06/07.06.1944 No. 106 Squadron Lancaster III NE150 ZN-H P/O. Merrick George Munday Warren
Operation: Caen, France
Date: 6/7 June 1944 (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Unit: No. 106 Squadron - Motto: "Pro libertate" ("For liberty)
Badge: A lion sejant, rampant, holding a banner charged with an astral crown. A lion sejant, rampant, holding a banner is based on the crest of the County Borough of Doncaster, the squadron being stationed near there at the time of adopting the badge. Authority: King George VI, February 1941.
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Metheringham, Lincolnshire
Location: St. Jean-de-Daye, Manche, France
Pilot: P/O. Merrick George Munday Warren 174942 RAFVR Age 23 - 6th mission - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Frank Leonard Corner 222039 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (2)
Nav: F/O. John Drylie (Jock) 140868 RAFVR - 5th mission - Evaded arrived safe UK 19 July 1944 (3)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Stanley Kevin Black (Blackie) Aus/418790 RAAF Age 21, 5th mission - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Norman Charles Vezey Rooker (Chunky) 1324354 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Maurice Hardy Wigham (Geordie) 1593975 RAFVR Age 33 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): Sgt. Ralph Lionel Puckett (Puck) 1853943 RAFVR Age 31 - Killed (7)
We appeal to relatives of the crew with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via the Helpdesk
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 00:25hrs on 7 June from RAF Metheringham to attack bridges at Caen.
This aircraft carried the following bomb load: 18 x 500lb MC
Special Equipment on board was: H2S, API and Fishpond see abbreviations
Following the beginning of the invasion of Europe on the 5/6th June 1944 it was imperative for the allies to continue disrupting and destroying key elements of the infrastructure of France to prevent the German forces from moving men and equipment into positions from which they might launch significant counter attacks. As part of this operation, during the night of 6/7 June 1944, a force of 1065 aircraft comprising 565 Lancasters, 418 Halifaxes and 58 Mosquitos was despatched to bomb strategic targets along the lines of communication behind the invasion beaches. 3488 tons of bombs were dropped on targets at Achères, Argentan, Caen, Châteaudun, Conde sur Noireau, Coutances, St Lô, Lisieux and Vire. 10 Lancasters and 1 Halifax were lost during the raids including 6 Lancasters from the No. 5 Group raid on Caen. Here the main force had to wait for the target to be marked after which they attacked at below 3000ft over an area thick with German flak guns.
NE150 was one of 16 Lancasters from 106 squadron detailed to attack bridges in Caen. Two of the sixteen 106 squadron aircraft were lost that night, the other being Lancaster ND680 ZN-P piloted by Squadron Leader Eric Sprawson D.F.C. Sqn/Ldr. Sprawson and two of his crew evaded, two were made prisoners of war and two were killed.
Some sources erroneously record that the target for the 16 aircraft of 106 squadron were bridges at Coutances, North West France. However documents in the National Archives of Australia give the target as Caen. The letter shown below from 106 squadron to the Air Ministry reporting the loss of Lancaster NE150 clearly states that its aircraft were 'detailed to attack bridges at Caen'.
Courtesy National Archives of Australia
The following story of Lancaster NE150 and its crew has been compiled using contemporary documents in the National Archives of Australia reference NAA:A705, 166/5/559 RAAF Accident Report and details kindly provided to Aircrew Remembered by Monsieur Michel Tardivat the son in law of the navigator of the crew, Flight Lieutenant John Drylie.
Fatally damaged by German anti-aircraft fire from the garrison at Lison Lancaster NE150 crashed at 0300 hours near the village of St. Jean de Daye some 5 miles west of Lison.
Saint-Jean-de-Daye is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France and about 10 miles north of St. Lô and some 40 miles west of Caen.
On repatriation the navigator of the crew John Drylie described what happened.
"Our aircraft was badly hit by flak and the bomb aimer [Fl/Sgt. Black] and myself had time to bale out. Of the others I cannot say whether they baled out or not as I was completely on my own when I reached the ground"
John Drylie landed in France near the village of Saint Fromond some 4km east of St Jean-de-Daye. He later told how he buried his parachute and then hid in bushes for two or three days by which time hunger drove him to risk approaching a farm on the outskirts of Saint Fromond where he asked for help. The owner of the farm was Arthur Michel and although sympathetic to the allied cause was only too aware of the false evaders planted by the Germans to trap such sympathisers and members of the French Resistance. He therefore contacted the local resistance movement and requested a check on John Drylie's ID. On receiving a positive result he agreed to let John remain at the farm. He was provided with civilian clothes and because he spoke no French it was decided that he should pretend to be deaf and dumb.
It was only after a few weeks that John Drylie could be repatriated to the UK via the French Resistance network and thanks to Arthur Michel who drove him to Bayeux as well as risking his own life in doing so.
When the crew of NE150 were reported missing John's young fiancée, Margaret, serving the Army as a radio-operator in Stirling Castle (Scotland) was obviously devastated. News of his safe arrival in the UK on 19 July 1944 was no doubt greeted with appropriate elation.
Villagers recovered the remains of the crew which were later placed in a single coffin made by the local joiner and put in the village hall. Then, draped in the French flag, the coffin was taken across the road to be buried in the church cemetery.
Stanley Black landed safely near Saint-jean-de-Daye where he was sheltered by a Monsieur Desire Cardin for a day. Then, at Stanley Black's request, he took him in a horse drawn vehicle to the neighbouring village of Graignes where about 180 American parachutists (3rd Battalion U.S. 507th PIR) had landed on the 6th of June and were preparing to defend their position. On Sunday the 11th of June the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen attacked the village in strength. Outnumbered ten to one the Americans gave a good account of themselves inflicting heavy losses of 500 killed and 700 wounded on their attackers but were inevitably eventually overcome. The Germans then inflicted severe reprisals, killing the wounded Americans, some of the villagers, burning the village and even some of the American bodies. Only about thirty of the Americans are thought to have escaped. Stanley Black is known to have been with the defenders and it must be assumed that he suffered the same fate as the American Parachutists.
Above: Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black
A full account of the heroic defence of the village by the American parachutists helped by the local inhabitants and the cruel retribution inflicted by the German forces can be read at warhistorynetwork.com (if this link fails, a reference copy of the page is here.)
During post war investigations there was some confusion as to whether the pilot Merrick Warren had parachuted from his aircraft and been taken as a prisoner of war. John Drylie had said that when he baled out Warren was "unwounded and he would have had a fair chance of getting out". Stanley Black, according to M. Cardin, had said that Warren was the first to bale out but the RAF investigator thought this to be improbable as being the captain of the crew he would "remain until the last at his post".
Despite much investigation it was concluded that P/O. Warren had in fact remained at the controls of his aircraft and perished in the crash with the other four members of his crew. M. Cardin had made an extensive search for Warren or signs of his parachute without success and informed the RAF investigator that there might well have been five bodies in the aircraft thus accounting for Warren. The RAF Investigator concluded. "It can be fairly assumed that his (Warren's) body lies with the others in the little cemetery at St Jean-de- Daye".
This reply from the Mayor of Saint-Jean-de-Daye to an enquiry from the mother of Stanley Black shows that even as late as January 1945 there still existed a belief that Merrick Warren had baled out and was probably still alive.
It is significant to note that he is referred to as Lieutenant Warren. It later transpired that the confusion had come about due to an American airman having baled out in the same area at about the same time and had been known to have been sent to a prisoner of war camp.
The remains of the five men killed in the crash were placed in two coffins but buried in one common grave in the village churchyard at St. Jean-de-Daye on the 8th June 1944. Despite the Germans still being in occupation and SS troops patrolling the village the villagers were determined to give them a decent burial. Most of the local inhabitants attended the service during which British and French flags were used. The remains of the five airmen were later reburied at the Bayeux War Cemetery that was completed in 1952.
The grave of F/Sgt Stanley Kevin Black was not located until 1947. After his death at Graignes he had been buried with the dead American parachutists in the temporary American Cemetery at Blosville. On 7 May 1947 his remains were handed over to Lt. F.G. MacDonald representative of the British Empire and reburied at the Bayeux War Cemetery.
Left: The original grave marker on the grave of Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black, later replaced with a headstone at the Bayeux War Cemetery. Courtesy National Archives of Australia.
John Drylie's son in law, Michel Tardivat recalled that after the war John Drylie returned to his native Scotland where he married his fiancée Margaret and in due course started a family. He spent the rest of his life working as a Chartered Accountant alternating between Scotland and Paris.
John Drylie rarely spoke of those dramatic events of 1944, never wore his medals and consistently refused to attend official ceremonies etc.
After the war in Saint Fromond, Arthur Michel was also married and despite the austerity of the time his school teacher bride, wore a wedding dress tailored in silk, courtesy of John Drylie's parachute. In due course they had a daughter Lise who also became a teacher in Saint Fromond and still lives in the farm which has been transformed into a nice B&B.
The two families became and remained firm friends for the rest of their lives and in the 1950s when visiting their good friends in France, Peter, John Drylie's son, would often go to play near the carcass of the Lancaster which remained abandoned in a field not far from Saint-Fromond for many years.
Arthur Michel died some years ago and lies buried in the Cemetery of Saint-Fromond where on his grave the RAF fixed a medal to celebrate his courage.
In the late 1980s John Drylie took all of us, children and grand-children, to the D Day places of these events: Saint-Lô, Bayeux, but also Sainte-Mère-Église and Colleville. He did not say very much, but we could understand he was very much emotive.
(1) P/O. Merrick George Munday Warren was born in 1922 at Willesden, Middlesex the son of Francis Warren and Ivy M. Warren nee Dawkins. He had a brother Derrick T. Warren born 1928.
1389921 F/Sgt Warren was appointed to commission as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) with effect from 15 March 1944 as announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 26 May 1944.
(2) Sgt. Frank Leonard Corner was born in 1923 at Nottingham the son of Captain Leonard Leslie Corner and Florence Edna Corner nee Jowers and later of Whiston, Yorkshire. Attended Nottingham High School from 1934 to 1939 where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps. He is commemorated on the Nottingham High School War Memorial.
(3) Fl/Lt. John Drylie was born 12 January 1922 at Tulliallan, Fife, Scotland the son of Peter Drylie (a Forester) and Isabella Gibb Cunningham Drylie nee Kinloch. He married Margaret Hutton Scott at Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland in 1945. A son Peter Michel Drylie was born in 1946 followed in due course by a daughter Elizabeth and later, two further daughters.
He died at Balguthrie, in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland on 5 September 1990 age 68
1559147 LAC Drylie was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) with effect from 8 May 1943 (Supplement to the London Gazette of 20 July 1943) and promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) w.e.f. 8 November 1943 (Supplement to the London Gazette of 12 November 1943). He was further promoted to Flight Lieutenant w.e.f. 8 May 1945 (Supplement to the London Gazette 18 May 1945)
(4) Fl/Sgt. Stanley Kevin Black was born 12 March 1923 at North Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia the son of George Black and Lilian Eliza Black nee Dodd. Stanley Black attended the North Fitzroy Central University High School from 1928 until 1938. After leaving school he worked as an Insurance Clerk for the Sun Insurance Company in Melbourne. He remained a single man who enjoyed dancing and played cricket, football and tennis.
He volunteered for aircrew in the Royal Australian Air Force at No 1 Recruitment Centre in Melbourne on 19 June 1942 when he gave his home address as 90, Delbridge Street, North Fitzroy. On enlistment he was 5' 7¼" tall and weighing 8st. 9lbs with a dark complexion, dark hair and blue grey eyes. He trained initially as a Navigator but was later remustered as an Air Bomber and was promoted to Sergeant on 4 March 1943. He embarked from Australia on 5 May 1943 arriving in the UK on 7 July 1943. Promoted to Flight Sergeant on 4 September 1943 he was posted to 9(O)AFU on 25 September, to 17 OTU at RAF Silverstone on 12 January 1944 and to 106 Squadron at RAF Metheringham on 8 May 1944.
(5) Sgt. Norman Charles Vezey Rooker was born in 1924 at Brentford, Middlesex the only child of Charles Vezey Edward Rooker and Jessie Rooker nee Taphouse later of Bournemouth Hampshire.
(6) Sgt. Maurice Hardy Wigham was born on 5 March 1911 at Bensfield, Durham the son of Thomas Nicholson Wigham and Lucy Eleanor Wigham nee Hardy later of Shotley Bridge, Co. Durham. In 1934 he married Margaret McDougall at Tynemouth and they had two children Brian H. Wigham born 1936 and June Wigham born 1938. The family later lived at Parkstone, Dorset.
(7) Sgt. Ralph Lionel Puckett was born in 1913 at Poole, Dorsetshire the only child of Wilfred Puckett and Margaret Lilian Puckett nee Page. In 1933 he married Alice Eveline George and they had three daughters: Doreen J. Puckett born 1933, Margaret O. Puckett born 1936 and Patricia Puckett born 1939. Prior to joining the RAFVR Ralph Pucket worked for the Post Office as a Night Telephonist and Call Office Attendant at Bournemouth and Poole.
On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank M. Michel Tardivat for his help in compiling this story and for granting permission to use photographs from his personal collection.
Merrick George Munday Warren was buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery - Coll. Grave No. XXIX.J.18-22
Sgt. Frank Leonard Corner was buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery - Coll. Grave No. XXIX.J.18-22
Fl/Sgt. Stanley Kevin Black (Blackie) was buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery - Grave No. XVI.C.8
Fearlessly and nobly done.
Sgt. Norman Charles Vezey Rooker (Chunky) was buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery - Coll. Grave No. XXIX.J.18-22
O valiant heart
Sgt. Maurice Hardy Wigham (Geordie) was buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery - Coll. Grave No. XXIX.J.18-22
Sweet is his memory
Dear is his name,
The love in our hearts
Will always remain
Sgt. Ralph Lionel Puckett (Puck) was buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery - Coll. Grave No. XXIX.J.18-22
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for Nottingham High School and all relatives and friends of the members of this crew - November 2015
With thanks to the sources quoted below.