14 April 2012

A sobering statistic (St Kitts aircrew WWII)

Earlier on today my father asked me if I would be able to take him to this year's Pathfinder Sunday at RAF Wyton. Although it is not a currently a base for RAF aircraft RAF Wyton is still operational.During WWII it was the HQ of 8 Group, RAF's Pathfinder Force which was responsible for marking targets during bombing raids.

My dad hasn't attended for some years. The last time he did attend he met Ulric Cross, a Trinidadian, who served as a Navigator on 139 Squadron, attaining the rank of Wing Commander. He was highly decorated, receiving the DSO and the DFC and after the war he became Trinidad's High Commissioner to London (Senior ranking diplomats of Commonwealth missions are called High Commissioner rather than Ambassador).  But I digress.

Ulric Cross's story is recounted in an excellent website Caribbean Aircrew in the RAF During WWII. Over 6,000 men and women from the Caribbean served in the RAF and the RCAF during WWII of which 440 served as aircrew. Most the aircrew aircrew came from Trinidad & Tobago or Jamaica, but there are representatives from the other islands too as well as one from Nicaragua.

The site lists three aircrew from St Kitts: Flying Officer Basil Veira; Sergeant Sydney De Lisle and Flying Officer Eugene Vanier.

Flying Officer Veira was killed when his Lancaster bomber (example above)was shot down by a night fighter on 28 April 1943 off the coast of what is now Leba in Poland (it being part of Germany during WWII). He was posthumously warded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Flying Officer Vanier had left a degree course at McGill University to join the RCAF in 1940. Promoted to Flying Officer, he was killed in action on 1 September 1942. His Beaufighter (example above) failed to return from a strafing operation behind Axis lines in North Africa. His name appears on the El Alamein memorial.

The site has no other details about Sergeant De Lisle except to note that he was killed in action and is buried in Milan. The War Graves Photographic Project states that he was a Sergeant air gunner in 31 Squadron, South African Air Force and died on 12 or 13 October 1944. A site concerning the SAAF indicates that the squadron would have been flying B-24 Liberators at that time

Three men originally from one island served as aircrew, all three were killed in action. That is a sobering statistic.


Claude said...

Flying Officer Vanier was at McGill University (Montreal), the same years than my brother. Many students, at that time, left (like my brother) to enroll for WW2. Many didn't return to complete their studies. My brother (from the Army) made it back. But the RAF endured so many casualties. We tend to forget how dangerous those missions were in those days, and how much they protected the country from German air attacks.

It's really a meeting of a bunch of heroes, your father will attend. The survivors against all odds. Your dad, included. I salute them.

jams o donnell said...

Bomber aircrews took awful losses. Nearly half were killed, 2 out of three were either killed, wounded or captured. My dad was lucky to escape with just shrapnel in his toes... very lucky!

I salute them all wherever they come from