Halifax W7676 was one of eight No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Nuremberg on the night of the 28th / 29th August 1942.
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- David Alan Vaughan John (Pilot)
- Alan Fay Birley (Observer)
- Kenneth Albert Higgs (Air Bomber)
- Arthur Edward Grounsell (Wireless Operator)
- Arthur Priestley (Air Gunner)
- Gerald Anthony Doman (Air Gunner)
W7676 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “Took off from Graveley to attack Nuremberg; nothing was heard of this aircraft after take-off”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 29th August 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 28th / 29th August 1942”.
Extract from the letter sent to the family of AF Birley [Courtesy of Joseph Birley]
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. 180 (Flight 10/12/1942) reported DA John and KA Higgs as “missing” and AF Birley, AE Grounsell, GA Doman, A Priestley and MW Booth as “missing, believed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 259 (Flight 29/07/1943) reported AF Birley, AE Grounsell, GA Doman, A Priestley and MW Booth “previously reported missing, believed killed in action” as “now presumed killed in action”
Note: Presumption of death enabled a death certificate to be issued; personal belongings could then be sent to next of kin, along with any monies due.
No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:
- 23/10/1942: Notification received that the bodies of the following members of the crew captained by Sgt John had been washed ashore: AF Birley, AE Grounsell, A Priestley, GA Doman and MW Booth
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 Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, which was unveiled in 1953.
CWGC records show that the remains of AE Grounsell were located at Middleburg Communal Cemetery.
His remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) on 20th June 1946 as follows:
- GROUNSELL, ARTHUR EDWARD, Sergeant ‘1262641’ BERGEN-OP-ZOOM WAR CEMETERY 4. D. 4.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s records do not show where the remains of MW Booth, DAV John, AF Birley, KA Higgs, GA Doman and A Priestley were located but show that after the war they were concentrated (reinterred) as follows:
- BOOTH, MAURICE WILLIAM, Sergeant ‘953553’ BERGEN-OP-ZOOM CANADIAN WAR CEMETERY 6. H. 8.
- JOHN, DAVID ALAN VAUGHAN Sergeant ‘1385838’ FLUSHING (VLISSINGEN) NORTHERN CEMETERY Row C. Grave 23.
- BIRLEY, ALAN FAY, Pilot Officer ‘118723’ MIDDELKERKE COMMUNAL CEMETERY Row B. Grave 18.
- HIGGS, KENNETH ALBERT, Pilot Officer ‘111787’ OOSTVOORNE PROTESTANT CEMETERY Joint grave 219.
- DOMAN, GERALD ANTHONY, Sergeant ‘778666’ MIDDELKERKE COMMUNAL CEMETERY Row B. Grave 20.
- PRIESTLEY, ARTHUR, Sergeant ‘1064083’ MIDDELKERKE COMMUNAL CEMETERY Row B. Grave 19.
[Sources: Various ]
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
Hit by flak and crashed at 22.30 into the Westerschelde off Koewacht
(Note: There is a suggestion that this information is incorrect and that the aircraft crashed at 23.18 hours, 3 kilometres northwest of the resort of De Haan (Belgium) – further research required)
Bomber Command Loss Card
- Birley: Body washed ashore near Ostend 16/09/1942 (buried at Middelkirke)
- Grounsell: Body washed ashore 09/09/1942 near Duivendijke; (buried at Haamstede)
- Booth: Body washed ashore; buried at Katwijk
- Doman: Body washed ashore near Ostend 16/09/1942 (buried at Middelkirke)
- Priestley: Body washed ashore near Ostend 15/09/1942 (buried at Middelkirke)
AF Birley Letter
Letter sent to the family of AF Birley [Courtesy of Joseph Birley]