by Jeremy Halliday
Royal Canadian Airforce 405 (Vancouver) Squadron
Lancaster III ND352 (LQ-T )
Motto: DUCIMUS - "We Lead"
The motto depicts this was the
first RCAF bomber squadron formed overseas and the only RCAF
Pathfinder Squadron. No. 405 Squadron was formed at Great Driffield,
Yorkshire, on April 23, 1941,
and flew the RCAF's first bombing operation ten weeks later on June
12th and 13th. It flew
Wellingtons until April 1942, and then converted to Halifaxes, becoming
operational with the latter
in time to take part in the historic 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne.
Late in October 1942, the squadron was loaned to RAF Coastal Command
to strengthen our air
defence of the Bay of Biscay at the time of the North African landings.
Returning to Bomber
Command at the beginning of March, 1943, No. 405 flew with No. 6 (RCAF)
Group a few weeks
before being selected for No. 8 (Pathfinder) Group with which it served
until the end of the war.
Through the last 20 months of the bomber offensive the squadron was
equipped with Lancasters
(mainly Lancaster Mk. IIIs) but it later become the first unit to operate
a Canadian-built Lancaster
(using Rolls-Royce Merlins built under licence by Packard). This was
KB700 (named The Ruhr
Express), the first production Mk. X.
I do not have a full frame photo of the particular
craft about which I am writing - Lancaster III ND352
(LQ-T) - so here is a picture of another RCAF Lancaster III. which I
found at: www.cmhg.gc.ca
For the later stages of WW2 the Squadron was
based at the former RAF Gransden Lodge, Longstowe
Rd, Little Gransden, Bedfordshire, UK.
Today it is a privately owned and operated airfield
devoted to gliding and light aircraft.
Lancaster III ND352 (LQ-T) was shot down by the enemy, either by an
enemy aircraft or flak, over
Auneau, Eure-et-Loir, France (about 15 miles from Chartres) in the early
hours of 11th June 1944
returning from a post D-Day raid on the enemy’s railway yards
near Versailles, France.
The Crew of ND352:
I have the original of this photo where no copyright
is claimed but, unfortunately, other than my
cousin Martin Thornhill (extreme left) I cannot (as yet) put names to
faces. The crew was a
multidiscipline one and so I cannot say with any certainty which individual
(other than the Pilot – Flt
Lieutenant Melvin Stronach and Flight Sergeant Paul Gingras) was in
which seat during the raid but
my family believed Martin was in the tail gunner position; however Paul
Gingras’s report (later in this
narrative) suggests he was in the radio operator’s seat.
Pilot: Flight Lieutenant Melvin
P Stronach, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) from Calgary, Alberta,
Canada. – Seriously injured, captured and hospitalised by the
Germans (who never reported his
capture) he eventually made it back to the UK. (We have a lovely letter
Flight Sergeant Paul H Gingras,
RCAF (born in Quebec but possibly resident in Regina, Saskatchewan)
survived uninjured and, for a time, joined the French Underground (strictly
against the rules) where
he performed heroically (awarded the Croix de Guerre) but eventually
returned to the UK.
Those who did not make it home:
Buried in Auneau:
Flying Officer Alexander T Armstrong,
Pilot Officer Joseph J G Dagenais, RCAF
Flying Officer John L Emery RCAF.
Flight Sergeant Martin A Thornhill, RAF.
Photo by Isabelle Perrot
It being the only war grave in
Auneau cemetery the locals care for it and place flowers there.
No known grave – “Known
only to God”
Sergeant J W Sharples, RAF died
in the action and has no known grave but is remembered on the
RAF memorial at Runnymede, near Windsor, UK.
Pilot Officer R J Philips, RCAF also died in the action and has no known
grave but is also remembered
on the RAF memorial at Runnymede, near Windsor, UK.
© Commonwealth War Graves
The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede
commemorates, by name, over 20,000 airmen who were
lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United
Kingdom and North and
Western Europe, and who have no known graves.
They served in Bomber, Fighter,
Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands,
and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries
in continental Europe
which had been overrun but whose airmen continued the fight in the ranks
of the Royal Air Force.
Runnymede is famed as being the
location where, in 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta which
is acknowledged across the Commonwealth and the United States of America
as being the
foundation stone of our legal systems, democracies and liberties.
It is also the site of a memorial
to the assassinated President John F Kennedy (JFK) which, at one and
the same time, is both part of the United Kingdom and the United States.
“Let every Nation know,
whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear
meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to
assure the survival and success of
Remember these boys in Bomber
Command had an average age of 21 and were all volunteers – not
conscripts - and, as was common practice at the time, ND352’s
crew was a mix of Canadians (both
English and French speakers) and Brits. (For example my own dear Father-in-Law
– a Brit – served in
an Australian Squadron which operated, for a time, from a neighbouring
airfield in eastern England).
Paul Gingras’s story
Paul (bilingual French & English)
being the first to make it “home” to the UK wrote in his
(DHH 79/507) lists the crew as F/L Stronach (pilot, evaded), F/O A.T.
Armstrong (navigator, killed),
Pilot Officer J.J. G. Dagenais (air gunner, killed), Flying Officer
J.L. Emery (navigator/bomb aimer,
killed), Pilot Officer R.J. Phillips (air bomber, killed), Flight Sergeant
M.A. Thornhill (radio operator,
killed), and Sergeant J.W. Sharples (killed).
“Aircraft ND352 (LQ-T)
departed Gransden Lodge, 2300 hours on 10 June 1944 and came down a
kilometres northwest of Etampes. He reported that his parachute, harness
and Mae West (a lifepreserver
for landings in water) had been left in a field, being finally given
to French villagers. He did
not know if secret papers and equipment had been destroyed, but saw
aircraft burning in the air and
saw it as a large fire on the ground. He was the mid-upper gunner. His
My aircraft was one of a squadron of Lancaster Pathfinders making an
attack on a railway yard near
Versailles (NWE Sheet 7- R.83). We were due to go in at Zero + 15 (0015
hours) and were on time.
After dropping our load and reporting the fact to the Master Bomber
we turned for home. I believe
we bombed at 6,000 feet.
Somewhere between Stampes (Etampes, France Sheet 15 - W.89) about 0030
-0040 hours I heard
explosions beneath me, saw the starboard engines on fire and received
the “bale out” order over the
intercom. I called back I was baling out. Although I saw no enemy aircraft,
I believe we were shot
down by one, because I had seen no flak at that time. It is probable
that we were cannoned from
below. My conviction is strengthened by the fact that an enemy fighter
base is reported at or near
Auneau (R.6003) not far from the scene of the attack.
I had difficulty in getting out of the turret, my mae west and clothes
got caught up in the projections;
eventually I landed in the aircraft head first.
The aircraft was burning fiercely from nose to rear, and flames were
reaching out to the mid upper
I baled out through the rear hatch and fell like a stone; I realized
I was holding the parachute handles
and NOT the ripcord. When I pulled the cord, I was knocked out for a
short time, probably the
parachute straps. However, I was conscious before reaching the ground
which I did unhurt.
I saw none of the crew and do not know if they had baled out - though
am sure the W/T operator
must have perished in the aircraft. The aircraft was in a glide and
there was time to bale out.
Just before landing I saw another aircraft on fire - probably another
Lancaster from our raiding party.
It was flying in the same direction as ours and crashed in much the
same place. I could see both
I had landed in a field and left my parachute, etc. in a heap where
I stood. Not far away was a village
silhouetted and I made off in the opposite direction, mistaking trees
for houses several times.
Eventually I reached a road and later a large house, knocked for about
half an hour, and flashed my
torch in the windows, but gained no response. Seeing the outline of
a barn nearby I went in to it and
climbed a ladder to the loft. Some six or seven men were sleeping here;
someone woke up and I
declared myself as an evader - not difficult to see, as I was in full
flying kit. They said the house I had
tried to get into was owned by a collaborator.
It was clear I was among friends and in due course one of them offered
to guide me to a house about
eight kilometres distant where I would receive help.
I was about 0330 hours when my guide and I set off. Before doing so
we went over my escape maps,
checked contents of my aid box - all of which I replaced - and substituted
my flying boots for a pair of
ill-fitting shoes which I was given. My flying kit I also left behind;
I went off dressed in my battle dress
and cap and carrying my pistol.
My guide had a bike, and because I was unable to walk very quickly -
I was a bit dizzy from the blow I
received in the air - we took it in turns to ride and walk. It was thought
advisable to hide when
anyone approached us, but we reached our destination without incident.
I was made welcome by my host, but when his wife came down, she showed
signs of agitation on
seeing me. When I offered to depart, however, she apologized for apparent
lack of hospitality and
would not let me go.
My host related what had occurred a few days previously. The household
in company with every
man, woman and child in the village, had been forced to witness the
public execution of a family by
the Germans with all their “terror” trimmings. The execution
had been done by machine gun which
had been turned threateningly on the crowd. The family concerned had
given shelter to two Allied
airmen, who had been captured after they had left the family. It was
thought that the Germans
traced the people because the airmen had revealed their name and address,
or had written it down
on papers obtained by the Germans when searched. It had been a terrible
experience as all houses
were carefully searched and people questioned.
I was given food and a bed; in the morning I received a farm labourer’s
suit and was loaned a bike.
My guide of the previous night came along, and together with the help
of some other men, organized
a search for my crew and any from the other Lancaster I had seen to
crash. Although searching from
0900 - 1700 hours we had no luck - except to recover my parachute, harness
and Mae West, which I
distributed to my helpers.
We returned to my host and I gave him back his bike. I was given food
to eat and a supply to last me
with care for a couple of days; in addition I obtained a map from an
almanac. My guide gave me an
old identity card and I substituted the photo on it for one of mine
(full face). He was to accompany
me to Auneau (NWE Sheet 7 - R.6003).
I said goodbye to my friend at Auneau and continued walking until midnight
- found a barn and went
[12 June 1944] I decided to head northwest with the ides of hitting
the beachhead somewhere
between Caen - Dozule (Sheet 7F/2 - 2673). I thought it wise to avoid
big towns and main roads, but
rather to keep to secondary roads and cross country, using signposts
and compasses of which I am
thankful I had two - as I subsequently lost one.
It was not until I reached the outskirts of Haintenon (R.4617) that
any incident occurred. I could hear
shots and a man came running towards me saying, “They are taking
the young men to the
concentration camps.” The caused me to make for a parkland, where
I rested, washed and ate. In
trying to get out, I wandered over dykes and found myself trapped within
a circle of water. Some 50
or more civilians were working at erecting huts over ammunition dumps
already in place. I decided to
lie up until they knocked off for the day, and to follow them up and
pass off as one of them. Things
worked out well, and I was able to skirt the town and proceed on my
Puisseux (R.3225) was reached about curfew time (2300 hours) and I was
making for what I took to
be a convent when a German came out of the gate nearly colliding with
me. He asked no questions
however. When I looked into the gardens I saw many other Germans and
realized I must risk the
curfew and get on my way.
After walking for close on a couple of hours I found that I was back
again in Puisseux. I set off again,
and making for Treon (R.2929) I found a barn en route and slept for
a bit. It was so cold however that
I was soon on my way again and reached Treon about 0545 hours. I was
weary and felt the need of
I received the name of a possible helper who lived in a nearby village
- but saw some Gestapo at a
road fork to that village and decided not to bother.
After a while I reached Aunay sur Crecy (R.2828) and chose a fairly
poor but cleanly kept house to try
my luck for help. After inquiring for a mythical person, I found the
lady of the house friendly disposed
and asked some questions about the invasion situation and also asked
for help and food. It was clear
she did not trust me altogether, but got some food together for me,
without inviting me to eat it in
Whilst I was eating what she had given me at the steps of a monument
a little way down the village
a man cycled along and spoke to me. He asked had I been to a certain
house, and when I admitted it,
sat down and had a long talk, indicating he had an idea what I was.
He was very friendly, warned me
against Gestapo activity in Crecy Couve (R.2628) and went off to get
me some more food for my
It must have been about 1000 hours, when I was still sitting in this
village. I heard Fortresses coming
over, and bombing the airfield just outside Treon. I saw no aircraft
shot down nor heard any results
of the raid.
I kept my general direction, slept outside Verneuil (R.0038) on the
14 June 1944, had a good clean up
at a barbers in that town, and got the latest news. Avoiding any more
towns I reached Notre Dame
de Courson (Q.5472) on the night of the 15 June 1944 where I spent the
The following day, 16 June 1944, I set off again about 1300 hours, having
slept late. I was weary and
my feet were sore and shoes made them bleed. At a point west of Fervaques
(Sheet 8F -5476) I met a
French man who asked me whether I had seen any stray cattle. I hadn’t,
but asked him about the
situation, where the British and Germans were, etc. He told me the British
were in Dozule. He gave
me details of where the Germans were in the vicinity and told me of
three gun positions, one of which
he specially recced for me there and then.
I took a path into the woods on the west side of the road and struck
north again - this brought me
out onto another road and as I emerged from the wood, three soldiers
came towards me from my
right, shouting and another man from a house on my left. I noticed there
was a log barrier across the
road. I continued walking towards the approaching sentries until one
called out “Arretez, arretez”. I
stopped; meanwhile the man on my left had closed up to me; he was an
officer. He could not speak
French but one of his men could and acted as interpreter.
The officer asked me what I was doing out curfew and I explained I was
on my way to my Mother,
had been delayed, and just had to go on. I produced my identity card.
The officer ran his hands over
me and even dipped into my pockets - he missed my RAF torch in my trousers
and aid box and purse
in inside my shirt. He did however find a piece of “Perspex”
which I had picked up from a shot down
FW. He cried out “Tommy Tommy” and imitated the noise and
flight of an airplane. I laughed and
said, “Non, Allemand”.
The officer seemed in good humour and without any suspicions as to who
he was joking with. After a
time he pointed up the road where the surface had changed from gravel
to concrete, said, “Pas la”
and, pointing down the road said “Allez”, “Raus”.
I needed no second bidding.
After walking for about another hour, I turned into a barn and slept.
Early that day I was about and
making across country - from where I could hear gunfire - reached the
outskirts of Dozule. Here on a
hill overlooking the town a lad ran away when he saw me. I caught up
with him and asked him for
information about the lie of the land, and whether one could get through
the line. He said, “Yes - if
you knew how.” Still talking he led me to the other side of the
hill to get a better view of the town
and sea, but was chased away with curses by a farmer working there.
When I spoke to the farmer and apologised for having brought the lad
on his ground I declared
myself. He invited me into his house - I was once again among friends.
In due course the British took
the South bank of the river at Caen and I was able to contact British
Headquarters again on 18 July
Paul’s modest account misses
out much of his personal acts of bravery but, fortunately, the
following was reported by French authorities when recommending him for
“Paul Gingras, Canadian
Air Gunner, voluntarily participated in the French Resistance Movement
displayed great bravery. By his courage, several important missions
were successfully carried out
behind enemy lines, notably the destruction during the night of the
2nd and 3rd of July 1944 of a
bridge of the utmost strategical importance.
NOTE: This award generated some interesting correspondence about protocol
(which seems to have
been ignored) and common sense (which was applied). On 6 March 1945
Air Commodore E.E.
Middleton (Acting AOC Commanding-in-Chief) wrote to the Under Secretary
of State, Air Ministry, as
The Canadian Ambassador in Paris, General Vanier, while in Caen recently,
was presented with the
enclosed citation, also the Croix de Guerre avec Etoile d\'Argent and
an F.F.I. emblem, by
Commandant Gille, President of the Committee of Liberation of Calvados,
for Pilot Officer Paul Henri
Gingras. This award has evidently been made in the field to Pilot Officer
Paul Henri Gingras J.87974
of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
I do not think that this matter has been taken through the usual channels,
probably due to the
conditions prevailing at the time the Commandant made the award. However,
I should appreciate
your presenting this case to the appropriate authorities and advising
them of my approval of its
It is requested, also, that our appreciation of this award be extended
to the French authorities.
On 12 June 1945 Mr. F.S. Yuill passed this on to Sir Robert Knox with
his own comments:
You will see that the awards have been made in an unusual manner and
were not offered through
the appropriate channel in the normal way. In the circumstances I presume
that we can only agree to
the Canadian authorities\' request for the awards to be accepted on
If the Committee concur, therefore, we will take steps to have the Croix
de Guerre gazetted.
The F.F.I emblem is, of course, not a decoration and should the officer
raise the question of wearing it
in uniform I imagine it will be for the Canadians to make their own
decision according to their
regulations governing such cases.”
I also found the following official
RAF report on the mission:
Lancaster, which was detailed to act as a Visual Backer-up. Took off
from Gransden Lodge at
about 2245 hours. The outward flight was entirely without incident and
the target was reached and
bombed at zero + 15 from 3,000 feet. The target was covered with smoke
and about 4/10 cloud but
the Target Indicators were dropped in accordance with instructions received
from the Master Bomber
and the attack appeared to be successful. Light flak was fairly active
in the target area but no trouble
from it was experienced.
2. After leaving the target the Lancaster got clear of cloud and climbed
steadily on a straight course
to about 5-6,000 feet at a speed of 170-180 knots. There was no moon
but clear starlight and the
visibility was excellent. About 15 minutes from the target, while still
climbing, the Lancaster was
attacked without any warning by a night fighter. The Mid-Upper Gunner
[Gingras] was keeping a
look out astern at the time, and he could see that the Rear Gunner was
also doing so. Both Gunners
were traversing their turrets continually so as to keep a watch on both
sides. The informant is
therefore confident that the attack must have come from underneath although
he has no direct
evidence that this was so. The Lancaster carried Visual Monica, but
the Wireless Operator did not
report any indication before the attack. The instrument had certainly
been functioning satisfactorily
on the outward flight.
3. The first warning the informant received of the attack was the sound
of bullets hitting the aircraft.
Immediately afterwards a large fire broke out in the starboard wing.
This was fiercest immediately
behind the inboard engine but spread along the wing to the outboard
engine. At the time he got the
impression that both engines were on fire, but in retrospect he inclines
to the opinion that the fire
originated in the wing, probably a tank, because the Lancaster continued
to fly perfectly straight in a
shallow glide as long as he remained in her. The port wing did not appear
to have been hit at all.
4. The pilot now gave the order to abandon the aircraft, which Sergeant
Gingras at once
acknowledged. He was the first member of the crew to do so. He emphasizes
that the attack, the fire
and the Captain’s order followed one another in extremely rapid
succession occupying only a few
5. Sergeant Gingras immediately removed his helmet and disconnected
his intercom and oxygen
supply. He experienced some difficulty in leaving his turret and it
seemed some time before he
eventually did so, head first. When he reached the fuselage he could
see a huge blinding flame
forward which appeared to fill the whole fuselage and stretch back almost
as far as his turret. He
picked up his parachute and moved aft to the rear exit, clipping on
the parachute as he went along.
The left hand side fastened easily, but the right hand clip would not
go on at first. He opened the
door and immediately saw large tongues of flame and smoke streaming
past the aperture from the
trailing edge of the wing. He then managed to get the right clip of
the parachute fastened and left at
once, head first. He saw no sight of the Rear Gunner before he left,
but he was so blinded by the
flames that it was difficult to distinguish anything.
6. Sergeant Gingras pulled at the carrying handle of the parachute for
a few seconds before he
realised his mistake and pulled the ripcord. When the ‘chute opened
he lost consciousness for a short
space but came to while still in the air. He must have jumped from about
5-6,000 feet. He did not see
the ground at all before he hit but landed comfortably on very soft
ground in a barley field in the
neighbourhood of Etamples.
7. After landing he saw a big fire on the ground a few miles off which
he believes to have been his
aircraft and less than ten minutes after he landed he saw another aircraft
shot down in flames. He
saw or heard nothing of any other member of his crew but he is of the
opinion that there was ample
time for the majority of them to bale out before he left, especially
in view of the fact that the
Lancaster never performed any unusual manoeuvres after being hit.”
Bomber Command personnel.
A vast number of airmen from Australia,
New Zealand, Canada, and other parts of the British Empire
and its Dominions served in the RAF, RCAF, RAAF, or RNZAF. Even before
the USA's involvement
after Pearl Harbour (7-Dec-1941) many United States nationals also swelled
the ranks, usually by the
simple expedient of crossing into Canada and joining the RCAF. Provided
that the man concerned
forsook his US citizenship, and took allegiance to the Crown, this practice
was winked at by the
After the Japanese attack on the Americans at Pearl Harbour, and once
the United States 8th Army
Air Force (8AAF) arrived in Britain and began to operate against the
enemy, many former US
nationals were wooed back into the Army Air Force olive green uniform,
tripling their rate of pay.
The 8AAF needed experienced fliers, and made the unusual concession
of both (a) allowing those
men who chose to finish their tour of duty with the RAF to do so, and
(b) continuing to wear RAF
brevets and decorations, provided that such were worn physically lower
than any USA insignia.
Many French, Poles and Czechs joined the RAF and similar bomber units
of the RCAF / RAAF / RNZAF.
The Free French Air Force had Nos. 346 and 347 Sqdns and the Poles operated
determination in such Squadrons as 300, 301 and 302. Many Poles and
Czechs also flew on "Special
Duties" flights, dropping arms and agents into occupied territory.
A typical Bomber Command crew could readily consist of a spectrum of
nationalities; an Australian
pilot, English bomb aimer, and flight engineer, Canadian gunners and
New Zealander wireless
A Tour of Duty
Once on an operational Squadron,
a tour of duty was 40 completed operations. An "op" was a
successfully completed flight or sortie, where the primary or secondary
target had been attacked.
Crews turning back early through technical problems did not count as
having successfully operated.
The loss rate was around the 4 to 5 per cent mark, so mathematically
it was impossible to survive.
Yet about 35 per cent of crews survived a first tour, after which they
were classed as "tour expired"
or "screened", then usually trained as instructors and sent
to HCUs (Heavy Conversion Units) and
OTUs (Operational Training Units) to train more crews.
After a six month rest, they came back for another tour of 20 operations.
If they survived this, they
could volunteer for more but if they chose not to they remained as instructors
unless promoted to
During the first five operations a new crew was ten times more likely
to not return from an
operation due to lack of experience. Once a crew survived 20 ops, the
odds were thought to be
I have every reason to believe (from reading Martin’s Flight Log)
ND352 (LQ-T)’s final flight was the
crew’s 40th op; how cruel can fate be?
The bomber offensive progressed at such a rate that any period of time
away from operations could
leave aircrew thoroughly out of date with their knowledge and techniques.
A return to operations
after a six month break was traumatic, and a great number of crews were
lost at the beginning of a
second tour. Still, most aircrew found the dull and repetitive life
of flying at training units so boring
after squadron life that that they usually pulled whatever strings they
could to return to operations.
Many of the men, doing a second tour with a different crew than their
first, would find that they had
finished a tour before the rest of the crew. Such was the comradeship
of these crews that most
would volunteer to do a few extra so that the crew's unity was preserved.
Others thought it would
be foolish to push their luck, and would that they be "tour expired"
after the proper number of
operations. There were many cases of a man doing one extra operation
as a favour to their crew, or
a tour-expired crew stepping in to make up the numbers, and then failing
Bomber crews had a ten per cent chance of being able to bale out after
being shot down. The
German anti-aircraft system was extremely well organized. The Luftwaffe's
night fighter force was
also very highly developed, with ground radar stations directing airborne
fighters into the bomber stream. High-flying Luftwaffe aircraft dropped
flares to mark the bomber
Inside a Lancaster
The following eight photos were
all taken by me inside Lancaster B VII NX611 "Just Jane" which
owned by a private museum (open to the public) at the former RAF East
Kirkby in Lincolnshire, UK.
Tail gunner’s view. Photo © Jeremy
View forward from near Tail Gunner’s
seat. Photo © Jeremy Halliday. The light from above is
from the mid upper gun turret (as would have been Paul Gingras position).
The Pilot’s position. Photo © Jeremy
Life raft. Photo © Jeremy Halliday
Part of the Radar (ASV). Photo © Jeremy
Type R115 radio. Photo © Jeremy Halliday
Flight Engineer’s console. Photo © Jeremy Halliday
Navigator’s aid. -Photo © Jeremy Halliday
Bomb aimer’s position.
-Photo © Jeremy Halliday
anybody wish to reproduce any or all of the above photos then a simple
my Copywrite for any non-commercial use will be quite acceptable to
me. I will be entirely happy for
them to used in free resources in any media, including the internet,
and not least by any family or
friends of the crew and Pierre Vandervelden, Isabelle Perrot and Dan
I am most grateful to the many
(not least Pierre Vandervelden, Isabelle Perrot and Dan Carville) who
voluntarily created various websites from Belgium and France to Canada
which have enabled me to compile this
memorial to just one crew and, in so doing, fill in gaps in my family’s
knowledge of my cousin Martin
Arthur Thornhill (died 11th June 1944 age 22).
They shall grow not old, as
we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them. Laurence Binyon
i) The telegram.
ii) The Commanding Officer’s letter.
iii) The Air Ministry’s first letter.
iv) Advice to Relatives.
v) The Air Ministry’s letter re Flt. Lieutenant Melvin Stronach’s
vi) Flight Lieutenant Melvin Stronach’s letter.
vii) His Majesty King George’s letter.
viii) A short pen picture of Martin Thornhill.
The Telegram – similar
ones were sent to the next of kin all those reported missing in action
The Commanding Officer’s letter :
The Air Ministry’s first letter :
Advice to Relatives :
The Air Ministry’s letter
re Flt. Lieutenant Stronach’s report :
Flight Lieutenant’s Melvin P Stronach’s letter :
His Majesty King George’s
Martin Arthur Thornhill 1922
Martin was born to Arthur and
Alice (née Weekes and known to the family as Doll or Dora*)
Thornhill in the then British Crown colony of Hong Kong, while Arthur
was serving in the Far
East in the British Diplomatic service.
* When Alice was born at Tinworth House, Cuxton Road, Halling, Strood,
Kent she was
immediately wrapped in a soft blanket and her father Thomas Weekes said
she looked like a
little doll and always called her “Doll” from that moment
on – she always said she hated her
given name of Alice and so her siblings (all seven of them; called her
Dora as did, in due
time, all her nephews and nieces and great nieces and great nephews
also – of which I was
Arthur was eventually posted back to UK but not before other far eastern
postings and, as a
small boy Martin rode across China by train (a trip I experienced for
myself in 2008).
The family home in the UK was 54 Goddington Road, Strood, Kent (in the
Medway Towns); a
substantial Victorian residence which overlooked a small park** and
the River Medway,
with (in UK terms) a large garden that climbed the hill behind it. The
attic space (previously
servant’s quarters) was converted into an exceeding well equipped
play room (I speak from
personal experience as I used to visit Aunty Dora as a small boy and
Hornby OO clockwork train set). The house was full of Chinoiserie and
Japanese items and
was a great source of entertainment for visitors as Aunty had a wealth
of anecdotes to go
with each piece.
** During hostilities, because it was on a hill high above the docks
and riverside industries,
the park was dug up and converted into a large reservoir to supply water
for fire-fighting as
the enemy regularly bombed (often with incendiaries) the Medway towns.
Martin was close to his cousins on the Weekes side; Mollie, Margie (my
mother), Mary and
Gilly all of whom lived in, or near, the Medway towns). He also often
visited other relatives
on the Thornhill side who lived in a wonderfully eccentrically rambling
house at Beckley on the Kent and East Sussex border, north west of the
Ancient Town of
Rye. The house had its own well for drinking water (no mains water here)
and the sanitary
arrangements would not have been out of place in the dark ages –
definitely not for the
feint-hearted. It is not recorded what Martin thought of the house,
but I always loved it and
I like to imagine he did too.
Martin was educated at the King's School, Rochester; in the Medway Towns
just across the
River Medway from Strood. It was, and remains to this day, an independent
the Rochester Cathedral school and therefor part of the foundation of
the Cathedral. The
family had close ties with the Cathedral and one of our slightly more
distant cousins; Bishop
Ambrose Weeks Chaplain of The Fleet 1969-72 and the first Anglican Suffragan
Europe, lived (for a while) in one of houses in the Cathedral Close
which has always (since
Victorian times) been known, to our family, as Grandma Castle’s
House due to the residency
of yet another relative.
On leaving school Martin was encouraged, by his Father, to join the
Westminster Bank – a
job he absolutely detested and so the opportunity to join the RAF was
seized with alacrity.
Martin joined the Royal Airforce
Volunteer Reserve as an AC2 - Aircraftman Second Class, the
lowest rank in the RAF (also known somewhat unkindly as AC Plonk). Incidentally
commissioned rank – Pilot Officer – was also the butt of
jokes and there is even a series of
cartoons around the misadventures of Pilot Officer Prune.
Here is a picture of Martin in the garden of the family home in Strood
proudly wearing his
Martin then trained as a WOP/AG
(Wireless Operator/Air gunner) and was subsequently
promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant.
Martin was posted to No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron Royal Canadian Airforce
operated, from various airfields in eastern England, with a variety
of bomber types
eventually settling on Avro Lancasters Mk IIIs where he became a member
of the flight crew
of ND352. (By some quirk of fate Martin’s father’s family
was connected to a company that
had its head office in Toronto Road, near its junction with Canadian
Avenue in the Medway
Out of superstition the family resisted making arrangements in advance
of a mission to do
anything after its completion. However prior to the fortieth and final
sortie they had booked
tickets to go to the Ballet the following weekend. When Martin failed
to return on 11th June
1944 Uncle Arthur went into decline, blaming himself for not only Martin’s
death but also
the deaths of others in the crew.
In memory of Martin; his parents presented a matching set of silver
Altar Cross and
candlesticks to their local Anglican Church in Strood. However in the
latter part of the 20th
century the Church was closed to worship and the Silver relocated (with
consent) to St. Andrew’s Church, Adforton, Herefordshire; in the
Parish of Wigmore Abbey
(midway between Shrewsbury and Hereford) where the pieces remain on
the altar to this
Built as a Chapel of Ease to Leintwardine parish in 1875; St. Andrews
is simple and small,
with a wagon roof. An oasis of calm it doubles up as the village community
centre and is
used as the venue for ‘Arts Alive’ performances, pantomimes,
and other events due to its
good acoustic properties.
Aunty lived on after Uncle’s untimely death and made all of her
nieces and nephews (me
among them) ever welcome in the family home. Subsequently many years
later Aunty died
within minutes of her elder brother Frank (my Grandfather) who was in
some 40 miles distant.
Mollie, Margie and Gilly all visited Martin’s grave in Auneau,
France at various times and, on
their first visit, Margie and Gilly had great difficulty in finding
the grave until they bumped
into the man responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery. He immediately
led to the very
spot where they were delighted to find that not only was the grave well
fresh flowers were in evidence (placed there by the locals). Photos
taken on other occasions
also show the present of newly placed flowers.