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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

“Don’t let anyone attack the hornet’s nest”
Authority King George VI November 1937

Tim Chamberlin Michael Hardwick

The Crew

Rene Landry

Grey Cumberbatch

Russell Avey

John Robinson

Alan Spence

Scratch marks appearing on the aircraft were made by the censor

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron
Early in the morning of the 5th March 1943, Dennis Kirk was on ARP duty when he heard the sound of an aircraft approaching, it was obviously in trouble and the engines sounded like they were starved of petrol. The Battle Order states that it had been fuelled for the flight with 1,850 gallons. The aircraft passed overhead and then crashed about a quarter of a mile from Plungar (Leics) in the direction of Langar airfield (Notts). Dennis and his group rushed towards the scene to render assistance they found one dazed survivor on the railway line. They asked him if there were any bombs on-board and he was able to reply that they had already been dropped, sadly all the other crew members they found were dead. Personnel arrived from RAF Langar and took control of the crash site. A fire tender arrived from Melton Mowbray and the crew promptly “mashed some tea”. The aircraft had already aborted two landings at other airfields and was obviously attempting to get in at Langar They were diverted from their home base of Waltham because of fog in the area. It would appear that the pilot, towards the end of an 8 hour flight, was struggling to maintain height and control which could indicate that it had suffered battle damage. Subsequent examination revealed a mechanical problem with the port inner engine. The crash is timed at 0308 on 5/3/1943, the aircraft was a Lancaster 111 ED 549 100 Squadron HW S. This evening was a “quiet” night for This piece of the aircraft was recovered from Bomber Command prior to the commencement of the the crash site a few years ago by Plungar Battle of the Ruhr. 6 Mosquitoes had flown to the Ruhr resident ‘John Bolton’. He donated it to the 100 Squadron Museum in and 27 aircraft had been mine-laying (the role of the Waltham. On the day of the service it was installed in the church porch as a poignant crashed aircraft, target Bayonne), 16 aircraft were from reminder of the fateful crash. Operational Training Units from which one Wellington was lost and a Lancaster was presumed lost over the target area. Subsequent official reports state that the aircraft ED 549 ‘burnt out on the ground’ but this is an error and Dennis Kirk has determinedly tried to correct this inaccuracy.
© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

100 Squadron was formed in February 1917 and by December 1942 was operating from Waltham (Grimsby) Lincs where it remained until April 1945. It had only begun to fly Lancasters against Germany in March of 1943. The Squadron was part of No 1 Group Bomber Command based in North Lincolnshire. The Group’s operations cost the lives of 8,577 British and Commonwealth airmen. 100 Squadron lost its last two crews from Waltham on the 16th March 1945, raiding Nuremburg. That brought the tally to 89 Lancasters lost in 25 months flying for the Squadron.

Rene Landry

Grey Cumberbatch

Russell Avey

John Robinson

Alan Spence

Scratch marks appearing on the aircraft were made by the censor

The crew of “our” Lancaster took off from Grimsby at 1838 on the 4/3/1943 they were;

Flight Sergeant G.R.Avey, RCAF Pilot, Killed Sergeant B.T. Hallett, Flight Engineer, Killed Sergeant A.H.Spence, Navigator, Killed Sergeant G.D. Cumberbatch, Air Bomber, Killed Sergeant J. Robinson, Wireless Operator, Killed Sergeant D.S. Davies, Air Gunner (Mid-Upper) Injured Flight Sergeant R. R. Landry, RCAF Air Gunner (Rear) Killed

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Armed forces personnel who lost their lives in the UK were normally buried at locations requested by close relatives, this was obviously not possible with the many overseas members serving and so three of the crew were buried at Long Bennington (St Swithun) churchyard on 10th March 1943, they are; Flight Sergeant Gerald Russell Avey aged 21 the son of Mr and Mrs J.A. Avey, of Norwich, Ontario, Canada Flight Sergeant Rene Rodger Landry aged 23 Son of Mr and Mrs O. Landry, of Norman, Ontario, Canada. Sergeant Grey Doyle Cumberbatch aged 21 son of Mr and Mrs C.W. Cumberbatch, of St. Michael, Barbados.

Sergeant Benjamin Thomas Hallett aged 23 the son of Mr & Mrs W. H. Hallett of Fratton, Portsmouth was buried at Portsmouth (Kingston) cemetery. Sergeant John Robinson aged 34, the son of Mr & Mrs R. Robinson and husband of Isabella was buried at Thornton-Le-Fylde Churchyard. Sergeant Alan Havelock Spence aged 32 the son of Mr & Mrs A. Spence and husband of Florence Irene was buried at North Sunderland cemetery. Dennis Kirk still lives in Plungar and he has a very clear picture in his mind of the events of that fateful night. He always felt that this gallant crew should be recognised with a tangible memorial close to the spot where their young lives were ended. After many years this hope is at last fulfilled. A long overdue memorial to the 55,573 men who were killed flying with Bomber Command during the second world war was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen on a beautiful sunny day in Green Park, London on Thursday 28th June this year (see front cover). The make up of ‘our’ crew represented the mix of those who served. Two Canadians, a Barbadian and four from the United Kingdom. The Canadian official authorities and relatives were most generous in their help with information and so were the Cumberbatch family in Barbados. Despite our best efforts no relatives of the U.K. crew members were located. It is believed that Sergeant Davies who was the sole survivor of the crash was not a casualty later in the war. We are hopeful that further information will eventually come to light to complete the picture.

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Letter from Mr & Mrs Avey to Mr & Mrs Landry 7/4/1943

Dear Friends, In reply to your letter, we regret to relate we are the party to whom you infer. Upon learning that you too have lost a dear son in this terrible war, we feel, we as parents can surely sympathise with each other. Rene, recently before his death, sent us a picture of himself & his crew & we thought at the time what fine looking boy your son was. He also remarked what a fine bunch of fellows they were. We have another son in England who is in the army & was able to attend the funeral. He has written to us information of only one escaping & six being killed of the crew. He also mentioned that they were given a fine burial with full military honours. May I add that we are more than pleased to hear from you but we cannot read or write French & had to have it translated for us, but if you would care to write back to us we would certainly appreciate it. Our sympathy goes out to you in this your hour of sorrow.

Yours very sincerely Mr & Mrs James Avey.

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Rene Landry’s parents were French Canadian and had obviously written to the Aveys in French. Russell’s mother Agnes was born in Bristol, England. Russell Avey’s interview on 27/3/1942 stated that he was a ‘rugged’ type at 5’10’’ and 168 lbs. He had a private pilot’s licence with 14 hours flying and was recommended for training as a Pilot or Observer (Navigator)

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Tribute from John Avey
After all these years
Written by John Avey July 2012

On my birthday each July 22nd, I give thanks for each passing year. He can’t. He never made it to his 22nd birthday. As I groan into middle age with my aches and pains, I increasingly feel my mortality. He will never grow old. In my lifetime, I have been accorded some measure of praise for my achievements. It has taken him 69 years to receive his. Recently, Queen Elizabeth unveiled the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London. A fitting but sadly long overdue commemoration to the courageous young men of Bomber Command; 125,000 of them (including 50,000 Canadians) who, at an average age of 22, took to the skies night alter endless, night in their Wimpeys, Blenheims, Mosquitoes, Halifaxes, and Lancasters; some of our brightest and best meeting head on a relentless, desperate foe over the deadly skies of Germany and occupied Europe. The carnage was horrible; the futility and waste of war brutally on display. Nearly half of these airmen (55,573) failed to return; 10,000 of them were Canadian and he was one of them. He lies at rest with his comrades in St. Swithun Churchyard at Long Bennington, Lincolnshire. Many Canadian and Commonwealth families hold these young men dear with pride and reverence. He, too, is cherished. Nearly seven decades after his death; his family keeps alive his memory with photos and stories of fond remembrance. They have often wondered about his fate. His bomber crashed returning from a mission off the coast of France. It was his first as pilot and commander. He and five of his six crew members were killed. A somewhat sterile report from the Department of National Defense is all they have of the crash and his final hours. The rest is mere conjecture. They have longed to know more. Now a Mr. Dennis Kirk might be able to help. As a young man, he was on Air Raid Precaution duty when he saw a distressed and labouring aircraft passing overhead to crash shortly afterwards a quarter of a mile from Plungar, Leicestershire and mere meters from the runway of nearby RAF Langar airfield. It was him; his crippled Lancaster plunging to earth so heartbreakingly close to safety, home and life.

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Dennis Kirk is an old man now. He has long harboured a hope to meet the descendants and relatives of this fated aircrew and share his memories and impressions of that fateful night. It, too, is his fervent wish these young men be honoured and memorialized in some way for their sacrifice. Mr. Kirk is about to get his wish. Parts of the aircraft have been discovered and unearthed and a monument to be placed and dedicated this autumn at the scene of the crash. The last surviving sibling of the pilot’s family, a 94-year-old brother was invited to the dedication but for health reasons has sadly declined. So his son and two daughters will proudly participate alongside six cousins from his family. They will visit his grave at Long Bennington, journey to the crash site and meet and reminiscence with Dennis Kirk; a memorable and poignant pilgrimage for all concluding with a memorial service in St. Helen Anglican Church, Plungar and a fly-past by one of only two Lancasters still flying in the world; an appropriate closure and stirring finale to the proceedings. I’m a small-town boy from Norwich, Ontario who followed his dream in becoming an opera singer and was fortunate enough to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He, too, was a small- town boy from Norwich, Ontario. He, also, had a dream. He wanted to fly and he followed it to the end. From the halls of Valhalla, Flight Sergeant Gerald Russell Avey, 100th Squadron, RAF Bomber Command killed March 5th, 1943 can rest easy. He and his fellow denizens of the air are now, at long last and for time immemorial, rightfully recognized for their courage, achievements and sacrifice; these monuments in London and Leicestershire, apt and honourable tributes for future generations to see, marvel and ponder. Oh, my name? John Avey. And I will proudly be attending the dedication. After all, he is my uncle and that 94 year-old man---well, he’s my father.

John Avey was born in Norwich, Ontario Canada and now lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Letter to Charlie Bailey
Flight Sergeant Gerald Russell Avey Service Number: R/99993 Force: Air Force Regiment: Royal Canadian Air Force Unit: 100 (R.A.F.) Sqdn

Letter to Charlie Bailey
Jan 14, 1943 Dear Charlie This is a letter I have been wanting to get off for a long while and I am very sorry that I didn’t. Doug tells me you fellows have been doing some practicing on the runners, wish that Clarence and I had been there. That is one thing we really miss over here since the weather is so mild compared to ours. We have slight cold snaps with a touch of snow but nothing cold enough for ice. Even at that it is a change to have such mild weather in the winter. Right now it is like a spring night and being the middle of January it is quite difficult for me to believe. Seems like some season I have never experienced before. No doubt you have heard from the fellows how things are going for me over here. Really at the last school for operations now and it has been a long grind. Never thought I would get to the finish, even now I shouldn’t use the past tense as we have a while to go yet. Takes a little time to go from a service trainer onto operational planes. We (the crew) are on four engined planes now and that is what we will do our operations on. There are seven to a complete crew so it is a few to look after. At OTU we only had five but that was with a smaller aircraft, with the “heavies" there are two more added. I wish I could tell you more about the flying over here but it would be stopped so there is not much sense in writing it. Even if I haven’t been on any operational flights yet, we have gone through some great experiences. One night we were caught in an electrical storm, well it was raining as hard as it could possibly rain which made the plane leak and that didn’t make it any more comfortable for us. After we had been in it for a while I noticed the front turret glowing and then I looked at the port motor. Then I got a shock the end of the propeller was glowing and of course that made a huge arc of this bluish light. It was very fascinating to watch. The plane, I believe picks up electrical charges in the clouds and that causes all this light. The guns in the rear turret had sparks jumping from one to the other like a large spark plug. Anyway it was fun while it lasted.

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

In the clippings from the Gazette I see that you had a team in the town league. From Doug’s letters they used to have some good games. The home town seems to be (I will use an English expression) pulling the finger. What a collection of sayings these English have. There is one thing they should have and that is an arena. It would be tops then and it could have it to. Roy, Clarence and myself all managed to be at Aunt Flo’s for Christmas. That is mother’s sister over here also she has a father living and a grand old fellow he is. Eighty-eight years old and his mind is a keen as a whip and he has a real sense of humour too. He has some difficulty getting around as he is troubled with a bad knee. We all had a good Christmas and was it ever swell to be all together especially since Roy had only been over a week. Received all the latest news from him. No doubt you wonder what I think of England and the people. Well, Charlie, I don’t see so very much difference except the money is somewhat queer and the cars drive on the wrong side of the road. England is a very pretty country with its checkerboard fields and neat hedges. It is very neat and from the air looks like as well kept garden. Some of the towns are very quaint but one soon gets used to them. The people are just the same as far as I am concerned. As for being over here I haven’t minded it one bit and I have enjoyed some of it very much and wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Well it is about time to pack and I hope I haven’t bored you too much talking about flying. Hope to hear from you soon and all best for the New Year.

Your good friend,

Russ
P.S. Hope to see you back home soon.

Sadly, Russell made the supreme sacrifice and died serving his country on 5th March 1943.
He is buried at, Long Bennington (St. Swithun) Churchyard. Lincolnshire, United Kingdom Grave Reference: Grave B1. “We shall never forget the foundations of courage on which Canada is built”.

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

G R Avey Artefacts

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Rene Rodger Landry Letter
To my sweetheart my darling mother,
It is apparent now that I will go overseas. Therefore it will be impossible to bury my remains in my home town. A last and final wish I hope you my darling mother will grant me. You have been an outstanding mother both Christianly and particularly to one in uniform. Mom you have earned your reward on earth I hope we meet in heaven, your eternal reward. My wish is a requiem high Mass be Rene and his Mother sung for me with a smart coffin, covered with a Union Jack and a Norman Hawke sweater (No. 2) (Sid Farstrome Kennia). I want also that Ave Maria by Treno played by Mrs C. Pearson of Norman, Ontario, and Holy God we Praise Thy Name by the regular choir. I want Reverend Father to say a word of my love for the children of Norman, my parents and country. I had plans for a recreation centre for the Norman kiddies when I returned home Dear Mother God wanted it this way and I am glad to go after doing my duty as a Catholic and a Canadian. You and Dad were the best parents anyone could wish for, so dear Mom and Dad good bye only for a little while when we will meet again in paradise. Mother your sons were all brave, that alone is a consolation to you, no-one can say the Landrys’ were yellow. Hoping God takes good care of you and gives you your well earned reward – heaven. Your ever loving son who has died that you may live. ------------- ---------- to the sky God Bless you Rene xxx
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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Rene had produced outline designs for the sport centre in his home town with dimensions and his ideas for how the children of the community would benefit. In his memory after the war, his dream became reality.

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Rene Rodger Landry - Attestation Paper details. Winnipeg
Could speak and write English & French. Keen Ice Hockey player. Occupation Jig & Toolmaker ( Worked 10 months in aircraft factory ) Height 5’ 9½’’ Air Gunners Badge awarded 25/5/42 Departed Halifax, Nova Scotia for UK 27/5/42 7th Air Gunnery School 11/8/42 28 Operational Training School 1/9/42 1656 Conversion Unit 30/12/42 100 Squadron 8/1/43

R. Landry – Course 79 Class 1. #7 AGS [Third from left on the top row]
With fellow gunners

#7 Air Gunners School Stormy Down South Glamorgan England 11/8/1942 to 1/9/1942 Page 14
© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Rene Rodger Landry - Artefacts

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Taken 26th December 1942

Rene and Oscar

Rene Oscar and Paul

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Sergeant Grey Doyle Cumberbatch
Sergeant Cumberbatch, won a Scholarship to go to College, he represented the school at Cricket and was an accomplished musician. Attested into RAF 31st December 1940 Arrived Liverpool 2nd Contingent Qualified as Navigator & Air Bomber ( Bomb Aimer) Errol Barrow Prime Minister 1966-1976

Grey Cumberbatch is on the extreme left of the picture

Grey Cumberbatch was the eldest child and only son of Charles Wilkinson Cumberbatch and Ocatavia Ceciliy Cumberbatch née Jordan . He was born 2nd June 1921 and baptised 23rd July 1921 as Greystone Doyle Cumberbatch at St. Lucy Parish Church. Two of his younger sisters are still alive. His father was Charles Wilkinson Cumberbatch who was headmaster at St Giles School. Grey Cumberbatch himself was a graduate of Harrison College , Barbados, which was (and apparently still is) a prestigious secondary school. He was part of the Barbados Second Contingent of twelve young men who joined the RAF, one of whom - E W Barrow - survived the war to become the first Prime Minister of Barbados. In 2008 the Barbados Postal Service issued a set of stamps commemorating their men who served in the Royal Air Force in WW2 - (see above and right).
© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Sergeant John Robinson
Sergeant John Robinson (Wireless Operator) died in the crash aged 34, the son of Mr & Mrs R. Robinson and husband of Isabella was buried at Thornton-Le-Fylde Churchyard. John Robinson was a Fylde coach bus driver and was due home on leave on the very day that he was killed. He was a native of Fulwood, Preston and moved to Thornton in 1933 when he married Isabella.

Benjamin Thomas Hallett and Alan Havelock Spence,
Sergeant Benjamin Thomas Hallett (Flight Engineer) died in the crash aged 23 the son of Mr & Mrs W. H. Hallett of Fratton, Portsmouth was buried at Portsmouth (Kingston) cemetery. Sergeant Alan Havelock Spence (Navigator) died in the crash aged 32 the son of Mr & Mrs A. Spence and husband of Florence Irene was buried at North Sunderland cemetery. Currently no further details are known about, Sergeants, Hallett and Spence.

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

The Crash
The crash is timed at 0308 on 5th March 1943, the aircraft was a Lancaster 111 ED 549 100 Squadron HW S. This evening was a “quiet” night for Bomber Command. Subsequent official reports state that the aircraft ED 549 ‘burnt out on the ground’ but this is an error and Dennis Kirk has determinedly tried to correct this inaccuracy.

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

Funeral and Graves

Russell Avey’s brother Clarence and Rene’s brother Oscar both serving in the Canadian Army in the UK attended the funeral at, St Swithun Churchyard, Long Bennington, on 10th March 1943.

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

The graves have been carefully tended over the years and there is a plaque in the church to the memory of the three men and kneelers with their names clearly marked

Kneelers and Plaque Inside The Church

© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012

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The Last Crew of Lancaster ED 549 100 Squadron

The Memorial

To be carved in stone and erected on the footpath of the Grantham Canal, close to the crash site

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© Tim Chamberlin and Michael Hardwick – August 2012