21.05.1940 18 Squadron Blenheim IV L9325, Plt Off. Cyril Light
Date: 21st May 1940 (Tuesday)
Unit: 18 Squadron
Type: Blenheim IV
Base: RAF Watton, Norfolk
Location: Rancourt, Somme, France.
Pilot: Plt Off. Cyril Light 33479 RAF Age 22. Missing
Obs: Sgt. Arthur Ernest Craig 358376 RAF Age 33. Missing
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. George Hawkins DFM. 510166 RAF Age 30. Missing
Update February 2015 - the Ministry of Defence have moved forward to rename the graves, further details as shown below
Update June 2015 - the CWGC have now recognised the unmarked crew graves as that of the crew.
We are indebted to Mr. Ian Marchant (Canadian researcher) for his comprehensive information on this loss and photographs. Also to Mr. Andre Bauduin and his French research group for the discovery of the wreckage and further investigation work.
REASON FOR LOSS:
This squadron, together with 57 Squadron formed No.70 Wing, which was a reconnaissance-bomber Wing, and part of No.2 Group RAF. No.70 Wing was sent to France at the outbreak of WW2 as part of the Air Component of the BEF. 18 Sqn had been equipped with the Hawker Hind light bomber (an obsolete biplane design) up until May 1939, after which it converted to the Bristol Blenheim Mk1. It was in this aircraft type that the Squadron flew to France in late 1939, and with which they operated until February of 1940, at which point they converted to the updated Mk4 version.
18 Sqn was based initially at Beauvraignes, before moving to Meharicourt in October 1939. The Sqn was heavily engaged during the first 10 days of the Battle of France, which commenced on 10th May 1940, and suffered such heavy losses that they were hurriedly withdrawn back to RAF Watton in Norfolk on the 20th May to regroup, losing most of their Sqn records in the process. It was the following day that L9325 set out from Watton on its final mission to France, a reconnaissance sortie to Douai-Arras-Amiens-Abbeville.
L9325 took off on its last flight from RAF Watton in Norfolk at midday on 21st May 1940 on a reconnaissance mission. 18 Sqn had been withdrawn back to England from France only the previous day after having suffered very heavy casualties. On the morning of 21st May the Sqn ORB states that its roster had been reduced to 8 operational pilots. L9325 would have been over the French city of Arras in the early afternoon when it was shot down, in all probability by ground based anti-aircraft fire. The aircraft and its crew were reported as missing, and no trace of them was ever recorded as having been found.
Above: 18 Sqn group photo, taken at their base in Meharicourt France. Sgt. Hawkins the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on L9325 is fifth from the left on the back row. The only other member of the group that I can positively identify is Wg Cdr. Opie (seated first row, centre) Commanding Officer of 18 Sqn. Sgt. Craig and Plt Off. Light are probably also somewhere in this photo. The ‘Salle de Reunion’ building behind them is still standing, although the frontage was modified by the Germans during the occupation of France, during which time it was used as a cinema. (courtesy of Donald Hawkins via Ian Marchant)
The families of the missing airmen would undoubtedly have pursued every avenue to find out what happened to their loved ones, and I have personally seen a copy of a letter dated December 1944 at which time the wife of Sgt. Hawkins was still asking the Air Ministry for any news. In response the Air Ministry wrote that no news of either the pilot or Air Gunner had been received, but that the Observer Sgt. Craig had been reported by the Red Cross as having been buried in Western Germany. My own research has since discovered that this was a clerical error made by the German authorities, and that the Sgt. Craig buried in Germany was a different airman with the same surname who died in the crash of a Wellington bomber.
Above: A picture of George Hawkins (then an LAC) which appeared on the cover of Life magazine in the early part of 1940. (courtesy of Donald Hawkins via Ian Marchant).
Recent events have made the story of this crew somewhat clearer. The actual crash location of L9325 was in a field at La Priez Farm, alongside the road between the villages of Combles and Rancourt in the Somme region of France. A French research group, led by Andre Bauduin (see credits below) were the group who discovered the actual crash site and from their work further investigations were made over a five year period by Mr. Ian Marchant.
The location is confirmed by the recent emergence of photographs of the aircraft’s wreckage taken at the time of the crash by German troops. These photos clearly show the identifying number L9325 on the wreckage, and the spire of the chapel at Rancourt’s WW1 cemetery in the background. A superficial examination of the crash site was conducted in 2010, and fragments of wreckage were found, including some pieces of Perspex from the aircraft’s cockpit glazing.
L-R: Sgt. A.C. Thomas DFM, Sgt. S.F. Miller DFM, Flt Lt. G. Wyatt DFC, and LAC George Hawkins DFM. (courtesy Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19400410-41-5 - April 10th 1940)
Above L9325 crash site - we appreciate the assistance of Keith Brooker who sent this into us in November 2015.
Just two days previous to this loss, Sgt.’s Craig's and Hawkins' DFM were involved in another incident with Flt.Lt. Wheldon as pilot when their Blenheim L9191 crashed at 08.40 hrs during take off at Crécy. All the crew were unhurt, but the aircraft was destroyed.
Above and below German photographs of the wreck and original grave marker near Combles (Ebay)
Some reports list Blenheim L9325 as being shot down by friendly fire from a Hurricane in the Arras area. We understand that the only confirmed loss by friendly fire on this day was that of 18 Sqn Blenheim IV L9185 attacked by 610 Squadron and shot down - all crew surviving. We also have been informed that the Germans who photographed the wreck had written 'shot down by flak'
It is also known that they took off from RAF Watton at 12.00 hrs with the time of crash placed at around 15.00 hrs.
Loss area of L9325
What is known that for many years a French research group, led by Andre Bauduin, (see credits) recovered pieces from the aircraft at the location shown on the map. Another researcher, Ian Marchant, has convinced the RAF Historical Branch that this aircraft was Blenheim IV L9325 and that the crew were buried at the nearby Cemetery in Rancourt where there are 3 unidentified graves from WW2 (The remainder all WW1).
After nearly 75 years this has proven to be a remarkable effort. Mr Ian Marchant, the Canadian researcher has also taken a very keen interest in order to have these graves named in the correct manner, albeit collective.
Rancourt Military Cemetery and view from road.
Note: CWGC have now recognised (June 2015) the unnamed graves at Rancourt as that of the crew - details now shown.
Plt Off. Cyril Light. Rancourt Military Cemetery. Collective Grave BB.1-3. He was one of three Sons of Mr and Mrs George Joseph Light, Husband of Lilia Rosa Light.
His brother's George Light Jr. and Casimir Light, were also RAF Officers during WW2, both flew Wellington bombers and both survived the war. He was an entrant to the No.1 School of Technical Training RAF Halton, 31st entry, in January 1935. Graduated in December 1937, with sufficiently good results to be offered a Flight Cadetship at Cranwell. Entered Cranwell January 1938, graduated October 1939 after the course was accelerated due to Wartime requirements for aircrew. Gazetted as having received his permanent commission as a Pilot Officer (on probation) as of October 1st 1939. Records indicate that Cyril Light married Lilia Rosa Booth on the 9th May 1940 at Portslade-by-Sea, East Sussex. Lilia Booth is recorded on the marriage certificate as an AC2 in the WAAF. I assume that Cyril Light was on leave from his unit, and would probably have been called back to his Sqn immediately when the German offensive began in France on the 10th May. Plt Off. Light was killed 12 days after his wedding. His widow gave birth to a son in early 1941, she remarried after the war, and died in Kent in 1990.
Above: Plt Off. Light and Lilia Rosa (née Booth) Light after their wedding (Courtesy of Gillian Cutts)
Gillian Cutts has contacted Aircrew Remembered and told us that her mother, Lilia Rosa (née Booth) spoke little of these tragic events. Her son George was born on the 4th February 1941 but sadly died of Leukemia at about 13 years of age around 1953 and was cremated in Brighton. By the time of George’s death she had remarried to Cecil Robert Griffin (approx 1951). Gillian’s sister, Yvonne, was born during December 1952. Gillian and her twin sister Anne were born in October 1955. Both her sisters live in England. Gillian moved to the USA with her husband and 3 daughters in 2000 and continuing to work as a nurse until her recent retirement. Her daughters are all married, with 2 living in Colorado and another in Kansas and has has two grand daughters.
Sgt. Arthur Ernest Craig. Rancourt Military Cemetery. Collective Grave BB.1-3. Born 1906, son of Alexander and Rosina Craig of Hornsey, London.
Before joining the RAF Arthur had worked as a clerk for a company named T. Webster and Co., a manufacturer of printing ink. This company relocated to Liverpool in 1925, which may have prompted Arthur to join up in 1924. After initial training he started specialist training as an RAF aerial photographer in 1927. It was this year that he got married to Kate Groombridge. He continued his photographic training by moving to 13 Sqn in 1928 and thence to 35 sqn in 1929, a bomber Sqn flying Airco DH9A’s, Fairey 111F’s and Fairey Gordon Biplanes. Throughout this period Arthur received superior ratings for his photography training. He was promoted to Cpl. in 1934, and then posted to 2 Sqn which was an Army Co-operation Sqn flying Hawker Audax and Hector biplanes. In 1936 he was sent to the Air Observer School, before returning to 13 Sqn again for a 3 year period. He was promoted to Sgt. in 1938, and then moved to 18 Sqn in 1939 just before the war started. Arthur Craig had three daughters, one of whom still lives in the UK. His grand-daughter Shirley visited the graves at Rancourt for the first time in 2012.
Sgt. George Hawkins DFM. Rancourt Military Cemetery. Collective Grave BB.1-3. Son of George and Nelly Hawkins from Aynho, Oxfordshire. Married to Antonia Hawkins of Sliema (Malta).
George was a longtime member of the RAF, having joined at the age of 19. In the 1930’s he was a gunner crewing on aircraft such as the Hawker Hind and Hawker Hart. By the outbreak of WW2 he was sufficiently experienced to be tasked with the instruction of new recruits to the squadron. He was awarded the DFM in March 1940 for his actions during a very dangerous flight over central Germany on the 31st October 1939, and for two and a half years of outstanding service with 18 Sqn. George Hawkins had a son Donald, aged 4 years at the time of his death. After the war George’s widow and son moved to Malta to live, his son still lives there.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Andre Bauduin, Ian Marchant, Pat Curran, RAF Commands Forum. Aircrew Remembered own Archives. Thanks to Liz Wood, the niece of Plt Off. Light for the additional information about his brothers. Thanks to Gillian Cutts for the photograph of Plt Off. Light and his wife (Apr 2022).
Other sources below: