Halifax R9438 was one of thirteen aircraft dispatched by No. 35 Squadron to a forward base at RAF Kinloss on 27th March 1942 in readiness for an attack on the Battleship Tirpitz.
On the night of 30th/ 31st March 1942 it was one of twelve aircraft which took part in a raid on the battleship which was moored in Fættenfjord, Norway.
Its seven-man crew consisted of:
- Joseph Bryan Bushby (Pilot)
- Anthony John Peach (2nd Pilot)
- Geoffrey Noel Edward Powell (Observer)
- John Peter Burton Buckley (WOP / AG)
- Moses Lewis Usher (WOP / AG)
- John Allen Wood (Air Gunner)
- Ronald Meredith (Flight Engineer)
R9438 failed to return and the squadron’s operations record book shows “This aircraft took part in a raid on the Norwegian Coast and is missing; no further details are given”.
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 31st March 1942 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 30th / 31st March 1942”.
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, published the following information regarding the crew:
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 138 (Flight 02/07/1942) reported JPB Buckley and ML Usher as “killed in action”.
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 139 (Flight 09/07/1942) reported JB Bushby, AJ Peach, GNE Powell and JA Wood as “missing”.
Wartime search for the missing crew members
On 31st March 1942, the wreckage of the aircraft, along with the bodies of some of the crew, was found at Fitful Head, Shetland.
A search for the missing airmen was carried out and the bodies of JPB Buckley and ML Usher were located and identified.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) records show the following burial details:
- BUCKLEY, JOHN PETER BURTON, Flight Sergeant, ‘R/56144’, LERWICK NEW CEMETERY Terrace 7B. Grave 7.
- USHER, MOSES LEWIS, Pilot Officer, ‘J/15861’, LERWICK NEW CEMETERY Terrace 7B. Grave 5.
It is also understood that the body of AJ Peach was located and buried on the cliff face where it was found. In addition, further remains were located at the crash site in 1943; these were placed in an unmarked grave at Lerwick New Cemetery (see additional information below)
[Courtesy of Linzee Duncan]
Post War search for the missing crew members
It is not known if any further searches were carried out after the war to locate the missing crew members.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s records show that the remains of JB Bushby, R Meredith, AJ Peach, GNE Powell and JA Wood were not found, or could not be formally identified and, as such, their names are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:
- BUSHBY, JOSEPH BRYAN Flight Sergeant ‘1057442’ Panel 73.
- MEREDITH, RONALD Sergeant ‘937585’ Panel 89.
- PEACH, ANTHONY JOHN Sergeant ‘1268062’ Panel 91.
- POWELL, GEOFFREY NOEL EDWARD Sergeant ‘922976’ Panel 91.
- WOOD, JOHN ALLEN Sergeant ‘901160’ Panel 97.
[Courtesy of Clive Lewis]
Memorial to the crew at Fitful Head [Courtesy of John Winterburn]
Linzee Duncan Article
The following is extracted from an article about the recovery process written by Linzee Duncan:
“The next day, two local crofters, John Mainland and George William Leslie from Brake, Quendale, were out on Fitful Head checking their sheep. They rounded a corner and were taken by surprise to find two airmen who at first glance appeared to be alive since they were in a seated position. However, as the men approached the airmen they realised that they were dead and that an aircraft must have flown into the cliff. The crofters returned home and telephoned the RAF at Sumburgh to report the crash and the discovery of the bodies. The two airmen were identified as Flight Sergeant Buckley and Sergeant Usher who were the Wireless Operators, both were Canadian. With the help of Magnus Burgess of Quendale Farm, Tammie Flaws of Gord and Willie Aitken of Hillwell, the bodies were recovered and taken for burial in Lerwick Cemetery.
Also on the morning of March 31st the body of Sergeant Peach, the Second Pilot, was discovered hanging 200 feet above the water by his parachute on Fitful Head. Tom Warner was the RAF Padre at RAF Sumburgh, and despite the obvious danger to himself, decided that an attempt to recover the body must be made. He gathered a small party of men, a friend Flight Lieutenant Taylor, RAF driver LAC Finney and local John Mainland and together they went to Fitful Head to see what they could do. LAC Finney and Tom Warner descended the cliff until they were able to reach the body of Sergeant Peach. It was impossible to recover the body to the top of the cliff and so they no alternative other than to pull the body into a fissure in the cliff where they covered it with the parachute and some rocks. They were able to positively identify it as being that of Sergeant Peach from his identity disc. Prayers were said from the Burial Service and three shots were fired over the grave.
The following day Johnnie Eunson and some others went to look for possible survivors. During the search, Johnnie Eunson was lowered down the cliff face on a rope where he discovered some aircraft wreckage and another body. It was impossible due to the precipitous nature of the terrain to recover the body up the cliff face. The airman was identified as being Sergeant Meredith, the Flight Engineer. His body was wrapped in his parachute and a grave was made for him on the cliff using a natural fissure in the rock and the wreckage from the aircraft.
Over one year later, in May 1943, an unidentified body of a Sergeant was recovered from the wreckage which still lay on the cliff face. The body was taken to Lerwick Cemetery where it was buried on 14th June 1943 as “An airman of the 1939-1945 War”. The three airmen who were not recovered at the time of the crash were the Pilot, Flight Sergeant Bushby, the Navigator, Sergeant Powell and the Tail Gunner, Sergeant Wood. It must be assumed that the ‘unknown’ grave is that of one of these three men”