Lest We Forget
Sergeant (Navigator) 625 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Died 4th May 1944. Aged 23. Son of James and Jessie Mary Ann Clarke, of Hackthorn. Buried in TROUAN-LE-PETIT CHURCHYARD, Aube, France. Grave 4. See his autobiography.
Frederick Charles Clarke was born on 24 Oct 1920 in Hackthorn, Lincs, a small village just off the A15 (the old Roman road known as the Ermine Way), about 8 miles north of Lincoln. He was the third of four children of James Clarke and Jessie Mary Ann Bolam and the family lived in a cottage called the "Yew Tree" a few yards from the Hackthorn village war memorial which would one day bear Fred's name. The war memorial also bears the name of his cousin, Reginald Hannath Clarke.
He attended Hackthorn School from where in 1933 he gained a scholarship to De Aston School in Market Rasen, and upon gaining his school certificate he entered a local engineering firm as an apprentice. After making several efforts to join up at the beginning of the war he was eventually accepted by the RAF on 8 Aug 1941, entering No. 2 Recruits Centre. His subsequent postings were No. 1 Aircrew Reception Centre (9 Feb 1942), Aircrew Disposal Wing (28 Feb 1942), No. 4 Initial Training Wing (11 April 1942), No. 7 Flying Training School (4 Aug 1942) and RAF Bridgnorth (14 Oct 1942).
For navigation training he moved to No. 1 EANS (Empire Air Navigation School) on 11 Nov 1942 and from there to No. 6 AOS (Air Observers School, 2 Feb 1943), No. 81 Operational Training Unit at Whitchurch (17 Aug 1943) and finally No. 1656 Conversion Unit at Lindholme where he arrived on 14 Nov 1943. By February 1944 his training was complete and, on 10 Feb 1944, 1463568 Sergeant Frederick Charles Clarke, RAF, was posted to an operational bomber squadron, No. 625 stationed at Kelstern, only 16 miles from his home.
There had been a landing ground at Kelstern in the First World War but the new airfield was built about a mile away on a larger site and was officially opened on 16 Aug 1943 as part of 1 Group; the station's first commander, Group Captain R H Donkin, was present. The first Lancaster landed there on 7 Oct 1943 and on 13 Oct the nucleus of the new squadron (experienced crews from C Flight of 100 Squadron) flew in. G Sage, one of the squadron electricians, remembers them arriving and noting that the bomb tallies on the noses showed much previous service. Within five days the squadron took part in a raid on Hanover (18/19 October), its first operation.
Either at 81 OTU or at 1656 CU Fred teamed up with the other 6 members of his crew (they were all posted into the squadron on the same day - 10 Feb), with whom he would fly for the remainder of their all too short operational careers.
The crew were:
|Sgt||Neil McArthur||McGaw||Captain-Pilot 1390678||RAF|
|Sgt||Kenneth||Garner||F/Engineer 1627183||RAF (VR)|
|Sgt||Frederick Charles||Clarke||Navigator 1463568||RAF (VR)|
|Sgt||Reginald John||Tailby||WOP/Air 1332880||RAF (VR)||see Note 1|
|Sgt||Richard Walter||Andrews||MU/Gunner 1853736||RAF (VR)|
|F/S||Thomas Charles||White||R/Gunner A419567||RAAF||see Note 2|
R J Tailby, son of Victor and Fanny Ada Tailby, of Eastbourne, Sussex, husband of Moira Tailby
|T C White, son of Charles Thomas and Anastasia Alice White, of Coburg, Victoria, Australia|
Before the full crew began operations McGaw did a familiarization trip as second pilot to Fl/Lt Tom Nicholls in Lancaster W5009 on 20/21 Feb 1944, attacking Stuttgart. After this his crew became operational. McGaw was promoted to F/Sgt in March and P/O in April.
They took part in the following raids:
Date Target Aircraft Time up/
24 Feb 1944 Schweinfurt Lanc. ED814 2027-0505 8:38 25 Feb 1944 Augsburg Lanc. ED814 1835-0231 7:56 No operations 2 to 14 March 15 Mar 1944 Stuttgart Lanc. DV278 1907-0317 8:10 18 Mar 1944 Frankfurt Lanc. ND742 1921-0112 5:51 22 Mar 1944 Frankfurt Lanc. ND639 1848-0040 5:52 24 Mar 1944 Berlin Lanc. ND636 1841-0204 7:23 26 Mar 1944 Essen Lanc. ND639 1939-0052 5:13 30 Mar 1944 Nuremburg Lanc. ND742 2153-0623 8:30 No operations 1 to 8 April McGaw was now allocated Lancaster LM515, (previously with 626 Sqdn), code letter W for William 10 Apr 1944 Aulnoye (France) Lanc. LM515 2329-0439 5:10 11 Apr 1944 Aachun Lanc. LM515 2031-0045 4:14 18 Apr 1944 Rouen Lanc. LM515 2203-0220 4:17 20 Apr 1944 Cologne Lanc. LM515 2329-0419 4:50 On the Cologne raid only McGaw, Clarke and White flew. With them were: W/O C D A Short (2nd pilot), Sgt J A Williams (F/Eng), F/S J A Reynolds RCAF (A/Bomb), Sgt J F Moran (WOP/Air) and Sgt R H Martin (MU/Gun). All were subsequently killed on the Mailly raid. 22 Apr 1944 Dusseldorf Lanc. LM515 2222-0316 4:54 24 Apr 1944 Karlsruhe Lanc. LM515 2135-0355 6:20 3 May 1944 Mailly Le Camp Lanc. LM515 2158 - "no news after take off - failed to return"
For several months after the raid there was no news of aircraft W William and it was hoped that Fred was a prisoner of war but eventually his death was confirmed. There is no record of why the aircraft crashed or the exact location, though it was close to Trouan near the target area, and the bodies were identified. Whether they were shot down by flak, night fighter or were the victims of an accident is not known. Curiously enough on the same night, as well as LM515, Lancasters LM514 and LM516 of 12 Squadron were also lost.
All those who served with 625 Squadron are commemorated by the roadside memorial at Kelstern, unveiled and dedicated on 25 October 1964, a small stone monument on the edge of the old airfield, bearing the squadron crest - a Lancaster rose within a circular chain of seven links (representing the seven members of a Lancaster's crew), and the motto "We Avenge". The squadron finally left Kelstern in April 1945 and was disbanded at Scampton on 7 October of the same year.
The crew of W William are buried side by side in the small village church at Trouan-Le- Petit, on Departmental Route 9 about 7km south east of Mailly. They lie on the north side of the church, with the inscriptions and names facing south into the sun, 13 graves in all, seven from 625 Squadron and six from 50 Squadron.
On Fred's grave is the inscription:
"Father in thy gracious keeping leave we now our loved one sleeping".
Last updated 15 March, 2010