In September 1943 seven young men from different parts of the Empire were posted to No. 83 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at RAF Peplow in Shropshire. All had attended initial training at various establishments as required by their assigned roles. The pilot, as the senior crewman, picked each crew member from those available. After being crewed up‘ they began their bomber training. Their first action‘ was in a Vickers Wellington bomber on a leaflet dropping exercise. In February 1944 they were assigned to No.1662 C.U. (Conversion Unit) at RAF Blyton in Lincolnshire and here they converted to heavy bombers via the Handley Page Halifax and then onto the Avro Lancaster. This training included cross-country and night flying exercises. The C.U. was the final step of an aircrews training before they were assigned to an operational squadron.

The Guilfoyle crew. Back row, left to right:
Flight Sergeant J. S .J. Stephen (RAF), Warrant Officer R. E. Yates (RAAF),
Sergeant H. D. Davies (RAF), Sergeant L. J. Faircloth (RAF).
Front row, left to right:
Warrant Officer 2 J. Sonshine (RCAF), Pilot Officer M. A. Guilfoyle (RAF),
Sergeant D. F. Jordin (RAF).
(RAAF is Royal Australian Air Force and RCAF is Royal Canadian Air Force)

In April 1944 the final crew were posted to 12 Squadron Bomber Command, based at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire where they mostly flew in Avro Lancaster ND424 PH-G (‘G’ for George), but they also flew in ME644 (PH-E) and ND749 (PH-U). 12 Squadron was part of 1 Group that commanded all of the Lincolnshire airfields. They were a typical multi-national Bomber Command crew consisting of two Englishmen, a Welshman, a Scotsman, a Canadian, an Australian and a Jamaican. All had volunteered for aircrew duty, none were conscripted into their jobs. Their average age was just 21 years.

Cutaway of an Avro Lancaster showing the position of each member of the crew. The rear starboard escape hatch was used by the mid-upper and tail gunners, while the rest of the crew used the front underside escape hatch.

Pilot Officer M. A. Guilfoyle RAF (Pilot)

Pilot Mike Guilfoyle was from Jamaica in the West Indies and was the senior officer in the crew.  He was 23 years of age in June 1944.

Pilot Mike Guilfoyle
  • Full Name: Michael Alexander Guilfoyle
  • Serial Number:   172424 
  • Rank:                    Pilot Officer
  • Joined RAF:          Unknown
  • Post in Crew:       Pilot
  • Date of Birth:       1 October 1920
  • Profession:           Civil Servant, Jamaica Government
  • Home Address:   Half Way Tree, Jamaica, West Indies.  (England: C/O West India Committee, London).

Mike was seated on the left hand side of the cockpit under the expansive Perspex canopy on a raised portion of the floor above the bomb-bay.  There was no co-pilot in a Lancaster.  

Sergeant  H. D. Davies RAF (Flight Engineer)

Flight Engineer Hugh David Davies was from South East Wales and before the war he was a fitter at a local coal mine.  He was 19 years of age in June 1944 and was the youngest member of the crew.

Flight Engineer David Davies
  • Full Name:           Hugh David Davies
  • Serial Number:  1836026
  • Rank:                    Sergeant
  • Joined RAF:        March 1943
  • Post in Crew:      Flight Engineer
  • Date of Birth:      2 March 1925
  • Profession:          Fitter
  • Home Address:   Oakdale, Blackwood, Monmouthshire

Hugh was seated to the right of the pilot on a collapsible seat (known as a “second dicky seat”) with the engine fuel selectors and gauges on a panel behind him and to his right. 

Warrant Officer 2 J. Sonshine RCAF (Navigator)

Navigator Joe Sonshine was from Toronto in Canada and he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force.  He was 23 years of age in June 1944 and was the oldest member of the crew.

Navigator Joe Sonshine
  • Full Name:           Joseph Sonshine
  • Serial Number:  Not available
  • Rank:                     Warrant Officer 2
  • Joined RCAF:      R145644
  • Post in Crew:      Navigator
  • Date of Birth:      11 October 1920
  • Profession:          Unknown
  • Home Address:   Toronto, Canada

Joe was seated on the port (left) side of the aircraft directly behind the pilot.  His seat faced port with a large chart table in front of him and he had a curtain fitted to allow him to use a light to work.  An instrument panel showing the airspeed, altitude, and other details required for navigation was mounted on the side of the fuselage above the chart table.

Flight Sergeant J. S. J. Stephen RAF (Bomb Aimer)

Bomb Aimer John Stephen was from Aberdeen in Scotland.  He was 21 years of age in June 1944.

Bomb Aimer John Stephen
  • Full Name:           John Smith Johnston Stephen
  • Rank:                     Flight Sergeant
  • Serial Number:   1560846
  • Joined RAF:        9 September 1941
  • Post in Crew:      Bomb Aimer
  • Date of Birth:       19 January 1923
  • Profession:          Telegraphist
  • Home Address:  Aberdeen
The Bomb bay of Lancaster could hold up to 14,000 lb of bombs. This is Lancaster BX KB889 at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Photograph by Paul Faircloth.

John had two positions to man.  His primary location was lying prone on the floor of the nose of the aircraft, with access to the controls for the bombsight head in front of him, the bombsight computer on his left and bomb release selectors on his right.  He would also use his view out of the large transparent Perspex nose cupola to assist the navigator with map reading.  To man the Frazer Nash FN5 nose turret, he simply had to stand up and he would be in position behind the triggers of his twin .303 inch guns with 1,000 rounds each.  The bomb aimer’s position also contained the nose parachute exit in the floor.

Warrant Officer R.E. Yates RAAF (Wireless Operator)

Wireless Operator Bob Yates was from Australia and he served with the Royal Australian Air Force.  He was 20 years of age in June 1944.  Bob replaced the original Wireless Operator (Marsden?) as he was not up to standard.  Bob had already served with a previous crew in Lancaster ND783 of 576 Squadron.  Only one of the crew and a passenger of ND783 survived while on an operation to destroy an ammunition dump at Aubigne on 6/7th May 1944.

Wireless Operator Bob Yates
  • Full Name:           Robert Edgar Yates
  • Rank:                     Warrant Officer
  • Serial Number:   A.410409
  • Joined RAAF:      6 December 1941
  • Post in Crew:       Wireless Operator
  • Date of Birth:       26 October 1923
  • Profession:          Unknown
  • Home Address:   Elwood near Melbourne, Australia

Bob was seated facing forwards in front of the main spar directly behind the navigator.  The radios were mounted on the left-hand end of the chart table, facing towards the rear of the aircraft.  To his left was a window, and above him was the astrodome, used for visual signalling and also by the navigator for celestial navigation. Behind the wireless operator were the two main spars for the wings that bisected the fuselage.  These were major obstacles for crew moving along the fuselage even on the ground.

Sergeant L.J. Faircloth RAF (Mid-Upper Gunner)

Mid Upper Gunner Leslie Faircloth was from Thornton Heath in South London. He was 19 years of age in June 1944. He volunteered for the RAF at the aircrew reception centre at Lords Cricket Ground in London on 29 April 1943 aged 17½ years old and was selected as an air gunner. He underwent six months initial air gunnery training at various locations including Stormy Down in South Wales. His first flight was in a twin engined Avro Anson trainer.

Mid-Upper Gunner Les Faircloth
  • Full Name:          Leslie John Faircloth
  • Rank:                   Sergeant
  • Serial Number:  1894767
  • Joined RAF:         29 March 1943
  • Post in Crew:      Mid-Upper Gunner
  • Date of Birth:      27 October 1924
  • Profession:         Clerk
  • Home Address:  Thornton Heath, Surrey

Leslie was seated in the mid upper turret located beyond the end of the bomb bay where the floor dropped down to the bottom of the fuselage.  He had Frazer Nash FN50 or FN150 with two 0.303 inch M1919 Browning machine guns with 1,000 rounds each in a turret that allowed a 360° view over the top of the aircraft.  The mid-upper gunner had perhaps the most uncomfortable ride of all the crew, as he was seated on a rectangle of canvas that was slung beneath the turret once he had got into position. 

Mid-upper gun turret of Lancaster BX KB889 at IWM Duxford. Photograph by Paul Faircloth.

To the rear of this turret was the side crew door on the starboard side of the fuselage.  This was the main entrance to the aircraft and it was also used as a parachute exit in an emergency.

Sergeant  D.F. Jordin RAF (Tail Gunner)

Tail gunner Doug Jordin was originally from Warrington.  He was also 19 years of age in June 1944. 

Tail Gunner Doug Jordin
  • Full Name:          Douglas Foster Jordin
  • Rank:                    Sergeant
  • Serial Number:  2210100
  • Joined RAF:       15 May 1943
  • Post in Crew:      Tail Gunner
  • Date of Birth:       8 October 1924
  • Profession:           Farmer
  • Home Address:  Latchford near Warrington, Lancashire

Doug was seated in the rear turret of the aircraft.  He had to pass over the spars of the tail-plane to enter his turret through a small hatch in the rear of the fuselage.  The area was so cramped that well-built gunners would often hang their parachute on a hook inside the fuselage near the turret doors.  In the FN20 and FN120 turrets, he had four 0.303 inch Brownings with 2,500 rounds each, and in the Rose Rice turret he had two .50 inch Brownings.  Most rear gunners, once in their turret, did not see another member of the crew until the aircraft returned to base.  The tail gunner was also sometimes referred to as “Tail End Charlie”.

Tail gun turret of Lancaster BX KB889 at IWM Duxford. Photograph by Paul Faircloth.

Neither the mid-upper nor rear gunner’s positions in the rear fuselage were heated and the gunners had to wear electrically heated suits to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.  They could be required to occupy their seats for up to ten hours at a time on operations to some of the more distant targets.

During their time as a crew they sometimes travelled to the homes of those based in the UK when they were on leave. Leslie travelled to Aberdeen with John and to Warrington with Doug. Leslie took Bob to visit his parents in Thornton Heath near Croydon in south London.

The crew of ND424 in their flying gear at the tail of a Lancaster. From the Les Faircloth collection. Back row, left to right: Mike Guilfoyle, David Davies, John Stephen, Les Faircloth and Joe Sonshine.  Front row, left to right: Bob Yates and Doug Jordin.