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Berkshire Family Historian
June 2003

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Berkshire Family Historian
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Where were you on D-Day 1944?
Barbara Dove

Some events have such an impact on our personal lives that we remember them not only for themselves, but also where we were at the time and what we were doing. Who can forget the day and time we heard about the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales in Paris, or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy outside the Bookstore in Dallas. More recently we felt the enormity of the crash of the twin towers in New York, the result of international terrorism, as we watched it unfold on television. These pivotal points in history leave us with vivid memories. As family historians we can, with the help of original records and photographs, build a picture of events in the past, but rarely can we be so precise as to say what happened at 21.27 hours on 6 June 1944, or 23.00 hours on 30 July 1944. Barbara Dove, with the help of RAF records and the memories of her father, can say with certainty what happened and where he was at that time.

My father, Ernest Albert Sumner, was in the RAF on 6 June 1944, as a wireless operator/airgunner. Other than the memories that he has about that particular date, what records are there today, and how much do his memories coincide with the records? He served at Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, between March and November 1944. He was one of the first air crew to become part of the newly formed 644 squadron based at Tarrant Rushton, a small village between Blandford Forum and Wimborne in Dorset. The celebrations for the 50th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 1994 prompted my father to seek out his flying log book to show where he was on that day, and share his memories with us, his family, something he had rarely done in the past. There were also some other dates that he remembered during that year, particularly Arnhem, of which he had vivid memories. I was to discover that the 298 and 644 squadrons were the first to take gliders into France, my father was not one of the first but as his log book reveals he did fly twice out to France; on D-Day.

Having seen the log book I was tempted to find out what was in the RAF documents at the Public Record Office. There are several different classes that cover these records, but the first I examined were the squadrons’ records (AIR27). I was very excited when I saw my father’s name on the page in front of me, with the names and service numbers of all the men transferred from 298 to the newly formed 644 squadron in March 1944.1

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Log Book of Ernest Albert Sumner on D-Day

The records reveal that with the rest of the crew on 5/6 June 1944 ‘take off 01.25 and landing 05.00’, this was his first lift (Operation ‘Tonga’).2 The Glider Raid Reports for that day give the following information: towing glider 104 (Horsa), names of the two pilots in the glider, five troops, equipment: a Jeep and six pound gun. Later in the records was another Glider Raid Report, the second lift for my father (Operation ‘Mallard’): ‘lift off 19.42 and landing back at base 3.5 hours later, towing glider (Hamilcar), one pilot with eight troops, and one light tank’. My father remembers seeing a gun shooting at the aircraft on their return from France. On the Glider Raid Report are various ways the landing zone was recognised.

30 July 1944, ‘take off 23.03 Special mission, not completed as ‘GEE’ (a radio navigation system) was not working, returned to base. This was taken from a Parachute Raid Report’.3

19 September 1944, Operation ‘Market’ 3rd lift, (Arnhem) Glider Raid Report (Horsa) Glider 128

10. Observations by crew of tug:

1. Horsa appeared to be making for? and ‘Z’.

2. Horsa seen hit in port wing 20 miles from R.V. on track. Glider crashed 14.45 hours 2500ft.

3. Horsa (broken rope) last seen circling near R.V. 1500 hours 2500ft.

4. A number of Horsas seen burning on L.Z. 'X‘ (perhaps 20).4

These reports give much detail, but for a more detailed picture other records need to be examined for these dates. One mentions distemper being used for the aircraft, especially for D-Day, this was so that they would be recognised by the allies and not shot down. As you might expect the records mention the weather in detail. In other records I found out when the summer scale for blankets was introduced (three for each individual) and when the station was sealed before and during the D-Day Operations.5 Prior to D-Day a number of exercises were carried out.

11 October 1943, Fledgling Exercise, eight Aircraft of 298 Squadron ordered to drop 80 paratroops (3rd Paratroop Brigade 8th Battn.) at pinpoint, two miles south of Handley at 15.00 hrs

20 November 1943, notification received that this establishment of Airborne Forces Tactical Development Unit forming at this station is amended from WAR/SR/33 to LWE/SR/1033 Part 1, Service contractors virtually finished contract for aerodrome.

27 March 1944. Crew for 644 Squadron completed. Fine but Hazy.

Without my father’s log book most of this information would have been found, but it makes it much quicker and easier if you have some guide lines to follow.

On 21.27 hrs on the 6 June 1944 my father was flying in a Halifax Mkv., 600ft in the air just off the coast of France, making an SOS call, as he could see a Halifax ditching, with three men in a dinghy which was still attached to the aircraft. He was in the aircraft with Stan Woodward (pilot) K. Cleaver (navigator), L Hayes (flight engineer), E.A. Smith (bomb aimer), and A.J. Alexander (gunner).6

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Some of Ernest Arthur Sumner's wartime papers

My aim now is to search through all the records at Kew for anything connected with the squadrons he served with and the stations he was at during his time in the RAF, from 1942 to 1946. This may be recent history to many but to me it is true family history, and if anyone has ancestors in the RAF and they were air crew, then find the squadron and visit the PRO at Kew. You may find more about your family and who they were with during the Second World War.

My parents have photocopies of the only remaining records of their service. These were compiled at the time of service and contain basic details of movements, ranks etc. as they occurred. My father served in the RAF from February 1941 until July 1946. My mother served in the WAAF from October 1941 until August 1945. This information was obtained from the RAF at Gloucester, by sending their service number and a stamped addressed envelope for a reply. I was unable to get this information as both my parents are alive. I am not sure if descendants would qualify if their parents had died. I found that the information for my father complemented some of the information in his log book, as well as adding to what we knew. It gives a physical description of the person on joining the forces, next of kin, date of marriage and to whom. It also gives promotions etc. My mother was discharged when her services were no longer required (she was pregnant carrying me). My father’s records give my name and date of birth. I was born in December 1945 after the war had ended.

References:

1 PRO AIR/27/2159

2 PRO AIR/27/2159 fol 32 (form 541)

3 PRO AIR/27/2162 fol 168/9 Parachute raid report

4 PRO AIR/27/2162 fol 138/9

5 PRO AIR/28/818 Tarrant Rushton (Operations Record Book form 540)

6 PRO AIR/27/2161 fols 28 & 29 Glider Raid Report


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created 29th May 2003