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Handley Page Halifax II – W7769 – LQ-K – 405 Squadron - 23rd-24th July 1942

On the evening of the 23rd & 24th July 1942 the crew of the above aircraft took off from Pocklington at 0037hrs to bomb Duisberg.

A total of 215 aircraft from Bomber Command were detailed to carry out this operation & cloud was reported over the target this meant that flares dropped by the leading aircraft were scattered.  It was later reported that the bombs that did fall on Duisberg caused some housing damage.

On board the aircraft that night were: -

Sgt RB Albright – RCAF - Pilot

P/O GF Strong – RCAF – 2nd Pilot

Sgt MW Apperson – RAF - Flight Engineer

F/S WC Thurlow – RCAF – Air Observer

Sgt W Colloton – RAFVR – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

F/S RW Hexter – RCAF - Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

Sgt TR Owens – RCAF – Air Gunner

Sgt AJ Western – RAFVR – Air Gunner


They completed their operation to Duisberg & on their return to base at 0453hrs had to circle the base a couple of times whilst awaiting the instruction to land.   One of their engines cut out & the aircraft crashed into New Street in Pocklington.  During the crash the corner of a private house was sheared off before hitting a school where it burst into flames.


All 8 men were killed in the accident & all with the exception of Sgts Colloton, Hexter & Western are buried at Barmby Moor on the 27th July 1942.


An investigation into the accident reported that witnesses did hear the aircraft splutter whilst doing their circuit as if low on fuel.  The spluttering stopped the aircraft swung left then went into a dive exploding on impact.   A call had been heard over the radio that they were going to attempt a crash landing.


The findings were that the port outer engine was coughing due to damage to some of the cylinder heads caused by a coolant leak.  The Flight Engineer thinking it was due to fuel shortage & intended to change tanks but made the mistake of turning on no 4 instead of 5 having already turned off 2 & opening the balance cock with the result being that both port engines cut out & the pilot would have been unable to prevent the aircraft swinging over & spinning in.

Pilot Officer Robert Baker Albright - Pilot

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Robert Baker Albright was born on the 5th March 1916 in Victoria, Carleton, New Brunswick, Canada to John Franklin Albright, a Farmer & Emma Ruth Baker.  John & Emma had previously married in 1898 in New Brunswick.


He had many siblings including brothers Aubrey, Harry, John & Frank & Sisters Pearl, Kathleen & Doris.  


The 1911 & 1921 Census returns show the family living in Wakefield, Victoria & details that the Albright Family were of Dutch descent.



John Frankin Albright would pass away on the 20th February 1933 from pneumonia when Robert was only 16 years old.


Robert attended Victoria Corner School before moving onto Hartland High School where he was also a member of the Cadets.  His graduation certificate shows that he excelled in Arithmetic, History, Physics & Physiology.   On leaving School he worked for L.E. Cox in Woodstock, New Brunswick for a period of 3 years as an Apprentice Harness & Shoe Repairer.   He left this position in 1937 to open his own Shoe store.


In his spare time, he enjoyed Baseball, Softball, Rugby, Swimming, Hunting, Fishing & Skiing.  He is described as being 5 feet 10 inches with light brown hair, blue eyes & a fair complexion.


He enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force in July of 1940 & was given the service number J15590 (Although his service record also details the number R73040).   He is detailed as being a good clean-cut lad who was bright, not nervous & with a pleasing personality.  He had a good average at Mathematics & was recommended for Pilot or Observer training.


Robert was sent to No 1 Manning Depot in Sydney in September of 1940 before moving to No 1 Initial training school in Toronto in January 1941.  On completion of initial training in February he was Promoted to Leading Aircraftman & moved to No 11 Elementary Flying Training School at Cap-de-la-Madeleine in Quebec where he trained in Fleet Finch Aircraft, he did well in flight training & was mentioned as being a precision pilot who liked to do things properly & although being slightly weak on aerobatics he was recommended for a Commission  


In May he moved again this time to No 8 Service Flying Training School in Moncton, New Brunswick where he trained in Anson Aircraft.  He was awarded his Pilots Flying Badge in July at the same time being promoted to Sergeant.  His report at this time details him as being an Average pilot who appeared to have a nervous temperament but was quick to learn & apply himself.  He was poor on instruments & slow on single engine failure, so needed checking occasionally.   In spite of this he was detailed as a good pilot type who was clean cut & dependable & should make a good officer.



A few days later on the 29th July he Married Ella Mary Hull in Victoria & a couple of weeks following this left for the UK


He joined 19 operational training unit at RAF Kinloss flying Whitleys before moving to 58 Squadron at St Eval, Cornwall, on joining them he was Promoted to Temporary Flight Sergeant.

He joined 1652 Conversion Unit at Marsden Moor on the 7th April 1942 before being transferred to 405 Squadron at Pocklington on the 15th May 1942 now flying Halifax Heavy Bombers, on the day of his move he was promoted to Pilot Officer.  


A newspaper article reported that on the 1st June the RCAF commended the work of their ground crew when they attacked Cologne.  Flight Sergeant RB Albright of Woodstock thanked the ground crew who groomed his plane.  Anti-Aircraft fire hit one of his engines as it flew in over Cologne, 3 remaining engines kept it flying smoothly over the target & after they dropped their bombs they flew home safely again.  The Flight Lieutenant in charge of maintenance at the time said that the raid in their new 4 engine bombers took more than 48 hours work during the weekend & that the men had only 1 hours sleep.


Robert was only 26 years old when he died, the Hospital Record card completed at Pocklington states that he suffered multiple injuries & Burns in the accident.


He was awarded the 39-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, General Service Medal & Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (Award & Clasp) these were sent onto wife Mrs Ella Fleming who had remarried by 1950.   He wife would also receive money from his estate & insurance policy.  A special stipulation was that $200 should go to his nephew Robert Franklin Albright Wasson of Massachusetts


Robert is commemorated on the Bomber Command Memorial at Nanton, Carleton County War Memorial & Albright Close in Pocklington was named in his Honour.   A tree on the Canadian Highway of Heroes Campaign has also been planted in his name.

Pilot Officer George Frederick Strong – Pilot

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George Frederick Strong was born on the 18th March 1921 in St Pauls, Minnesota, U.S.A. to George Frederick Strong, a Doctor & Ruth Hunter Nickel


In 1920 the family moved to Canada & the 1921 Census shows them living in Point Grey, British Columbia.  A daughter Barbara Jean would follow soon after.


His Father was one of the Leading MDs in Vancouver working at Vancouver General Hospital.  He was also president of various medical associations during his career.


George attended Prince of Wales School before moving to St Georges Private School until 1940.   In his spare time he enjoyed Rugby, Swimming, Rowing, Tennis & Skiing.   He served with the Irish Fusiler Cadet Corps between 1938 & 1940


He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Vancouver on the 12th November 1940 & was given the Service No J7540 (Service Record also lists R81013).  His recruitment forms state that he would make a good officer with him being recommended as a fighter pilot.  He is described as 5 feet 7 inches with brown hair, brown eyes & a medium complexion


George commenced his initial training at No 1 Training School in Toronto before moving in April 1941 to No 8 Elementary Flying School in Vanvoucer, whilst there he was promoted to Leading Aircraftman.  In July 1941 he moved to No 3 Service Flying School in Calgary, Alberta where he flew Anson aircraft.   He was reported as being a quiet, smooth, confident pilot who would improve with experience & would make a good officer.


He was awarded his Pilots Flying Badge & promoted to Pilot Officer in September of 1941 & left for the UK in the October.  He trained with 22 Operational Training Unit at Wellesbourne before taking up his post with 405 Squadron at Pocklington on the 7th July 1942.


George was known to his family & Friends as Jack & was only 21 years old when he died & had only been with 405 squadron for a matter of weeks.    Strong Avenue in Pocklington is named in his honour & he is commemorated on the Bomber Command Memorial at Nanton

He was awarded the 39-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, General Service Medal & Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (Award & Clasp), these were sent onto his father along with his operational wings & belongings.


Following WW2 & with a lot of servicemen returning to Canada with disabilities George Snr worked to open a centre where they could be treated.   This was driven by the fact that his daughter had suffered a spinal cord injury.  The GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver opened in 1949 & has grown in size since then.


His father would pass away in 1957, his mother would follow in 1961

Sergeant Maxwell Warnock Apperson – Flight Engineer

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Maxwell Warnock Apperson was born in 1918 in Newtownards, County Down, Ireland to James Apperson & Margaret Wilson.   James & Margaret had previously married in Newtownards on the 15th August 1901.


After their marriage they would go on to have Jane born 1902, John born 1905, Elizabeth born 1907 & Annie born 1910,


During the 1911 Census the family are living at 1 Mary Street in Newtownards & James is working as a Bread Server.


In 1913 a daughter Agnes would follow with sons James being born in 1915 & Thomas in 1916


Sadly, whilst Margaret was pregnant with Maxwell, her husband James now a Grocer would pass away on the 26th October 1917 leaving her to bring up their large family.  He left £39 15s to her in his will.


Maxwell would go on to join the Royal Air Force & was given the Service No 534437.  


In 1940 Maxwell would marry Joyce Evelyn Calver in Ipswich.


He would have carried out his initial training before training as a flight engineer.   Since the Canadian Air force did not train or recruit flight engineers most Canadian Squadrons had British Flight Engineers, Maxwell being one of them.


Maxwell was 24 years old when he died, Apperson Court in Pocklington is named in his honour & he is named on the Newtownards War Memorial.


Sadly, history seems to have repeated itself & just as his mother lost his father months before his birth, his wife Joyce would give birth to their son Alan in Ipswich the year after Maxwells death.

Warrant Officer 2nd Class - William Charles Thurlow – Air Observer

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William Charles Thurlow ‘Bill’ was born on the 31st August 1919 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Charles Frederick Thurlow & Ruby Adelaide Shea.   Charles & Ruby had previously married in Toronto on the 6th July 1915, at this time Charles was working as a Chemist.


Bill attended Kew Beach School in Toronto, Victoria School then K.W. Collegiate both in Kitchener.  Between 1938 & 1940 he attended Waterloo College where he completed 2 years towards his Batchelor of Arts Degree.


During holidays from School & College he worked in Sales with JM Schneider of Kitchener, as a Salesman.  The same company who employed his Father as the Manager of Exports.   He also worked in Sales with Bullas Furniture Co, Kitchener & as a Golf Caddie at Banff Spring Hotel in Banff, Alberta.


In his spare time he enjoyed Hockey, Basketball, Golf & Rugby.  He was also a member of the Cadets & Boy Scouts for a time.


He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on the 10th June 1940 & was given the Service No R70102.  His application states that before war had been declared he had intended to make flying his career & was obtaining education so that he might follow this career path.


He is described as 5 feet 9 inches tall with brown hair, brown eyes & a medium complexion.



He carried out his initial training at Eglinton, Toronto, then in November attended No 1 Air Observer School at Malton, Ontario & was promoted to Leading Aircraftman.  In February of 1941 he moved to Jarvis, Ontario where he trained at No 1 Bombing & Gunnery School & the following month attended Navigation School at Rivers, Manitoba.   He was awarded his Air Observers badge on the 15th March 1941.


Bill did pretty well during his training, though it was thought that he lacked enthusiasm, most probably this was due to the fact that he wanted to be a pilot & not an Air Observer.


Bill left for the UK on the 6th June 1941 & trained with 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss where he would have trained in Whitley Aircraft.



His first posting was with 51 Squadron at RAF Dishforth in September of 1941 before moving to 35 Squadron at Raf Linton-on-Ouse in the November (35 Squadron would later become one of the new Pathfinder Force).  In January of 1942 he was sent to a Heavy Conversion unit to train in Heavy Bombers before being posted to 77 Squadron at RAF Leeming in the March at this time he was promoted to Temporary Sergeant which rose to Temporary Flight Sergeant within 2 weeks.  On the 15th April 1942 he would move to 405 Squadron at Pocklington



Bill was 22 years old when he died, his hospital card states he died of Multiple injuries & burns.  On the day of his death a notification was sent that he be promoted to Warrant Officer 2nd Class, this being effective from the 1st of June.


He was Awarded the 39-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, War Medal & Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (Award & Clasp) which were sent onto his father, he is commemorated on the Candadian Bomber Command Memorial at Nanton & Thurlow Avenue in Pocklington is named in his honour.   The family grave at Woodland Cemetery in Ontario bears his name.

Flight Sergeant Thomas Reid Owens – Air Gunner

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Thomas Reid Owens was born on the 2nd September 1920 at Montebello, Montreal, Canada to William Theodore Owens & Florence Charlotte Reid.  His parents had married in Banff, Alberta in 1916.


The family are living in Montebello during the 1921 Census William is working as a Chef they now have 2 sons, Hugh aged 3 & Raymond aged 8 months.   Thomas would follow later that year.


Thomas attended Roslyn School, Westmount before attending Westmount High School.


Between 1939 & 1940 he attended Sir George Williams College, Montreal studying English, French, chemistry, social science, history & economics.  Whilst on summer break from college he worked with Canada Steamship Liners. 


Thomas joined Canadian National Railways in February 1940 & worked with them in various positions including office boy, junior clerk & as a file clerk in their foreign freight department.


In his spare time he enjoyed skiing, golf, tennis, track work, chemistry, stamp collecting & reading.  He is described as 5 feet 9 inches tall with brown hair, brown eyes & a medium complexion.


Thomas enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in January of 1941 & was given the Service No R79143.  He commenced his initial training in June of 1941 at No 1 Initial Training School in Toronto before moving to No 1 Air Observer School at Malton, Ontario.   He then went on to train at No 6 Bombing & Gunnery School at Mountain View, Ontario completing his training on the 25th November 1941 & being promoted to Sergeant.


He left for the UK just before Christmas 1941 & trained at RAF Stormy Down in Air Gunnery before joining 22 Operational Training unit at Wellesbourne in March of 1942.  His first posting was with 10 Squadron at RAF Leeming in June & the following month he moved to 405 Squadron at Pocklington.  He was promoted to the rank of Temporary Flight Sergeant on the 24th May 1942.


Awarded 39-45 star, Air Crew Europe star, Defence medal, War Medal & Canadian Volunteer Service medal (Award & Clasp).  All of which were sent onto his mother.


Thomas was 21 years old when he died, he is commemorated on the Bomber Command Memorial at Nanton, the War memorial at Westmount High School & ‘The Owens’ in Pocklington is named in honour of him.


His parents would follow not long after, his father William passed way in 1949 & his mother Florence in 1950.  Both are buried at St Matthews Anglican Cemetery in Argenteuil, Quebec.

Sergeant William Colloton – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

William Colloton was 22 years old when he died in the crash.  He was the son of Alfred Edgar & Elizabeth Jane Colloton of Birkenhead.  His Service No was 1006114 & he is buried in Flaybrick Hill Cemetery in Birkenhead.

Flight Sergeant Robert William Hexter –Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

Robert William Hexter was 22 years old when he died in the crash.  He was the son of Frederick & Nellie Hexter of London, Ontario, Canada.  He was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force & had the Service No R/68055, he is buried at Whetstone Cemetery in Leicester.

Sergeant Albert James Western – Air Gunner

Albert James Western was 25 years old when he died in the crash.  He was the son of James & Mary Ann Western of Brampford Speake & Husband of Joan.  His service no was 922948 & he is buried in St Peters Churchyard in Brampford Speake, Exeter.

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Image Courtesy of Alan Smith

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