Last Operation with 97 Squadron

A tribute to the Crew of ND840 O/F-J

Bois de Cassan 6 August, 1944

Flying Officer G.C. Bucknell Capt. Royal Austrailian Air Force C.W.G.C.
Flight Sergeant L. Barlow Flt/Eng. Royal Air Force C.W.G.C.
Flight Sergeant L.B. Daitz Nav. Royal Air Force C.W.G.C.
Flying Officer R.A.V. James V/B/A. Royal Air Force--Observer
Flight Sergeant R. McAllister A/B. Royal Austrailian Air Force C.W.G.C.
Flight Sergeant G.C. Dyke W/Op. Royal Air Force C.W.G.C.
Sergeant W.R. Patience M/Gun. Royal Air Force C.W.G.C.
Sergeant L.D. Farmer R/Gun. Royal Air Force C.W.G.C.

The crew of ND840 were one of many who gave their lives for freedom. Thanks to the people of Eaubonne, France, their memories will not be forgotten.


The following delivery was sent to me by the Association of Eaubonne Matlock, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the crew from ND840. I had the translation from French to English done to the best of my knowledge.

We are still in the year of the 50th anniversary of the victory from the Second World War.

The victory of 1945 was darkened by the most dramatic event of this time. The liberation of the concentration camps, the extermination camps and the discovery of the horror, the inconceivable tragedy created, generated and performed by man.

These pilots for whom we celebrate today the memory, offered their lives for the liberation of those torn to mortal slavery.

On the 6 August 1944 at 9:30 in the morning, a Lancaster, ND840 from 97 squadron, group 5 "Bomber Command" left the Coningsby Base in Lincolnshire. For two months it belonged to 97 Squadron. It was one of a series of 600 units built between December 1943 and May 1945 by A. V. Roe & Co. LTD. in Chadderton Factory ( suburb of Manchester)

It was given to the "32 Maintenance Unit" before being affected to the 83 Squadron in April 1944. In June 1944, it joined the 97 Squadron and will bore the code OF/J.

On the morning of August the 6th, the Bomber had already 239 engagement hours.

That Mission, which was the last, was the bombardment of a fuel depot V1 situated in the Cassan Forest close to Isle-Adam.

As soon as the Bomber finished its mission over the target, it was hit by the Germen flak encircling Pontoise. A few minutes later the petrol tanks exploded. At 200 metre altitude, the Flying Officer, Rodney A. V. James DFC. was ejected.

The Lancaster crashed at 12:20 pm Gambetta street, very close to the intersection of the villages called Eaubonne, Ermont, Saint Prix, destroying part of No. 72 house ( Mrs Fleury & Mr. Macquat ) and also caused a lot of damage to the No. 74 House belonging to Mrs. Fernand & Ernest Ferreira & Mrs. Ferreira. Mrs. Fleury, Mrs. Maquart & Fernand Ferreira were wounded and transported to the hospital, there lives were not in danger.

The Journal "La tribune Du Val-D’oise", 12 August 1944 related the fact: as for the seven occupants of the plane, Canadians were identified.

This is why, for 50 years, we honourd the memories of Canadian Pilots on Gambetta street.

Thanks to Mrs. Hajos and the help of Mr. Archambault, chiropractor at Saint Prix, and the Lieutenant-Colonel Chabot, Canadian Embassy, we know today the pilot’s identification.

From the Royal Australian Air Force:

Flying Officer (Captain) Geoffrey C. Bucknell, age 33, originally from Inverell, New South Wales

Flying Sergeant (Air Bomber) Ronald McAllister, age 24, originally from Alectown, New South Wales.

From the Royal Air Force:

Flying Sergeant (navigator) Leslie B. Daitz age 22, originally from Stanford Hill, London

Sergeant (Flight Engineer) Leonard Barlow, age 19, originally from Nelton Park, Surrey.

Sergeant (Radio Operator) Clifford Dyke, age 22, originally from North Wingfield, Derbyshire

Sergeant (Mid Gunner) William Patience, age 19, originally from Penhurst, Kent

Sergeant (Rear Gunner) Leslie Farmer, age 22, originally from Coventry, Kent

The Lieutenant Rodney James, native of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, after opening his parachute landed close to Saint Prix and was taken by a citizen of Saint Prix, Mr. Robert Bonhoure.

The Germans were looking for him, chased him and around 1330 hours, the Lieutenant moved to another safe place thanks to Mr. Bonhoure’s brother and uncle, who gave the Lieutenant James civilian clothes. Around 1600 hours, they drove him by bicycle to Paris where he was protected at the uncles house (Boulevard De Charoinne-xx,arr) until 6 September, when he rejoined 97 Squadron via London. Thanks to his report (debriefing mission) which gives all the details.

The Lieutenant Rodney James was enlisted since March 27, 1941 by the RAF, made his career and died in March 16 1968 at the age of 44.

Mr. Bonhoure died a few years later. He offered to Mr. Archambault two French maps made of silk, belonging to Mr. James, (as any other pilots)

A part of the Lancaster’s aluminium was found and given to Mr. Archambault by Mrs. Hue.

In 1944, the Eaubonne hospital was requisitioned by order of the Luftwaffe, the primary school, Paul-Bert, where we are today, served as a medical auxiliary. The remains of the pilots were placed in the chapel of rest situated in the first hall left of the entrance.

Mrs. Cottard, deceased today, was the first citizen of Eaubonne to enter the school. Mrs. Cottard brought a flowerpot of hortansias decorated with blue, white and red ribbons. Dozens and dozens of citizens followed her example.

The burial was suppose to take place in the cemetery, a large crowd from Ermont, Saint Prix and Eaubonne were waiting.

Following the event, that month of August 1944, the Germans were afraid of a sudden or spontaneous riot. All we know is that they left, no one knows where, they took the coffins of the airmen, which got the blessing from the priest Gombert.

For a long time it was believed the pilots were buried at the Ivry cemetery, Arcueil or Montrouge. In fact, they were discreetly buried at the Clichy Cemetery.

I take the responsibility today as the Association Du Souvenir Francais flourish our friends grave.

From the Operations Record Book: (summary of events)

Today, also the training flights were overshadowed by another operation against a flying bomb base at Bois de Cassan, for which 9 of our aircraft were detailed.

The raid was not a great success as the contoller's navigational equipment became unserviceable at the English coast out. A deputy controller took over and led the force into a large cumulus nimbus cloud which was lying across track. The formation broke up in the cloud and on emerging had spread over many miles of sky. The target was bombed more or less by individual aircraft, and the bombing that did occur was believed to have been accurate. There was moderate heavy flak over the target and the fighters attacked the aircraft which were most dispersed on breaking cloud.

'J' captained by F/O Bucknell, R.A.A.F., did not return from this mission.

From the Operations Record Book: (consolidated squadron report of daylight attack on Bois de Cassan--6 th August, 1944.)

WEATHER----- Clear break over target, but cumulus tops to 15,000 to 20,000 ft. in target area

RESULTS----- Crossing English coast Controller's GEE and Intercom failed. As planned to home to target on GEE handed over to Q/83 (F/LT. Drinkall - Missing) Controller and Deputy changed positions. Controller having fixed up poor intercom on 1196 (after 7 minutes) stood by in advisory capacity. About 40 mile inland a big cumulus cloud was lying across track. Deputy descended to 16,000 ft. and broadcast that he was going to take force below cloud. Controller warned him not to go below 15,000 ft. and next advised him to turn to starboard. Deputy ordered force to diverge and dive through cloud. On emerging, Main Force were scattered over many mile of sky, there was some attemp to gather into a bunch (or bunches) but impossible to regain proper formation; as a result some aircraft appeared to bomb the primary. The number bombing was not large enough to impede daylight bombing runs and the other bombing of the target that did occur was believed accurate. Other aircraft bombed as best they could with some mistaking pinpoints owing to icing troubles and the rush. Attack scattered over a wide area.

ABORTIVE:---- S/97 abandoned mission, unable to identify target.

MISSING:---- J/97 (ND840).

OPPOSITION ENCOUNTERED:---- Moderate heavy flak seen. Fighters in target area attacked aircraft which were most dispersed on breaking cloud.

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