Flight Engineer:  Sergeant William Edward Desborough


Sergeant William Desborough Royal Air Force

Sergeant William Desborough was the only airmen of Halifax MZ589 that was not Canadian or a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Like most Flight Engineers during early to mid 1944, Sergeant Desborough was a member of the Royal Air Force and a citizen of the United Kingdom.

Sergeant Desborough and his wife Barbara lived in the London suburb or Burnt Oak near Edgeware where they had met during their teenage years. Together they had survived the first four years of the war but sadly fate was about to intervene in its decidedly cruel fashion.

Most Flight Engineers were mustered from ground crews or selected from personnel that had prior technical training. William Desborough worked as an Engineer with De-Havilland up until his time of enlistment in the Royal Air Force in 1943. Apparently the De Havilland plant had re-located and Bill ( as he was known) would likely soon be declared an essential worker. Feeling a very strong need to do his part and serve his country, Bill enlisted in the Royal Air Force before being declared exempt. It is a testament to Bill's character that he willingly left his wife and daughter to serve his country when he could have stayed at his job and been declared exempt from service.

 After completing basic recruit training and technical courses at Flight Engineer's School, Sergeant Desborough was sent to 1666 Heavy Conversion Unit at Wombleton to be "crewed up." On April 12, 1944 he joined the Collver crew, consisting of Pilot Joe Collver, Navigator Norman Bailey, Bomb Aimer Ray White, Wireless Operator W.Gerald Sorel and Gunners Robert Leman and Norman Jermey. On April 30th the crew was posted to 431 Iroquois Squadron (RCAF), stationed at Croft, Yorkshire.

Bill's Class at Flight Engineer School ( Bill is 2nd from the right in the second row)

Bill flew 12 operations with his crew and was granted a 48 hour pass to attend the christening ceremony for his daughter Jacqueline on July 2, 1944. While home for the christening, Bill's brother-in-law and best friend was seriously injured during a V-1 flying bomb attack. Deeply concerned for his friend and family, Bill did not return to base by the required time. As a result, the service police were sent to pick him up. Sadly, this would be the last time that Barbara Desborough would see her husband as he was killed with his crew a few weeks later while on an operation to Hamburg.

Bill and Barbara's Wedding Photo

In Bill's last letter to Barbara he writes that it was "Little Joe" that called the service police, quite possibly referring to Pilot Joseph Collver who was 5'-6" tall and only nineteen years of age. Bill also writes that "Little Joe" was concerned that he had been hurt or killed in the V-1 attacks and that was the reason that he called in the authorities. 

Sergeant William Edward Desborough was 27 years old at the time of his death, he was one of two married men in his crew and one of two men that left behind a wife and child.

Lest We Forget.


Telegram to Barbara Desborough communicating her husband's disappearance.

Letter from the Air Ministry.

Confirmation of death.

Commemorative scroll from King George.


Authour's Notes:

I would like to sincerely thank the widow of Sergeant Desborough, Barbara Desborough, as well as her daughter Jacqueline and son-in-law John for graciously sharing the information that appears on this page. Sergeant Desborough was the only crew member that I did not have a photo of, his image is invaluable to preserving the memory of the men of Halifax MZ589. 


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