Bomber Command

Vol. 9 No. 2 - 2009

Portadown's RAF Bomber Command heroes of WWII

by James S. Kane

Royal Air Force Bomber Command was the only means available with which Britain could directly hit back at the enemy and from the outset of war the RAF mounted daylight raids on targets in Germany initially without much success. With heavy losses incurred during daylight raids Bomber Command switched to bombing mainly by night.

The aircrew of Bomber Command, all volunteers, came from every corner of the British Commonwealth the main contingents coming from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia. The total number of aircrew that served in Bomber Command was 125,000 of which 55,500 lost their lives from all causes. A further 10,000 became prisoners of war.

Here are the stories of some of the Portadown Heroes who made the supreme sacrifice while serving with Bomber Command during WW2.

Pilot Officer 42339, Thomas Dawson, 144 Squadron

Thomas was the son of William Joseph and Sarah Dawson of Rosnaree, Eden Crescent and was educated at Portadown College. He entered the Royal Air Force in May 1939, receiving his commission two months later. Thomas was posted to 144 Squadron of Bomber Command.

Pilot Officer Dawson, aged 20, was pilot on a Hamden Mark I serial number X2915 which took off from Hemswell at 2335 hours on 31 October 1940 on a bombing mission to Berlin. After a routine message nothing more was heard from the aircraft. Thomas’ father received a letter from Squadron Leader G. F. Lerrwill

The aircraft on the operational flight took off and crossed our coast in the normal manner and from that point we have heard nothing at all. His trip was, however, scheduled to cover a considerable distance over land, and there should be quite a good prospect of his having been forced down in enemy territory and taken prisoner.

Portadown Times
15 November 1940

The Hampden was lost without trace and all four crewmembers are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Navigation at night was difficult and it was almost impossible to accurately pinpoint specific targets such as factories or military establishments. The tactic of area bombing was utilised in which large numbers of aircraft bombed areas rather than pinpoint targets. At this stage of the war the bombers were mostly twin engine Wellington or Hamden aircraft but as the war progressed heavy four engine bombers such as the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster became the mainstay of Bomber Command.

Squadron Leader 37694, William Terence Chambers Seale, 7 Squadron

William Terence Chambers was the eldest son of William Pilkington, a bank manager, and Dorothy Margaret Seale and was educated at Portadown College where he played rugby for the school. He was a member of the 1st XV team from 1933-35. He entered the RAF in 1936 and rose rapidly in the service and shortly before the outbreak of war was appointed a flying instructor.

Flight Lieutenant Seale was posted to 7 Squadron of Bomber Command. The squadron was reformed on 1 August 1940 at Leeming with Stirling four engine bombers. He married Betty Forge of Beverley, Yorkshire in November 1940 at Herwell, Berkshire. In January 1941 William was ‘mentioned in despatches’ and in March he was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader.

Squadron Leader Seale was pilot on a Stirling Mark I serial number N6001 MG which took off from Oakington at 2257 hours on 29 June 1941 on a bombing mission to Hamburg. When the aircraft was over Germany Helmut Lent Stafflekapitan of 6. /NJG1 shot it down. The Stirling crashed at Wesermunde-Bremerhaven with the loss of all seven crewmembers. All are buried in Becklingen War Cemetery.

Sergeant (Wireless Operator /Air Gunner) 1026302 Samuel James Wilson, 27 OTU

Samuel’s father Albert was from Lisnisky and was the market caretaker in Portadown. He had a keen interest in music and at one time was conductor of three bands Lurgan Amateur, Parkmount Temperance and Richhill Conservative Flute Bands. Albert and Mamie Wilson had six children Norman, Albert, Samuel, Mamie, Vera and Edna.

Samuel was educated at Portadown Technical School and was a former member of St. Mark’s Boys’ Brigade. He was a member of Parkmount Temperance Flute Band, of which his father was conductor, and the Night Lights Dance Band of which his brother was leader. He took part in troop entertainment before enlisting in the Royal Air Force.

Sergeant Wilson was attached to 27 Operational Training Unit (OTU) and was one of a crew of five on a Wellington 1c serial number DV 800. It was on a routine four-hour cross-country flight to the Isle of Man and back, crossing the Welsh coast at Llandudno, and returning to RAF Lichfield. Practice bombing was also to be carried out at Cannock Chase.

At 1206 the last radio message was received from the aircraft, which was posted as missing. On 21 July a local man noticed an area of scorched earth on the mountainside, which on closer inspection turned out to include aircraft wreckage. The police and RAF were notified and a search party was mounted. The bodies of the five missing crewmembers were recovered on 27 July 1942.

The accident report on Wellington DV800 stated:

Weather conditions were good over the Irish Sea but cloud hid the high ground of North Wales. It seems that the pilot entered this cloud, became lost, and began a descent in order to break cloud and pinpoint his position. The cloud base over Carneddau range at this time was about 2000 feet; the ridge between Carnddau Llywelyn and Dafydd however is considerably higher than that. The aircraft struck the ridge at about 2,500 feet and burnt fiercely, killing all on board.

RAF Lichfield OTU Accident Report
19 July 1942

The first 1000 bomber raid took place on 30/31 May 1942 against Cologne and from then onwards, under the command of Air Vice-Marshal Arthur Harris, the bomber battle intensified with raids against every major German city. In a series of raids from 24 July to 3 August 1943, the USAAF by day and RAF by night destroyed the city of Hamburg in a firestorm. The Battle of the Ruhr was fought from March-June 1943 and involved raids against cities such as Essen and Dortmund in the industrial heartland of Germany. It included the celebrated ‘Dambusters’ raid of 16/17 May 1943.

Sergeant (Air Gunner) 637636, Henry Howard Maginn, 15 Squadron
Henry Howard Maginn
Sergeant Henry Howard Maginn<

Henry’s father William was employed as a bread man. He married Adelaide Walsh, whose family ran a boarding house in Thomas Street. The couple had nine children Norman, Henry Howard, Robert, Herbert, Victor, Basil, Annie, Ethel and Martha.

John Gibson and Co. Grocers of Woodhouse Street employed Henry for 11 years. He married Emma Cull of Watson Street in 1933 at St. Mark’s Parish Church. The couple had two children, Howard born 1937, and Audrey born 1942.

He was goalkeeper for Gilford Crusaders, Ulster Rangers and All Sports. He was also a former member of Portadown Cycling Club. Henry studied at St. Mark’s Bible class and was a member of the White Ribboners temperance movement.

Henry was a member of Dr. Kane’s Crimson Star LOL 417, and he had been secretary and lecturer of the lodge for many years. He was also a member of Brackagh RBP 265 and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

Sergeant Maginn was a rear gunner, or “Tail End Charlie” as the position was known, on Stirling Mark I serial number BF347 LS-J.

The aircraft took off with its crew of seven from Bourn at 2105 hours on 10 September 1942 on a bombing mission to Dusseldorf. The raid was successfully completed but as the aircraft attempted an emergency landing at West Malling airfield in Kent at 0255 hours on 11 September it crashed with no survivors. Sergeant Maginn was buried in Seagoe Churchyard with full RAF honours.

Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) 1383005, George Joseph Wilson, 460 (RAAF) Squadron
Sergeant Wilson
Sergeant George Joseph Wilson

George’s father Spear was born in Belfast and joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary on its formation. He served in Portadown and Armagh and settled in Portadown. He married Catherine Caroline McIlvenna and they had six children Jack, George, Agnes, Carol, Spiers and Sheila.

George joined the Metropolitan Police when he was 18 years old and served during the Blitz of 1940-41. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force and qualified as a Wireless Operator on 2 September 1942. The next day L.A.C Wilson was sent to No. 8 Air Gunnery School at Evanton for four weeks intensive training as an Air Gunner, qualifying on 3 October 1942.

He spent the next few months, from November 1942 until February 1943, at 28 Operational Training Unit undertaking numerous training flights known as circuits and landings. It also involved cross country flying, practice bombing runs all in Wellington two engine bombers and various lectures and courses on gunnery, photography and escape and evasion techniques.

In March 1943 Sergeant Wilson was posted to 1656 Conversion Unit at Lindholme where the crews were trained on Halifax and Lancaster four engine bombers. By this time Sergeant Wilson had clocked up 86 hours daytime flying hours and 46 night time flying hours.

On 6 April 1943 Sergeant Wilson was posted to 460 (Royal Australian Air Force) Squadron of Bomber Command. The squadron was formed on 15 November 1941 at Molesworth and was originally equipped with Wellingtons before converting to Halifaxes and then Lancasters.

He was one of a crew of seven in a Lancaster Mark I serial number W4331 UV-R. This crew had taken part in three previous bombing missions to Duisburg on 9/10 April, Frankfurt on 10/11 April and Stuttgart on 14/15 April.

The aircraft took off from Breighton at 2106 hours on 16 June 1943 on a bombing mission to the Skoda Armament Works at Pilsen. The aircraft crashed into a lake at Ludwigshafen-Oggersheim with the loss of all of the crew. The crew were buried locally and after the war were reinterred in Durnbach War Cemetery.

In 1999 the local angling club drained the lake in order to dredge out the silt and discovered some wreckage including part of an aero engine and undercarriage from Sergeant Wilson’s Lancaster W4331 UV-R, which had crashed into the lake on 17 June 1943.

Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) 1130657, Norman Nicholas England, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron

Nicholas was the son of William Henry and Evelyn England of 181 West Street. Posted to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron of Bomber Command, he was one of a crew of seven in a Lancaster Mark I serial number W4331 UV-R.

The aircraft took off from Dunholme Lodge at 2350 hours on 21 June 1943 on a bombing mission to Krefeld. The town had a population of 170,000 and was a major production centre for high-grade steel used for aircraft engines and the armaments industry. Nothing more was heard from the aircraft and it was deemed lost without trace on 22 June 1943. All seven crewmembers are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

A local newspaper report stated:

Sergt. England joined the R. A. F. about 3 years ago, and his many operational flights embraced targets in Italy and Czechoslovakia, as well as in Germany. He was formerly employed in Canavan’s Pharmacy, and before that with Mr. W. J. Anderson.

Portadown News
3 July 1943

Sergeant (Air Gunner) 1025077, David Gillis, 90 Squadron

David was educated at Thomas Street Public Elementary School and Portadown Technical School. He was a Sergeant in 1st Portadown Company, Boys’ Brigade and played football for Parkmount Football Club. Messrs. Hamilton Robb Ltd employed David. He was a member of Parkmount LOL 127.

David was trained in Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme and met his wife there. His wife and baby daughter, whom he never saw, resided at Monkton, New Brunswick. On his return to England Sergeant Gillis was posted to 90 Squadron of Bomber Command.

Sergeant Gillis was one of a crew of seven in a Stirling Mark III serial number EE887 WP-T. The aircraft took off from West Wickham at 2346 hours on 21 June 1943 on a bombing mission to Krefeld. The aircraft was shot down by a night fighter in the early hours of 22 June and crashed at Hoogwoud, North Holland with the loss of all of the crew. All are buried in Bergen General Cemetery.

The prize target for Bomber Command was the German capital Berlin, centre of numerous war industries and the heart of the Nazi regime. The air Battle of Berlin raged from August 1943 until March 1944 and involved 19 major raids on the city. Although significant damage was caused to war industries, government ministries and communications the raids failed to destroy the capital or the morale of the Berliners.

Sergeant 1796405, Ernest Bramwell Blair, 578 Squadron

Ernest was the son of John and Martha Blair. He was posted to 578 Squadron of Bomber Command. He was one of a crew of seven in a Halifax Mark III serial number LW557 LK-Q.

The aircraft took off from Burn at 1749 hours on 15 February 1944 on a bombing mission to Berlin. The aircraft crashed due to engine failure near Tribohm, four miles NNE of Marlow with the loss of three of the crew.

W/O Morgan RAAF was buried in the War Cemetery in Berlin and, Sergeant Blair and Sergeant Piper are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The other four crewmembers became prisoners of war.

In the build-up to D-Day and the invasion of Normandy the RAF was involved in what became known as the transportation plan - the systematic destruction of railway lines, junctions and railheads in an attempt to disrupt the German’s ability to move reinforcements and supplies to Normandy.

Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) 1545659 Samuel Joseph Clayton, 218 Squadron
Samuel Joseph Clayton
Samuel Joseph Clayton

William was employed as a bus driver and he and his wife Elizabeth had six children Samuel Joseph, Winifred, May, Billy, Margaret and Isaac, who died in infancy. The family worshipped at Edenderry Methodist Church.

Samuel was educated at Edenderry Primary School and Portadown Technical School. He was employed in a number of local firms after leaving school. Samuel was keenly interested in the Royal Air Force and achieved his boyhood dream when he was accepted for aircrew training. He was posted to 218 Squadron of Bomber Command.

He was one of a crew of eight in a Stirling Mark III serial number EF259 HA-G which took off from Woolfox Lodge at 2217 hours on 1 May 1944 on a bombing mission to destroy the railway and stores depot at Chambly, France. The aircraft came down at La Houssaye near Auneuil in the early hours of 2 May with the loss of four of the crew including Sgt. Clayton. They are buried in Poix de Picardie Churchyard. The four surviving crewmembers all evaded capture.

Warrant Officer 1021128, William Joseph Smart, 205 Squadron
William Joseph Smart
William Joseph Smart

William’s father George Alexander was from Crumlin in County Antrim and his mother Mary Elizabeth Laycock was from Newtownhamilton. They had three boys Blacker, William and George. The family resided in Pomeroy for a time before coming to Portadown with George taking up employment with W.D. Irwin’s. He was later employed as a lorry driver for the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board. The Smart’s resided in Bognor Terrace then moved to Blacker’s Mill, and then Levaghery Garden’s, before returning to Bognor Terrace in 1935.

William was employed at Denny’s pork processing factory before he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. He was posted overseas in January 1942 and served in Africa and was then posted to the Far East and India.

Warrant Officer Smart was posted to Amarda Road Airfield in India where he underwent training with the Air Fighting Training Unit (AFTU), 228 Group, South East Asia Command. At the AFTU personnel underwent a two-week intensive training course in gunnery, navigation, bombing and formation flying in preparation for future operations against the Japanese.

On 26 July 1945 at 0915 six B-24 Liberators took off from Amarda Road Airfield on a navigational and formation flying exercise. Squadron Leader Felix Heynert, DFC, piloted liberator EW 225 with a crew of eight. Liberator EW 247, with a crew of six, including Warrant Officer Smart, was piloted by P/O Alfred Herbert. As the six aircraft climbed the weather worsened and they entered some dense cloud. The accident report stated

On coming out of the cloud aircraft number 1 (EW 225) and aircraft number 3 (EW 247) captained by P/O Herbert, were seen to be in close proximity, and number 3 was then seen to pull up and collide with number 1. The tail unit of number 1 was torn off, causing the aircraft to crash. Once the crash occurred neither pilot had any chance to execute a reasonable force landing, nor was there sufficient time for any member of the crew to a make a parachute descent.

Accident Report MOD Air, Historical Branch
16 June 1995

The author would like to dedicate this article to the memory of his father, Corporal James Henry Kane, Royal Air Force and his mother, ACW Sarah Stewart McIntyre, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, WW2 veterans who were fortunate enough to grow old.

James S. Kane is the author of

  • Portadown Heroes – A Tribute to the Men Commemorated on Portadown’s War Memorial
  • For God and the King – A History of the Blackers of Carrickblacker and
  • In Peril on the Sea – The Naval Career of Signalman Henry Kane.