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  61 Squadron Royal Air Force : L4111 crash, 8 Mar 1940

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Updated: 11 May 13

61 Sqn lost its first aircrew during an attempted landing at RAF Digby on 8 Mar 1940.

39855 Flying Officer (Pilot), 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Derek was born on 19th April 1915, the eldest son of Cecil Henry and Margaret Tessier Clinkard (nee Gray) of Wanganui, New Zealand. In 1921 Derek went to St. John's Hill School in the town. He enrolled at the Wanganui Technical College in 1929 and swam and played rugby and tennis for them. He moved to Wellington and became a clerical worker for the Shell Oil Company. Derek joined the Waiwhetu Golf Club and also got a private pilots licence.

In April 1936, with an 'A' licence and 10 hours flying experience, he applied to join the Royal Air Force under the 'Dominion Special Service' scheme. He was accepted and guaranteed a 'Short Service Commission' upon his enlistment in Britain. He trained at Brough Civil School, Yorkshire and then at No.7 Flying Training School in Northamptonshire. The 40 trainees on his course were allocated to various Squadrons and by the end of 1940 only 10 of these men were still alive.

On 19th February 1938, Derek reported to RAF Hemswell, joining No. 61 Squadron, part of 5 Group, Bomber Command. He was affectionately nicknamed 'Clink'.

Derek married Zillah Christina Marris at St. Peter's Church on 11th December 1939. Their witnesses were his friend C.W. Glover and her father Harry Marris, who ran the village butcher shop on Messingham Road.

The couple set up home at ‘Lyndene’, Scotter Common and when he was returning from a mission he would fly the plane low over their bungalow to let his wife know he was safe.

He took part in the Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven raids, reconnaissance flights over Germany and spent Christmas Day 1939 flying over the North Sea in a snowstorm. Derek was promoted from Pilot Officer to Flying Officer on 10th January 1940 and became an experienced pilot with 475 hours in the air.

The Crash

At 20:18 on 7th March 1940 his Handley Page Hampden Mk1 bomber, number L4111, went on an 'offensive patrol' to attack the Luftwaffe base at Sylt, one of the German Frisian Islands.

The plane suffered severe damage during the raid and the crew struggled to bring it home. At 02:00 they were plotted as just off the English coast but no requests for bearings were made until 3 hours later. They flew up and down the coast but enemy action and mist over the whole of England stopped them trying to land.

They managed to get as far as RAF Digby near Lincoln. The usual method of landing was to perform a left hand turn but, perhaps due to rudder problems, they had to attempt a right hand turn. The airfield's lights were not put on and, in the darkness, at 5:30am the plane crashed into a nearby field.

They were the first aircrew of 61 Squadron to be lost in the war. His comrades were Sergeant Charles Carlile Hobbs, Sergeant Ronald Philips Glasson (aged 19) and Leading Aircraftman Winston Kitchener Wood (aged 20).

Due to the unknown extent of their difficulties, no recommendations were made for posthumous decoration. It is probable that they had been engaged by the enemy because the body of LAC Wood, the wireless operator, had sustained gunshot wounds.

The medals that Derek received for active service were:-

1939-1945 Star
Air Crew Europe Star
Defence Medal
War Medal 1939-1945
New Zealand War Medal
New Zealand Memorial Cross

In June 1954 his mother travelled to see her son's resting place. She regularly placed fresh flowers on his grave and ended each visit by reading a verse by Sir Henry Newboult which is inscribed on the gravestone:-

'To count the light of battle good,
and dear the land that gave you birth,
and dearer yet the brotherhood
that binds the brave of all the Earth.

I was contacted in 2013 by a son of a close friend of Sgt Carl Hobbs. Flt Lt CG Richards RAF-VR was a VR entrant in 1937 at 501 Filton Bristol, later Manby and from there ETS Canada. He and Carl took their pilots licence at the same time and were both from Clifton in Bristol. In Flt Lt Richard's archive there was a letter from a friend stationed at the Sgts Mess RAF Hemswell dated 11 Mar 40 to let him know that Carl was killed as pilot in the crash.

61 Sqn history on RAF site

Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire

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