Lancaster ND734 (23/06/1944)

Lancaster ND734 was one of sixteen No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack rocket bases at Courbronne on the night of the 23rd / 24th June 1944.

Its eight-man crew comprised:

  • George Francis Henry Ingram (Pilot)
  • Vincent John Murphy (Navigator)
  • George William Rushbrook (Air Bomber)
  • Maurice John  Spencer (Set Operator)
  • Stephen Jackson (Wireless Operator)
  • Douglas Alfred Weatherill (Air Gunner)
  • Robert Henry James Gill (Air Gunner)
  • Douglas Belmont Gerrard (Flight Engineer)

The route was: Bradwell, North Foreland, Lattice B 10.65 (Eastern Chain), Target, 5045N 0228E, 5105N 0230E, Orfordness

ND734 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 24th June 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 23rd / 24th June 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. 435 (Flight 19/10/1944) reported GFH Ingram and DA Weatherill as “missing”
  • Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 556 (Flight 27/12/1945) reported GFH Ingram and DA Weatherill “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:

  • 28/07/1944: Information received from the Air Ministry that VJ Murphy, missing on 23rd / 24th June 1944, was killed
  • 22/08/1944: Information received from the Air Ministry that VJ Murphy, missing on 23rd / 24th June 1944, was not dead, but a prisoner of war
  • 15/09/1944: Information received from the Air Ministry that VJ Murphy, GW Rushbrook, S Jackson, RH Gill and DB Gerrard, missing on 23rd / 24th June 1944, are prisoners of war
  • 30/10/1944: Information received from the Air Ministry that MJ Spencer, missing on 23rd / 24th June 1944, is a prisoner of war

Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned

VJ Murphy, GW Rushbrook, MJ Spencer, S Jackson, RH Gill and DB Gerrard 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:

  • VJ Murphy (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
    • Captured:
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan
    • Repatriated:
  • GW Rushbrook
    • Captured Nr Dixmude 24/06/1944
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Jul-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Marlag Nord, Tarmstedt Feb-45 to Apr-45
    • Repatriated:  May-45
  • MJ Spencer
    • Captured: Nr Ostende 24/06/1944 (Fractured Arm)
    • Hospitalised: St Gilles, Brussels Jun-44 to Aug-44
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III, Sagan Sep-44 to Feb-45
    • Imprisoned: Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg  Feb-45 to May-45
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • S Jackson
    • Captured: Newport 24/06/1944
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VII, Bankau Jul-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned:  Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde Feb-45 to May-45
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • RH Gill
    • Captured Ostend 24/06/1944
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VII, Bankau Jul-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde Feb-45 to May-45
    • Repatriated: May-45
  • DB Gerrard
    • Captured: Newport 24/06/1944
    • Imprisoned: Stalag Luft VII, Bankau Jul-44 to Jan-45
    • Imprisoned: Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde Feb-45 to May-45
    • Repatriated: May-45

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 DA Weatherill were located but show that they were concentrated (reinterred) at COXYDE MILITARY CEMETERY, Belgium as follows:

  •  WEATHERILL, DOUGLAS ALFRED Flying Officer ‘148094’  Grave VI. J. 1.

[Source; Find-a-Grave]

CWGC records show that the remains of GFH Ingram were not found, or could not be formally identified and, as such, his name is commemorated on the Runnymede memorial as follows:

  • INGRAM, GEORGE FRANCIS HENRY Squadron Leader ‘116714’ RUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL Panel 200.

[Courtesy of Clive Lewis]

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)

Three possible nightfighter claims:

  • Hptm. Josef Krahforst, 2./NJG4, St. Omer-Ypres area (NE-NF), 3000m, 01.10
  • Hptm. Werner Husemann, Stab I./NJG3, St. Omer-Ypres area (NE-NF), 3700m, 01.15
  • Lt. Manfred Scheunpflug, Stab I./NJG3, St. Omer-Ypres area (NE-NF), 3600m, 01.20

Bomber Command Loss Card

The Bomber Command Loss Card shows “Shot down by nightfighter below unseen over Dunkirk at 11000ft. Aircraft on fire in air; aircraft abandoned in air. Cause of loss due fire; Aircraft destroyed; Target bombed”