Lost to the Night: The Lancaster Crew

Lancaster Crew by Stella Bowen

Lancaster Crew by Stella Bowen

Filed in: War History  –  Author: JF Dowsett

At the Binbrook RAF flying base in Lincolnshire, Britain during April 1944, the crew of a Lancaster bomber were posing – in their spare time – for Australian War artist Stella Bowen.

One of the first women artists to be appointed, Esther Gwendolyn “Stella” Bowen (b. 1893) was an Australian artist and writer. In 1944, she had been appointed an official war artist by the Australian War Memorial. Bowen’s brief as a war artist was to depict the activities of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) stationed in England. She also painted portraits of military commanders and Australian prisoners of war who had recently been repatriated from Europe.

Lancaster bomber maintenance at RAF Binbrook Bomber Command

Lancaster bomber maintenance at RAF Binbrook Bomber Command

For the Lancaster painting, and as opportunity offered, the six Australians and one Englishman would don their flying kits and look “business-like” for an hour or so while the artist worked on a painting intended to portray the typical crew of the giant bombers which were so successfully pounding targets in Europe, paving the way for an Allied invasion.

It  was a slow job though, with not much more than an outline completed by 27th April.

Shortly after nine o’clock on the night of the 27th the bomb-laden planes of 460 Squadron waddled down the dimly lit runway and roared away  into the darkness. The target was Friedrichshafen – a vital industrial centre on the shores of Lake Constance. There was nothing to make the operation any more exciting or spectacular for the crews: it was just another night raid.

But, by morning, the subjects in the unfinished painting had been reported missing.  Nothing more was known. Hope of the aircraft limping home gradually waned… then disappeared.

Bowen continued work on her picture and eventually completed it, with the aid of a few photographs of the airmen and an artist’s faculty for remembering detail.

Later, in September of that same year, came the  first news of the fate of the crew. The parents of Flight-Officer T. J. Lynch of  Queensland – the tail gunner – received a small postcard from Dulag Luft camp in Germany.

It was in the unmistakable handwriting of  their son – he was alive and a prisoner of war.  He was subsequently repatriated in the fifth exchange of prisoners arranged between the Allies and Germany, and arrived in England at Liverpool on 5 February 1945.

Their aircraft, he said, was shot down in  the vicinity of Lahr near the Swiss border that night in April. Lynch was unable to remember whether or not he had jumped from the plane. In fact, he remained unconscious until the 4th of May, when he awoke as a patient in a German Luftwaffe (air force) hospital at Baden-Baden.

Stalag IX-C

Stalag IX-C, German POW camp

A German doctor answered his anxious  inquiries concerning the fate of his comrades  and told him that all had been killed.

Lynch himself was badly injured and spent  many weary weeks in various hospitals. Following the amputation of his right leg, he was then sent to another large hospital at Nemmingen near Frankfurt, after which he was posted to Stalag IXC to await repatriation.

Information regarding the other crew members was vague and sketchy; but even before the war had ended it was evident that  Flying-Officer Lynch was the sole survivor. The crew, in addition to Lynch, was:

Squadron-Leader E. D. Jarman, DFC
Flight-Officer M. W. Carroll, D.F.C.
Flight-Officer R. L. Neal
Flight-Officer H. R.  Harrison
Flight-Officer F. G. Jackson, D.F.C.
Sergeant D. G. Champkin (RAF  MHS)

Lest we forget.

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12 comments

  1. A very sad story, tragic, but that was and is war for you. A great painting, by a female artist, yay. I love to paint portraiture myself, so I can appreciate the work that has gone into this wonderful piece. Thankyou so much.

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  2. Interesting post. In some respects, it might have been more poignant to have left the picture unfinished, thus reflecting the loss of those who did not return. Saying that, it’s a great picture and a sad story.

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  3. Not only baby faces, but modern faces. Very often photos and paintings from this period of men in their late teens and early twenties somehow make them look older. Yes I know, the responsibilities of pointing a four engined bomber 600 miles into the night sky, hoping to return might just concentrate your mind and do that. But with these guys, they could have been at Woodstock. I imagined before I put names to faces that the moustachioed chap top right, and he’s the only one who’s pretending to be older than he is, adopting the air — and hair — of a chartered accountant, was the lone Brit, but no, he’s top left and a baby too.
    In this world of reality TV, someone should “recruit” a crew of kids, of the same age and education as a typical Lancaster crew and put them through the training — flight simulators, navigation, gunnery and all then see if they had what it takes… what it took.

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      1. As I look around the shopping malls… badly, that’s how we’d stack up, IMHO. LMF personified is the snowflake generation who can melt into unaccountable anger if they are ‘disrespected’ and yet cannot abide discipline or self-discipline enough to do what their grandparents did without question. You may have caught me on a grumpy day… Thanks too for choosing to follow the meanderings and byways of history that is my blog.

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      2. Alas, I fear the same. Our coddled generations can barely go an hour without a smartphone, let alone months of wartime deprivations.
        Happy to wander the alleys and side streets of history with you, my friend.

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