My high-school friend and Best Man's dad was the navigator on this particular aircraft.
Here's the story:
Loss of January 26, 1943
No. 424 RCAF Squadron 'Tiger Squadron'
ÉREAC. Côtes d'Armor.
Tuesday, January 26, 1943. On Topcliffe Base Yorkshire England.
Canadian Force Bombardment Group 424 Squadron is preparing for a bombing mission. In flight, they must join a formation which in total will include 157 Allied aircraft. The objective today will be the Lorient submarine base where gigantic construction works are underway by the German organization TODT. From this base already leave the fearsome U-BOAT (Submarines).
The bombers of the 424 th Canadian group are type 3 Vickers Wellingtons. They are twin-engine aircraft capable of carrying two tonnes of bombs. This aircraft has for its own defense two heavy, double machine gun positions. One post in the nose of the plane the other at the end of the rear fuselage. The side defenses are also provided with firing stations served by a machine gunner. This plane has a very elongated general shape, which is why the aviators give it the name of flying cigar. This Wellington is registered QB-F. Six men make up his crew all at the rank of sergeant.
Pilot, Sergeant McHarg Vernon Frédéric (Killed)
Navigator, Sergeant Riach Allan Cruickshank (Interned in camp 8B / 344 / L3)
Radio operator / machine gunner, Sergeant Putnam Max Ernest (Killed)
Gunner, Flight Sergeant Masterman Wallace Alfred(Killed)
Gunner, Sergeant Ken Vallis (Prisoner)
Bombardier, Sergeant Ingram Graydon Arthur (Interned in camp 8B / 344)
At the controls of this aircraft, Sergeant McHarg Vernon Frédéric, by his side, the navigator Sergeant Riach Allan Cruickshank, the radio operator, who is also, the first gunner is Sergeant Putnam Max Ernest, the second gunner is Sergeant Masterman Wallace Alfred. The third gunner is Sergeant Ken Vallis. The operator sergeant responsible for dropping the bombs on the target is Sergeant Ingram Graydon Arthur. All are in their twenties. The group took off from the north-east of England around 5.30 p.m. and at 6 p.m. joined its formation. On the outward journey, the flight went without any problem arriving vertically from the Lorient base, the drop was carried out by Ingram but a bomb refused to eject from the hold due to a technical problem.
All around the formation, it is the intensity of the fire of the defenses against planes (German anti-aircraft) which illuminates the sky with reddish gleams accompanied by swirls of black smoke. Terrifying vision for these young aviators not used to this situation. Suddenly, a huge, violent shock shakes the plane. He has just been hit by several projectiles. Immediately McHarg the pilot realizes the difficulty to pilot his damaged apparatus. One of the engines stopped. The pilot warns the entire crew of the situation and of his decision to leave the formation to set sail for the nearest English base to land. There is still a bomb on board and it will have to be dropped absolutely when the plane flies over the English Channel. Obviously the pilot realizes that he is losing speed and that he is also losing altitude more and more. In the on-board loudspeakers he informs his team-mates of the difficulties to come and tells everyone to put his own survival on hold.
A witness tells. It was around 8 p.m. I lived in the town square of Ereac and suddenly the intense, low noise of an airplane was heard. I left my house immediately, finding it unusual, I first thought of a German surveillance plane because a light had remained on opposite in front of a merchant. The Germans were strict, no visible light was required. A neighbor joined me immediately, and there, we saw this enormous bomber, which very low was passing above the church coming from the direction of Mérillac. He described a curve and headed for the East. There was light on board and despite the night we saw a significant trail of black smoke coming out from the back of the aircraft. The plane continued on its way a few moments, and was a noise of explosion of a rare violence which submerged our borough, so usually calm.
The WELLINGTON had crashed at the exit of the village, near the schools, in the hollow of a field on the road to Merdrignac. This powerful explosion enveloped the town, blowing the windows, tearing the windows and shutters and also doors. Even part of the stained glass windows of the church were blown away. The witness reports these windows which opened upside down after the explosion. A gigantic fire on more than two hectares broke out. We saw like in broad daylight. The pilot, aware that he was above an agglomeration, remained at the controls of his aircraft and made the sacrifice of his life, thus avoiding a dreadful drama for the population of the town. It is not known why the Masterman machine gunner remained on board. Mayor Francis Bedel quickly organized the search for the airmen who had to parachute. He organized several groups. It was necessary to act quickly because the Germans were soon to arrive on the scene. Quickly injured Canadians were found and protected, but the Germans captured them. We saw like in broad daylight. The pilot, aware that he was above an agglomeration, remained at the controls of his aircraft and made the sacrifice of his life, thus avoiding a dreadful drama for the population of the town.
A witness says ... I left with a small group on the outskirts of the town to find them. We had to be discreet because we knew that the occupier would not delay. Crossing a small field we discovered the body of Sergeant Putman who had jumped late and far too low. His parachute had not opened, which led to his death. He was lying, hanging in an oak tree in the straps of his parachute. A little later the Germans arrived from Lanrelas. It was a group of soldiers assigned to surveillance and observation, led by an officer named Muller. The next morning there was a spectacle of desolation around us. Near the drop zone, everything was broken up. Among the remains of the cabin appeared the remains of the two airmen. The fire had been intense, everything was charred. What a sacrifice. The trees all around were black. Debris was found several hundred meters from the impact. We had to pay a final tribute to these three aviators who died on our soil. The funeral was to take place. But when, because the occupant alone master of the situations had to decide, not wanting the population to attend. The Mayor did not hear it that way and determined to organize funerals for these children who came from across the Atlantic for our LIBERTY.
On Thursday January 28, 1943 around 9 am the Mayor Mr. Bedel was informed by the Germans that the funeral would take place at 11 am. He had two hours before him to get as many people as possible to be warned, in Éreac and in the neighboring communes. This morning there, at 11 am precise, it is an innumerable crowd which appeared on the place with flowers. The surprise was total for the occupier, who had decided otherwise. A group of German soldiers were on the spot, they had been ordered to give military honors to these unfortunate Canadians. A salvo was fired at the cemetery during the burial. The three coffins were covered with French and Allied flags. The surviving Airmen, who had been taken prisoner and in German hands, were allowed to attend the funeral of their comrades. They were sent to a camp in Germany and were not released until the end of the war in 1945. Mr. Bedel was immediately summoned to the Kommandantur in Saint Brieuc to explain the arrival of such a crowd in the burial. We feared for him, but luckily nothing happened to him. On the wooden crosses of the three CANADIANS, were inscribed on the orders of the Mayor these inscriptions in English REST THE LORD (LIVING FOR DUTY) and LIVING FOR DUTY, DYING FOR GLORY (Living for duty)
13. July, 16:28