Canadian clues to solving bomber crew riddle

Is this wartime photo, which has winged its way to us from Canada, the key to unlocking the riddle of a cherished memento left by the late Mrs Myfanwy Morris of Welshpool?

David Evans of Shrewsbury has been trying to identify five young airmen featured in a photo which was found among the things of Mrs Morris, known as Van, at her house.

As the young Miss Van Jones she had served in the wartime ATS – Auxiliary Territorial Service – and her picture had the following names written on the back: "Left to right, bomb aimer Jock Doyle; Don't Know This Person; navigator Johnny; pilot Don; rear gunner Sammy."

David thinks it was Jock Doyle who was Van's particular friend, but knows nothing about him.

Now his attempt to find out more has quite literally sparked an alert in Canada.

It has resulted in Karl Kjarsgaard, curator of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, near Calgary, running the name J Doyle through the museum's master list of over 50,000 bomber crewmen of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

And not only did he come up with a bomb aimer named J Doyle who served in 426 Squadron, but he also has a photograph of the bomber crew in which he served with the RCAF, based at Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire.

Karl said: "It intrigued me to see if I could make a match. I put David Evans' photo and the photo I have got side by side.

"I compared images of faces and names, official names of the 426 Squadron known crew with the nicknames on the mystery photo. They are totally different photos but there are several matches in this comparison."

Young Van was based for a time at York during the war, and Karl says all the Canadian squadrons of Bomber Command were based in Yorkshire.

"I am a Halifax bomber specialist at the museum and I put in Google to alert me to any article in the world that has the words 'Halifax bomber' in it. Up pops this article from the Shropshire Star.

"On my picture of the 426 Squadron crew, working from left, we have the pilot, D Berry, who is very tall and has the same face as the 'Don' in David Evans' picture, and in both photos he has the pilot's wings.

"Next is C Sambrook, the rear gunner, who has the same face as 'Sammy' in the Evans photo, and then there is the flight engineer, A Ware, who is not on the Evans photo.

"Next guy is W Plummer, the navigator, who I am not sure is in the Evans photo and next is bomb aimer J Doyle, who looks like he is also in the Evans photo as 'Jock Doyle.'

"Then there is the wireless operator, T Matthews, who looks like the middle man in the Evans photo. Last along in my photo is the mid-upper gunner, F Tilley, who is not in the Evans photo.

"So there are three or four positives for 'mystery solved' and one or two minuses. "

Karl added: "I spoke with a colleague and he said the Berry crew of 426 Squadron survived their combat tour, in which they flew in Halifax and Lancaster bombers, and completed 32 combat trips."

Halifax and Lancaster bombers had a normal crew of seven, and Karl thinks that David Evans' photo showing only five crewmen would have been taken during their training on Wellington bombers. When they stepped up to Halifax and Lancaster bombers they would have been joined by a mid-upper gunner and flight engineer.

The hazards they faced are well illustrated by one trip to Berlin on December 2, 1943, when their Lancaster lost two engines to flak (anti aircraft fire), then got shot at by a flak ship at lower altitude. Without instruments they became lost over Dunkirk, thinking they were over England, and were illuminated by searchlights.

Pilot Officer Berry was eventually able to land the damaged aircraft on the emergency landing strip at Manston in Kent.

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