This is the story of the last crew of Avro Lancaster Mk. III ND424 (‘PH-G’) of 12 Squadron Bomber Command based at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire during May and June 1944.
The young crew had formed up at RAF Peplow in Shropshire in September 1943. They were a typical multi-national crew from all over the British Empire: Pilot Mike Guilfoyle was from Kingston in Jamaica, flight engineer David Davies was from Blackwood in south east Wales, bomb aimer John Stephen was from Aberdeen in Scotland, radio operator Bob Yates was from Melbourne in Australia, navigator Joe Sonshine was from Toronto in Canada, mid-upper gunner Leslie Faircloth was from Thornton Heath in Surrey and tail gunner Doug Jordin was from Culcheth near Warrington in Cheshire. The average age of these seven young men was just 21 years.
In April 1944 following their training they were posted to 12 Squadron based at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire. During May and June 1944 they took part in 17 operations over France (F) and Germany (G):
- 3/4 May – Mailly Le Camp (F). German Panzer military camp.
- 7/8 May – Bruz near Rennes (F). Airfield and ammunition dump.
- 9/10 May – Merville-Franceville (F). Coastal gun batteries.
- 21/22 May – Duisburg (G). Railway marshalling yards.
- 22/23 May – Dortmund (G).
- 24/25 May – Aachen West (G) (1st). Railway yards.
- 27/28 May – Aachen West (G) (2nd). Railway yards.
- 9/10 June – Flers (F) (1st). Luftwaffe airfield.
- 11/12 June – Evreux (F). Railway yards.
- 12/13 June – Gelsenkirchen (G). Nordstern synthetic oil plant.
- 14/15 June – Le Havre (F). German naval forces in the port area.
- 5/16 June – Boulogne (F). German light naval vessels in the harbour.
- 17/18 June – Aulnoye-Aymeries (F), France. Railway junction.
- 22/23 June – Marquise-Mimoyecques (F). ‘V-3‘ supergun site.
- 23/24 June – Saintes (F). Railway marshalling yards.
- 24/25 June – Flers (F) (2nd). Flying-bomb sites.
- 27/28 June – Vaires-sur-Marne (F). Railway yards east of Paris.
Their first operation on the night of 3/4 May 1944 was to attack the German Panzer military depot at Mailly-le-Camp. That night 42 aircraft were lost (11.6% of the total) mostly to night fighters and was a very tough start to their standard tour of 30 operations. The later operations were part of the Bomber Command ‘Transportation Plan’ that aimed to destroy the railway infrastructure in support of the D-Day landings on 6th June. This successfully helped to stop German reinforcements being sent against the Allied armies still fighting their way out of Normandy.
Their 17th operation was to bomb the railway marshalling yards at Vaires-sur-Marne on the eastern outskirts of Paris on the night of 27/28 June 1944. They took off from Wickenby at 00:29, flew via their waypoint at Gravesend in Kent, then suffered engine problems approaching the target but dropped their bombs as planned betwee 03:00 and 03:06. While over the target they were hit by flak and where soon losing height rapidly, so the pilot gave the order to abandon aircraft. All of the crew parachuted to the ground relatively safely to the south-west of Paris in the area around Gif sur Yvette.
Flight engineer David Davies, bomb aimer John Stephen, wireless operator Bob Yates and mid upper gunner Leslie Faircloth all evaded capture (also known as ‘evaders’). John Stephen quickly found refuge in a local house and remained there for a few weeks until the Allies occupied the area. He made contact with the US Army and flew back to RAF Northolt on 28 August 1944.
David Davies ‘borrowed’ a bicycle and travelled many miles to the south of Paris and was the first of the crew back to the UK in late July 1944 aboard a Lockheed Hudson to RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire. This was home to the Special Duties Squadrons, No. 138 and No. 161, that flew secret operations to and from occupied Europe. David re-enlisted and stayed in the RAF until the 1970’s.
Bob Yates also found refuge and spent some time in hiding and aiding the French Communist Resistance in their fight against the Germans. Bob returned to the UK and his final posting was at PHU Morecambe. He returned by ship to Australia and was discharged from the RAAF in 1947.
Mid upper gunner Leslie Faircloth quickly made contact with a local French patriot in Gif sur Yvette who took him to his apartment in Paris and put him in touch with the resistance. He was gently interrogated to ensure he was genuine then was provided with false identity papers and a railway ticket. He travelled south by rail through France to Perpignan where he was betrayed by a local to German soldiers but escaped out the back door. He then walked 30 miles over the Pyrenees and was arrested by Spanish militia and was imprisoned in Figueras. The journey from Paris to his arrest in Spain was around 500 miles. He was eventually released by the British Consul and flew back home from Gibralter to Bristol in an RAF Douglas Dakota on 10th August 1944. He was out of the country for 44 days. Leslie was discharged from the RAF in 1947 and was married a few weeks later.
Prisoners of War (POW‘s)
Pilot Mike Guilfoyle, navigator Joe Sonshine and tail gunner Doug Jordin were initially hidden and cared for by locals but were then betrayed to the Gestapo by a traitor so became prisoners of war (POW’s). They were initially imprisoned in the notorious Gestapo prison at Fresnes for a month where they were badly treated. In August they, and another 168 allied airmen, were loaded onto cattle trucks and transported over 400 miles east to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar in Germany. In November 1944 they were transferred to Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp where they remained for a time before the Germans moved them to other camps.
Mike and Doug were marched north and ended up in Trenthorst and were flown back to the UK from Lubeck on 3rd May 1945 probably in a Lancaster. Joe was marched south to Stalag 13D near Nuremburg, then in March to Stalag 7A at Mooseburg and was liberated by the American 3rd Army at the end of April 1945. Joe had suffered serious health issues while at these camps.
What Happened to Them
In 2008 we began the task of tracking down the members of the crew of ND424 and their families.
We traced Doug Jordin who was living with his wife Lucy in Poulton-le-Fylde near Blackpool and he and Leslie met again in June 2008. Sadly Doug passed away in 2010. We then made contact with Joe Sonshine’s wife Mildred in Toronto, Canada but sadly Joe had passed away in 2006. In 2008 we traced Bob Yates who was living near Perth in Western Australia, e-mail and telephone conversations between all three were established. Sadly Bob passed away in 2012.
We tracked John Stephen’s family and his wife Peggy in north east England but sadly John had passed away in 1999. However Les and Peggy had a phone conversation, their first since 1944. In 2011 we traced Mike Guilfoyle’s family in North Eastern Australia, so Leslie and Mike’s wife Rosette talked on the phone. Sadly Mike had passed away in 2009. In 2012 we traced David Davies who lived in Faringdon in Oxfordshire and we took Leslie and wife Megan for a reunion in November 2013. Sadly David passed away in February 2016 aged 90 years.
Sadly my dad and my hero Leslie passed away in November 2016 aged 92 and my mum Megan passed away in January 2017 aged 90. They had lived in Wrexham, Mold and latterly in Pentre Broughton near Wrexham.
Backround & Research
In 2004 I began to research the story to find out what happened to each of the crew and to hopefully trace them or their families. Using Leslie’s collection of original documents and photographs, many books and the internet I started to search for and order documents from various locations including:
- National Archives at Kew in London (RAF 12 Squadron archives).
- RAF Air Historical Branch at RAF Northolt.
- RAF Museum at Hendon.
- RAF Records Department at RAF Cranwell.
On their return to the UK the evaders were debriefed by MI9 and these papers, and other material, are now stored at the National Archives.