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Sergeant (Air Gunner) Stephen Sinclair, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 619 Squadron, Service No. 1593177, died on July 25th 1944, aged 19.
The following memories of Stephen come from his sister Joyce, who was ten years old when he died.
Stephen's family moved to Alnmouth when his father got a job as coachman at the Priory of St Francis. When they gave up the carriage in favour of a motor car his father, not being able to drive, moved north to live near Craster and he became a postman.
Stephen was apprenticed at the Co-op in Howick and as such was not eligible for conscription. However, at the age of 18 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. Joyce remembers him coming home one day and saying, "I've signed up." She also remembers him being very proud of his uniform and showing it to the family when he finished his training. He was a rear air gunner in a Lancaster bomber. During this visit home, Steven commented that if his plane was shot down he would have little chance of getting out as his station was at the rear of the plane, far from the escape hatch.
Steven was posted missing on his first flight some six weeks later.
Despite being the youngest sister, Joyce came into possession of the correspondence from the Air Ministry and Red Cross when her mother died. Her older sister said that her mother had always wanted Joyce to have the family sideboard when she died. Joyce believes that the correspondence was in a tin in the sideboard. 619 Squadron was a war time squadron, established in April 1943 and disbanded in 1945. During its short existance it was based in several airfields in Lincolnshire and at the time of Stephen's death, at RAF Dunholme Lodge, near Lincoln. Dunholme Lodge itself only had a short history as an operational station; established as a full station, under 5 Group Bomber Command, in May 1943 and flights ceased in November 1944. During this brief period, 120 Lancasters flying from there were lost.
A memorial to 619 Squadron may still be found at William Farr School, situated close to the airfield. Stephen's name is recorded in the Book of Remembrance dedicated to those who flew from Dunholme Lodge.
"...July 1944 must count as (the Squadron's) blackest month. It had lost 12 aircraft and eleven crews in fourteen operations, including its Commanding Officer...Ten of the raids were against targets in France in support of the Allied troops now moving across that country....road or rail centres, German communication centres and oil depots, and flying bomb sites. Between 4th July and 30th July, the Squadron had visited Creil, St. Leu D'Esserant, Culmont Chalindrey, Villeneuve, Caen, Revigny, Courtrai, Donges, Givors and Cahagnes. It had cost the Squadron 77 airmen, of whom 65 were dead. During the month the Squadron had dropped 921 tons of bombs and flown 1,163.55 hours of operations." (Source: Bryan Clark(see below)
Stephen was killed when his Lancaster bomber was shot down in July 1944, during a night raid on the oil depot at Donges, which is some way up the estuary from the port of St Nazaire on the River Loire in France. The crew of seven were as follows: Pilot F/O Orbell, Flight Engineer Sgt Ward, Navigator F/O Kommes (RCAF), Air Bomber F/Sgt Murphy (RCAF), Wireless Operator Sgt Lucas, Air Gunners Sgt Scott and Sgt Sinclair.
Stephen's Lancaster, serial number LM643 "was one of 350 Lancasters ordered from A.V. Roe (Yeadon) as Mk.111s...delivered from October 1942 to October 1944. ...The Mk.111s had Merlin 38 engines initially installed. LM643 was delivered to 619 Sqdn 11th July 1944. Also took part in the Key Operation against Coutrai 20/21July 1944. When lost this aircraft had a total of 29 hours. Airborne 22.27 24th July 1944 from Dunholme Lodge to bomb the oil depot. Crashed at Montoir-de-Bretagne (loir-Atlantique) apx. 6 km NE of St- Nazaire and just N of the present day Airport." (Source: Lost Bombers also Bryan Clark, below))
The RAF Bomber Command, Campaign Diary for July 1944 has the following reports of action:
"The night of 23/24 -119 aircraft - 100 Halifaxes, 14 Lancasters, 5 Mosquitos - of Nos 6 and 8 Groups attacked an oil refinery and storage depot at Donges, near the mouth of the River Loire. This was the start of a new campaign against oil targets in the occupied Countries. The bombing took place in good visibility. The target was severely damaged and a tanker was hit and capsized. No aircraft lost."
"The night of 24/25 -104 Lancasters and 9 Mosquitos of 5 and 8 Groups attacked the oil depot at Donges again and, according to reports, the target was 'devastated'. 3 Lancasters lost."
The following photographs are from..."Vertical aerial-reconnaissance of the oil refinery and storage depot at Donges, France, taken at 15,000 feet following night attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command on 23/24 and 24/25 July 1944. Every facility for the handling and treating of oil has been seriously affected. Storage tanks with a capacity of at least 125,000 tons have been destroyed, including the destruction of large quantities of oil by fire.... a tanker alongside a jetty on the Loire estuary, which was badly holed during the first raid, is seen lying on its side." (Source: Imperial War Museum Catalogue No. HU 92969)
Stephen's family received a telegram on July 25th 1944, the day after he was shot down, notifying them that he was 'missing in action'. However this was only the beginning of a lengthy process whereby the family received a number of letters from the Air Ministry. They did not learn what had definitely happened to Stephen until January 1946. Joyce has given permission for us to reproduce the correspondence here.
Telegram July 25th 1944, notifying the family that Stephen is missing in action.
September 15th 1944, notifying the family that Stephen is 'officially promulgated as missing on 25th July 1944' and explaining pay arrangements.
British Red Cross Society
January 8th 1945, explaining that no news of Stephen has come through, with the comment that, 'in view of the length of time which has elapsed since he was reported "Missing" we cannot be very hopeful that news of a reassuring description will be forthcoming.'
Air Ministry January 12th 1945, explaining that Stephen has not been traced and 'it is felt that you should be informed of this Department's grave anxiety for his safety..'
Air Ministry April 30th 1945, explaining to the family that 'in view of the lapse of time and the absence of any news about your son...this Department now propose to presume his death for official purposes.'
Air Ministry January 9th 1946, the family is finally given definite notice of Stephen's death and the location of his grave.
Stephen is buried at Escoublac La Baule War Cemetery, near St. Nazaire, France. Four other member of the crew, F/O Orbell, F/O Kommes, Sgt Lucas and Sgt Scott, are interred in the same cemetery. F/S Murphy is buried in Montoir-de-Bretagne Communal Cemetery, while Sgt Ward is buried in Pornic War Cemetery.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Stephen Sinclair
RAF Bomber Command, Campaign Diary for July 1944
619 Squadron on Wikipedia
'619 The History of a Forgotten Squadron' by Bryan Clark ISBN 1-903953-51-0, published 2007 by Woodfield Publishing, Bognor Regis.