March 31 – Roll of Honour

Aircrew from Northern Ireland were lost in a raid on Nuremberg, Germany, on the night of 30/31st March 1944 which was the RAF’s worst night in WW2. James Donnelly from Ballintoy was possibly the last member of the Royal Flying Corps to be killed in action in WW1.

Representing their comrades who died on this day

+CRAIG, Henry

2202. Died 31/03/1916. From Londonderry

Royal Irish Rifles, 9th Btn. Corporal.16613. Died 31/03/1916, Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps, Somme, France


+BAMBRIDGE, Harry Liddall
East Yorkshire Regiment. 7th Battalion. Second Lieutenant. MC. Died 31/03/1918. Age 30. Member of the QUB Training Corps 1916. Prior to the war he was a Cashier of National Provincial Bank, Leeds. MC, London Gazette, 27/09/1917. Son of Samuel and Agnes Bambridge, Barnsley; husband to Amy Bambridge, of Park Grove, Barnsley. Arras Memorial, Bay 4, France. St Mary’s Church Combined Memorial, Barnsley, Holgate Grammar School Old Boys WW1 WM, QUB WM

+BEATTY, Hugh Hogg
22nd Entrenching Battalion, late 11th/13th Btn, Royal Irish Rifles. Captain. Died 31/03/1918.Hugh Hogg Beatty joined the 11th Welsh Regiment. He was commissioned in to the Royal Irish Rifles. Born about 1880 in County Tyrone. Hugh was educated at Dungannon Royal School. The 1901 census records Hugh as 21 and unmarried. He is living at Irish St. Dungannon. He was a Furniture Merchant. The 1911 census shows he was living in The Hayes in Cardiff. He was working as a drapery salesman for Morgan & Co Drapers. Dungannon WM, St Anne’s Church C of I WM. Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France


RFC. Second Lieutenant. Died 31/03/1918. Age 42. Wounded when visiting a gun site with communications difficulties which was bombarded by the Germans. He died two days later in a nearby Canadian Military hospital. He was possibly the last member of the RFC to be killed in action. The following day the RAF was officially founded, replacing the Corps which had been founded on 13/04/1912. Pre-war he had worked in telecoms. He was a family man. Originally from a farming background in Ballintoy. He was a lay chaplain of Royal York LOL, Clifton St., Belfast. Husband to Sarah Donnelly, Willowbank St., near the Waterworks in N. Belfast.


+COOPER, Walter Alfred Henry
RN. Able Seaman. D/JX 141074. HMS Bonaventure. Died 31/03/1941. Age 23. Son of Walter and Ada Keturah Cooper, Strandtown, Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 46

Royal Ulster Rifles, 6th Btn. Serjeant. 24530. Died 31/03/1941. Aged 50. Husband of Rachel Spence, of Belfast. Belfast City Cemetery


+CRAIG, James
RCAF. Flying Officer (Air Bomber). J/21466. DFC. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 22. 97 (R.A.F.) Sqdn. Born Moat Road Ballymena 1921. Son of John and Elizabeth Craig, formerly of Ballymena. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Hanover War Cemetery

+CRORY, Weir
RAFVR. Sergeant. 1795076. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 20. 640 Sqdn. Son of William and Edith Crory, of Donaghcloney, Co. Down. Runnymeade Memorial, Panel 228

+COLHOUN, William Andrew Lawrence
RAFVR. Flying Officer. Died 31/03/1944. Arts 1937 – 38 QUB. QUB RH

+CRAIG, James
RCAF. Flying Officer (Air Bomber). J/21466. DFC. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 22. 97 (RAF) Sqdn. Born 1921, Moat Road, Ballymena. Son of John and Elizabeth Craig, formerly of Ballymena. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Hanover War Cemetery

+CRORY, Weir
RAFVR. Sergeant. 1795076. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 20. 640 Sqdn. Son of William and Edith Crory, of Donaghcloney, Co. Down. Runnymeade Memorial, Panel 228

+GWYNNE, William James
RAFVR. Sergeant (Flight Engineer).1566687. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 21. 103 Sqdn. 103 Squadron. Lancaster I JB736 PM-N. Take off 21.16 Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, England. Hit by flak (possibly being shot down 00.31 by Oblt.Walter Prues, 7./NJG1, North of Limburg an der Lahn, while on the outward flight and crashed at Bilkheim, 8 km SSW of Westerburg, Rheinland Pfalz, Germany. Also on board was Flying Officer (Pilot), James Guy Johnston of Eglinton. Son of William James Gwynne and Annie Gwynne, of Omagh. Rheinberg War Cemetery, Nordheim-Westfalen, Germany

RAFVR Sergeant. 1567503. 78 Squadron. Died 31/03/1944. Age 26.Son of John Scott Hillis, and of Margaret Jane Hillis, of Inver, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Hanover War Cemetery, Niedersachsen, Germany

+HUGHES, Thomas
RAFVR. Sergeant (Air Gunner). 1796514. Died 31/03/1944. 630 Sqdn. 
630 Squadron was part of 5 Group flying Lancaster Bombers. The Squadron Crest has the Motto “Death By Night”. Lancaster Mk III ND337, “LE-S”, of which Sergeant Hughes was a Crew Member, was airborne from East Kirkby in Lincolnshire on 30th March at 22.09 to bomb a target at Nurnberg but whilst on the outbound flight they were attacked and shot down by a Night Fighter crashing at Bickenbach 4km Southwest of Emmelshausen.

Six of the crew died with Sergeant R.I Smith surviving and being confined in hospital due to his injuries.

Smith stated “The aircraft was on fire and the captain ordered “Abandon”. I was first out from my end but lost consciousness immediately when leaving and did not see anyone else bale out. When I regained consciousness I did not see the aircraft in the air but there were fires on the ground which may have been our aircraft. I landed in hilly country and out of sight of fires and unable to investigate.”

ND337 was one of three 630 Squadron Lancasters lost on this operation. Thomas Hughes was from Randalstown. Rheinberg War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

+JOHNSTON, James Guy
RAFVR. Flying Officer (Pilot). 135076. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 28. 103 Squadron. Lancaster I JB736 PM-N. Take off 21.16 Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, England. Hit by flak (possibly being shot down 00.31 by Oblt.Walter Prues, 7./NJG1, North of Limburg an der Lahn, while on the outward flight and crashed at Bilkheim, 8 km SSW of Westerburg, Rheinland Pfalz, Germany. Also on board was (Flight Engineer) William James Gwynne (above), of Omagh. Son of William and Mary Guy Johnston, of Eglinton. Rheinberg War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

+ROSS, Arthur Cecil
Royal Artillery. Gunner. 1523999. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 41. 9 Res Anti Aircraft Regiment. Husband to Winifred Ross of Belfast. Knockbreda Cemetery

+SMYTH, James
RAFVR. Flight Sergeant (Navigator).1504638. Died 31/03/1944. Aged 29. 166 Sqdn. Known to family and friends as Jim, as a boy he helped with the horses and planting crops on the family farm. He attended Ballymena Academy and worked in the accountancy department of the Belfast Telegraph.

With the outbreak of WW2 Smyth enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He undertook training in Cambridge and South Africa before receiving his first posting to a bomber crew. He was on board Avro Lancaster Mk1 AS-X, ME624, which had taken off from Lincolnshire on the night of 30/03/1944 for a mission to Nuremberg. A Luftwaffe night fighter, possibly that of Leutnant Hans Schafer of 7/NJG2 engaged the bomber crew over Vogelsberg, Germany. Reports suggest the Lancaster crashed on an airfield near Giessen, Germany. Eldest son of Thomas and Martha Smyth, of Moneynick, Randalstown. Hanover War Cemetery, Niedersachsen, Germany


+CAVES, John James

Army Air Corps, Sergeant 1st Glider Pilot Regiment. Sergeant. 7020145. Died 31/03/1945 while a prisoner of war in Germany. He took part in the airborne assault on D-Day. Part of the second wave of Operation Mallard, he would have landed in LZ N to the east of the Orne River near Ranville. The operation began around 2100hrs on 06/06/1944. Sappers cleared the area of obstacles allowing gliders to bring equipment and firepower to isolated troops. Landing Zone N saw the arrival of 112 Horsa gliders and 30 Hamilcar gliders. Among the troops in the area were 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division Armored Reconnaissance Regiment, and 1st Btn. Royal Ulster Rifles. Caves also took part in Operation Market Garden in September 1944. During the Battle of Arnhem, German troops captured John and his squadron listed him as a prisoner of war. He was the son of Jack Harry Caves and Ann Ray Caves of Lisburn. 1939 – 45 War Cemetery, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany

+HILTON, Francis
Royal Ulster Rifles.1st Btn. Rifleman. 7019976. Died 31/03/1945. Aged 30. He had completed five years’ service. Son of Frederick and Agnes Hilton of Garfield Place. Ballymena. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery,


Belfast man from Ballintoy was the last KIA fatality of Royal Flying Corps

The death of Lt James Alexander Donnelly occurred on the last day of the RFC. He is deemed to be the last member of the Royal Flying Corps to die before it became the Royal Air Force. His remains rest in Doullens Cemetery Extention beside a flier who died on the first day of the RAF.

2Lt J A Donnelly was aged 44. He grew up in Ballintoy and lived in Belfast. He was an Equipment Officer with No 59 Sqn RFC and died of wounds on 31/03/1918 – the last day of the RFC. He was wounded on 28 March while he was visiting an artillery battery.

He was a member of the Orange Order and in 2018 a special centennial service was held in Ballintoy Parish Church attended by members of Royal York Loyal Orange Lodge No 145 from Belfast.

Lord Rogan of Lower Iveagh, lodge past master, said the story of James Alexander Donnelly and his siblings John, Frank, and Jane is an “incredible story” that comes into its own in Ulster.

He added: “From what we would call today a ‘mixed’ family (their father being born a Roman Catholic), they went on to be pillars of the community in Orange, business, church and the Army circles. In James’ case, to excel in the new sciences of telegraphy and aviation.”

James Donnelly was the most senior Lodge officer (it’s Lay Chaplain) to perish in the Great War. His name, and those of his Brothers, the Rev John and Major Frank Donnelly, are inscribed on the Church War Memorial tablet.

At a lodge meeting on 3rd April 1918 in Clifton St Orange Hall, Belfast, Bro Edward Leathem, WM presided. The minutes of the meeting record “The WM referred to the sad news which was in possession of most of our members, viz the death from wounds received in France of our dear Bro Lieut Jas A Donnelly, his loss to our Lodge was deeply felt by all his brethren and he begged to express for them his sincere regret and deepest sympathy, further his loss to the community in general, as a Loyal Protestant, and a sound Unionist was a very severe blow when all such staunch champions as him were wanted in the present crises.

“The D.M. Bro Davison, Bro J L P McKeown and Bro Dr. Walker also paid tribute in sympathetic terms to the loss of Bro Donnelly who was beloved by all who knew him.
“A resolution of sympathy and condolence was passed in silence, all present standing.
“Bro R Tougher proposed and Bro Dick seconded that a Deputation consisting of the W.M., the D.M., the Secretary, and Bro Hodgen, wait upon Mrs. Donnelly and convey the resolution of sympathy from the Lodge.”

Before adjourning the meeting in respect to James Donnelly, “Bro R Tougher suggested that the secretary consults with Bro Rev R Dixon Patterson, Rector of St Barnabas Church in order that a memorial service be held on Sunday 7th inst in memory of Bro Donnelly, which was agreed to”.

Nuremberg the Nightmare Raid

This was the greatest single air-battle of WW2 when the hunters became the hunted.
This would normally have been the moon stand-down period for the Main Force, but a raid to the distant target of Nuremberg was planned on the basis of an early forecast that there would be protective high cloud on the outward route when the moon would be up, but that the target area would be clear for ground-marked bombing.

A Meteorological Flight Mosquito carried out a reconnaissance and reported that the protective cloud was unlikely to be present and that there could be cloud over the target, but the raid was not canceled.

795 aircraft were dispatched – 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitos.
The German controller ignored all the diversions and assembled his fighters at 2 radio beacons which happened to be astride the route to Nuremberg. The first fighters
appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and a fierce battle in the moonlight lasted for the next hour. 82 bombers were lost on the outward route and near the target. The action was much reduced on the return flight when most of the German fighters had to land, but 95 bombers were lost in all – 64 Lancasters and 31 Halifaxes, 11.9 percent of the force dispatched. It was the biggest Bomber Command loss of the war.
Most of the returning crews reported that they had bombed Nuremberg but subsequent research showed that approximately 120 aircraft had bombed Schweinfurt, 50 miles north-west of Nuremberg. This mistake was a result of badly forecast winds causing navigational difficulties. 2 Pathfinder aircraft dropped markers at Schweinfurt. Much of the bombing in the Schweinfurt area fell outside the town and only 2 people were killed in that area.

The main raid at Nuremberg was a failure. The city was covered by thick cloud and a fierce cross-wind which developed on the final approach to the target caused many of the Pathfinder aircraft to mark too far to the east. A 10- mile-long creep back also developed into the countryside north of Nuremberg. Both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft were under heavy fighter attacks throughout the raid. Little damage was caused in Nuremberg.
49 Halifaxes minelaying in the Heligoland area, 13 Mosquitos to night-fighter airfields, 34 Mosquitos on diversions to Aachen, Cologne, and Kassel, 5 RCM sorties, 19 Serrate patrols. No aircraft lost.3 Oboe Mosquitos to Oberhausen (where 23 Germans waiting to go into a public shelter were killed by a bomb) and 1 Mosquito to Dortmund, 6 Stirlings minelaying off Texel and Le Havre. 17 aircraft on Resistance operations, 8 OTU sorties. 1 Halifax shot down dropping Resistance agents over Belgium.

Total effort for the night: 950 sorties, 96 aircraft (10.1 percent) lost.

Pilot Officer Cyril Barton, a Halifax pilot of No 578 Squadron, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for carrying on to the target in the Nuremberg operation after his bomber was badly damaged in a fighter attack and 3 members of his crew baled out through a communication misunderstanding. Although the navigator and wireless operator were among the men who had parachuted, Barton decided to attempt the return flight to England in spite of the fact that only 3 engines were running. An unexpected wind took the Halifax steadily up the North Sea and it was short of fuel when the English coast was reached near Sunderland. Barton had to make a hurried forced landing when his engines failed through lack of fuel and he died in the crash, but his 3 remaining crew members were only slightly hurt. Pilot Officer Barton’s Victoria Cross was the only one awarded during the Battle of Berlin, which had now officially ended. 30/31 March 1944

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