Halifax LV787 was one of the twenty one No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Magdeburg on the night of 21st / 22nd January 1944.
It was equipped with IFF, Gee, Nav Aid Y (H2S), Monica and Fishpond and was carrying 3 x 1000lb GP T.Inst and various Target Indicators. Its designated Path Finder role was Visual Marker
Its seven-man crew comprised:
- PR Bales (Pilot)
- DH Kent (Navigator)
- DA MacGregor (Air Bomber)
- WJ Gowdy (Wireless Operator)
- GE Grigg (Air Gunner)
- LGW Watts (Air Gunner)
- F Buchan (Flight Engineer)
The route was as follows; 5430N 0500E, 5430N 0640E, 5320N 0931E, 5247N 1200E, Target, 5155N 1118E, 5320N 0931E, 5430N 0640E, 5430N 0500E
LV787 failed to return and it was reported as “missing, nothing being heard of it after take off”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 22nd January 1944 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 21st / 22nd January 1944”.
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. 366 (Flight 30/03/1944) reported PR Bales, DH Kent, DA MacGregor, WJ Gowdy, GE Grigg, LGW Watts and F Buchan as “missing”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 496 (Flight 26/04/1945) reported LGW Watts “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 497 (Flight 26/04/1945) reported PR Bales, DH Kent, WJ Gowdy, GE Grigg and F Buchan “previously reported missing” 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.
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 PR Bales, DH Kent, DA MacGregor, WJ Gowdy, JE Grigg, LGW Watts and F Buchan were not located (or could not be formally identified) and, as such, their names are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as follows:
- BALES, PETER RICHARD Flying Officer ‘150127’ Panel 204.
- BUCHAN, FREDERICK Sergeant ‘1801638’ Panel 226.
- GOWDY, WILLIAM JOHN Sergeant ‘1512471’ Panel 230.
- GRIGG, GEORGE ERNEST Sergeant ‘1419839’ Panel 230.
- KENT, DENNIS HAROLD Flying Officer ‘144046’ Panel 207.
- MACGREGOR, DAVID ALTON Flying Officer ‘J/20671’ Panel 247.
- WATTS, LEONARD GEORGE WILLIAM Sergeant ‘1890347’ Panel 240.
Lost without trace
The following link provides information on PR Bales’ operational sorties as Captain of a No. 35 Squadron aircraft and the composition of his crew on these sorties