Handley-Page Halifax LL145, Skibbereen, Cork
On the 21st April 1944, a Halifax bomber of the Royal Air Forces 517 (Met) Squadron found itself in difficulty after a long weather reconnaissance mission over the Atlantic. Seeking a safe landing zone the crew of Halifax LL145 found themselves making landfall in the Cork town of Skibbereen. Eight young airmen had found safe haven.
M. Jennings of Skibbereen must have thought that his field,
'The Marsh' was going to become an airfield, when for the second
time in less than a month, an Allied bomber chose his field to
make an emergency landing. On March 16th previous, an American B-26 Marauder had made an
emergency landing in the same field next to Skibbereen
town. Clicking on the above link will bring you to that
The incident of April 21st 1944 is recorded in the Irish Army reports G2/X/1307 and ACF-S-217. Prior to the landing, the aircraft had been reported flying around the south Cork area by Irish Army posts and police stations of the Garda Siochana.
The station master of Skibbereen station later reported, on April 21, 1944, at mid day, he lit some straw to attract the attention of an aircraft flying around the town. The aircraft, a Halifax bomber, landed thereafter at 12:16. bounced twice, passed through a fence and hit a grazing heifer. The unfortunate animal subsequently had to be destroyed. The station master at that time was one Thomas "Toss" Barry who was an early aviator it seems. If this is the man recorded in the Irish Military Archives Report, then it perhaps explains his actions in lighting the straw, knowing that the crew might need help.
Members of the Local Defence Force (LDF) took the crew into
custody at the site until regular Irish Army troops could
Local Skibbereen man Frank Roche seems to have been able to get quite free access to the aircraft during this time as he was able to send a number of pictures of its arrival and dismantling to John Poune. John's widow then in 2007 very kindly sent on copies of these which I shown below. Photos taken be Frank on what seems to be the day of the arrival are shown below. It shows the aircraft very close to houses in the town.
The above image appears to be take on a height looking down
onto the town and the Marsh field. The river can be seen in the
background. It seems that based on the photos below, that
this image was taken from above North Street in the town, which
runs North-North-West towards St Patrick's Catholic
Cathedral. The roof tops of the buildings either side of
North Street can be seen and between them and the aircraft is
the River Ilen. People can be seen swarming on the Marsh
in the image, in what must have been quite a spectacle.
This photo then provides the best clue to the position of the aircraft. The rood of St Patrick's Cathedral can be made out on the extreme left of the photo, with the upper floor and roof of the bank building visible next too it. Members of the public can be seen in the photo.
Frank has gotten in very close to the aircraft at this point
and the aircraft serial number LL145 along with the individual
aircraft code , G, are very visible.
Another closer view of the right hand side of LL145 at rest on
Above, shows LL145 being approached from the rear left from the
far side of the river.
This image again from across the river, with people stood on
the wing, seems to show an engine cover having been placed on
the left outer engine. The aircraft while it looks to be
painted white all over would have had a green and grey
camouflage pattern on the top of the wings and tail plane and
probably on the top of the fuselage also.
The above photo is a closer cropped version of the one below
and it may show some of the crew members talking across the
river. One individual may still be wearing a Mae West life
The same image as above but of wider field of view.
It was possible then after some searching to make contact with
all bar the Ashworth family, Arthur Ashworth having been an only
Below is a composite photo showing the crew on board Halifax LL145 on April 21st, 1944. [Standing] W/O AG; A Mitchinson - 1st Pilot A Ashworth - W/O AG F J Poune - [Kneeling] 2nd Pilot J Musk - Navigator A S Lawes - W/O AG R Wright - [Inset left] Sgt D Travers - [Inset Right] Sgt Sgt J A Bartram
The Irish Army recorded the names of those on board and using the information received in this research their correct identities were:
Sgt Arthur W Ashworth 1474249, Pilot, of Hayburn
Court, Shipley, Yorkshire (See below)
Sgt Jack Musk 1331422 Co-Pilot, of 67A Higher Bents Lane, Bredbury, Nr. Stockport (The Irish Army recorded his name as John)
F/Sgt Alan Stewart Lawes 417206 RAAF Observer (Navigator) of Moore St., Gawler, New South Wales, Australia
Sgt. Donald Travers 1819689 Engineer, of Stapleford, Nottingham
Sgt Alan Mitchinson 1040987 Wireless Operator / Air Gunner (W/O AG), of Rossmere, Stockton Road, West Hartlepool, Co. Durham
Sgt Robert Wright 656650 W/O AG, of Westquarter, Falkirk, Stirlingshire
Sgt Frederick John Poune 1336836 W/O AG, of Boulton St, Alvaston, Derby
Sgt John Alan Barthram 1876801 Meteorological Officer of Newivham Manor, Crownmarsh, nr Wallingford, Berks
The crew first reported that they were undertaking a search and rescue mission but the Irish Army report later records that they did admit to being on a Meteorological reconnaissance flight out into the Bay of Biscay from their base of “St. Davids” (sic), Wales.
Gerald O'Brien, of Skibbereen recalls "Now 72 years old, I have retained a vivid memory of the events of that day of April of '44 all through my life. I was just turned nine at the time and, not surprisingly, I was in class at school when the drama began. Our first apprehension was that of sound - a very loud roar from the four 1800 hp Bristol Hercules aero engines roaring over our heads, not much short of roof-top altitude as the cool headed Pilot, with great skill, coaxed the aircraft from the skies onto a large field, known as "The Marsh", right beside the town. Fearful for our safety, the Headmaster ordered all out of school without delay into the adjoining play yard. I am glad he did so, for it was from there that I had witnessed the image of the Halifax on her last circling before coming to earth. The surrounding buildings precluded all possibility of seeing the actual touch-down. Suddenly the noise had ceased, after which we were ordered back to our seats in the class rooms. Before resuming studies, our teacher told us that all was well, that the 'plane which we had seen had by then "landed safely on the Marsh".
At lunch time, we got a fine view of the undamaged bomber resting on the grass, across the river, from a porch off North Street."
One of the crew men, Arthur Ashworth is reported to have requested a doctor and upon being seen was confined to bed for 2 days although little else is mentioned about this and it is unknown if he missed the ensuing entertainment. The aircraft and it's crew had by now become a center of local attention with the aircraft visible from across the river. In an effort to show them hospitality before being processed by the authorities they were taken to the nearby West Cork hotel and Alan's description above relates the story thereafter. The local Red Cross members attempted to invite the men to a local dance but were refused permission by the military authorities due to the level of hospitality shown to the them already! The crew were accommodated in the West Cork Hotel. The files report that on April 23rd, seven men were brought to Rinneanna military post, the location of modern day Shannon airport. Later that day they were further driven to the border with Northern Ireland and handed over to the British authorities. Both John Poune's and Robert Wright's log books shows that some or all of the crew were picked up at Ballyhalbert airfield in Northern Ireland by Halifax 'C' of 517 Sqn on April 25th to return to their base.
Pat MacCarthy from Drinagh, Cork, then a member of the Irish Army 2nd Cycle Squadron based at Bantry and now a retired farmer of 88 years, wrote in reply to the letter in the Southern Star: "In my youth I was a member of the Irish Army and one of those who took over responsibility for the Halifax bomber after the landing on the March near Skibbereen town"
"This plane was later dismantled and transported across the border into Northern Ireland in exchange for a consignment of tea as this was a very scare commodity in Ireland at the time.
At the time the pilot made a perfect wheels down landing on the Marsh with nothing to guide him but his own good judgment. This was a great achievement to be able to land a four engined Halifax bomber plane with out the use of any modern technology."
Pat was photographed by local Skibbereen photographer Frank Roche with five of his comrades standing below the partially dismantled hulk of the bomber. This photo appeared in a 1985 copy of the Southern Star where some of the veterans remembered they had to pitch tent on the Marsh while the aircrew were accommodated in the West Cork Hotel.
Local man Cornelius Connolly reported to Gerald O'Brien in late 2007 that he recalled, also having seen an aircraft land on the marsh, that before there was any dialogue with the LDF personnel on the ground, "the entire crew lined up to give a special salute to the Pilot, of thanks and admiration for what he had just accomplished".
The aircraft, Handley Page Halifax V, serial number LL145, of RAF 517 (Meteorological) Squadron, had taken off for an 'Epicure B' weather reconnaissance flight over the Bay of Biscay from its base at Brawdy in Wales at 01:15 that day. The route was planned as Brawdy - 45N 08W - 43N 14W - Brawdy (positions approximate).
Eleven and a half hours later they had to make their impromptu visit to Skibbereen. The 517 Squadron Operations Record Book barely mentions the flight, simply recording it as 'aircraft landed away from base'.
A. Barthram, son of Maud and John Barthram, in 1944 was
the Meteorological Air Observer (MAO) on board Halifax LL145 and
described in an email from 28th January 2007 what happened to
the crew thereafter!
“You may be interested in my recollections of the flight
- errors and omissions accepted !! One incident, which I am sure was not mentioned at the debrief, was that due to an unfortunate misunderstanding the pitot head cover was left on during pre-flight inspection. The mistake did not show itself until the aircraft was gaining speed on take-off, then
too fast to abort. The aircraft was very heavy with extra fuel tanks in the bomb bay. The problem was overcome by using an axe to smash the Perspex window in the bottom of the fuselage just below my “desk” at the front. By lying sideways against my seat the Canadian ( ? ) managed to extend his arm far enough out to remove the cover. I had tried but found the airstream too strong to reach that far, so full marks to the RCAF/RAAF. Also I then went back to help pump up the undercarriage as its hydraulics had failed ! As far as I remember the weather was benign though a lot of cloud and the trip then seemed routine. The outbound leg finished with a “ box climb “ to about 18,000ft ( 500mb ) . At around this time the radio operator told me he had been unable to pass my last two messages so hold the next for the time being. Apparently no radio bearings could be obtained , and also no astro-nav. We were now returning and to conserve fuel a gradual descent (not box ) was made. Eventually we were placed well west of track and too low on fuel to make England. We diverted to Skibbereen which was marked as an emergency landing ground on our maps. Arthur made a very good landing ( wheels pumped down ) though it did entail going through a dividing hedge/wall that separated the two fields that were the landing area, and it
was said we hit a cow!
We were taken to a nearby hotel - I can’t remember the name but it would be to the S-SE of the town and near a bridge. Here we were generously but excessively supplied with strong drink and my memory definitely fails ! I do remember somebody saying that a Court had been in progress in the town and when they heard an aircraft had landed just everybody left to look ! I think it was one of the solicitors that told us this, and vaguely I think he was in Army uniform, Within days we were taken by car to Belfast and debriefed at Stormont - they may have more accurate records.
John Barthram flew only once or twice with Arthur Ashworth's
crew and hence did not know the men well. Hale and hearty
in 2021, John was kind enough to share the two wartime photos of
himself that had only recently been found, including this one of
him on a horse!
The flight Engineer on the aircraft was 19 year old Donald Travers from Stapleford, son of Hilda and Cyril Travers.
Don Travers sisters, in 2007, still lived at the address that
Don gave to the Irish Army all the way back in 1944. He
was able to retell a quite a story however.
Glennis Travers, sister of Donald Travers, recounted Donald’s story:
"He remembers the Skibbereen incident and he really appreciated hearing your letter. He said it had been an interesting afternoon.
Don often used to bring Air Force mates with him when he came home on leave and we think that Fred Pounes may have been one of those who came. Alan Lawes is a name that Jean and I remember well though we're not certain that he actually came to the house.
Don was only 19 at the time of Skibbereen and we think he was the youngest member of the crew. He may, I think, have had the nickname 'Titch'. He is non too tall.
Your letter was most interesting to us as until then, although we were familiar with the Skibbereen incident and "being held prisoner in the pub!", we did not know the full details of the circumstances which led to the emergency landing, nor did we know the name of the pub/hotel where they were housed. We did, however, know that they landed in a field and unfortunately hit a cow.
Over the years Don's told us many stories of his time there and we must extend our thanks to the people of Skibbereen for their kindness and generosity to Don and the rest of the crew at that time.
Being on duty, Don of course, only had his flying boots as footwear and one day whilst he was in the town, someone in the town, presumably a resident, took him into a shop and bought him a pair of shoes, allowing him to pick any pair he wanted.
We've been given to understand, over the years, that there actually was a dance to which the crew were invited.
On one occasion Don was a bit 'merry' one night (which we seem to think was also the night of the dance) and when he woke up the next morning, he found that five pounds had been tucked into his pocket. Five pounds was quite a considerable amount of money in those days.
We've also always understood that the local authorities were originally going to allow them to fly the aircraft out, but later decided against this on the grounds that it was too close to the town for safety and that was why it had to be dismantled.
Sorry, but we can't throw any light on who was writing to the young lady you mentioned.
Regrettably his log book no longer exist.
517 is the only squadron I can recall him mentioning.
Don volunteered for service whilst he was 17. He was a Flight Engineer in Coastal Command. We think he was demobbed sometime in 1946.
In his early days in the RAF he was based in the Torquay area (this may possibly have been whilst training). There was a bomb raid whilst he was there and a school was hit. Don was amongst those who helped with the rescue/recovery operation.
After being demobbed Don returned to his occupation as a motor mechanic, and worked in the motor trade for many years. At the time of his retirement, however, he was working for British Rail in a supervisory capacity on the engineering side."
One of Donald first postings was to Initial Training Wings in Torquay in the spring of 1943. On Sunday 30th May 1943 the St. Marychurch parish church was bombed in Torquay killing a number of children. Donald then trained with the School of Technical Training at St. Athan before being sent to the Meteorological Conversion Unit (MCU) in January 1944 where he no doubt met his future crew. His posting to the MCU and 517 Squadron matches that of Frederick Poune and Jack Musk. He flew with 517 Squadron up until September 1945 where he was posted to three training units, including 4 O.T.U which flew Sunderland flying boats.
One small mystery was raised by Donald Travers whose sister provided us with a copy of a rather battered photo of Don standing beside an Irish army soldier. The Southern Star newspaper were kind enough to print the photo and a small letter. This raised the interest of Gerald O'Brien quoted above and also succeeded in finding the Irish soldiers identity. He was Denis Twomey, a solicitor, then serving with the Local Defense Force (LDF) in the area. His daughter, Ann Twomey Bell, recalled that she heard 'many stories of about the 'capture' of the RAF men and the wonderful time that followed!! He was a great pianist and there was lots of music and song during the lock in". Denis, sadly, passed away in 1992. He may well be the gentleman that John Barthram remembers in his story above.
Donald Travers passed away in hospital in Nottingham in
September 2008, after helping his sisters to recount what he
could of the incident.
letter in the Falkirk Herald put me in touch with the Wright
family. Bob Wright, son of Robert Wright on LL145,
remembered his father telling him the story of the Skibbereen
landing but in
his owns words: "I have told this story to friends for
years, some from Ireland, not knowing how true it all
"My recollections of the story was that they made an emergency landing in the south of Ireland (did not know exactly where), they killed a cow, and he went into great detail how they were shown a great time in the town and the prison, I mean pub!!!!! My mum also told me she received a telegram from the government stating my Dad was taken prisoner (POW), but it did not say where. Unknown to her he was having a whale of a time in Skibbereen, Cork"
"He never spoke much about the war and the RAF, but I'm so glad he told me about the time he visited Skibbereen on the 21st of April, 1944. Which believe it or not, is my dad's birthday! Maybe that was the real reason for the visit?"
"They also said he spoke of "Titch"( Don Travers) highly. I'm sure I can remember him saying that "Titch" banged his head on the door of the Halifax, when exiting on the "marsh" in his hurry, which they found funny as he was the smallest of the crew!"
Bob and his sister and her husband visited Skibbereen in April 2008 on the anniversary of the landing and their fathers birthday.
The photo above of Bob Wright (on the left) and another airman in flying gear.
Robert Wright left the RAF in 1946 and finished his working life with the British Aluminium plant in Falkirk. Robert was married at the time of the landing and had two daughters until Bob came along. Both Robert and his wife Mary have passed away but they are survived by a large group of grandchildren. In April 2008, Robert and his sister Rosina and her husband visited Skibbereen where Gerald O'Brien showed them around the local area. Robert reported "We had a good journey down and arrived just after lunch and booked into the West Cork Hotel, where my dad and the rest of the Halifax LL145 crew were housed in 1944. I must say it is a lovely hotel with friendly staff who knew about the landing and were interested to talk to us about it.
We did not do to much on the Saturday (19th) apart from walk around the town and sample the local hospitality and down a few Guinness's!!!!
That all changed on the Sunday when we met, as arranged, Gerald O'Brien, who you had put me in contact with. What a great man, what a character, what a gentleman. He made our day and our trip so worthwhile. You would not believe his 74 years and the fact he was there at the landing at the age of 9.
After meeting in the hotel, he went through the old original RAF photos of my Dad as well as old photos of our family. We then showed him my dad's old flight log book, which being a historian, absolutely amazed him. We all commented that the book had returned to the west cork hotel, Skibbereen, again 64 years since it's first visit. He took great delight in seeing the entry for the 21st of April 1944, "forced landing in Eire".
Gerald then showed us his "and time stood still" book of the local pictorial history of Skibbereen, which Gerald help to put together. And there on page 138 is a picture of my dad, Don Travers, and Fred Poune, as well as Frank Roche's wonderful photos of the Halifax on the marsh. It is amazing to think the plane and crew are a part of this towns history.
Gerald was then kind enough to show us his old school and recount the day the Halifax flew over the school as though it was yesterday. We then took a trip up to a vantage spot above the town to look down at the marsh, which is undergoing lots of drainage work, but you could imagine in your minds eye, the landing and what a difficult task it must have been for Mr Ashworth to land the plane safely.
After that Gerald took us sight seeing. Firstly to Lough Hyne, a beautiful tranquil place, then down to the lovely harbour of Baltimore. He took us up to the breathtaking cliffs at Baltimore Beacon where the Titanic sailed by on her fateful journey. It really is beautiful part of the world. After a late dinner, Gerald took us back to our hotel, a full 6 hours after we first met, which just flew by. We could not thank him enough.
We sat and recounted our day in the hotel bar with a few of the staff. Gerald is a bit of a local celebrity. Next day, the actual anniversary of the landing we met Gerald for tea, before setting off back to Cork airport. He wrote a thoughtful message on the Skibbereen book and gave me the book. An amazing gesture."
The family of Alan Mitchinson were very helpful in
their responses to my letter in a local Hartlepool paper.
Daughters, Jan and Anne and Son David were delighted to be shown
the collection of photos and to get details of the incident at
the heart of this story. Alan was born in the summer of
1923 to Florence and William Mitchinson. In the 1939
register, Alan is listed with his widowed mother and was at the
time an Apprentice plasterer.
Alan Mitchinson passed away in 1990 but had passed on the tale of his adventures to his family over the years. Like Fred Poune, Alan also joined the police after the war but returned to his first trade, that of a plasterer, setting up his own business in 1960's. David his son recalled of him "My father told me many years ago about this event, although his words are now very vague I shall always remember the gratitude he paid to the people of Ireland who showed him grate respect and compassion. He said he would never forget them."
David Mitchinson and his son visited Skibbereen in December 2007 to visit the town for themselves. Alan reported to me "The marsh in Skibbereen is now being excavated for what appears to be a large Housing Development as you had previously mentioned so it was no surprise to us that we would find it difficult to imagine where the Halifax V landed in relation to the town of Skibbereen, thanks to photo's of events of that day we managed to pinpoint with almost certainty where the Halifax came to rest and the direction in which the Aircraft came in to land, can you imagine our excitement, we only wish we could have walked to the spot on the marsh where Dad and his bewildered crew members had touched terra ferma, a moment missed for my son and I but one I am sure my Dad always remembered.
Whilst staying in the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen we decided to tour the local area, we couldn't help but notice the hills and mountains on our journey to Baltimore where it was said the Halifax was seen on that day flying over the southern part of the mainland, I find it remarkable that given the terrain in this area the pilot and crew of the Halifax ever found there way to the marsh in Skibbereen, perhaps they followed the river Ille inland until they came across what must have been utopia to them when they spotted the marsh, a daunting task for any pilot to land an aircraft of that size and weight given that the ground must have been soft or waterlogged especially at that time of the year, the marsh must have been the only possible area where the pilot could have landed the aircraft, an amazing feat for any pilot I would imagine which makes it even more remarkable. You will also have noticed that the pilot landed the Halifax very close to the banks of the river Ille, this I believe was probably because the ground close to the river would have been better drained and perhaps a more favourable area on the marsh to land the aircraft, who knows, either way looking at the area it was a miracle that the Halifax landed in one piece, I couldn't imagine that a wheels up landing was an option given the size of the aircraft, it's gun turrets beneath and the size of the propellers."
Tragically, two members of the crew that day would be dead before the end of 1944, Jack Musk and Arthur Ashworth. Both were lost at sea while on flying operations.
Arthur W Ashworth, aged 21, was lost at sea 30th July 1944 when Wellington HF449 of 172 Squadron was lost after having radioed that they were going to make an attack on a submarine. Arthur is remembered on panel 215 of the Runnymede Memorial to RAF Airmen whose remains were never recovered. Arthur was the son of Herbert and Gladys Mary Ashworth, of Shipley but who later moved to Hest Bank, Lancashire. Speaking to local's in Hest Bank in 2007, revealed that the family no longer lived in the area but there was a memory that a family named Ashworth did live in the village. The Bradford Library local history office was able to find a small article in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, from March 12, 1943. L.A.C. Ashworth received his 'wings' at a flying training school at Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada, most probably with 38 Service Flying training School and passed as a bomber pilot. He attended Keighley Grammar School, and was formerly a member of the Shipley (387) A.T.C. Squadron. Aged 19, he was previously employed by a firm of accountants. His parents, Herbert and Gladys Ashworth, lived at 43, Leyburn Grove, Shipley. Sadly, Arthur was their only child. A letter in the local paper however found four people who knew Arthur and his parents. One former RAF airman called to say that he knew Arthur when both of them served in the ATC and he went on to serve alongside Arthur at RAF Chivenor where 172 Squadron was based and had nice memories of Arthur. Another very kind friend of the family contacted to tell what they knew. Mrs. J Walker's family moved to the same street as the Ashworth’s in 1943. She never met Arthur herself as he was away on service but one thing she remembers clearly is that Arthur once sent a crate of Banana's to his parents from his overseas service, perhaps from a trip to North Africa or else where. His instructions were that all the children of the street were to get one. Later, Herbert and Gladys moved away and eventually lived in Hest Bank where they are named on the CWGC records. Gladys passed away in the early 1960's. Mrs. Nancy Gingell called also to say she remembered the Ashworth’s from their time both in Shipley and Hest Bank. Her brother Dickie Wadsworth had been very close friends with Arthur and the two of them lost their lives in separate aircraft losses within weeks of each other in 1944. Finally, a school friend of both Arthur and Dickie Wadsworth, Mr. Harry Clough wrote to include his memories of Arthur. Both he and Arthur had worked as article clerks for the same accountant in Bradford. He recalls Alan Lawes visiting on leave with Arthur and they also became friends.
Jack Musk, aged 22, was lost on November 10, 1944 when the Halifax of 518 Squadron he was with reported an engine failure. Nothing further was heard from Halifax LK706, L for Love, or its eight man crew. Jack is remembered on Panel 220 of the Runnymede Memorial. His niece's husband Mike Brown has researched Jack's life and wartime career. It was because of Mike's letter about Jack in the Macclesfield School 2006 Gazette Newsletter that I was able to make contact with him. He was married in December 1943 and he and his wife Joan lived at Higher Bents Lane in Bredbury near his parents. His story is presented below from Mike Brown’s letter in the The King's School in Macclesfield Gazette.
The Australian National Archives and Australian War Museum Nominal Roll both list Alan Stewart Lawes as coming from Gawler, I mailed the local newspaper and within a week Heather was able to contact me. Alan Lawes passed away in June 2004. He was the local President of Returned Soldiers League for many years, and a State Councilor for 11 years. It seems that Alan tried to convince both Don Travers and Robert Wright to move to Australia after the war's end but neither of them made the move. Heather recalls that Alan never mentioned much about the war but he did tell them some stories
"We did know a bit about Ireland but the story like all of his war tales came in fragments. Dad was a navigator in the Halifaxes and I remember Dad saying … they had gone off course…not sure why…. Maybe something went wrong with some instruments…. they ran out of fuel and were forced to land … the words he used were they were ‘interned’ in Ireland. I have this vague recollection that stuck in my mind that they had to eat? papers before they landed…. That bit stuck in my mind from a very early age. I vaguely remember him saying they also had to burn papers in the plane before they landed… all of which I would have imagined to be highly dangerous. These papers were obviously highly secretive and not to enter enemies hands.
My older brother Barry thinks that when Dad’s crew crash landed they managed to land but the plane was badly damaged and couldn’t be flown back."
I found it interesting that you mentioned the date of 21st April … so close to Anzac day. Dad always treasured the 25th April (ANZAC day) for Australians that day is very significant."
As luck would have it, there was but one Poune named in the
2007 phone directory for Derby. A letter to that address
received a warm reply from Sue Poune, Frederick John Poune's
wife. Sue remembered that:
John often spoke of his time in the RAF and I am aware of the landing in Ireland. He mentioned the unfortunate incident with the cow, and being plied with lots of booze and being welcomed rather than being interned which I understand they should have been by a neutral country.
Fred Poune was later known as John and passed away in 1992 but he left after him an impressive collection of photographs and his log book. The Derby Evening Telegraph of 11 October 1943 recorded the marriage of Fredrick Poune, RAFVR from Woodchurch, Kent to Joyce Smith from 81 Boulton St, Alvaston, the address he later gave to the Irish Army.
Investigation of these photos and documents showed that this was not the first time some of the crew were in Ireland as six of them at least were put together as a crew whilst training with 7 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit ( (C) O.T.U.) at Limavady in County Derry, Northern Ireland.
It would appear that local Skibbereen photographer Frank Roche swapped addresses with F J Poune and sent him copies of photos taken on the day of the landing and also of the dismantling of 'George', as the plane came to be referred to locally. On leaving the RAF, John worked for the railway works in Derby. After a time he joined Derbyshire Constabulary, on the beat and then in CID. When he left the Police he started work as a Private Investigator. Investigation of John's log book shows that he first flew with Arthur Ashworth on 7 September 1943 in Wellington, number 52 from Limavady in Northern Ireland. They then went on the MCU based at Tiree and from there to 517 Squadron where John's first flight was on 23 February 1944 with Ashworth in Halifax 'K'. John's last flight with Ashworth was on 12 June 1944 and Arthur would be lost little over a month later in the action described above.
John's log book goes on to show the 517 Squadron missions that brought him to Port Lyautey in French Morrocco, Gibralter and Rabat, Casablanca. Their time with 517 Squadron can be traced in the Operations record book. AS explained by John Barthram below, as he was a Met Observer, he was not teamed up with the others as a crew member but rather moved about between crews on an as required basis. The others, with the exception of Donald Travers, had met together while training in Northern Ireland. The ORB for February 18th, 1944 records the following:
F/S Lawes (Nav), Poune, Mitchinson, Wright, (WAGS), Sgt Ashworth (Pilot) posted from Tiree
Five days later they are recorded doing a test flight, whereas John Poune log book shows other training missions during February and March and early April 1944. Some members of the crew were posted to carry out short further training courses. The mission on April 21st was actually their first ever operational mission with the Squadron.
While Ashworth and Musk were very soon posted away from 517
Squadron, they were replaced by two new pilots, Frank William
John KEMP (46248) and Eric PEPPER (152459). The core crew
team for the remainder of the war remained then as Kemp, Pepper,
Lawes, Travers, Mitchinson, Wright and Poune. The met
observer varied but they did fly often with a Sgt W F Hall.
And what of the Halifax, LL145? This was one of a batch
of almost 500 aircraft built by the Rootes Securities
company. It was a Halifax Mark V aircraft powered by four
Rolls Royce Merlin 22 engines. While it was able to land
in 'The Marsh' it was not possible to fly the aircraft out and
so the Irish Air Corps proceeded to dismantle the aircraft in a
23 day operation bearing in mind that the aircraft's basic
dimensions were a wing span of 104 ft (31.7 m) and a length of
71 ft 7 in (21.8 m). The disassembled aircraft was
then trucked across the border.
Above: Halifax LL145 appears to have been moved away from
the outskirts of town, but must still have been easily
visible. Just behind the tail one can see two of the
recovery trucks sent to take the aircraft away.
Above: The dismantling of LL145 has begun, elevator and rudder
of the tail plane has been removed, and the engines on the wing
are already taken off.
Above: Halifax LL145 in the process of being dismantled.
The vehicles in front of the aircraft may be Irish or Royal Air
Force recovery vehicles. The Operations Record Book of the
RAF's 226 Maintenance Unit, based in Northern Ireland, records
very briefly that during the month of May 1944, one Halifax was
salvaged from EIRE. The Irish Army reports on this landing
record that it took 23 days to complete the salvage of the
Above: A group of Irish Army soldiers posed beneath a rather
sorry looking LL145. The nose has been removed along with
engines, wing leading edges.
Above: Frank Roche pictured stood under the dismantled hulk of
Above: Frank Roche standing behind the aircraft bomb bay, with
bay doors removed.
During the removal of wreckage, a low loader driven by an Air
Corps driver jack knifed and damaged a wall on the main street
of Dundalk on April 14th. This is notable since the Irish
Army G2/X/1295 file contains a copy of a report filed by F/Lt
Herbert Stanley Moore of 226 Maintenance Unit Royal Air Force to
the Senior Intelligence officer, HQ, RAF Northern Ireland
explaining that jack knifing was not uncommon with these
vehicles and that no blame should be apportioned to the Irish
driver. The equipment was RAF equipment and he was making
arrangements to have the damaged vehicle recovered from Dundalk.
The Air Ministry Form 78 history of the aircraft records its
being taken on charge by 45 Maintenance Unit (MU) on 2 Dec 1943
and then assignment to 517 Squadron on the 20 Dec 1943. The
records of the Civil Repair Organisation at Short & Harland,
Belfast show LL145 as being received on 19 May 1944 for Cat B
damage repair, the accomplishment of which was signaled on 12
December that year. The Form 78 records its 'Repair in Works'
during that time and that it was awaiting collection as of
November 19. It was delivered to No 45 MU at Kinloss
three days later. It was transferred to 44 MU on 4th Jan
1944 and appears to have played no more part in teh war.
It is recorded as being converted to scrap when struck off
charge in January 1947. Thus ended its very short service
517 Squadron formed from No 1404 Flight at St Eval on 11 August
1943. It continued to conduct meteorological
reconnaissance duties after this. Intended to be equipped with
Halifaxs, it used Hudsons and Hampdens until October.
In between the Hudsons leaving in September 1943 and the arrival of the Halifaxes in November, four B-17s of the 379th Squadron USAAF were attached. Halifax Vs arrived in November and at the same time the squadron moved to St David's. In February 1944 it moved again, this time to Brawdy, where it received Halifax IIIs in February 1945. The following November a further move took place to Chivenor, where the squadron disbanded on 21 June 1946.
And what of the man who took those superb photos of LL145 in Skibbereen?
Frank Roche replied to me in 2008 to say hello. He lives now in Dublin having retired from his job in the motor industry some time ago. He has two sons but sadly his wife passed away some time ago. In his letter he does say 'we did everything for the crew during the time they were in Skibbereen. I wrote to sergeant Poune often." With his card he included this article which was written about him at his retirement.