17/18.01.1943 No. 97 Squadron Lancaster I R5575 OF-L Sgt. Geoffrey H. Rowson
Date: 17/18 January 1943.
Unit: No. 97 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Woodhall Spa
Pilot: Sgt. Geoffrey Harold Rowson 1237461 RAFVR Age 31. Missing.
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Peter Lane 575359 RAF Age ? Missing.
Nav: Sgt. John Edgar West 1254233 RAFVR Age 22. Missing.
Air/Bmr: Sgt. John Bell 1097964 RAFVR Age ? Missing.
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Charles Brittain 1020217 RAFVR Age 22. Killed.
Mid Upper Gunner: Sgt. George Arthur Axup 1620118 RAFVR Age 19. Missing.
Rear Gunner: Fl/Sgt. Henry Craig Beebe R/96932 RCAF Age 40. Missing.
REASON FOR LOSS.
Took off 1703 from Woodhall Spa after which nothing further was heard. Sgt. Brittain’s body was recovered from the estuary of the River Rietdiep at Zoutcamp, 22km NW of Groningen on the 9th of April. He was interred at Ulrum General Cemetery on the 10th of April. The remaining crew members have no known graves and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. This Operation was the ninth undertaken by this crew.
After looking at the pattern of losses for the night it has to be concluded that the aircraft must have crashed into the Waddenzee, probably as a result of being attacked by a night-fighter. Whether this occurred on the way to or from the target will remain a mystery.
Sgt. Axup came from a farming family and was in fact in a reserved occupation but wanted to become actively involved and therefore volunteered for aircrew duties.
Fl/Sgt. Beebe had seen previous Military Service as a member of ‘D’ Company. Les Fusiliers du St. Laurent and had achieved the rank of Sergeant. This was a Territorial or Militia Unit with which he served from 1928 to 1935. In June of 1940 Harry Beebe enlisted as a Gunner in the 94th Anti Tank Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery. Harry’s Nephew revealed to me that Harry was impatient to see active service. It was this haste, and the fact that he wished to hide a severe stomach complaint, which compelled Harry to transfer to the RCAF in October of 1941.
Above Left to Right: Fl/Sgt Henry Beebe on the right (show here as a Sgt.) with his brother Thomas. (photo courtesy of Burne Gilker, nephew of Henry) - Sgt. John Brittain (Sgt. Brittain photo courtesy of Miss Lisa Byard) - Sgt. George Ackup (photo courtesy of Geoffrey Axup - George's brother)
Harry trained at 8 Bombing and Gunnery School at Lethbridge, Ontario, before coming to England in March 1942. A further course at 7 Air Gunnery School at Stormy Down in Wales was successfully completed with Harry achieving a mark of 84.74%
June 1942 saw Harry at 29 OTU at North Luffenham where he joined Sgt.’s Rowson, West, Bell and Brittain. There, Fl/Sgt Beebe and the others learned to fly as a crew in Wellington aircraft. Their move, in September, to a Conversion Flight of 97 Squadron heralded the arrival of the two extra crew members required to fly Avro Lancasters. This was Sgt. Lane and Sgt. Axup. On the 8th of November 1942, the crew joined 97 Squadron and commenced their tour of operations.
List of Operations carried out by this crew:
6/7th December 1942 Manhelm:
R5548A Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J.Bell, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, H.C. Beebe. 1 x 4000lb 12 SBC. Up 1736 Down 0040. Cloud over Mannheim area. Bombed area where flares were burning. Terrific flash followed dropping of bombs. Red glow seen through gap in cloud.
8/9th December 1942 Turin:
R5738D Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J. Ball, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, H.C. Beebe. 1 x 4000lb 8 SBC. Up 1752 Down 0113. Bombs successfully dropped on Turin town. Own bursts not seen. Blazing buildings and many large fires seen in centre of town. Slight flak encountered.
9/10th December 1942 Turin:
R5738D Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J. Bell, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, H.C. Beebe. 14 SBC. Up 1731 Down 1840. Mission abandoned owing to artificial horizon being u/s. Bombs jettisoned safe.
20/21st December 1942 Duisburg:
R5575L Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J. Bell, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, H.C. Beebe. 14 SBC. Up 1819 Down 2044. Returned early owing to rear and mid upper turrets being u/s. Also engine trouble. Jettisoned incendiaries safe.
21/22nd December 1942 Munich:
R5572F Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J. Bell, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, H.C. Beebe. 1 x 4000lb. Up 1720 Down 0010. Estimated primary objective bombed. Thin cloud over target. Fires and flares directed us to built up area. Own bomb seen to burst through break in clouds. Several fires seen reflected through cloud.
8/9th January 1943 Duisberg (Bomb load 1 X 4000lb 12 SBC):
ED310A Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J. Bell, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, O’Donahue. Up 1724 Down 2207. Target not identified visually. PFF flares clearly seen over target area. Some cloud but visibility generally good. Own bombs not seen to explode. Nothing else observed. Port undercarriage collapsed on landing.
12/13th January 1943 Essen (Bomb load 1 X 4000lb 12 SBC
R5575L Sgts G.H.Rowson, P.Lane, J.E.West, J.Bell, J.C.Brittain, G.Axup, Beebe. Up 0348 Down 0603. Mission abandoned owing to engine trouble. Bombs jettisoned safe.
16/17th January 1943 Berlin
R5575L Sgts G.H.Rowson, P.Lane, J.E.West, J.Bell, J.C.Brittain, G.Axup, Beebe. 14 SBC. Up 1634 Down 0053. Clear visibility but haze and smoke when we reached Berlin. Marker green flares seen over target. Built up area in sights when bombs released. Own bursts not observed but many fires seen. Opposition heavy and accurate over target.
17/18th January 1943 Berlin (1X 4000lb 8 SBC):
R5575L Sgts G.H. Rowson, P. Lane, J.E. West, J. Bell, J.C. Brittain, G. Axup, Beebe. Up 1703 – aircraft and crew missing.
Left: The grave of the only crew member recovered, Sgt. John Charles Brittain
Sgt. Geoffrey Harold Rowson Runnymede Memorial Panel 163. Son of Simon and Esther Rowson, husband of Elfie Muriel Rowson, of Kensington, London, England.
Sgt. Peter Lane Runnymede Memorial Panel 156. Son of William Ewart Jack and Maude Annette Lane of Buntinford, Hertfordshire, England.
Sgt. John Edgar West Runnymede Memorial Panel 169. Son of James W and Una M. West of Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, Wales.
Sgt. John Bell Runnymede Memorial Panel 142. Son of Roger and Annie Bell; husband of Mary Bell, of Pickering, Yorkshire, England.
Sgt. John Charles Brittain Ulrum General Cemetery, De Marne. Row 1st class G/H. Grave 9. Son of Charles Henry and Louisa Brittain of Buxton, Derbyshire, England.
Sgt. George Arthur Axup Runnymede Memorial Panel 141. Son of George Henry and Sabina Axup of Howden, Yorkshire, England.
Fl/Sgt. Henry Craig Beebe Runnymede Memorial Panel 181. Son of George Milne Beebe and Adelaide Caldwell Beebe of New Carlisle, Province of Quebec, Canada.
With many thanks to Kevin Mears for the research for this article. We would also like to thank all the people who have contributed to this story and we acknowledge the use of the photographs supplied. With thanks to the following: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission.