WE WILL REMEMBER THEM...
Our beautiful county of Lincolnshire has a fairly well documented history as regards its war time role, and most of the stories have been well told and are known all over the world. But there is one ex RAF base in our county that has not had its history publicized so well. It is also on our doorstep. RAF Strubby, near Maltby Le Marsh was opened on 15th April 1944 as an operational substation to East Kirkby, from whence it was controlled. There were many wartime squadrons operating from the airfield; 144 Squadron (Beaufighters) 1-7-44 to 3-9-44, 227 Squadron (Lancasters) 5-4-45 to 8-6-45, 280 Squadron ( Vickers Warwicks) 1-5-44 to 6-9-44, 404 Squadron RCAF ( Beaufighters) 1-7-44 to 3-9-44, and finally 619 squadron (Lancasters) 28-9-44 to 1-7-45. All of these personnel carried out their duties to the best of their ability, and deserve more than a passing mention, but as space does not permit, perhaps that will be done at another time. If you are ever in its vicinity, it deserves a visit, as there are still some of the buildings left standing…a poignant reminder of the lives that were lost and those who survived during its history as an airfield. It is a travesty that it is not recognised as important in its own way, as others are known world-wide. Its role as a heavy bomber base during the latter part of the war is not well documented. It also housed many important squadrons in different roles after the war, including the Cold War years, until its closure. I chose to focus on one squadron in particular, because, as with all those who were young then, time has caught up with them, and we have very few of these men left. 619 squadron was formed out of elements of 97 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire on 18 April 1943, and equipped with Lancaster Mk.III bombers, as part of 5 Group in Bomber Command. It also briefly flew Lancaster Mk.I bombers in the first month of operation 1944. After almost two years of operations, it was moved to Skellingthorpe on 1-7-45 and was finally disbanded. 619 Squadron had one of the shortest lives in Bomber Command. However, it flew 3,001 sorties in 223 operations and dropped around 12,000 tons of bombs. During its operational life, it lost 77 Lancasters and a further 12 aircraft in crashes. Losing that many aircraft is a tragedy in itself, but remembering that there were normally 7 crew to each bomber reminds us how huge that loss was in that space of time. Strubby was the squadron’s fourth home in 14 months, and in September of 1944, the Squadron was moved there. By the end of the month, it was beginning to make itself felt locally. The first aircraft loss was on 9-6-43 involved Lancaster EE113 PG-K. It took off on an air test with a 9 man crew; the extra two crew members being ground crew. The aircraft was lost without trace over the North Sea; these were the first casualties since forming the Squadron, but sadly not the last. This next excerpt tells a little about the courage of one of the aircrews
whilst on their first operation out of Strubby. This first operation should have been a quiet little ‘gardening’ trip for 5 aircraft on the night of 4th October, but F/O Strachan, a New Zealander, and his crew found it anything but quiet. They planted their “vegetables” around 9pm, and almost immediately afterwards there was a loud explosion and a hole about three feet long extending the full width of the fuselage appeared in the roof just forward of the upper turret. Whether this was caused by a chance shell or rocket from a ship or whether a fighter had crept up unobserved, will probably never be known. What was worse it cut the intercom circuit and some hydraulic lines, setting fire to the oil, and ammunition started exploding. Sgt Webster, the mid upper gunner and Sgt York, the rear gunner, both started fighting the fire and eventually managed to put it out, Sgt Webster getting badly burned in the process. F/O Strachan crash landed the aircraft without wheels or flaps at Carnaby, an emergency airfield in Yorkshire, and all crew survived. Sgt Webster was awarded the DFM and F/O Strachan a DFC. The last aircraft loss from Strubby was flown by F/O Wilf DeMarco RCAF. LM756 (PG-F) took off at 04.19 hrs from Strubby with 5 other 619 aircraft leading the attack by a force of 359 Lancasters, 16 Mosquitoes of 1, 5 and 8 Groups in the attack on the SS Barracks at Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” at Berchtesgarten. They went in first dropping ‘Window’ to confuse the radar controlled anti-aircraft guns, then had to go around again to follow in behind the main force to bomb the barracks. DeMarco was believed to have been killed by a shell exploding close to the aircraft. It went down on fire, and 4 died, three were POW’s for a few weeks. The Mayor of Adnet in Austria where they crashed is instigating a Memorial Stone to be dedicated in April 2014…on the 70th anniversary of the crash. No. 619 Squadron was the last wartime squadron to use the airfield. Members of the Squadron were awarded with 1 DSO 76 DFC's and 37 DFM's. Additionally, the Squadron was mentioned 10 times in dispatches. Sadly its Squadron crest is not on display at the RAF club, leading it to be known as The Forgotten Squadron. The owner of the airfield, Mrs Janet Stubbs, has now raised funds to erect a permanent memorial to all who lost their lives whilst serving at Strubby. Let us not forget these brave people who found Strubby their home for a few months, nor all the other brave men and women that served in all the services during the war years in our county and others like it. We would not be free if not for their courage.
~ Jan Dye