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The loss of 44 Squadron Handley Page Hampden Bomber & its Crew 15th May 1940

Updated: Mar 2

You will remember my previous posts regarding the images of war graves found within my Husbands Grandfathers belongings. If you didn’t get the chance to read these you can at the following links: -

https://www.treehousegenealogy.co.uk/post/mystery-war-dead-pictures-found-among-family-belongings & https://www.treehousegenealogy.co.uk/post/mystery-war-dead-pictures-a-follow-up



Particulars of the Crash


During the evening of 14 -15 May 1940 small forces of bombers operating from the UK are sent to Breda & the Ruhr in an attempt to disrupt communications in Holland & Germany.


The Squadron Operational Reports states that 6 Aircraft where sent to create a block and delay movement at Breda, Koln & Kamen. One Aircraft was sent to Breda, one to Koln, two to Kamen, one at München Gladbach and another to Dortmund. The Aircraft that was sent to Koln developed engine trouble so did not complete its mission and the aircraft sent to Breda (Hampden P4286) failed to return, otherwise the rest of the aircraft returned safely.


The Crew of Hampden P4286 (KM-K) of 44 Squadron took off from Waddington about 0028hrs bound for Breda in the Netherlands, they were: -


Crew

F/O LJ Ashfield (Captain)

P/O CD Crawley (Navigator)

Sgt FW McKinlay (Rear Gunner)

Cpl F Preston (Wireless Operator)


The Nachjagd Archive states that they were coned by searchlights D of the 11th battery and by searchlights A & B of the 13th battery of III/Flak. Regt 12. They were hit by Flak based at Moerdijk and that the plane crashed at Terheijden, West of Oosterhout at 0106 hours.


In the "Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943" it is given that Oberfeldwebel Hermann Förster of 11th Staffel NJG2 claimed Hampden P4286 as a probable "kill"

Their plane came down into a field next to ‘Witte Weg’ in Den Hout on the west side of Oosterhout. Approx 8km North East of their target Breda with all four men losing their lives.

Whilst visiting Holland I was lucky enough to discuss the crash with a local Historian Jan Jolie who has researched the crash in some detail. He was kind enough to take me not only to the crash site but to where the men now lay.



Location of the crash at Witte Weg taken Summer 2019

Hampden came down in the field to the side of the road.


Jan explained that the plane broke up on impact and was scattered over a large area. Both the Pilot F/O Ashfield & Navigator P/O Crawley's bodies remained in the cockpit section both having suffered from substantial burns. The mutilated body of Sgt McKinlay was found at the rear close to the hull and Sgt Preston who although deceased seemed to have less superficial injuries than his crew mates was found outside of the plane.


Five unexploded bombs, sections of aircraft and other pieces of the aircraft were all lying at various locations around the crashsite.




I was surprised to find out that the Luftwaffe buried all the men at the side of the road close to where they came down and with military honours. They left the tailpiece of the aircraft as a monument, place one of the aircraft rudders and a wooden cross in front of this where they hang a leather aviator helmet. On the cross it reads ‘Here is MacKinglay & 3 Comrades failed 14.5.40". Due to the injuries sustained by the men they were obviously only able to obtain Sgt McKinlays name from his identification.




During his research Jan was lucky enough to obtain further information from local residents that was either documented or passed on verbally. This included confirmation from an eyewitness of the crash Jan Verhulst who said that more than a year later on the 25th of June 1941 the bodies of the crew were exhumed and reburied at the Protestant Cemetery where they now lie in Oosterhout. Jan Jolie also discovered that Local residents were known to regularly leave flowers at the original grave site, with the children of the local Kerremans family leaving wild flowers every Sunday.




Over the next couple of weeks several British newspapers report the crew as missing in action, not long after this the newspapers are reporting that the Airmen are presumed killed in action.


A ‘Personal experience report’ shows the crew with the exception of Sgt McKinlay who was substituted for Cpl Kendrew carrying out a ‘Gardening’ or Mine Laying operation during the evening of 9th & 10th of May 1940. The crew took off at 2135hrs destined for Terschelling off of the North coast of Holland they reported that the Mine was dropped from 700 feet in the desired position which they found after a 10 minute search. They took a Northerly route home and report that they were not challenged in any way with the enemy and that the operation was ‘a rather boring trip’.

It is sad to think what their fate less than a week later would be!


Flying Officer Leslie James Ashfield Service No - 40198 (Pilot/Captain)



Leslie James Ashfield was born on the 28th January 1918 in Linton Cambridgeshire to Frederick Henry Ashfield a Grocer and Stina Anderson. His mother was Norwegian and his parents married in Manhattan, New York in 1912. They baptised him on the 31st March 1918 in Horseheath, Cambridgeshire.


Leslie had brothers Olaf, who died in Infancy and Frederick who served with 420 squadron RCAF and sadly lost his life on 12th February 1942 (He is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial)


The 1939 Register shows the parents staying at the Post office in Horseheath with Frederick working as a Grocer, Shopkeeper and Sub Postmaster and his wife Stina working in Unpaid Domestic Duties and as a shop assistant.


Leslie joined the RAF and was granted a short service commission on the 24 October 1937, when he was listed as an Acting Pilot Officer. By the 23rd of August the following year he had served his probationary period, was confirmed in his appointment and graded as a Pilot Officer.


On the 23rd April 1940 he had risen to Flying Officer but on the same day Ashfield crash landed a Hampden P1331 at the base at Waddington. Heading out for a Security patrol he sustained damage to the undercarriage and had to force landing. The Aircraft was damaged beyond repair.


Ashfield & his brother Frederick are both commemorated on their church memorial at Horseheath


Pilot Officer Charles Douglas Crawley Service Number 41380 (Navigator/Pilot)



Although there was speculation that Charles Douglas Crawley was born in New Zealand I found his entry within the Australian Birth index. He was born on 12th Jan 1916 in Victoria, Australia the son of Charles Eustace Finlay Crawley and Margaret Mitchell.


Charles studied at Scotch College and by 1937 the family are staying at 5 Bendigo Ave, Elsternwick, Victoria. Charles at this time is now studying at university and The Melbourne Herald on the 10th April of the same year details that he graduated with a Batchelor of Arts with hons from the University of Melbourne.

Crawley’s University Student card shows he attended Melbourne University between 1934 & 1937 and that he not only studied to be a Batchelor of Arts but was also studying for a Law Degree. During his time there he covered subjects such as French, British History, Ancient History, Australian History, European History, Economics, Jurisprudence, Law of Wrongs & Law of Contracts…several of which he passed with Honours.


About August 1939 he was one of 25 Australians selected for training by the British Government as officers in the RAF.


He travelled by boat from Melbourne on board the ‘Mooltan’ arriving in Plymouth on the 30th September 1938 to take up his new post in England and was granted short service commission on 14 December 1938.


He qualified for his wings on 5th April 1939 and was posted to 207 squadron for training on Fairey Battle. With just 9 hours on type he was involved in a landing accident at Cranfield on 3 October 1939 running into a visiting 30 EFTS Burnaston Miles Magister L8216. The impact wrote off the Magister but Crawley’s battle L5283 was repaired and contained in service until it was written off by 12 OTU on 29 August 1940


On the 6th October 1939 Crawley was graded and confirmed in his appointment as Pilot Officer


It wasn’t until about May 1942 that Crawley’s parents received a letter from the Air Ministry stating that their son who had been missing since May 1940 had been buried at Oosterhout


Sgt Frank Wallace McKinlay Service No 581187 (Rear Gunner/Observer)


Francis Wallace McKinlay was born on 11th July 1916 at 3 Kennyhill Gardens, Glasgow (Parish of Dennistoun) to Robert Cromwell McKinlay a Public School Teacher and Winifred Elizabeth Grant. His parents had previously married on 29th June 1912 in Glasgow.


The family are known to have later moved to Bearsden, Dunbartonshire and his death entry via the RAF just states that he died on Air operations.


McKinlay is commemorated on the War Memorial at Bearsden.


Corporal Frank Preston Service No 551160 (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner)


Frank Preston was born in 8th August 1919 in Prescot, Lancashire to Frank Preston and Ann Southward, his parents having married in Prescot in 1910.


By 1939 his father has passed away and Ann along with Frank and his younger brother Ronald born 8th October 1923 a Glassworks labourer are staying at 186 Speakman Road, St Helens. Frank at this time is detailed as serving as an Aircraftman 1st class with 44 Squadron with his usual occupation also being a Labourer at the Glass works.


Preston is Commemorated on the memorial at his local church in St Helens.




Lest We Forget!


With thanks to: -

Jan Jolie, Historian, Holland

Pat Smith of All Saints Church, Horseheath

Cath Gaskell, St Helens Church

Alan Stokes


Please get in touch via the contact page if you have either connections or further information on anyone mentioned in this article.

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