The Wartime Memories Project - RAF Tempsford

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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII


RAF Tempsford was used during the war by the SOE (Special Operations Executive). It was from here that underground agents and their supplies were flown, and dropped into enemy occupied Europe. The station was home to "Special Duties" 138 and 161 Squadrons flying Whitley, Hudson, Halifax and Stirling bombers and also Lysanders.

Over 80 aircraft were lost from Tempsford during the war, with many of their crews being killed.

Gibraltar Farm Barn was built deliberately to look like a normal farm barn to fool German air-reconnaisance was where agents were supplied with their equipment and their poison pills, in case of capture. Today there are moving memorials to individual R.A.F. aircrews and S.O.E. agents inside the barn. Arround the barn memorial trees have been planted by the Czech, Norwegian and Polish underground resistance and others planted in memory of individual aircrews who never came back.

Tempsford Airfield is a private airfield and as such not open to the public. Where possible small groups of visitors may be allowed access but only by prior arrangement. Anyone wishing to visit the airfield must telephone 01767 650251 beforehand

My late mother-in-law, Isobel Robinson,(nee Ogilvie), was stationed at RAF Tempsford during the Second World War. Her service number was 204818. She was a Sergeant driver and I understand that she used to drive agents from Tempsford to London for de-briefing. There is a photograph on a similar website of the visit of the then King and Queen, with Issy just behind the Queen. The same photo is also in a book called, "Agents by Moonlight", page 203. She was mentioned in dispatches and we assume that it was because of her driving the agents through the Blitz to London. She met my father-in-law, I think at Tempsford, although he spent most of the war in Malta.

My father, Warrant Officer Robert William "Bob" Paulin served in 161 Squadron at RAF Tempsford in Halifax DK119 "V" for Victor. He crashed in Europe on 22nd July 1943 which claimed the life of Rear Gunner "Lew" Lavallee.

My father was one of the five crew members who were relatively unhurt in the crash and were picked up by the French Resistance for whom the provisions had just been dropped. Thanks to them he managed to avoid capture and through a series of Safe Houses and the great efforts of the French Resistance, was ferried back across country to a point where they were all picked up by Lysander and returned to England in mid November 1943. During this time, they were actually located by the Germans whilst staying in a farm and chased through a village, during which time, my father related, they ran over an old ladies dog, but were, of course, unable to stop.He also told me how on another occasion, whilst hiding up in woodlands, they could hear the screams of collaborators that were being beaten up and tortured by the resistance men - they showed no mercy to those people.

Just after the crash, he and another crew member actually returned to St Sevier to attend Lew Lavallee's funeral dressed, of course, as Frenchmen and I have a (rather ragged) photograph of the funeral. I also have another picture of a French friend and also of, presumably, him and the crew of V for Victor. During his time in France he made many friends and one man in particular who he swapped passport photos with. This must have happened just before he returned to England, as he would have needed his photo for the forged passport which he used to travel by train accross country. It was obviously a good copy as it was checked by the Gestapo on the train. I actually have the forged passport in my possesion together with the photo of fathers French friend (Father told me that the Frenchman cried when they said goodbye).

Interestingly, Fathers story of what caused the crash differs slightly from the story related by the grandson of Sgt Stanley Hathaway, Stephen Hathaway. Stan's account seems to suggest that V for Victor crashed due to bad weather and an engine stall. My father's account was that they were hit by either flak or an ME109 on the way to the target zone. When making a drop, they flew at very low level and low speed so as to prevent too much scattering of the provisions. During the drop, the engines were run at high revs but with the props feathered. Immediately upon making the drop, the pitch was increased to ensure a safe and speedy climb out. Unknown to the crew, the fuel pressure was low due to damage sustained by enemy fire and this caused the engines to be starved of fuel and lose power when the pitch was added. This caused the plane to stall and crash. The rest of it ties in with Stephen's story

I have photos of the crew mounted in a picture frame: Don Crome; Pilot - English, "May"; Navigator - Canadian (replaced by Stan Hathaway due to illness), Bob Paulin; Wireless Operator - English, Red Hunter; Engineer - Canadian, Joe Kanakas; Air Gunner (Dispatcher)- Canadian, Pat Patterson; Bomb Aimer, British, Lew Lavallee; Rear Gunner - Canadian.

On his return to England father saw no further action and was placed on training duties, teaching other Radio Operators. After the war he became a builder. Sadly, my father died after a long illness on 9th January 2003 aged 80. He was 21 years old at the time of the crash.

I am in the process of trying to piece together Father's career in the RAF during wartime, but there are lots of loose ends to tie up. Unfortunately, he didn't really like to talk too much about his experiences, but I am slowly piecing it all together with the help of sites such as yours. Also, whilst going through his possesions I have come across some diaries and logs of his flights during training etc. but no information of his missions as this was, of course, top secret.

Keith Paulin

My Grandfather Stanley Hathaway served as navigator/obsever throughout his career. His final flight with 161 sqdn was as a last minute replacement navigator for Lois Max Lavallee's regular crew.

On the night of 22nd July, 1943 Stan joined the crew of Halifax DK119, 161 squadron and took off from RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire on a mission to drop desperately needed supplies to the French resistance. Stan, just 20 years old and due on leave the next day was asked to take the place of a navigator that had fallen ill. Because the weather was so bad that night, their four-engine bomber was to be the only allied plane to leave Britain for Europe. The first two consignments were successfully dispatched, but no signal was received for the third target drop zone at St. Sauvier. The plane flew over the area twice without seeing any lights. The weather was extremely bad, thunderstorms and heavy rain. On the third run in, signal lights were spotted and the remaining supply containers were dropped. The aircraft was flying very low and on turning to gain height an engine stalled and the plane crashed on the edge of a wooded area. Unfortunately the rear gunner, Sgt. Lavallee was killed, but through the aid of the local French resistance five of the crew did escape (Sergeants Crome, Paulin, Hunter, Patterson and Kanakos). Stan and the nose gunner Sgt. Allen were both badly injured. Stan could not be moved although he was fully conscious at the time and persuaded the resistance to destroy as much evidence and equipment in the wrecked aircraft as possible. There was a certain amount of panic at the time because the containers had been emptied and the supplies taken away, but the empty containers had been thrown into a nearby lake and were floating so they had to be recovered and better disposed of before the Germans arrived on the scene.

Stan was seriously injured with head wounds, a dislocated hip and several pieces of wreckage embedded in his legs. One of the resistance women sat with Stan until the Genderarm (French police) arrived to take him to Montlucon, from there the Luftwaffe (German airforce) took him to a hospital in Clairemont Ferrand. When he was fitter, Stan was transported on a stretcher by train to a hospital in Germany, Obermassfeld, then onto a prisoner of war camp.

Stan was a P.O.W at Heydekrug, Throme in Poland and then Fallingbostel until April 1945 when the Germans marched the prisoners south in an attempt to reach Poland and use them as hostages. During this forced march, the column of prisoners, were often mistaken by allied aircraft for German infantry. Then one day they were attacked by RAF Typhoon fighter-bombers, firing rockets. One of Stan’s most horrific memories of this time was of a strongly built Canadian nicknamed ‘Tiny’ who, ran out waving his white shirt in an attempt to signal the attacking aircraft but he took a direct hit and in was ‘blown to bits’.

Stan, his friend Mac and another prisoner later managed to escape the column at a bend in the road. They even succeeded to evade the patrolling guard dogs. After about a week on the run, hiding up by day in forests and moving by night, they arrived in an area near to where the British Army were fighting and they were finally picked up by the 7th Hussars near the river Weser. Stan arrived back home in England at the end of April in time for his 22nd birthday in May.

All five members of Stan crew arrived safely back in England after evading capture for about four months. It is uncertain what happened to Sgt. Allen but it is believed he died of his wounds in hospital.

Sgt. Lavallee was a French Canadian, and by some strange coincidence, whose mother had been born in St. Sauvier and his grandmother was still living in the village at the time of the crash. A local historian Rene Chambereau had put advertisements in the RAF Association Magazine to trace members of the crashed plane to build up the history, and Stan contacted Rene in time for a memorial service in 1994. A memorial was built in honour of Sgt. Lavallee, quite close to the crash site and is a focal point in the village for the past history of the resistance members.

Stephen Hathaway

My mother, then Sgt Lillian Whitford served as a mess stewardess at Tempsford during the war. She recalls the visit of the King and Queen and has also relayed stories of a French pilot who always wore silk socks and of a Polish airman who borrowed a flask from the mess to take with him on the promise to return it the following day. Unfortunately he did not return for six months and aparently forgot the flask!

Roly Groom.

My Father, Sgt Roland Poltock served at Tempsford as a Flight Engineer with 161 Sqd.

Taken at Tempsford

Halifax Crew

Guy Poltock

A plan of RAF Tempsford


Tempsford from the air 1943

Tempsford from the air 1943
Gibralter Farm 1943

Gibralter Farm in 1943, the barn is marked with an arrow.
Tempsford memorial 1993

The Tempsford Memorial in 1993
Tempsford memorial

The Tempsford memorial.
The Barn today

The Barn today.

Thanks to Bob Body for the above photos

If you have any Photographs you would like to share please get in touch.

List of those who served at RAF Tempsford during World War Two.

  • Sgt. Allen. air gunner. 161 sqd Read his Story
  • Sgt Stewart McKenzie Anderson (161 sqd d. 15 Jan 1943)
  • W/O Arthur John George Barnes (138 (SD) Squadron, Halifax LL356, "NF-U" [Failed To return April 27/28 1944])
  • F/O Robert Leonard Baughan (161 sqd d. 28th March 1944)
  • Capt Baker (138 Sqn)
  • Dennis "Barzo" Barsby air gnr. 161 SqdRead his story
  • Sgt Bennett (pilot)(161 Sqdn)
  • F/O K.R. Bunney, (Navigator)
  • Sgt Jimmy Brooks. air gnr. 161 Sqd Read his story
  • William Arthur Caldwell DFC & bar
  • Sqdn Ldr Conroy
  • Don Crome. pilot. 161 Sqd. Read his Story
  • Sgt E.R. Elliot, (Airgunner)
  • Walter R Farley DFC (138 Sqn)
  • 'Sid' Firth (Engineer Oficer 138 sqdn)
  • Len Fish DFC DFM
  • Flying Officer John Gall (161 sqd d.1st June 1944 Hudson MkIII, V.9155, MA.Q (Queenie)RNZAF, USA)Read his Story
  • Les Gibbs. 161 Sqd Read his story
  • Stan Hathaway. navigator/obsever. 161 sqd Read his Story
  • Red Hunter. Flt eng. 161 Sqd. Read his Story
  • Joe Kanakas. air gunner dispatcher. 161 Sqd. Read his Story
  • Flt Sgt. Louis Max Lavallee. rear gnr. 161 Sqd. (d. 23 July 1943) Read his Story
  • John Lynch. nav. 138 Sqdn (d. Dec 1943)
  • Flight Lieutenant Warren McCauley Hale (161 sqd d.1st June 1944 Hudson MkIII, V.9155, MA.Q (Queenie)RCAF)Read his Story
  • Sgt E Markson (161 sqd d. 8/9th Aug 1944, Halifax)
  • Flying Officer Arthur George "Jack" Maskall DFM (161 sqd d.1st June 1944 Hudson MkIII, V.9155, MA.Q (Queenie))Read his Story
  • May. nav. 161 Sqd. Read his Story
  • WAAF Sgt Isobel S. Y. Ogilvie. Read her Story
  • WO2 L E Osborne
  • George Frederick Nichols (138 Sqn)(d. 2 dec 1944)
  • Thomas Noble (138 Sqn)
  • F/Sgt Peter Barton Norris (138 Sqn)
  • Pat Patterson. bomb aimer. 161 Sqd. Read his Story
  • Warrant Officer Robert William "Bob" Paulin. W/Op. 161 Sqd. Read his Story
  • Tom Pocock (navigator) (161 Sqdn)
  • Flight Sgt Roland Poltock. flt eng. 161sqd. Read his Story
  • Leo Sullivan (138 Sqn)
  • Sgt B D Taggart (214 (FMS) Sqn. temporary duty with 161 Sqn)
  • Herbert "Tribb" Tribble (air gunner/ dispatcher 161sqd)
  • Lloyd Trotter. pilot 138 Sqd (Shot down 15 September 1943 taken POW)
  • Squadron Leader Hugh Verity (161sqd)
  • Sgt/t Thomas Wade
  • Richard 'Dick' Wilkin (RCAF 138 Sqn)
  • Sgt D.J. Withers, (W/T )
  • Felix Witrylak (138 Sqn)
  • Sqd Ldr Colin Woodward. 161 Sdq. Read his story
  • Sgt Lillian Whitford. WAAF mess stewardess. Read her Story

If you have any names to add to this list, or any recollections or photos of those listed, please get in touch.

If you have a story which you would like to share, or a website dedicated to an airfield or aircrew, please get in touch.

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