Sunderland DW110

Badge of 228 Squadron - Coastal Command

Motto means "Help from the Skies"

What we know about the events of 31st January 1944

 

DW110 had been on patrol over the French Coast and Bay of Biscay, possibly on a Submarine Hunt.

It left its base in Pembroke Dock, Wales on 31st January 1944.

On board were:

F/Lt Howard Charles Sheffield Armstrong DFC (listed as 1st Pilot) *

F/Lt Maurice Leonard Gillingham (Listed as 2nd Pilot) *

F/O Maurice Vincent Wareing (listed as 3rd Pilot but not on duty)*

F/O Joseph George Trull (listed as Navigator) (died in a later crash)

W/O John Bruce Richardson DFC (listed as Flight Engineer)

Sgt Charles Stanley Hobbs (Listed as FME/AG)

Sgt Cyril Robinson Greenwood  (listed as WOP/Air)*

F/Sgt Frederick George Green RCAF (listed as Gunner) *

Sgt John Ernest Parsons  (listed as WOP/Air) *

Sgt Frederick Tom Copp (listed as Flight Engineer)*

Sgt James Kenneth Gilchrist (listed as Rear Gunner)

F/Sgt Arthur Gowens (listed as WOP/Air)

* died in the crash.

These were a group of officers and enlisted aircrew who had flown together in 228 Squadron since March 1943, when the Squadron Operations Record Book shows H C Armstrong flying missions as second pilot to G A Church.

The ORB for 6th September records most of the crew members of DW110 as being present for the 6th September 1943 rescue flight.  

The ORB of 228 Squadron ORB for 6th Sep 1943 reads:

F/Lt. H. C. Armstrong

F/Lt A. M. Majendie

F/O M. Wareing

F/O J Trull

P/O C Kelly

A/S Patrol – Up 0855 down at 22.47

Anto-submarine patrol, Percussion A.10.  Sighted 2 sloops, 1 Cotte, Over two dingies, 6 aircrew in each.  Sighted 2 spanish fishing vessels.  Landed and picked up 12 survivors of P/422.  Photographs taken.  Over 5?? Dinghy with 5 5 or 6 aircrew, dropped markers and rations.  Conditions fair, Vis. Unlimited, wind 271 kts, cloud 10/10 s.cu. average height 1000’. 

Crew. 618625 W/O Holdsworth, H.  523921 W/O Richardson, J.  614970 Sgt Copp, F. 1315937 Sgt Parsons, J. 1129218 Sgt Greenwood, C.  1338328 Sgt Gilchrist, J. 

On the morning of the fatal crash in Donegal, after 13 hours on patrol due to bad weather they were directed to the Donegal Corridor over Southern Ireland (which was a neutral country) with the intention of landing at another base in Ireland, Lough Erne.

Due to the bad weather, awful visibility and possible tiredness, plus the fact that these "boats" were not equiped with todays technology, they strayed off course and were according to Jim Gilchrist trying to get their bearings when they hit the side of the Blue Stack Mountains. The plane caught fire, Jim Gilchrist, was he thought thrown out of the aircraft and others managed to escape from it. They did what they could for the rest of the Crew, but it seems that those that did not survive the impact died instantly except Paddy Greenwood who died 12 hours later.  Jim and another crew member,Jim Gowens, waited till dawn and went for help. They found a small cottage where the McDermott Family lived, Joe McDermott then 16, took Sgt Gowens to the Gardia Station at Cloughan, a telephone call was put through to Letterkenny Gardia who in turn contacted the military at Rockhill. A party of soldiers and trucks then proceeded to the Blue Stacks.

From Sgt Fred Copps logbook it states that:

 The crew of DW110 (as a whole) had not been together for a long period.  Howard Armstrong took over Flt Lt Haseldine's crew on 1 Sep 1943.  This included F/O's Vince Wareing and Joe Trull, Sgt's Fred Copp, Jim Gilchrist, Cyril Greenwood, John Parsons and Flt Sgt 'Tubby' Richardson - these effectively formed the veterans of the team. 

While Fred, Jim and Cyril completed 20 missions together, Howard Armstrong was the skipper on 18 of these flights. Vince Wareing completed 14 of these missions whilst Flt Sgt Fred Green RCAF was on his first flight with this crew and Flt Lt Maurice Gillingham on his second. Flt Sgt Fred Green replaced Flt Sgt Henry Holdsworth who was hospitalised with a throat infection.

This is a quote from John Quinns book "Down in a Free State"

" Six Mile Climb in Sleet

The route taken by the soldiers was reported to be approximately 6 miles of a climb on foot in foul weather of sleet.  It was early afternoon before the 15 man party, which included stretcher bearers and a Medical Officer arrived at the crash scene.  They found the aircraft had been broken up, not only by the impact of the crash but also by a depth charge, which had exploded.  The plane was still on fire and unexploded bombs and depth charges lay near the impact.

The survivors were dragged from the wreckage. The bodies of the two pilots, Flight Lieutenant Armstrong and Flight Lieutenant Gillingham, were still in the cockpit and these along with the other five fatalities were removed from the wreckage.  The injured men were taken by ambulance later that afternoon of the 1st February and handed over at Belleck at 18.00 hours to Wing Commander Costello RAF.

Four of the seven dead were taken down with the three badly injured survivors; leaving three more to be removed the following day.  On that night in the most awful weather conditions, two local men from the Croagh Valley, above which the aircraft crashed Jimmy Pete McLoone and Paraic Owen McLoone spent the night on the mountain beside the wreck of the ill fated aircraft "waking" the dead who still remained there.  They prayed, recited the rosary, smoked their pipes and chatted till daybreak, thereby ensuring, as is the custom in the area, that the dead would not be left alone.  These bodies were brought down the following morning 2nd February 1944.  The seven bodies were laid out ** at the McDermott cottage before being removed by ambulance, firstly to Finner Camp, were the formality of registering the death within the state took place and then to Belleck for the hand over ceremony.  In the usual manner, a military colour party under Commandant Morris passed the bodies to the RAF under Flight Lieutenant Quail.

Meanwhile on Mullaghnadress a number of depth charges and bombs were destroyed by Captain Gradie of the Ordanance Corp, based at Athlone.  One local man, one of many being kept back by Military guard, watched as the tail of the aircraft, which stood erect, was also blown up by a small charge.  The aircraft armament was dismantled and the Brownings handed ober to Commandant Morris by Capatain Teague of the AIr Corp and later returned to the RAF by Captain Moore.

About ten nights after the crash, a group of card players returning home saw flares shooting up from the direction of thecrash site.  Upon investigation they found a couple of young lads firing Verey lights with a substitute they had improvised in place of the normal pistol The young buckos were quickly sent packing from the site."

 ** the term "laid out"  means that the bodies were washed and prepared for burial - there was often a person, usually an older woman, in the Village who was called on at this time to do this duty. My grandma used to do this duty in our neighbourhood - she used to get paid 6 pence for her services.

The MOD Court of Enquiry report states the aircraft was it appears in good condition and the crash was not due to mechanical failure. However, a recommendation was made that safety height for aircraft around the northern portion of the island is 3,700 feet

Some of the deceased were taken over the border to Northen Ireland, where several of them were repatriated to their homelands. Those that were not able to be sent back home were buried in Irvinestown Church of Ireland Cemetary, where their graves are tended today by the good folk of the area. Gowens and Gilchrist were treated at the RAF Hospital in Irvinestown and Trull and Richardson who all suffered more serious injuries, in a nearby US Army Hospital. The survivors with the exception of Hobbs, went on to other Missions - serving with distinction, Trull was however killed on a Mission in another Sunderland in December 1944.

In 1988 a memorial plaque was unveiled at the site by Jim Gilchrist, who had finished his service in the RAF as a Squadron Leader. The site is now tended by the Blue Stack Mountain Ramblers and is a very special place for them and the people of the Fernagh Valley.

 

 The original memorial on the rocks

 

In the next few pages we hope to have stories and pictures of the Crew Members of DW110.

 I  would like to thank all those involved who have helped piece together what has been a mystery to me for many years, particularly Dennis Burke for his research and photos and Joe O'Loughlin for his support and encouragement in my search, also members of the RAF Command Message Board who have been so helpful and to George Smith for his help also. To Paul Clarke from UTV who has helped keep the memory alive along with the people of the Blue Stack Mountains, the Ramblers and the good folk of Donegal. With special thanks to Garry Pentland and all his helpers for placing the Plaque in the Rock. Also to the family members who have shared their stories of their loved ones with us all and given us all extra information and insight about that awful night.

May God bless and keep you all.

Dyan Tucker - cousin of F/O M V Wareing.