New information about the lost crew of the Wellington of 101 Squadron will be posted here. Z1110 was shot down off the Dutch island of Terschelling on the evening of 20th January 1942 (Chapters 12 & 16). The aircraft and the crew – Chapman, Curtis, Hancox, Spackman, Dunn and Mantle – were never found. Other updates on stories within Deadlines will also appear here.
June 2018……..A new plaque to commemorate over 300 aircrew who lost their lives operating from Lough Erne in Northern Ireland during the Second World War has been unveiled. Flt Lt Francis Wilfred Smith was one of those aircrew – his Sunderland flying boat crashed into the sea off Ireland on 6th February 1942 (full story in Chapter 24).
Castle Archdale, also known as RAF Lough Erne, was one of Coastal Command`s most important bases during the war. Sunderlands and Catalinas operated from the base, which is now a holiday park. The plaque was unveiled on 2nd June by Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth. The ceremony took place in front of 1000 guests at the site of the former RAF Killadeas, a few miles south of Castle Archdale, which is now the Lough Erne Yacht Club. An RAF Tornado GR4 and a Catalina staged a flypast.
AVM Smith said: “The Battle of the Atlantic was a strategically important battle during World War II and the bases we had here in County Fermanagh were essential to ensuring all of the UK had food and supplies which ultimately helped us win the war. I’ve been really keen to be part of the RAF100 events in Northern Ireland. Just from here at Lough Erne more than three hundred aircrew gave their lives as part of Coastal Command. We have a great many young people here today and I hope events like this will inspire them to think about both our history and the way the RAF keeps the skies around our islands safe today.”
May 2018………A few years ago, we were in south Wales and dropped into the excellent Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre (see Connections). Like Castle Archdale on Lough Erne (Chapter 24), Pembroke Dock was a major base during the war for Sunderland flying boats. Indeed it was the world`s largest ever Flying Boat port.
By coincidence we met one of the driving forces behind the project, local journalist John Evans. John is the Project Manager of the Pembroke Dock Sunderland Trust and his work has been recognised with the award of the British Empire Medal. We talked about some of our military flying experiences as journalists (he with an enviable trip in a Hunter from RAF Brawdy) and he explained the work of the Trust and talked about the Sunderland.
So when I was researching the story of Flt Lt Francis Wilfred Smith who died with his crew in the Sunderland crash in February 1942, I contacted John for some pointers about the Sunderland squadrons during the war. He was aware of the aircraft serial number and that it had been lost with the 12 men on board. What I found out all went into Chapter 24 – Death off Donegal.
In mid-April, a couple on holiday in Pembrokeshire visited the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre. John Evans, who now usually goes into the Centre once a week, happened to be there and fell into conversation with the visitors from Kent. The man said his father died in a Sunderland crash off Ireland early in 1942 and that he and the other eleven men on board were never found. This began to ring some bells with John Evans who checked back on our email exchanges.
The visitors were Frank Smith and his wife Lynn. Frank was indeed the son of Flt Lt Francis Wilfred Smith who died at the controls of Sunderland W3977 of 201 Squadron not long after midnight on the 6th February 1942. He was also my mother`s cousin. Flt Lt Smith`s wife Rhoda was three months pregnant with Frank (Francis) when the flying boat pilot lost his life. He died just over two weeks after Colin Curtis and his crew were shot down off the Dutch coast. Their names are three panels apart on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.
It was a coincidence that I came across the photograph of the Sunderland pilot with his name in my mother`s handwriting before I completed the story of Colin Curtis. Consequently the story of the Sunderland crash became a late addition to Deadlines. Otherwise it would never have been told.
It was a coincidence that John Evans was at the Heritage Centre when Frank and Lynn dropped in. It was a further coincidence that they fell into conversation with someone who knew about the doomed Sunderland – and that he knew someone with whom they really should make contact! The families of Frank Smith and Mike Curtis now have new relatives that we never knew about. Frank and Mike finally met on a Saturday lunchtime in June in The Shambles pub in Lutterworth.
October 2017………Since Deadlines was published, a little bit more information has come to light about Sgt Francis Ernest Dunn, one of the air gunners on board Wellington Z1110 on its last flight. Sgt Dunn was the son of Ernest George Dunn and his wife Miriam (née Upwood). The family was apparently from the West Ham area of London, north west of the football club`s former home the Boleyn Ground (better known as Upton Park). All the records that I found about Sgt Dunn before publication gave no indication or clues about his parents or where he called home.
The new information, unearthed by the team at the `Aircrew Remembered` website (see Connections), also states that he was born in 1914. This would have meant that he was 28 when he was killed, making him the oldest on board Z1110 by one year (Arthur Spackman was 27). All the previous records stated he was 21. Mind you, I discovered that all the official records claimed that Colin Curtis was 24 on the 20th January 1942 but in fact he was 22 – six months away from his 23rd birthday. His birth certificate clearly shows 21st July 1919.
The name of Sgt Francis Ernest Dunn can be found on Panel 82 at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. (posted 14/10/2017)
Erratum from Chapter 7 A Stickler for Exactitude…..
The BBC had numerous buildings in London and I trained in, worked in and visited most of them over the years – Broadcasting House, Bush House, Television Centre, Western House, Egton House, Yalding House, Grafton House, Marylebone High Street, White City, Media Centre…..and The Langham. The building across the road from BH was called The Langham. Before it was sold and turned into a luxury hotel, it was the home of the headquarters of BBC Local Radio and that lively bar. So why, oh why did I call it Grafton House in Chapter 7? Grafton House was the later headquarters of the Local Radio Training Unit at the other end of Great Portland Street. So on page 79 of the paperback edition, when you see the words Grafton House, it should read The Langham. It`s The Langham bar and The Langham ghost. And I called the chapter `A Stickler for Exactitude`…….(oh, and later in the book, Stow-on-the-World really should be Stow-on-the-Wold, should it not? It has all been corrected for the e-book version……………….)