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Handley Page Halifax II - W7879 – 102 Squadron - 11th February 1943

On 11th February 1943 the Crew were detailed to carry out an operation along with 5 other Aircraft from 102 Squadron to attack Wilhelmshaven

On Board were: -

Sgt HER Saunders – Pilot

Sgt Hill - 2nd Pilot

F/O H Farquharson-Ley – Navigator

Sgt AW Flansburgh Washbourne - Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

Sgt MN Reilly – Air Gunner

Sgt F Cooper – Air Gunner

Sgt T Coles – Flight Engineer

Sgt HE Amos – Air Bomber


The Operational report states that they took off at 1808hrs and crashed near to North Dalton at 1840hrs.  The crew sent a radio message to the base stating ‘Returning to Base Engine U/S’.  It goes on to mention that all the Crew were killed with the exception of the 2nd Pilot Sgt Hill who was treated at Driffield for Severe Concussion.

The Pocklington War Diary book states that this aircraft returned from the operation early as the engine was on fire, that it was too low to jettison the bomb load or for the crew to bale out.


The raid on Wilhelmshaven is said to be an important one in which a total of 177 aircraft were despatched.   The raid was said to be effective and although cloudy that night bombing was carried out accurately blowing up the Mariensiel Naval Ammunition Depot to the South of Wilhelmshaven, this resulted in the explosion causing widespread damage to the naval dockyards and town.  This raid would be the first blind bombing success for the new H2S Radar device


The Aircraft itself had been delivered originally to 76 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse in September/ October of 1942 before being reallocated to 102 squadron


The investigation into the crash details that 30 minutes after take-off and 5 minutes after the Pilot Sgt Saunders had reported over the radio that one engine had failed and they were returning to base the aircraft crashed 3 miles from the base at Pocklington.


The 2nd Pilot and sole survivor of the crash Sgt Hill reported that he had heard Sgt Saunders report over the intercom that the engine had failed and that he was returning to base, this was followed by the order to Jettison the bombs.   The aircraft however had crashed with a full bomb load.


Witnesses on the ground reported that the Aircraft had been seen to make a turn to port over the village of North Dalton from which it did not recover.


The wreckage was examined and it was found that the port outer engine was found to be feathered and revealed an internal coolant leak (Feathering meant that the propeller blades on the failed engine would be rotated parallel to the airflow to stop the propeller rotating and therefore reduce drag, ultimately this should help in maintaining the aircrafts speed and altitude with the operative engines)


Therefore, the primary cause of the accident was considered to be an error of judgement on the Pilots part, who following the failure of the port outer engine lost control of the aircraft whilst turning into the dead engine at low altitude.  A contributory cause was probably the known bad handling characteristics of this type of aircraft and under these conditions.

Sergeant Harold Edward Richard Saunders - Pilot

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Harold Saunders was 26 years old when he died in the crash.  Born circa 1917 to John William Theodore & Marie Saunders.


His Father John had been born in Croydon, England in 1883 and worked his way up through the Merchant Navy qualifying as First Mate, Second mate then as a Master in 1911.


A passenger record in 1933 shows John & Marie sailing from Yokohama to Plymouth in England.  This record states that they had travelled from Penang and were destined for England.  They were travelling with the P&O Steam Navigation Company who shipped Mail, Cargo & Passengers between the UK, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, India the Far East & Australia.   This shows their last country of residence as F.M.S. (Federated Malay States) a country that is mentioned on Harold’s Commonwealth War Graves entry.


Harold appears to have enrolled with the British RAF Volunteer Reserves when he was given the service number 785073


On the 26th February 1943 Harold’s local newspaper where he lived in East Fremantle, Western Australia recorded his death stating he had been killed during air operations.


The Electoral Roll for 1943 shows his parents living at 25 Herbert Street, North Fremantle his father still working as a Mariner, it may be that the family moved to Australia early in the war due to troubles in Malaya


Harold has a street named after him at Pocklington.   ‘Saunders Crescent’ sits at the end of Amos Drive which is the main estate road off West Green.

Flying Officer Henry Farquharson Ley – Navigator

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Henry Farquharson Ley was born on the 29th November 1920 at Ashcombe Cottage, Edenbridge, Kent.  He is detailed on the Commonwealth War Graves website as being the son of Henry & Marguerite Farquharson Ley.   A Search for his parents’ marriage reveals that Mabel Farquharson married Henry Ley or Levy in St Giles in 1914.  The couple had previously had a daughter Isabel on 24th January 1917.


The entry in the 1939 Register shows Marguerite Widowed and working as a Secretary/Book Keeper, she is living at 31 Elmcourt Road, Lambeth, London along with her daughter Isabel who is working as a Ledger Clerk.


Henry Joins the RAF Volunteer Reserves where he is given the Service Number 121554, on the 19th May 1942 he is promoted to the Rank of Sergeant.   By the 19th November of the same year he became a probationary Flying Officer.


Henry was only 22 year old when he died, his will detailed that he lived at 15 Harpenden Road, West Norwood, London.  He left a sum of £75  2s to his mother.


His sister Isabel does not seem to have married and died in 1986 in Surrey she appears to have spent the remainder of her years living at Hydon End, Hambleton.

Sergeant Alvah Wilkie Flansburgh Washbourne - Wireless Operator/Air Gunner

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Alvah Wilkie Flansburgh-Washbourne from

Alvah Wilkie Flansburgh Washbourne was born circa 1918 in Auckland, New Zealand to Francis Herbert Flansburgh & Katie Isobel Wan.  


Alvah’s father Francis was an American born in Florida in 1880 he moved to New Zealand in 1902 he became a citizen in 1927 and at this time he worked as a Motor Engineer.


Francis married Katie on 3rd November 1910 in Harewa, New Zealand.   It appears that at this point their surname changed from Flansburgh to Flansburgh-Washbourne as all their children bear this surname.   They also had 2 daughters Alva Shirley born 1912 and Loraine Jean born 1920.


It would appear that in about the year 1933 Francis & Katie would divorce, both marrying again.   Katie to Frederick William Bruce in 1934 and Francis to Marjorie Florence Baker in 1936.


However it seems that things might not have been very amicable between Francis & Katie.   After their divorce, Francis now a Company Manager often seemed to miss maintenance payments for his children resulting in warrants being issued for his arrest, he would later appear in court and either have to pay the outstanding monies or serve a period in Jail.


Alvah or ‘Dick’ as he was known to Friends and Family got engaged in March 1941 to Olga Madeline Wilcox of Ponsonby, New Zealand in the same month he lost his father Francis to Myocardial Degeneration. 


Dick undertook his initial training in New Zealand and was given the Service No NZ411796 before departing on board the ship ‘Awatea’ on the 29th April 1941 to Canada.   First he attended No 6 Air Observers School, Saskatchewan graduating on 3rd January 1942 before training at No 3 Bombing & Gunnery School in Manitoba then No 1 Air Navigation School also Manitoba.   From here he would have travelled to Britain to take up his first posting.


Interestingly his sister Loraine signed up serving with the WAAFs (Womens Auxiliary Air Force) during WW2.


Dick was only 24 years old when he died in the crash.  The local papers would report on his death and each member of his family along with his fiancée Olga who had patiently awaited his return would each place a notice in the newspaper detailing their loss.


His mother Katie would live to 89 years old dying in 1974, she is buried in Queenstown Central Cemetery in Otago

Alvahs Mothers Grave in Otago, New Zealand
(Courtesy of Scott at Find a Grave)

Sergeant Michael Norman Reilly – Air Gunner

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Michael Norman Reilly was born on the 23rd of July 1922 in Govan, Glasgow to Thomas Reilly & Jessie Ernestina Christie.   His parents had married on the 14th September 1921 in Aberdeen at this time Thomas was a Commercial Traveller and Jessie was a Housekeeper both living in Aberdeen.


3 years later records show that the family have moved to Bridgeton in Glasgow, Thomas has changed his employment and is now working as a Confectioner.   But tragedy would strike on the 6th Sept 1925 when Jessie died of Lobar Pneumonia aged 34 years.


At 3 years old the little red head known by his family as ‘Norman’ would be taken care of by family to allow his father to work, this was a duty carried out by many family members when anyone lost a mother during this time period.


By 1930 his father Thomas had moved to Methil in Fife where he was working as a Colliery Engine Keeper and on the 17h July of that year in Edinburgh he would marry Christina Hutton Reid a Domestic Servant.


Thomas & Christina would go on to have 2 Sons David & Thomas and 2 daughters Margaret & Mary, all half siblings of Norman.


Norman went on to join the Air Training Corps in Leven, Fife and for a time lodged with a Mr & Mrs Alexander Cruickshanks at Methilhaven Road, Methil in Fife.  


It was about February 1942 that he Joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves, was given the Service number 1559119 and trained as an Air Gunner.


He had only carried out about 6 operations with 102 Squadron when this accident happened.  His death certificate states that he died due to war operations, he was just 20 years old.


Norman is commemorated on Methil war memorial and had street names Reilly Way in Barmby Moor & Reilly Mews in Pocklington named in his honour

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Methil War Memorial

Sergeant Trevor Charles Coles – Flight Engineer

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Trevor Charles Coles was born in 1920 in Cardiff to James Coles & Ada John.  His parents having married in 1911.   They had had sons John in 1912 & Leonard in 1914 before Trevor came along, followed by a daughter Joan in 1926.


Trevor appears to have started his Career working as a porter with Great Western Railways at Cardiff.  But, in January 1936 he is detailed as being a successful candidate having passed the examination for entry into the RAF as an Aircraft Apprentice subject to passing the medial exam.  I was unable to find anything that stated if he did or didn’t pass this.


By 1939 his family are staying at Cowbridge Road, Cyntwell, Cardiff.  His Father James is working as a General Labourer/Roadman, Mother Ada is carrying out Domestic Duties and his Brother John Maurice who is a Hotel porter is living there with his wife Dorothy (Harris) and their young son John who is 3 years old.


It seems probable that Trevor may have been drafted into Bomber Command as the War progressed and trained as a Flight Engineer.  His Service number was 569527


Trevor was only 22 years old when he lost his life in the crash. 


Not 6 months after Trevor’s death the family would sadly lose Trevor’s older Brother John Maurice Coles who had been serving as a Gunner with the Royal Artillery (172 Field Regiment) in North Africa, he was 31 years old when he died and was buried in Massicault War Cemetery, Tunisia.

Sergeant Henry Edwin Amos – Air Bomber

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Henry Edwin Amos was born in 27th February 1920 in Islington, England to Ernest Lambert Edgar Amos, a Chef & Maud Jubilee Gardner.   His parents had married in 1906 in Islington.


Ernest & Maud raised their young family in Islington and by 1939 were staying at 347 Liverpool Road, Islington.   Henry is still living at home where his occupation is given as an Aircraft Milling Setter.


Records show that he enlisted in the RAF at Oxford sometime after November 1940 and was given the Service No 1320473.


He was 22 years old when he lost his life that day in Yorkshire.


His father died aged 74 in 1958 and his mother lived untill she was 94 years old dying in 1981.


Amos Drive in Pocklington would be named after Henry, it sits just off West Green

Sergeant Brian Hill - 2nd Pilot

Although Brian Hill survived the crash he would sadly lose his life later in the war whilst serving with 355 Squadron.   He was 28 years old  and died on the 2nd May 1945, his service no was 163701 and he is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.

Sergeant Frank Cooper – Air Gunner

Frank Cooper was 20 years old when he died in the crash. He was the son of Thomas Francis & Hannah Cooper, & husband of Hazel Cooper, of Dwygyfylchi, Carnarvonshire.    His Service No is 1546822 and he was buried in Swinton Cemetery.

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