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BALSHAM WAR MEMORIAL - BOB RICHARDSON

Compiled and copyright © Tony Beeton 2005

The loss of Lancaster NE118 UM-U2
626 Squadron RAF Wickenby

Robert William (Bob) Richardson was 21 years old and was in a reserved occupation working on the land for Mr Sam Taylor a local Balsham Farmer. He was determined to join up to do his bit as it was termed. He enlisted in the RAF becoming an air gunner and was posted to 626 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, based at Wickenby in Lincolnshire.

On the night of 22/23rd May 1944 the Squadron were dispatched in their Lancaster four engine aircraft, to attack Dortmund. Robert was flying as the rear gunner in Avro Lancaster NE118 coded UM-W2. This aircraft became the only loss from the Squadron on the raid when it was shot down by a night fighter on the way back from the target crashing at Asten, Holland.

Many years after the war the Pilot of Lancaster NE118 Flight Sergeant Eric Grisdale wrote down the story of the events on the night of 22/23rd May 1944. This is his account together with information extracted from 626 Squadron Operations Book.

At 22.24 hours on the 22 May 1944 the crew of Lancaster NE118 coded UM-U took off from RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire on a bombing raid to Germany, the target was Dortmund.

They were one of fourteen 626 Squadron Lancaster’s from that Station and part of a force of 361 Lancaster’s and 14 Mosquitoes of Bomber Command. NE118 was carrying a 4000 lb high explosive “Cookie” and 7,920 lbs of incendiaries.

As the aircraft crossed the Dutch coast the port outer engine started to give trouble and ran very roughly. After awhile it ran smoothly again so the decision was made to continue onto the target. The crew had an uneventful trip to the target and began their bombing run just a little behind the allotted time. As the pilot held the aircraft steady, following the bomb aimers instructions a piece of flak shrapnel hits the starboard inner engine with a loud bang but the pilot held his course until the call “Bombs Gone” when he banked to starboard and headed for home.

By now the starboard inner had lost its oil pressure requiring that it be shut down. At almost the same time the port outer engine started to give trouble again and the Lancaster was flying on two and a half engines, slowly losing height.

At about 02.00 hours whilst flying at about 19,000 ft over Holland, the Lancaster was suddenly raked by bullets from an enemy night fighter all along the port side. The port fuel tank was ruptured and the port wing caught fire and was burning furiously. The Pilot called to the crew over the intercom and found the Wireless Operator and Navigator had been killed by the burst of gunfire. He realised that the position was hopeless and as the aircraft was becoming difficult to handle, gave the order “Abandon Aircraft”.

The only response he received was from the Rear Gunner who said calmly “Do you mean now”. The pilot replied “Yes”. As the Pilot made his way down to the escape hatch in the Bomb Aimers position there was a violent explosion within the aircraft, followed a few seconds later by another. The next recollection the Pilot had was being free from the aircraft and falling towards the ground. He managed to open his parachute and watched as his burning Lancaster fell past him and crashed onto the ground. There were no signs of the other crew members.

It transpired that only the crews Pilot, Engineer, Mid Upper Gunner and Bomb Aimer survived the incident. The Engineer and Mid Upper Gunner were captured and became POW’s but the Pilot and Bomb Aimer evaded capture and after many months in hiding made their way back to the United Kingdom in September 1944.

The Crew were:

Flt Sgt E Grisdale RAF Pilot
Sgt R A Sindall RAF Flight Engineer
Fg Off J B Morritt RCAF Navigator
Flt Sgt R H Punter RCAF Bomb Aimer
Sgt I A Prestwell RAF Wireless Operator
Sgt R J Turtle RAF Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt R W Richardson RAF Rear Gunner

Those members of the crew who lost their lives are buried at the Jonkerbos War Cemetery:

Fg Off J B Morritt Grave 12C 7
Sgt I A Prestwell Grave 12C 8
Sgt R W Richardson Grave 12C 9

Acknowledgment is made to Flt Sgt Jack trend ex 15 Squadron who collated details of the event having met up with Sgt Grisdale whilst being in the care of the Dutch Resistance and Dave Stapleton 626 Squadron Research Project who kindly provided the above information.

The crew photograph shows W.O G A Pearce as crew Navigator, he was replaced by Fg Off Morritt at the end of April 1944.


Robert William (Bob) Richardson - Sgt. 626 Sqdn., R.A.F.V.R., d 23/5/1944, age 21, buried: JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, Gelderland, Netherlands. Son of Rebecca Richardson, of Balsham, Cambridgeshire.

Photograph Copyright © Ad van Zantvoort 2005

18 June 2005

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