LANCASTER P-PETER - JB243
Crashed at Graveley, killing 6 of the crew, 1 survivor.
Pilot: S/L Ernest Alfred Deverill
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Docking (St Mary) Churchyard, Norfolk
Flight Engineer: F/S Alexander Russell
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Epsom Cemetery
Navigator: P/O John Thomas Brown
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Belfast (Dundonald) Cemetery
Bomb Aimer: F/S Francis Roy Farr
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Windsor Cemetery
W/Op: F/S Ralph Crossgrove
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Cambridge City Cemetery
Mid-Upper Gunner: W/O James Benbow
Severely injured 17-Dec-43
Rear Gunner: W/O Donald Jamieson Penfold
Killed 17-Dec-43, buried in Worthing (Durrington) Cemetery
At twenty past one in the morning of 17th December 1943 (as recorded on the accident card - there are various timing discrepancies concerning this crash) a Lancaster from 97 Squadron crashed on Graveley airfield itself. It was that of Squadron Leader Ernest Alfred Deverill, who had been posted back only 11 days before from 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby, where he had been acting as an instructor. The Berlin op that night was the first raid of his third tour. A highly dedicated man, he had flown so many operations that he could easily have missed this last tour.
27 year old Deverill had once been a "Halton Brat" - that is to say, a pupil of No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton, where apprentices and boys were trained to become technical staff to service and repair aircraft. Deverill had outstanding natural ability, and overcoming all the usual conventions he had remustered as a pilot in 1938. He had flown over a hundred sorties, most of them for Coastal Command, before he once again bucked the norm and became an officer, having worked his way up from the very bottom of the ladder. There is no doubt that he was a superb pilot. For his bravery and persistence he had won the Distinguished Flying Medal, and the Distinguished Flying Cross twice. He was posthumously to be awarded the Air Force Cross.
Deverill had been one of the stars of the early days of 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa. He was on the famous Augsburg raid of 17th April 1942, when 97 Squadron had garnered a sheaf of honours. A daring and in the event very costly experiment by Harris using the then new Lancasters, the raid had been a daylight operation to Bavaria to wreck the engine assembly shop within the MAN diesel engine factories. The operation was dogged by ill-luck and, though serious damage was done to the factory, only five of the twelve Lancasters reached home. The raid proved once and for all that even the magnificent new Lancasters could not be used in daylight raids. Deverill got his plane back to England only after it had suffered appalling damage. Y-Yorker had been hit in numerous places; it had lost an engine, the hydraulic pipes had been ruptured, the gun turrets put out of action, and at one stage the hydraulic oil caught fire, burning a large part of the fuselage. Y-Yorker was a write-off for any future operations, though it was patched up and used for training at Wigsley until the following year, when it was lost in a training accident over Hertfordshire.
CREW: Ernest Alfred Deverill, Alexander Russell, John Thomas Brown, Francis Roy Farr, Ralph Crossgrove, James Benbow, Donald Jamieson Penfold
Aircrew on Berlin op - December 16/17 1943
Left: Deverill's grave in Docking Churchyard, Norfolk, photo: Keith May
Below: the war memorial at Docking, photo: Kevin Bending.
Left: a larger - and later - image of Deverill
The one above was taken after the famous Augsburg raid
Below right: James Benbow - on the right
The man on the left in RAF uniform is a friend, Frank Canning.
With many thanks to Kevin Bending for the Benbow picture and newspaper cutting.
See below for further details of James Benbow, sent by his son Peter Benbow.
Peter Benbow writes of his father:
I was just 11 when my Father died, he lived for the RAF and seemed unable to settle back into civilian life. He had severe burns to his hand and I know he had sustained a severely broken leg during the crash, from which he never fully recovered, needing a built up shoe.
He was not discharged from East Grinstead hospital until April 1945. I believe that he was discharged then, not as his treatment was complete but due to my imminent birth in May 1945. I have a letter from McIndoe asking him to return later for further surgery but my Father had myself and a business to contend with so never took the opportunity to have more surgery.
He was older than the average crew member, having been born in 1909.
I believe the Buckingham Palace picture below tto be 6th July 1943 as he mentions it in his logbook. He was awarded his DFM on the 12th March 43.
I have a very large version of the Buck house pic but with his Mother and sister on also, both my parents loved clothes and dressing up, the family being from a hotel-owning background, so it must have been a very special day for them all.
My Mother spoke little about those years so I have to work things out for myself now from paperwork. I think she felt the war had stolen her one true love, she never was in another relationship. The government stopped her widows' pension some years ago and my now wife queried this while caring for my Mother in her later years. They said it was a mistake and would repay the pension. Unfortunately my Mother never received the money as she died before she could sign the claim form.
Below Left: Bremen raid trophy card for the September 1942
Below Right: James Benbow with his wife after receiving the DFM