman nearly 50 years ago. I go home content in the knowledge that he and his comrades rest in a beautiful area where their memory is revered”.  The Belgians refer to all servicemen who died as heroes.

I was also taken to Bastogne to see the American war memorial there, in the form of a huge star. On the way, Fr Gerard pointed out the spot where some of his friends had been executed by the Germans. They were, like him, members of the Resistance. I don’t know whether he is still with us – he was about 70 when I was there in May 1991.

After the arrival of the dreaded “missing” telegram in 1945 – it was despatched  at 2.15pm on January 8th – my father wrote to your adjutant at Foulsham and was put in touch with the parents of all the Brits in the crew. They kept up a correspondence during the months the lads were missing, pooling information and exchanging messages of hope and comfort.

Mr T S Sanderson wrote from Penrith, in Cumberland: “The pilot, ‘Roly’ as they called him, was a great favourite and John in his last letter said that ‘he must have saved our lives quite a few times by his skilful manouvering’.”

From Dudley, Worcestershire, Sgt Joe Beardsmore’s sister Mary recalled that you had once flown low over the Topham house in Truro. Some of our neighbours saw you, but there was no one at home at the time!

Her letter went on: “There has been a little ray of sunshine through our dark days of sorrow. My aunty has had a lovely little boy and it was christened on Sunday. And its name? Joseph Vivian, in honour of our darling and his very gallant companion. Isn’t that lovely?”

If he is still around, Joseph Vivian is a man of sixty now.

I have searched through files but found no trace of the negative of the photograph of you and the crew. I have, however, managed to gather half a dozen prints in a variety of conditions and have had the enclosed copies made from the best of them. I am sure that my father would not have had six prints made if he had also kept the original negative. I think he may have passed it on to one of the other parents.

The attached photograph of Sgt Sanderson came from his father and is a copy of a newspaper s/col picture published at the time. I presume that he took the group photo.

Coming right up to date: last year, on Viv’s 80th birthday and 60 years after his death, I went back to Truro to remember him at the city war memorial, on which his name is recorded. It is also on a memorial in the city post office, where both he and my father worked.

I’m afraid I have gone on a bit and much of the information you probably already know. But I hope you will find it of interest.
There are a couple of things I would like to know. In the group photograph, I have never been able to match names with faces on the lads each side of you. Which is John Sanderson and which is Norman Scott?

Secondly, would you have a picture or illustration of your squadron badge? I understand that all squadrons had their own – did 462? Military badges are an interest of mine.

I am also enclosing photographs I took on my visit to Marche.

Please give my regards and thanks to your grandsons and to Roly’s wife and daughter. I am sorry I haven’t mentioned F/Sgt Mannell who, I am afraid, has been a bit neglected. But I knew nothing about him until I saw his grave at Hotton.

I look forward to hearing from you again.

Best wishes

Keith (hand-written)

PS: I’ve also enclosed pictures of two lads (brothers) at the scene of the crash in 1945. And two letters written in a hand I think you may recognise.

..... End of quote ............

Web site comments ..........

Belgian news cuttings referred to – not all supplied to this website, however a copy of one dated 21 November 1990 is shown in a later section.
Father Gérard Marlaire, who buried the crew – refer to his 2 letters of 2008 in the following section.
Details of second aircraft and its crew, and their graves at Ambly Communal Cemetery – see later section.
newspaper s/col – single column – referring to "single column photo" of John Sanderson, possibly the one included in an earlier section.
Group Photo – refer to the crew of six at the beginning of this web page.
Pictures of 2 lads at the crash scene in 1945 – shown below.

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Photos of Wreckage of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N – Belgium 1945
These are probably the photos mentioned in the Postscript of the letter from Keith Topham (previous section)

 

Children at the wreckage of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N in 1945, port tailplane.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Two brothers at the wreckage of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N in 1945, standing behind the port tailplane, showing fin and damaged elevator.

Advice from the Lawrence family is that one of the boys later became the local veterinarian.

 

Children at the wreckage of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N, 1945, Motor and propeller.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Two brothers at the wreckage of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N in 1945, in front of an engine and propeller.

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Belgian Documents
1. "INFO 2000" dated 21 November 1990, page 20, "FLAMMES ET TISONS" (Flames and Embers) sections 1 and 2 shown below (one of a series of articles published in this paper) Apologies – the right upper side of the article and part of the centre section have been inadvertently cut off at some time.
2. Letter Cercle Historique de Marche-en-Famenne, dated 23 March 2006;
3. English translation of a summary of 10 French articles from "INFO 2000" published 1990-1991, and list of photos in those articles.
4. Letter from Marche History Society 26 December 2006.

1. "INFO 2000" 21 November 1990, page 20

Info 2000 Page 20, section 1, Halifax MZ469 Z5-N.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Above: "INFO 2000" dated 21 November 1990, page 20, "FLAMMES ET TISONS" section 1
.... Flames and Embers .... written by Mr. André COLLARD

Sub-heading
Un bombardier britannique s'est abattu, au lieu-dit "A l'épine", à Hargimont, en janvier 1945 ...
A British Bomber fell at the place called “A l'épine” at Hargimont in January 1945 ...

Photo – C'est avec des débris du Halifax que fut construit le châssis de ce tombereau.
It was with debris from the Halifax that the chassis of this dumper/truck was built.
(This appears to be the "agricultural trailer" mentioned by Keith Topham in his letter,
with Halifax wheels.)

 

Info 2000 Page 20, section 2, Halifax MZ469 Z5-N.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Above: "INFO 2000" dated 21 November 1990, page 20, "FLAMMES ET TISONS ..." section 2
"Flames and embers"

Sub-heading
... et l'événement est confirmé par plusiers témoignages
... and the event is confirmed by several testimonies

Map: Entouré d'un cercle, l'endroit où le Halifax de V.C. TOPHAM s'est écrasé. Le petit chemin conduisant, dans la prairie, vers le lieu du sinistre n'existe plus : il a été supprimé lors des opérations du remembrement.
Map: Surrounded by a circle, the place where the Halifax of V.C. TOPHAM crashed. The small road leading into the meadow towards the place of loss no longer exists: it was removed during the reparcelling operations.

Photo, above right (D) : M. Jean Comblin, de On, montre le petit avion qui a été réalisé avec des morceaux du bombardier Halifax.
Mr. Jean Comblin, from On, shows the little/small plane that was made with fragments/pieces of the Halifax bomber.
(This appears to be the "model aeroplane" mentioned by Keith Topham in his letter.)

Photo, above left: Une photo du Halifax qui s'est écrasé au lieu-dit "A l'épine".
A photograph of the Halifax which crashed at the place called "A l'épine".
(showing what appears to be the starboard fin with vertical yellow/black stripes of 462 Squadron)

2. Letter from Cercle Historique de Marche-en-Famenne, dated 23 March 2006, sent to the Lawrence Family, after enquiries by Aaron Lawrence. The following items were despatched from Belgium to Australia with this letter .....
– photocopies of articles published
in 1990-1991 (one article shown above);
– English Summary of those articles (see below, pages 1 – 4); and
– translation of legend of some photos in those articles (see below, page 5).

3. English translation from the Cercle Historique De Marche-en-Famenne, Belgium, dated 23 March 2006
Translation by Cercle Historique member Mr Hubert NEU.
It is a 4-page summary of the original French language articles published in 1990-1991 by the local paper "Info 2000", and also a 5th page with a list of photos in those articles. One of those Newspaper articles is reproduced above.
The scan of a copy of the original 5 pages of faded handwriting is not suitable for use here, so the words have been transcribed as follows .... quote as written, some errors, with comments in italics ...

SUMMARY OF THE WEEKLY "INFO 2000"
(10 issues – HALIFAX – JAN-1945)

Page 1
In October 1990 an English correspondent writes to "Info 2000", a paper widely spread in the region of Marche-en-Famenne, to ask them some information about an event that happened in the area of Jemelle in 1945.
Mr. Keith R. TOPHAM from Devonshire (G.B.) explains that he intends to travel to Belgium to go and meditate at his brother's grave. His brother, Vivian Claude TOPHAM, was a soldier (sic, airmen) in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was killed in a plane accident. His bomber, a Halifax MZ469, crashed indeed near the village of Jemelle in the night of January 6th – 7th 1945.
Mr. K. Topham would be very grateful if someone could show him the place where the bomber has crashed.
The dead bodies of four members of the crew were found near the plane. Two other corpses were found two days later some distance away from the wreckage. The six British soldiers were buried in the British cemetery of Hotton. The seventh member of the crew, an Australian, survived by making an emergency parachute jump. (sic, seven buried, 8th survived, Hotton cemetery was the final resting place, not the initial burial place)
Mr. TOPHAM would like to go on the scene of the accident during his travel in Belgium in Spring 1991.
"INFO 2000" appeals then to witnesses and calls up the readers' memories to situate exactly the place where the plane has crashed.

Page 2.
That call was widely heard and lots of accounts arrived to the local paper.
According to those testimonies two British bombers would have crashed in January 1945 near Hargimont.
The first one between Hargimont and Ambly at the place called "La Mouchonnière" on January 6th 1945 and has made eight victims, eight aviators who were buried in Ambly and whose names are inscribed on the gravestones.
The name of Vivian C. Topham does not appear there.
The other bomber has crashed at the place called "A l'épine" at the boundary of Hargimont and Harsin.
Mr. Gérard Marlaire, former parish priest of Marloie pointed out accurately the place where the Halifax ended its flight in early January 1945.
At the time the priest was aged 23 and was a seminarist. He was a member of the British Service whose task was to locate the fallen allied planes, to identify them and to bury the members of the crews.
That testimony is determining and corresponds to the information given by Mr. Topham.
According to the report of flight officer HEVERETT, that Halifax tried an emergency landing at the entrance of a vast meadow as it had just lost an engine and fire was on board.
(sic, named in Lawrence's Casualty File as F/O D H EVERETT)

Page 3
The priest adds that they started identifying the four dead bodies. Two days later two other bodies were found and buried in the cemetery of Hotton next to the other victims. (sic, Hotton cemetery was the final resting place, not the initial burial place)

On a gravestone can be read:
Sergeant V.C. TOPHAM
Air Gunner – Royal Air Force
7th January 1945 – Age 19

Other witnesses confirm those sad events, either by letters or by photos.
Among them:
– Mr. Jean COMBLIN who possesses a little plane he has made with fragments of the Halifax bomber. He is willing to offer it to Mr. TOPHAM as a present.
– Mr. Léon MATHIEU indicates that the Halifax had lost an engine about 300 meters from the crash place.
– Mr. Michel LECARME has a metal detector, so he has been able to determine the exact spot of the crash. He has found exploded cartridges with the following inscription on their bases: RG44WI, i.e. Roadway Green (England) year 1944. Considering the amount of ammunition found on one square meter, that place could be that of an "Air Gunner".
After those investigations, Mr. Keith Topham, who is retired journalist, thanks warmly the readers for answering his appeal and for the excellent lay-out and presentation of the local paper.

Page 4
Mr. TOPHAM has stayed in Marche-en-Famenne from April 30th till May 3rd 1991.
For his attention "Info 2000" had arranged a programme so that the welcome visitor on May 1st went to meditate at his brother's grave (deep emotion), then visited La Roche and Bastogne.
– On May 2nd at 10 a.m. Mr. Topham visited the place where the Halifax had crashed. Then he took part in a broadcast at the school of Hargimont and was questioned by the pupils.
– Welcome by Info 2000 in a hotel of the town and visit of the Weekly and Radio 2000.
– 5 p.m. Welcome at the Town Hall.
Several times Mr. Topham declared he was so surprised by his welcome in Marche.
Contrary to what was believed, the crew of the Halifax consisted of eight persons and not seven.
In Hotton you can indeed find the seven graves of the aviators who died at the place called
"A l'épine". The eighth aviator, an Australian, had managed to land by parachute, but was taken prisoner by the Germans who, at that time of the Battle of the Bulge, were still in the region. That Australian was Sergeant D. H. LAWRENCE. After being liberated the aviator came back to Great Britain in 1946 and paid a visit to the family of Vivian Claude TOPHAM and explained to them the circumstances of the accident. (sic, visit was in summer 1945 by ex-PoW Lawrence, prior to repatriation to Australia, see Keith Topham letter.)

Page 5
Légendes – Photos (A – L and from the various articles, only one article shown above)

A. Cimetière d'Ambly
Cemetery in Ambly where the graves of eight aviators can be seen.

B. G. Marlaire.
Parish priest G. Marlaire showing the place where the Halifax crashed and where
Vivian Cl. Topham was found.

C. Dessin Stèle
Drawing of the gravestone in the British cemetery of HOTTON, to the memory of V.C. Topham.

D. Mr. COMBLIN
Mr. COMBLIN showing the little plane made with fragments of the Halifax. (shown above)

E. OBJETS 1. photo of the machine gun cartridges found by MR. LECARME at the place called
"A l'épine" where the bomber crashed.

F. OBJETS 2. some objects from the British plane.

G. V. C. Topham, aged 19 when he died in Hargimont.

H. Interview by Mr. K. Topham at the school of Hargimont.

I. Mr. Topham visiting the Weekly INFO 2000

K. Mr. DOURT, deputy burgomaster, welcoming Mr. Topham at the Town Hall.

L. Groupe (may have been the crew photo, shown at the beginning of this web page)
1st row, on the right: V. C. Topham who died in the night of January 6th 1945
2nd row, in the middle: D. H. Lawrence, Australian aviator who landed by parachute and was taken prisoner by the Germans.

4. Letter from Cercle Historique de Marche-en-Famenne, Belgium (Marche History Society), 26 December 2006; sent to the Lawrence Family, after enquiries by Aaron Lawrence. Transcription as follows .... quote ....

It is with great pleasure that I send you a copy of our Annals 2006 including a small text (p.58) concerning your grand-father Douglas Lawrence. It's translation runs as follows.
"An Australian aviator landed by parachute in Hargimont in January 1945 ..."
"Some months ago through the intermediary of the Museum of the Famenne, our History Society received a call from Adelaide in Australia. Aaron Lawrence asked us [for] some information concerning the bomber of the RAF shot down near Hargimont on the 6th January 1945."
"[His] grand-father could jump by parachute but was taken prisoner by the Germans while his seven comrades died."
"We have sent [him] a copy of a series of article written by Mr. André COLLARD published in 1990-91 by INFO 2000 with a summary written in English by one of our members, Mr Hubert NEU. We send [him] a copy of these Annals and hope receiving in the coming months the text of the Memories writing in [his] grand-father's name. [His] grand-father is still alive and healthy" .....

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Correspondence from Abbé Gérard Marlaire, 26th June 2008, sent to the crew's Wireless Operator Doug Lawrence.
In January 1945, Abbé Marlaire retrieved and buried the bodies of both crews whose aircrafts crashed in the local area.
In June 2008 he was 86 years old.

Letter from Abbé Gérard Marlaire to Douglas Henry Lawrence 26 June 2008, loss of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N of 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Above: Letter from Abbé Gérard Marlaire to Doug Lawrence, dated 26 June 2008.

Note that he mentions ....
– 2 members of crew "crushed on the ground" as their parachutes opened too late;
– all bodies identifiable except one;
– aircraft body almost intact;
– only cockpit and one wing were burnt out.

 

Letter from Abbé Gérard Marlaire to Douglas Henry Lawrence 12 September 2008, loss of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N of 462 Squadron.
Photo from the Douglas Henry Lawrence Collection.

Above: Letter from Abbé Gérard Marlaire to Doug Lawrence, dated 12 September 2008.

 

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Excerpts from "Zebra Five November", the personal Memoir written by Douglas Henry Lawrence, Copyright 1995;

A copy of "Zebra Five November" has been received from the Lawrence family, with permission for use on this site. The book is in two parts. The Memoir was completed in January 1995. Some later corrections have been hand written in.

Part 1 – describes the events of the night of 6 January 1945, his subsequent capture, his time as a PoW, his liberation and return to the UK; and concludes as he departs the UK on 8 August 1945 on the Orion, destination Australia. It has photo pages inserted, and some of the photos have been included at the beginning of this web page (F/Sgt Doug Lawrence and signature; Caterpillar Club letter and membership card; Viv & Eric & Scotty; the seven graves.)

Part 2 – Supplement, which describes some incidents which occurred in the 3 months prior to their crash. It has been transcribed and included at the end of this section.

Part 2, page 38, A Close Shave ..... 18 December 1944, Op 2. Part of the 1st para is included here because of its possible relevance to an aerial collision on 6 January 1945, and shows how easily it could happen. The story goes on to describe the bombing run, flak damage, landing away, and the return to Foulsham the next day, after repairs to their aircraft.

"We were on a bombing raid to the hot spot of Duisburg in the Ruhr Valley with
three or four hundred other planes, none of which could be seen in the night. They
were just there, all around you, and the only time you were aware of how close they
were was when your plane hit the slipstream of the one in front, which of course
meant it was fairly close."

Part 1, para 1 & 2 ........ Introduction page

"In the early years after the war, there was so much that I wanted to put behind me,
and yet the irony was that I still wanted to remember those experiences too, and it
has taken fifty years to begin to record some of the events of the period January to
May 1945. Some of those memories are still very vivid, others are somewhat hazy,
and still others have seemingly disappeared altogether into the unconscious. What
I have recorded is, however, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate account of
those times, so that you, my family, may know a little about those interesting and
traumatic months."
"During the later part of World War II, while serving in the Royal Australian Air
Force, my aircraft crashed while on a mission over Belgium. This is my account of
that crash, my subsequent capture, and of my time spent in various P.O.W. camps,
up until the end of the war."

Part 1, page 2, para 2 ........ "The Task"

"Our Squadron's task was to divert the attention of enemy fighters away from the
main bombing force by dropping strips of silver paper of varying sizes. The effect
of the silver paper was that instead of enemy radar plotters being able to 'see'
incoming aircraft, all they could see on their monitors was a snowy screen, like an
untuned television set, thus confusing (we hoped) their ground controllers. I
suppose another way of putting it was that we were the bait while the big group of
aircraft did their damage somewhere else."

Part 1, page 4, para 1

"The mission for our crew and the other two, was to fly towards the Ruhr Valley, a
heavily defended area, dropping our load of silver paper strips on the way and on
reaching Frankfurt, we were to return by another route."

Part 1, page 4, para 4 ........ "Take Off"

"We took off at 4.20 pm, as all our missions were night flying, headed south east
over the English Channel, and began climbing to our assigned altitude of fifteen
thousand feet, and setting course for Belgium and the area of the Battle of the
Bulge."

Part 1, page 5, para 2, 3, 4 ....... "The Damage"

"It was a routine flight until, over Belgium, our bomber received an enormous
impact, causing extensive damage and loss of control of the aircraft. The cause of
the damage was, and remains unknown. There were no reports of fighters in the
area, nor was there any report of anti-aircraft fire. There was no search light
activity either, otherwise I would have seen it from my little observation window,
so the mystery remains. I was knocked unconscious by the impact, and do not
remember it occurring."
"When I regained consciousness, I can remember looking around at my radio
equipment and seeing a great hole in the nose floor of the plane, in the place where
the navigator and bomb aimer worked. They had disappeared. Another great hole
was in the side of the plane opposite my position, and just in front of the starboard
engines."
"You know, while I was assessing the situation, I can recall only two thoughts
rushing into my mind. I thought of Mum, and then I looked at the large transmitter
on the desk in front of me. I remember that not long before, in our radio room at ..."

Part 1, page 6, para 1, 2, 3 ........ (continued from page 5)

"... the Squadron, I saw a similar set, completely flattened as a result of a crash. They
were my only two thoughts, except of course, for the immediate danger, so I
reached out and clipped on my parachute which was lying on the floor next to the
big hole by the starboard engine."
"What happened next is a bit of blur, because one moment I was standing by this big
hole in front of the engine, and the next I was floating down to earth. I have no
recollection of actually jumping or of pulling the rip-cord, but I do remember
looking up and seeing a brown package about five feet above my head. I thought
for a moment that my parachute had become detached, and that it was falling at the
same rate at which I was falling, so I reached up, and tried to grasp it, and it was
only then that I saw this beautiful, large white canopy against the black sky. What
a sight, and my only words were "Thank you Lord"."
"Falling was a delightful feeling with no apparent movement, just a sense of being
suspended above the moonlit earth, and it really looked beautiful, until I saw the
explosion below me, as our aircraft hit the ground. There were eight in our aircrew
that night, and now seven of them had been killed. What a waste. Two of them
were married and one had a little girl of five or six. Although the sensation of
falling was negligible, falling I was. Very soon the ground began rushing up to
meet me, and rather quickly too. I tried to remember the drill for landing – knees
together, bend them slightly, feet together, back to the wind and don't forget to roll
when you land. Then the ground met me at about the same rate as if falling from
eighteen to twenty feet. There was no need to take the parachute back. It had
worked, and thus I qualified to join the "Caterpillar Club", having saved my life by
the use of an Irvin parachute."

Part 1, page 7, para 1

"My landing was in a large open area, covered in snow and with a few large rocky
outcrops."

Part 1, page 7, part of para 3

" ................................ The aircraft lay a burning, crackling wreck about half
a mile away, and I even thought I should go there for some strange reason. It
couldn't have done any good though, as I didn't see any other parachutes in the air
as I was coming down. I presumed the others did not get out, and this was later
proved to be correct. ........"

Part 1, page 8, para 1 ........ "Captured"

"First things first. There was plenty of heavy gunfire in three directions, north, west
and south, and I thought this was all about five to ten miles away at the most, so I
determined that I had landed behind enemy lines in the Battle of the Bulge. I
headed east. Not far across the field was a roadway, and on reaching the edge I
heard a vehicle approaching. I hid behind a small bush. The car was carrying
three upright German officers, driven by their chauffeur. It passed within ten feet
of me. Soon all was quiet again, so I decided to follow along the side of the road
for a little. I rounded a comer and walked smack into a German soldier who was
guarding a command post, and was immediately apprehended. I was apparently
not as far from the front line as I had thought. So ended freedom."

Part 1, page 9, para 3

"I have tried to consider my mental state during those first few days, and I suppose I
was living in a state of shock and confusion. I had been knocked unconscious by
the impact or explosion or whatever caused the damage to the aircraft, then the
parachute fall, with the extreme cold and lack of oxygen for a few minutes. There
was the mental impact of being classified as a prisoner of war, and then the
realization that your friends are all dead, and I did not know if I was ever going to
get home again. The mind can, after a while, become a bit out of tune with what is
happening, and the only thing that really mattered was to do the right thing by those
around you, so that I could survive."

Part 1 page 10 para 1 & 2

"By this time our squadron would have realized that our aircraft, Z5-N, was missing,
and within a few days, the news would have been passed on to those in Australia.
My Senior Squadron Radio Officer, Flight Lieutenant Max Barcla, (sic, Barkla) made the
following brief entry in his diary."

"SUN, JAN 7, 1945: Now at our new station in Norfolk. Doing highly
important work acting as protection for the main stream. Results highly
successful. The less details the better. Lost Rohrlach's crew last
night. W/Op was Curly Lawrence, a nice lad of boyish appearance. We
have a couple of 21st birthdays in the Section this month. Only kids – or
perhaps I'm getting old. They certainly do a good job. Last night 's
effort was rather warm. Cookson was holed in the rear turret."

Part 1, pages 11 to 29 – cover details of the following 4 months as PoW – being beaten at Euskirchen; travel to/from PoW camps Oberursel, Dulag Luft, Nuremberg, Stalag VIIA (Moosburg) and life therein; liberation from Moosburg by the US Army on 29 April 1945; train travel to Regensburg; air-lift to Reims; DC3 flight to the UK, then by bus back to Brighton (11 PDRC). He was still in France on VE Day.

Part 1, page 30, para 2 & 3 ........ "UK Again"

"We were in Brighton for a week or so, having medical check-ups, being interrogated
regarding the camps we had been in, and any war crimes we may have witnessed.
We were then issued with new identification cards, new uniforms, and special ration
tickets because of our malnutrition. With the new diet, we soon managed to pick
up some of the condition we had lost while guests of the Third Reich. I eventually
regained the three stone which I had lost and no doubt began to look like a normal
human being again."
"Physically we were pronounced "much improved", but I guess that a lot of the
blokes had emotional scars that wouldn't be healing for some time, as many of these
men had some horrific encounters."

Part 1 page 32 para 3 ........ "Relatives"

"I was also able to go down to Torquay (sic, Truro ?) to visit Mr and Mrs Topham, the parents of
my mid-upper gunner, Viv Topham. They were very welcoming, and apart from
visiting some of the local tourist sites, Mr Topham had access to the crypt of the
large cathedral in town."

Part 1, page 33, para 3

"On the 8th August 1945 we left England, sailing for Australia on the "Orion".
There were some regrets about leaving England, and all the friends I had made, but
that chapter of my life was closing, and it was TIME TO GO HOME."

Part 1 of the Memoir may be accessed via this link – Zebra Five November – 34 pages as a pdf file. The photo pages are not included. Permission from the Lawrence family has been given to publish this document on this site. However, anyone else who wishes to quote from it should make contact, and your request will be forwarded to the the Lawrence family.

Part 2 Supplement – The following incidents occurred in the three months prior to the crash, and are included for extra interest. Note that these are the recollections and words of Doug Lawrence, written 50 years after the events. No offence to anyone named or unnamed was intended or implied. Pilot Roly was the crew's friend as well as their well-respected Captain.
The headings are as written by Doug. (My comments are in italics.)

"Crash Landing"

"There was a time during our training days when we were converting from
Wellingtons to Halifaxes, when Roly, our pilot, wrecked an aircraft.
We had just formed a crew of seven and were learning to work together in our new
four engined planes, while Roly was learning to handle the plane with the help
of an instructor.
After some daylight training, with and without the instructor, Roly was doing some
solo take-off and landing practice, with an on board crew of rear gunner, and
myself as radio operator. We had just touched down and were rolling down the
runway at about 100 mph when a freak gust of wind swept across the airfield and
caught the plane, tipping it up on one side, with the result that we slewed around to
starboard, smashing the undercarriage and one propeller, and of course, tearing the
wing to pieces. I had a piece if the tip of the propeller for many years, but it has
long since disappeared.
The fire crew from the control tower came tearing across the aerodrome, with red
lights flashing, together with the ambulance and the instructor, who had been
watching from the control tower. The two starboard engines were smoking well,
and we three crew members got out quickly and safely, much to the disappointment
of the ambulance crew. The fire engine sprayed foam all over the place to ensure
there was no fire.
When the instructor arrived and heard Roly's explanation, all he said was, "You
bloody beaut, I've been trying to get rid of that plane for ages. It should have been
scrapped ages ago." The incident, however, earned Roly a reprimand for damaging
one of His Majesty's aircraft."
(This event occurred at 1664 HCU Dishforth. The 6-man Crew was posted there on 13 September 1944. F/Eng Joseph David Beardsmore joined the Crew, and they were posted as a crew of seven to 462 Squadron Driffield on 15 November 1944.)

"Near Miss"

"One night, when returning from a mission, as we put the wheels on the runway, we
began bouncing, and when Roly applied the brakes nothing happened. The control
tower was calling us, and saying "Steady G George, watch those other planes."
We continued down the runway and were slowing, but not quickly enough. All
Roly could do was use the engines to turn the plane. We were heading very close
to the underground ammunition dump, and as we turned, the wing swung across the
top of the concrete roof. The ground staff standing around didn't seem very
impressed, and we eventually came to a standstill on the grass."

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home"

"While flying over Germany one night, the rear gunner called up and said, "Fighter
plane passing overhead fifty feet up." Roly's answer was to leave it alone, in case
shooting at it drew the pilot's attention to us.
Later one of the gunners called out "Corkscrew left". This was the accepted
evasion tactic to shake off a fighter, or to get out of searchlight beams, and it
proved to be very effective. It was, however, very uncomfortable for the crew, and
very difficult for the pilot. It involved diving and twisting, climbing to one side,
then diving and twisting and climbing to the other side, with a substantial increase
in "G" forces.
Near the completion of our trip, and during our approach to the base, the rear
gunner spoke at the identical moment that the pilot had pressed his microphone
button to speak to the ground controller. He had no way of knowing that his words
were being heard by the WAAF's in the Radio Room. "Gee skipper, I'm dying for
a p**s." There was a little giggle and then complete silence for a moment, before
the message came through, "Zebra Five November, permission to land."
At the end of the mission, and after reporting in to the Interrogation Officers, we
were again pleased to get our hot cuppa, laced with rum."

"A Close Shave"

"We were on a bombing raid to the hot spot of Duisburg in the Ruhr Valley with
three or four hundred other planes, none of which could be seen in the night. They
were just there, all around you, and the only time you were aware of how close they
were was when your plane hit the slipstream of the one in front, which of course
meant it was fairly close. On reaching the target, the bomb aimer had veered too
much to one side of the dropping zone, and as Roly was a bit of a perfectionist as
far as accuracy was concerned, he decided to make another run from another
direction. I guess a lot of pilots would have said, "Just drop them, and let's get out
of here." Now who were we to argue with the captain of the ship? The crew
heard his decision and the navigator set a course for the second run, so back into it,
with anti-aircraft fire all around us, and with the plane bucking a bit. The engineer
that night was a ring-in, as our usual engineer was on the sick list.
Well, we miraculously survived the second bombing run, but were caught in
searchlights, and the flak became heavier. We sustained damage to the hydraulic
system, and this caused fumes right throughout the aircraft and we were forced to
use oxygen all the way back to base. The loss of the hydraulic system caused the
undercarriage and flaps to drop down, thus causing us to use a lot more fuel trying
to maintain height. We had no chance of making base in Yorkshire, so it was
necessary to find a landing field in the south. We were flying over Reading, where
my relatives lived, at an altitude of two to three thousand feet, and Roly gave the
order, "Prepare to abandon aircraft", as the plane was in serious trouble. However,
we kept going and continued to lose altitude until we were in the vicinity of the
training field of Bruntingthorpe. I had been unable to raise the field on radio, so
when the plane flew over the airfield, I fired a couple of red Very signal flares, and
eventually they fired a green flare, giving us permission to land. It wasn't until we
hit the runway that we found that one of the tyres had been punctured by flak, and
on measuring the amount of fuel left, we found only ten gallons in the tank.
I was thinking at the time that it would have been a novel to have called in on the
relatives at Reading, if we had been required to jump out.
It was breakfast time when we landed and we were taken to the Intelligence Officer
who de-briefed the crew, and took control of our maps, code books, etc., while the
plane was repaired. They worked on the plane that day, and into the night, and it
was ready to fly next morning. The airfield had a layer of fog over it, and the
visibility was low, but Roly decided he was going, fog or not. The trip back to
Yorkshire was uneventful and flying at two thousand feet gave us a great view of
the countryside."
(Op 2, from Driffield, 18 December 1944, substitute F/Eng Sanday.)

"Soft Landing"

"Once Roly tried to land our Halifax on a cloud at fifteen thousand feet. He had the
flaps down and the wheels on the way down, when I realised that something was not
right. I climbed up to his seat and found that his oxygen supply had been somehow
disconnected. Lack of oxygen can make you do strange things. After he was
reconnected, he had no memory of what he had tried to do."

End of transcription of Part 2 – Supplementary, Zebra Five November, by Douglas Henry Lawrence, Copyright January 1995.

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Second aircraft loss at the same approximate time and place – Aircraft Halifax III NA687 6Y-A of 171 Squadron

– 171 Squadron, formed 8 September 1944 at North Creake in Norfolk, as part of 100 Group, Squadron Code 6Y
– involved with Bomber Support Duties, including use of "WINDOW"
– from November 1944 flying Halifax III aircraft (previously also flew with Stirlings)
– not far from RAF Station Foulsham (also 100 Group)

Crew of 8 members of crew and details from Commonwealth War Grave Commission online.
Final resting place in Ambly Communal Cemetery, Namur, about 20 Km from the Hotton War Cemetery, and about 14 Km from Marche, and only 5.6 Km from Hargimont.
Plot I, Row 1 .... (These are the only CWGC graves at this cemetery.)

Grave 1 – Pilot F/Lt Geoffrey COX 179313 RAFVR age 23
Grave 2 – Bomb Aimer W/O Alfred Charles CHEESE 1320692 RAFVR age 23
Grave 3 – Air Gunner P/O Charles Donald MISON J.93003 RCAF age 22
Grave 4 – Navigator F/O Ronald MADEN 151614 RAFVR
Grave 5 – Air Gunner F/Sgt Charles David Craven FARLIE 1303911 RAFVR age 23
Grave 6 – SDO (Wireless/AG) W/O Frederick Edwin Thomas DAVY 1375306 RAFVR age 23
Grave 7 – F/Eng Sgt Stanley Reeves FENWICK 1824947 RAFVR age 20
Grave 8 – Wop/AG F/Sgt Albert Edward MEEKINGS 1579588 RAFVR age 20

Information from Abbé Gérard Marlaire (sent to the Lawrence family) advised that the second aircraft crashed and exploded, not far from the crash site of MZ469.
There is no intention to investigate/report further on this second aircraft. Internet searches indicate this has already been done.

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Possible conclusions regarding the loss of Halifax MZ469 Z5-N – supposition and my opinion only, formed after reading the available documentation, and witness reports.

Most likely aerial collision with Halifax NA687 6Y-A of 171 Squadron.
No flak in the area was reported by returning crews of 462 Squadron; no searchlight activity; and no Luftwaffe fighter claims were made to correlate with the almost simultaneous loss of two aircraft at that time and place. Lawrence also records in his Memoir that there were no reports of fighters, no anti-aircraft fire and no searchlight activity.

The two bodies found by Marlaire in the snow "crushed on the ground" whose parachutes opened too late – were later identified as the Bomb Aimer Scott and the Navigator Sanderson – both were stationed in the front of the aircraft. The sudden impact which knocked out the nose floor, would have thrown them out of, or caused them to fall from the plane, perhaps unconscious, and thus not able to deploy their parachutes. They had already disappeared by the time Lawrence came out of his W/OP cubicle and saw the structural damage. A second "great hole" was in the fuselage in front of the starboard engines, opposite his work station.

He mentions in his Memoir that he was initially knocked unconscious by the impact, before regaining his senses and looking at his radio equipment, then stepping outside his cubicle. After clipping on his parachute, Doug Lawrence may have fallen from the plane if it was partially out of control, or may been sucked out by the rush of air past the gaping hole in the fuselage. Not remembering what happened to him at that time may have been due to what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress (blocking bad memories of a traumatic situation) or perhaps due to being temporarily unconscious a second time, if he was injured while exiting the plane. He could not have been blown out of the aircraft because it did not explode in the air.

Witnesses said the Pilot had circled and was attempting to crash land the plane, thus indicating that he still had some control, with the damage confined to the forward section. One engine had detached (either due to the initial aerial collision, or its effects), and landed away from the main wreckage.

The aircraft that Doug Lawrence saw exploding into flames on the ground, could not have been MZ469, although that would have been the logical assumption at the time. Abbé Gérard Marlaire wrote that the aircraft body was almost intact and only the cockpit and one wing were burnt out. The explosion that Doug Lawrence saw while he was parachuting, was most likely caused by the ground impact of the other Halifax, NA687 6Y-A of 171 Squadron. It may have suffered catastrophic damage in the aerial collision, causing an immediate uncontrollable descent and the resultant explosion on on impact.

Halifax NZ469 Z5-N of 462 Sq and Halifax NA687 6Y-A of 171 Squadron were both MK III.
Both carried out Special Duties for 100 Group.
Both carried crews of eight.
Their crash sites are within a few kms of each other.
I believe that some of the investigative documents and reports for the two aircraft have been inadvertently mingled or misfiled. There is one document with Lawrence's Casualty file which refers to W/O A C Cheese of NA687.
In various reports there also appeared to be confusion as to burial dates and locations of the victims, and who buried them, with one document in Lawrence's Casualty file referring to the burial site for the NA687 victims at Ambly.
One document also incorrectly refers to crosses on the grave for the crew of "MR.469". Another refers to ME469 (inexcusable as it was signed by the Commanding Officer of 462 Squadron.)
Description of the damage varies, describing MZ469 as having little damage, but in another it was described as exploding on impact, catching fire and becoming a total wreck. This appears to refer to the two different aircraft.
The description of the crash site of MZ469 and the location visited in 1991 by Keith Topham with Abbé Marlaire, differs from the site which the Lawrence family was taken to when they visited the area in 2012. The Lawrence family had met with Abbé Marlaire, however their local guide may have taken them to the crash site of NA687. Abbé Marlaire was first-hand witness and buried both crews, so his reports are entirely believable.

 

 

Additional information is sought about any of the crew, or the crash. Photos are also welcome. Doug Lawrence is aged 93½ (as of 06 January 2017), and we would particularly like to locate for him, the photo of his crew of 7 beside their aircraft.
If you can assist, please make contact.

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