Lancaster ME620 (08/05/1944)

Lancaster ME620 was one of fourteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Haine-St-Pierre on the night of the 8th / 9th May 1944.

It was equipped with IFF, SAA, Gee, H2S, Fishpond and Carpet and was carrying 18 x 500lb bombs. Its designated Pathfinder role was as a Mainforce bomber.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Joseph Charles Kemp (Pilot)
  • Robert Charles Clark (Observer / Navigator)
  • Alfred George Boam (Air Bomber)
  • Leslie Albert Lewis (Wireless Operator)
  • David Charles Rhodes (Air Gunner)
  • Henry Dale (Air Gunner)
  • William G Lawrie (Flight Engineer)

The route was Orfordness, 5155N 0240E, Target, 5023N 0416E, 5022N 0355E, 5054N 0320E, 5107N 0237E, Base

Lancaster ME620 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “This aircraft is missing, nothing being heard from it after take off”

Wartime activities relating to the loss

On 9th May 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 8th / 9th May 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. 411 (Flight 10/08/1944) reported JC Kemp, RC Clark, AG Boam, LA Lewis, H Dale and DC Rhodes as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 501 (Flight 10/05/1945) reported RC Clark and DC Rhodes “previously reported missing” as “now presumed killed in action”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 558 (Flight 10/01/1946) reported JC Kemp, AG Boam, LA Lewis and H Dale “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.

No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:

  • 21/04/1945: Information received from Air Ministry that JC Kemp, AG Boam, LA Lewis and H Dale, missing on 8th / 9th May 1944, were killed

Crew members who survived the crash and evaded capture

WG Lawrie baled out (burnt hands and face) and evaded capture.

His evasion report, which was completed on his return to the UK, shows the following details:

  • Landed: Near Estinnes, Belgium
  • Kept Safe in Estinnes, Belgium: 08/05/1944 to 12/09/1944 (when town was liberated)
  • Repatriation: September 1944

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 do not show where the remains of AG Boam, RC Clark, H Dale, JC Kemp, LA Lewis and DC Rhodes were located, but the MRES report shows that they were buried in Communal Grave 15 at Chievres Communal Cemetery, Belgium(*).

(*) Original documents from the period suggest that the cemetery was hit during a bombing raid in May 1944 and some of the burial crosses and remains, in particular those relating to Communal Grave 15, were disturbed

CWGC records do however show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at Chievres as follows:

  • BOAM, ALFRED GEORGE Flight Sergeant ‘1233242’ Coll. grave 35.
  • CLARK, ROBERT CHARLES Flight Sergeant ‘651129’ Coll. grave 35.
  • DALE, HENRY Sergeant ‘2210202’ Coll. grave 35.
  • KEMP, JOSEPH CHARLES Warrant Officer ‘805412’ Coll. grave 35.
  • LEWIS, LESLIE ALBERT Sergeant ‘1324641’ Coll. grave 35.
  • RHODES, DAVID CHARLES Sergeant ‘1892174’ Coll. grave 35.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Nightfighter Claim: Uffz. Konrad Beyer, 1./NJG4, Maubeuge (Charleroi Area) PH-PJ or QH-QJ, 3000m, 03.25

WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)

Aircraft came down at Estinnes-au-Val, Belgium

WG Lawrie (Evasion Report)

We were about 2 minutes early over the target and did an orbit to the starboard. Immediately after this the skipper gave orders to abandon aircraft and I saw the plane was on fire. I baled out and landed near the village of Estinnes.

On the way down, I lost my boots and my hands were badly burned. I found it impossible, therefore, to hide my chute, so I made for the village

Chievres Communal Cemetery 1945

Chievres Communal Cemetery June 1945 [Courtesy of Paul Sylvah]