The First of Many  
 
Webmaster's Notes:

  The following tribute chronicles the first Halifax Mk.III loss by 431 squadron, over the next six months the squadron would lose 22 in total before converting to the Avro Lancaster Mk. X. This tribute also illustrates how sometimes despite extensive efforts, some aircrew could never be accounted for.

 

The Raid on Dusseldorf  April 22/23 1944

 Flying Halifax serial number MZ514 coded SE-P of 431 Iroquois Squadron, this Halifax was one of a batch of Halifax’s delivered by English Electric Co (Salmesbury & Preston) between 11th March 1944 and 31st March 1944.

Profile drawing of Halifax MZ514 (M.Lacroix)

 This was the first Halifax to be reported missing from 431 Squadron. It left Croft airfield at 22.29 hours with course being set over base at 23.01 hours on the 23rd April for the op. to Dusseldorf.The time over the target as part of the 4th bombing wave was to be 01.20 to 01.26 from 22,000 feet.The takeoff weight was to be in the neighbourhood of 60,160 lbs with 1682 gallons of fuel. The bomb load carried was 1x 2,000 lb bomb and 3,840 lbs of incendiaries. Bombing was accurate, causing severe damage. As Halifax MZ 514 started to head back to base it was hit by flak over Bonninghardt, the Halifax exploding before going into a dive and hitting the ground. No crew survived.

 
The Crew

Priamo, Corkill, 1st & 2nd left back row & the rest of the crew.
Sgt Content 2nd from right, back row.

Pilot

1st Lieutenant Edmund Francis Boyle.J12547 from San Francisco, California.He graduated from 2 SFTS Uplands and was then posted to No 9 SFTS before retiring from the RCAF on15.12.1943 (U.S.Serial number 0-886258).

He received his pilot training with the RCAF and transferred to the USAAF in December 1943 but remained on detached service with the RCAF. Americans serving with Coastal Command & Bomber Command were allowed to transfer to the USAAF but remain on detached service to keep their crew together and hopefully complete their tour of operations. Ironically 431 squadron would lose another USAAF pilot, 1st Lieutenant Earman just a few days after the Boyle crew failed to return.

Navigator

F/O Peter George Harvey Macgregor J/22743 RCAF aged 22, son of George & Ethel Macgregor of Toronto,Ontario.

Air bomber

P/O Norman Herbert Lynch. J/88774. RCAF.aged 26,son of Clement & Eva Lynch of Kirkland Lake, Ontario.Norman was single and his father of Irish descent&, his mother from Quebec.

Rear Gunner

P/O Joseph Lidio Priamo J/90756 RCAF aged 19, son of Antonio and Teonilda Priamo of 39 Webster Street, Guelph, Ontario. Joseph was single and of Italian descent.

P/O Joseph Priamo

Mid Under Gunner

P/O Robert Lachlan Lochhead J/90280,RCAF, aged 19, son of Fraser & Gertrude Lochhead of 8521 Mount Elliott, Detroit, Michigan, USA and brother of Elizabeth Dougher of Ontario. Robert, a musician, enlisted at Windsor, Ontario in 1942 and although he had Canadian citizenship was of Scottish descent. He changed his name from Fraser Robert Lachlan Lockhead. For this operation he manned the Preston Green ventral turret, a short lived experimental gun turret on Halifaxes, soon after the loss of the crew the turret was no longer manned for night operations.

Wireless Operator

P/O Fred Hatchman J/86443 RCAF, son of Walter & Ellen Hatchman who emigrated to Canada from England with his sister Lily. They lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Fred graduated at No 6 bombing & gunnery School at Mont Joli,Quebec

Mid Upper Gunner

Sgt Albert Howcroft, 1592318,RAFVR aged 19,son of Charles & Ruby Howcroft of Doncaster, Yorkshire.

Flight Engineer

Sgt.Ronald Blair Corkill, 2216220,RAF aged 23 son of John and Emily Corkill and husband of Valerie Elsie (nee Oates) Corkill of Mill Street, Castletown, Isle of Man.

Sgt.Ronald Blair Corkill

Nancy Corkill (sister) & Emily Corkill (mother) at Blair's grave at Reichswald

His peacetime occupation was a Wood assembler (Aircraft) and he was one of eleven children. As times were hard and money scarce, Blair used to go rabbiting to put extra food on the table and also was a caddy on the golf course to give his mother money. After the war he planned to emigrate to Canada.

In 1951 he was posthumously awarded the 1939-45 Star. Awarded for six months service on active operations. Aircrew Europe Star, awarded for two months of operational flying from Britain over Europe and the War Medal, awarded to all full time personnel, for serving 28 days.

Ronald Corkill, known as Blair joined the Reserves at Speke in January 1943,spending just over a year on intensive training at St.Athans and 1664 H.C.U. before being transferred to Croft. He was initially trained as a Flight Mechanic but after more training was appointed to Flight Engineer. He arrived at Croft on 13.3.1944 assigned to 431 Squadron.

He was killed on his second op.

The crew’s bodies were initially buried at a local cemetery at Veen before being re-interred and placed in Reischwald Forest War Cemetery in a multiple grave, collectively marked.

On the night that the crew were lost, their regular mid upper gunner Sgt. J.Content did not fly with them, being replaced by Sgt. Howcroft & P/O Lochhead who were spares. Sgt. Content was mentioned in dispatches for an incident on 5th July 1944 when, after take-of with another crew, their plane crashed and Sgt. Content returned to the aircraft, despite being injured to rescue his captain from the burning aircraft.

He was nominated for the British Empire Medal.

Crash Investigation

A copy of the Investigation report to the Air Ministry from No 22 Section, No 4 M.R.E.U., RAF, Germany dated 18th September 1946,the search officer was F/Lt P.Adams:

Result of Investigation & findings.

1) Calling at Veen cemetery, I met a Mrs.Tiemann of Veen, the owner of the ground on which the aircraft crashed. She quite distinctly remembered that incident. She was up rather late and it might have been around 02.00 hours or 03.00 hours when the a/c hit the ground not very far from her house. It was seen as a ball of fire in the sky and was said to have been brought down by the flak from the nearby aerodrome at Bonninghardt, map ref.1331.

2) Although there was no terrific explosion suggesting that the a/c was on it’s way back, it disintegrated in mid air and broke up altogether, when hitting the ground. The wreckage burnt fiercely for the rest of the night and nobody could approach it, because of the heat and the exploding ammo. In the morning, only 2 more or less complete bodies were found, totally burnt through, 3 skulls and many bits and pieces of human bodies. Mrs Tiemann remembers finding very small pieces of the bodies giving some indication of the force of the explosion. These bits and pieces were collected and put in one grave, whilst the two bodies were placed in a coffin and buried in the local cemetery.

3) Mr.H.Werner of Menthe the local cemetery keeper, on whom I called next confirmed what I had already heard from Mrs Tiemann.Asked how he came to make just 5 graves, he said he had 2 bodies, and another 3 skulls, so he presumed that there must have been 5 men in the crew. Graves No4 and 5 are empty, for there were not even enough to fill Grave No3.

4) A farmer Van Husen of Veen had found 2 Identity discs belonging to Boyle and Priamo respectively, which he had handed in to the authorities then.

5) Calling on the Burgomaster of Alpen, Map Ref.A1532, under whose jurisdiction Veen comes, I met a Mr.H.Schoofs, a young official there. He proved to be most helpful and had done some investigation on this case already (with Squadron Leader Leagh-Murray). He suddenly remembered that rumours had been going round to the effect, that in the light of the search lights, 2 parachutists had been seen descending in the direction of Sevelen(AO95225) and Issum(AO95225) and it was assumed that they had come from this aircraft.

6) To cut a very lengthy story short, I had to interview 17 people in different places (see Appendix), I could not get any definite facts, but assumptions, vague reports and rumours only.

7) It is therefore suggested, that Air Ministry checks on all available records whether any further reports had come through, referring to any member of this crew. In the event of no further news, it is requested that this section may be informed and arrangements will be made for a “Comrade Grave” and cross, giving the particulars of all 8 members of this crew thus closing this case.

8) Exhumation would be without result, as apart from the 2 bodies which are burnt beyond recognition, nothing else would be found.

Appendix: in the course of my investigation I interviewed:

Farmer Van Husen who found the discs, but he had no further information. Burgomasters and police stations of Sevelen and Issum, no records kept, everything being destroyed through the war, they do remember POW’s being taken near their places but nobody could state for definite as it was after that night. O.C. of Aerodrome Bonninghardt, a former Major Reier, remembers that all POW’s brought down in his area were taken to Stalag Luft 111 via the aerodrome Ober-Ursel near Frankfurt/Main has no records, is quite certain that no records are available anywhere else and has no recollection of that particular night, for he had a weekly average of some 15 to 17 POW’s passing through his place.

Hilfspolizist Bohmanns of 17,Vichardstrasse, Geldern, who is said to have escorted some of our boys does not remember that night, might have been his day off he says………….no records, everything destroyed. Farmer Wolfres of Sevelen on whose grounds the airmen were said to have come down does not remember although he admits that many airmen have come down near and around his place, but he always avoided them and does not remember this specific case.

Several other farmers who were said to know something…but all information I received was on the same lines, rumours etc., but no concrete facts.

Investigating Officer,

Officer commanding,

No.20 Section,

4 M.R.E.U. RAF

This report only goes to show how hard it must have been for the RAF to find out the true facts. Did any of the crew bale out and were subsequently murdered by villagers or the Gestapo, or did they all perish in the crash? We will likely never know.

The Curran plaque, Castletown, Isle of Man Commemorating Blair Corkill and others from the Isle of Man

The Author would like to thank the following individuals:

Photos of Blair Corkill, crew & family, supplied by Kevin Corkill with permission of Duggy Corkill (Isle of Man), brother of Blair. (Thanks to Kevin for all his prior research.)

Photo of P/O Joseph Priamo; courtesy of Canadian Virtual war memorial, Wally Fydenchuk, Floyd Williston, Richard Koval

Written by Linda Ibrom

cathogs2000@tiscali.co.uk