Halifax L9603 was one of three No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack the Krupps Factory at Essen on the night of 7th / 8th November 1941.
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- Gordon Whitaker (Pilot)
- Richard Roye Drummond (2nd Pilot)
- Maurice Osborne Stephens (Observer)
- Arthur Roy Kilminster (WOP / AG)
- Charles Witcher (WOP / AG)
- Robert Ferguson Thompson (Air Gunner)
- Eric Rees Thomas (Flight Engineer)
L9603 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “Operation Completed signal sent at 22.25hrs. Aircraft Missing”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 8th November 1941 the squadron informed Bomber Command, the Air Ministry and the RAF Records Office that the aircraft and crew were missing.
A telegram, along with a follow up letter from the Commanding Officer, was sent to the next of kin of each crew member advising them that he was “missing as the result of air operations on 7th / 8th November 1941”.
The crew’s kit and personal belongings were removed from their lockers and catalogued; kit was returned to stores and personal belongings sent to the RAF Central Depository at RAF Colnbrook.
The Air Ministry Casualty Branch, which was responsible for investigating, monitoring and reporting on the status of missing aircraft and airmen, subsequently published the following information regarding the crew:
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 134 (Flight 04/06/1942) reported ER Thomas, RF Thompson and G Whitaker “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:
- 13/11/1941: Daily papers published a list of British prisoners of war which included the names of MO Stephens and RR Drummond. No mention was made of other members of the crew
- 10/12/1941 “A telegram from the International Red Cross, quoting German information, states that 974372 Sgt RF Thompson (AG), 618140 ER Thomas (FE) and P/O G Whitaker 45055 (Captain) have been killed.
Note: Presumption of death enabled a death certificate to be issued; personal belongings could then be sent to the next of kin, along with any monies due
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
RR Drummond, MO Stephens, AR Kilminster and C Witcher survived the crash and were captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
Their POW Liberation Questionnaires, which were completed as part of the repatriation process at 106 Personnel Reception Centre, RAF Cosford, in 1945, show the following details:
- AR Kilminster
- Captured: Apeldoorn, Holland Nov-41
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VIII-B, Lamsdorf Nov-41 to May-42
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan May-42 to Oct-42
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Barth Oct-42 to May-45
- Repatriated: May-45
- RR Drummond (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VIII-B, Stalag Luft III, Stalag Luft I
- MO Stephens (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft I, Stalag Luft III
- C Witcher (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VIII-B, Stalag Luft III
Post War search for the missing crew members
After the war, an investigation officer from the Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was tasked with locating the remains of the missing crew member(s).
Original German documents, burial records and eye witness accounts were utilised to establish the location of the crash site, the cause of the loss and the initial fate of the crew; information was recorded in a MRES Investigation Report.
As part of the process, any remains that were located were exhumed, identified (wherever possible) and concentrated (reinterred) at one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Cemeteries in the country that they fell, in accordance with Government policy at the time.
Graves were marked with a simple wooden cross, which was replaced by the familiar CWGC headstone during the 1950’s.
Missing airmen who could not be found, or formally identified, had their names commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, which was unveiled in 1953.
CWGC records do not show where the remains of G Whitaker, RF Thompson and ER Thomas were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at ROZENDAAL PRIVATE CEMETERY as follows:
- THOMPSON, ROBERT FERGUSON, Sergeant, 974372, Grave 652.
- WHITAKER, GORDON, Pilot Officer, 45055, Grave 653.
- THOMAS, ERIC REES, Sergeant, 618140, Grave 654.
Dr Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd War Diaries)
Nightfighter Claim: Lt. Herbert Lütje, Stab 111./NJG1, 4 km east of Terlet N Arnhem (4C), 00.04
WR Chorley (RAF Bomber Command Losses)
Crashed in the Imbos Forest, near Rozendaal, Holland
P.4 (Cas), Casualty Branch File
AIR 81/10192 Sergeant R F Thompson, Pilot Officer G Whitaker, Sergeant E R Thomas: killed; Sergeant C Witcher (RCAF), Sergeant A R Kilminster (RCAF), Pilot Officer M O Stephens, Sergeant R R Drummond: prisoners of war, aircraft failed to return from an operational flight over Essen, Halifax L9603, 35 Squadron, 7 November 1941.