A Yorkshire Squadron: History of 431 RCAF Squadron

Bill Heron, of Welland, Ontario has a family whose members served in the Crimean War, the Boer War, the First World War and Second World War. So Bill set off to write the story of 431 RCAF (Iroquois) Squadron, with whom his brother flew while serving in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Heron’s book is entitled A Yorkshire Squadron: History of 431 RCAF Squadron and More and deals with the years 1942 to 1945 at stations in Burn, Tholthorpe and Croft.

Much of the data was obtained from the National Archives of Canada, as well as firsthand accounts, including “personal accounts from squadron survivors.” The book contains squadron records, and a listing of the 1,383 man air crew, complete with their names, rank and service numbers.

Included are the dispositions (KIA, PoW, escaped, etc.) If airmen were killed in action, burial information and date killed are written in the book. The book was published by The General Store Publishing House in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada and is available from the author at: layman431@hotmail.com. The total print run was 250 copies, so they may not last long.

Read more about Bill Heron’s book in an article by Mark Tayti in The Tribune.

134 thoughts on “A Yorkshire Squadron: History of 431 RCAF Squadron

  1. I am wondering if you have any pictures or any information regarding Martin Levi Buxton,431 Squadron Sergeant service no 1199580, died 30/5/43.I would appreciate any information you can give Thanyou for your time..

  2. Hi Deborah,
    Sgt. M.L. Buxton,Rear gummer
    First operation with 431 Squadron – March 07/1943 Laying Sea Mines.A/C HE183 SE-J
    March 12/1943 – Target was the Krupps works in Essen. A/C HE183 SE-J
    March 23/1943 Laying Sea Mines A/C HE183 SE-J
    March 26/1943 Duisburg A/C HE203 SE-B
    March 29/1943 Bochum A/C HE197 SE-G
    April 04/1943 Kiel A/C HE203 SE-B
    April 16/1943 Manheim A/C HE203 SE-B
    April 28/1943 Laying Sea Mines
    May 04/1943 Dortmund A/C HE183 SE-J
    May 16/1943 Laying Sea Mines A/C HE203 SE-B
    May 29/1943 Wuppertal. Wellington X HE203 coded SE-B, failed to return, all crew KIA. Sgt. Buxton is buried in Jonkerbos War Cemetery.
    Sory I don’t have any photographs of Sgt. Buxton in my collection
    His Pilot was A.H. Smith who was a New Zealander.
    On the night they did not return from operations it was reported that flak was moderate over the target and some enemy encounters (night fighters) were encountered over the Belgian coast on return.

    Sorry I could not be of more help, but I hope the above is of some use.

    Regards

    Bill Heron

  3. Deborah, I should have mentioned that there might be a photgraph of him in Library and Archives Canada, taken at the time enlisted. I have obtained several on my visits there but had never requested Sgt. Buxton’s file.
    Might be worth a try.

    Bill.

  4. Hi Bill,

    First, are there any more copies of your book available?

    Second, my late grandfather, FO Lazar Peters was a navigator in 431. I’ve met some of his crew. The Pilot was McLeod and his tail gunner was Mickey Grant. I believe Mickey is still alive. I don’t remember the txt of them. I don’t suppose you’ve come across any photos of this crew or my Grandfather?

    Regards,

    Adam

  5. Hi Adam, Yes I still have a few copies from the 2nd printing.

    Sorry to say having checked the crew and individual photographs that I have from 431 Suadron I do not have any of the McLeod Crew.
    That being said the following might be of interest to you

    McLeod Pilot was screened 10/07/44
    Peters Nav. was sent to No6 ACS Dalton 01/05/45
    Ayers A/G Sent to R Depot 11/14/44
    Clements W/AG Sent to 1666 CU 11/17/44
    Grant A/G Sent to R Depot 11/14/44
    Richardson F/E Sent to 1666 CU 11/17/44
    zELLEN b/a Sent to R Depot 01/02/45

    This was the disposition of the McLeod Crew according the ORB.

  6. Sorry Mr. Heron, I did not see you reply regarding my grandfather, F/O Hagar. Thank you for your information. We have his flight log actually but that period in Feb. 45 is blank for about 3 weeks prior to which my grandfather received some kind of security clearance. My email is jeremydutton5 at gmail dot com. As we have his flight log, so not sure if it’s worth you going to the trouble, but if it’s different information it would be appreciated. Is your book still available?

  7. Bill: would like a copy of yor book on the 431 Squadron if u have any left. My father is Kenneth Knight Davis age 100yeRs in Dec 7th this year. He was with the 431 squadron. Thank you, Barry Davis

  8. Hi – I am looking for any information on my father Benjamin Artil Bauman. He was in World War 2 with the RCAF. His basic training was in Carberry, Manitoba & was stationed in Bournmouth for awhile. He married & transferred to northern England. I was born in Sowerby-Thirsk & he was stationed a short distance away. When he passed away we lost all information to his second wife. My father was born in Switzerland but the family came to Canada (Timmins, Ontario) when he was a teenager. If you can provide any information it would be appreciated. Thank you

  9. Hi Bill,
    My great uncle – John Faragher, was shot down on Aug 17/44,
    431 Squadron, Halifax III, MZ372, SE-Y, Operation Kiel
    Took off from Croft at 21:23 hrs. HBe is buried in Hamburg Cemetary.
    Do you have any photographs of him and/or his crew; or any
    information on his service?
    I would like a copy of your Book,please advise

    Thanks,
    Dean Bradley
    Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

  10. To Barry Davis, Sorry for the long delay in replying. Book is still available only a few reamin from the second and last printing there will be no more after these are gone, will need mailing address to give accurate cost. please reply if interested to my email address layman431@hotmail.com

  11. To Dean Bradley, Yes Dean as noted above I have just a few copies left from the 2nd printing, would need a mailing address to give total cost (book + mailing) please reply to my email address layman431@hotmail.com

  12. Hello Bill,

    I’m looking for any information that you might have about my uncle, John William Abell of Toronto. He was a navigator with the No 431 Squadron and was injured on Sept 12, 1944 on a bombing mission to Wanne Eickel under the command of R. R. Haw.

    Thank you,
    Liz Harmer

  13. Hi Liz
    Seventeen aircraft carried out a successful raid on Wanne-Eickel. Target area attacked in good weather, no cloud, but slight ground haze. Squadron was early in attack, but large fires started and there was thick black smoke up to 12,000 feet. The effort was well concentrated. No fighters. Defences were intense – heavy flak, in barrage form as predicted. During this raid J36330 F/O J. W. Abell (Nav.) (Can) a member of J85451 F/O R. R. Haw’s (Pilot) (Can) crew was struck in the leg and injured. First aid was capably rendered by J37326 F/O J. L. Morin (W/Op/A/G) (Can) and upon the aircraft landing at base F/O Abell was hospitalized. Most of the aircraft on the raid suffered flak damage, one other in particular being quite badly shot up. They were flying in a Mark III Halifax Serial Number LW 576 and coded SE-F. They took off from Croft at 11.26hours and landed back at base at 16.28hours. Sorry this is all I have on the incident.Somewhere along the line he was awarded the DFC. He was posted to 64 Base 09/13/44, I have no record of him beyond there it could be that because of his injury he was taken out of service.

  14. Hi Bill,

    Thank you very much for the information. And yes he was taken out of service due to his injury. He was awarded the DFC for his “coolness and unperturbability” in bringing the aircraft back to base after suffering the injury. He passed away in 1967.

    Liz

  15. Hello, I am trying to find information on my uncle, Lloyd roger barker, p/o, 431 squadron. He died on mission on March 15, 1944. Any thing you can add would be appreciated.

  16. Hi Joanne
    According to the Operations Record book the following is the entry recorded for this incident.
    This crew were on an operation to Amiens flying in a Mark V Halifax serial # LL152 and coded SE-U. On return from the operation and after landing, this aircraft was almost at the end of the runway when a terrific explosion occured. The tail of the aircraft was blown off and both gunners were killed. It was assumed that a 500lb bomb remaining in one of the bomb bays had fallen out. This was an unfortunate accident as they were two of the Squadron’s best gunners and had been reccomended for commisiions just a short time ago.I assume you are aware of P/O Barker’s burial place. Sorry as this is all that I have with regards to this incident and hope it is of some help. Bill Heron.

  17. Thank you for the information and for the note about their reputation – my Dad will be very moved to read your comments.
    Best regards – and for the work you do to keep the memories alive.
    Joanne

  18. Hi, I am trying to find any info on Flying Officer 148392 Douglas Findlay Rands who flew with 431 Sqdn and died, presumably in action, on 26th November 1943.

    He grew up in the village of Itchingfield in Sussex in the UK and his name is on our WW2 memorial but I have been able to find out very litte about him

    Thanks

  19. as per – Hi Joanne
    According to the Operations Record book the following is the entry recorded for this incident.
    This crew were on an operation to Amiens flying in a Mark V Halifax serial # LL152 and coded SE-U. On return from the operation and after landing, this aircraft was almost at the end of the runway when a terrific explosion occured. The tail of the aircraft was blown off and both gunners were killed. It was assumed that a 500lb bomb remaining in one of the bomb bays had fallen out. This was an unfortunate accident as they were two of the Squadron’s best gunners and had been reccomended for commisiions just a short time ago.I assume you are aware of P/O Barker’s burial place. Sorry as this is all that I have with regards to this incident and hope it is of some help. Bill Heron.

    My relative is the other gunner that was killed on that day .His name is p/o irvine klein. The pilot was Gerry Philbin. Both men died instantly. You can access barkers entire file on acestry.com. I am doing research myself on this. Feel free to contact me at jcollins101@outlook.com

  20. Hi,
    I am just enquiring if you have any information on Sgt J H Kimber (1319181, Bomb aimer), he died on 30th March 1943.
    Kind regards,
    Andy.

  21. Hi Merve
    P/O D.R. Rands Was the Navigator with the Morton Crew flying in a Mark V Halifax Serial No. LK975 and coded SE-E. They took off from Tholthorpe at 23.94 hours since when nothing was heard from them. They were part of the scheduled aircraft from 431 Squadron to attack Frankfurt. P/O Rands is buried in Durnbach War Cemetery

  22. Hi Andy,
    Sgt. J.H. Kimber 1319181 was part of the crew of a Wellington X, Serial No. HE182 and coded SE-A. This aircraft was one of six from 431 Squadron scheduled to take part in an operation to Bochum. They took off from Burn at 19.50 hours since when nothing was heard from them. All of the crew perished except the Air Gunner who was taken POW. Sgt. Kimber is buried in Reichswald War Cemetery

  23. Dear Bill,

    I have some personal correspondence from Sergean Pilot Laurence Denby, 1438344, 431 (RCAF) Sqdn, who died on 15 April 1943 during a raid on Stuttgart and who is commemorated at the Rheinberg War Cemetery. The letters were written to my mother who was a close friend of his – they lived near to each other in Yorkshire. I have given copies of this corrrespondence to the RAF Museum. There was one survivor from the attack on their Wellington – Flight Lieutenant A.J. McDonald from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Two years ago, his medals were auctioned in London and I have a copy of his report of events that night. Laurence Denby was the only child of his parents and was 21 years old when he was killed. My understanding is that this was their first ‘Op.’ If you have any further information or if you would like me to send you copies of anything, do let me know.

  24. Hi Penny, Sorry for the lateness of a reply, I have been on holiday out of country. To the crew in question, this crew consisted of
    Sgt. Denby-Pilot —– P/O McDonald-Navigator —– Sgt. Hunter-Bomb Aimer Sgt. Adam-Wireless Operator/Air Gunner —– Sgt. O’Hagan-Air/Gunner.
    Pilot, B/A and A/G are all buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery. The W/AG is buried in Hanover War Cemetery and the Navigator McDonald was taken POW.
    They were flying in a Wellington X – Serial number HE357 and Squadron coded SE-S. They took of from Burn at 21.05hours since when nothing was heard from them. Should you happen to have a photograph of any of the crew as a group or perhaps any individuals that you might be willing to share with me I would be most grateful. I hope the information here is helpful.

  25. Hi Bill,
    I am writing on behalf of my mother-in-law Betty Elliott (nee Priestley). Her uncle Sgt Harold Priestley was a rear gunner with the squadron and was lost on Oct 22nd 1943 along with Sgt. F. Skinner,RAF, Sgt. J. Challis,RAF, F/O R. Wissler, RAF, F/Sgt. L. Russell, RCAF, RAF, F/Sgt. W. Burns, RCAF, Sgt. J. McCarthy, RAF flying Halifax V LK-639 coded SE-E during a raid on Kessel. He was from Bolsover in Derbyshire and as a miner before the war he was in a reserved occupation. Never the less despite not having to serve he enlisted as a volunteer and is inscribed on the Runnymede memorial here in the UK as he has no known grave. We did wonder whether any remains of the crew were ever recovered and buried in Germany. Are there any records do you know that may show this? Any information about him would be most gratefully received. We shall endevour to obtain a copy of your book as well. Thank you.

  26. Hi Gary, Apologies for the lateness of the reply but here is the information regarding the crew in question in alphabrtical order.
    Burns MU/AG Runnymede Memorial Panel 181 —– Challis F/E Runnymede Memorial Panel 145
    McCarthy A/G Runnymede Memorial Panel 157 —– Priestly W/AG Runnymede Memorial Panel 162
    Russell B/A Runnymede Memorial Panel 185 —– Skinner Pilot Runnymede Memorial Panel 164
    Wissler Nav. Runnymede Memorial Panel 130

    Information supplied by you is correct with regards to the aircraft, but the target is spelled Kassel as opposed to Kessel. Information states that they took off from Tholthorpe at 17.36 hours since when nothing was heard from them

    This would then of course confirm that none of the crew’s remains were recovered. FYI The book has been through the second printing and there are 9 copies of that printing reamining with no further printings planned. I hope this has been of some help.

    Regards,

    Bill Heron

  27. Hello Bill-I live in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne,north-east England and I research aircraft crashes in my local area.I am writing to ask if you have a copy of a 431 Squadron battle order for the 25th August,1944 which shows Halifax MZ658 coded SE-E.This aircraft crashed on the next day whilst returning to RAF Croft,all the aircrew baled out and were all ok.I will look forward to your reply.

    Regards,Philip Smith

  28. Hi Phillip, In checking the Battle Order from the Squadron ORB i find the following for the aircraft and date in question. the entry reads as follows verbatim
    Halifax Mark III MZ 658 SE-E – Target was Brest -Took off from Croft at 23.09 hours. Attacked the primary target 02.10 hours, 13,000 feet 110T, asi 165. Visibility good. Target identified by red and yellow TI’s. Bombed on red TI’s. When in own circuit on return, was instructed to proceed to Silloth. Crew bailed out on route to diversion base owing to a shortage of petrol. Bomb load for this operation was 4 x 500lb +6 x1000lb +3 x 4000lb. FYI I had the opportunity a couple of years back to meet the pilot F/O R.W. Harrison. Hope this is of some help.
    Regards
    Bill Heron — Niagara Ontario Canadda

  29. Hi Bill,

    I have been searching for information on my Uncle Sgt Denis McCarthy who was part of Squadron 431, flying Halifax LK639 coded SE-E operation Kassel on 22nd October 1943. Aircraft lost over Kassel.
    To date I have been unsuccessful on finding if there was ever any wreckage found or if there were any information in Kassel on the crew.
    I note from a response you made on July 5th to Gary Smith (June 13th 2016) who had a relation on the same aircraft operation as my uncle, that there appears to be no further information.
    Would you know if there are any photographs of this crew available anywhere as I would love to be able to find some of the whole or part of the crew.

    Kind Regards John McCarthy

  30. Hi John, I keep forgetting to check here for enquiries hence the lateness of my reply. To your question regarding photographs individual or crew. I have gone through all my possibilities and have not been able to come up with anything. There is a website called “Bombercrew.com” it is owned and run by a friend Matt Lacroix you might want to try him. Please keep in mind in some cases photographs have been passed on by family members with the condition that they are not given for public use so this is why if you get to a site and find a picture that you are after you might not be able to copy it as it likely has had a block put on it. In saying that, sometimes if you contact the webmaster he “MAY” release what you are looking for. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

  31. Hello Bill

    I have much information on the the explosion and crash on 17-JUN-1944 of Halifax MZ520 SE-O at Biezenmortel. There are at least 2 Dutch accounts. I also have the crew list and the list of who was killed and the lone survivor. There is also a phot of the crew on one of the Dutch web sites and I have a photo of my family member. I was wondering if there is any information of the nose art of the plane or if there are any photos of the plane and is there any information about who was the pilot. My uncle was one of the air gunners. Finally is there any info regarding the exact crash location at Biezenmortel and are there any more details on the lone survivor after the crash.

  32. Hi Russ. I am not sure what you have regarding this aircraft and crew but here is the account of the operation MZ520 SE-O took off from Croft at 22.59 hours since when nothing was heard from them The attack on the synthetic oil plant at Sterkrade was bombed at between 18/2000 feet with 10/10th cloud. The target was identified by the glow of the red TI’s seen through the cloud bombs were dropped on these markers. Only the bomb flashes could be seen through the cloud but no results were visible as the ground detail was obscured. Heavy cloud hampered this attack and as the red TI’s rapidly vanished, bomb aimers had little choice but to drop their loads on the fading glimmer of what they could see. Reports indicate that the bombing was scattered with a few bombs hitting the oil plant but the damage inflicted was so slight it had an insignificant outcome on production .Night fighters claimed roughly 21 aircraft and an additional 10 were shot down by flak. 321 aircraft took part in this operation 162 Halifaxes-147 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitoes. The bomber stream passed near a German night-fighter beacon at Bocholt only 30 miles from Sterkrade 22 of the lost aircraft were Halifaxes 431 Squadron lost 4. I have no records of the crash site so I can’t offer any help there sorry. I have a photograph of the Pilot Fairless but none of the aircraft do you know for sure that there was nose art on this aircraft not all had. The survivor the W/AG Ellis was taken POW he was assigned the POW No. 52467 and sent to camp L7 which was Bankan, near Kreulberg, Upper Silesia. I checked the Interrogation Reports that I have for returning aircrew but there is none in my file for him. The Pilot F/S Fairless and the entire crew were posted to 431 Squadron from 61 base April 24/1944. It appears that they had 9 operations in total with 431 Sqdn. including the fateful one to Sterkrade. If you need/want dates and targets I can supply those to you I have no specific information on the Pilot other than what I have given here. In summary all of the KIA crew are buried in Udenhout Biezenmontel Catholic Cemetery. The aircraft could have been brought down by either flak on night-fighter and without an eyewitness report there is no way to determine which it was on the other hand they might have had some type of mechanical failure. I hope this has been of some help. Any photos that you might like to share that I could add to my own 431 Squadron collection would be much appreciated. Please send to my email address layman431@hotmail.com as an attachment. Thank you.

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