Westland Lysander, T1552, 25th July 1942
On July 25th 1942, the Irish Army stationed in the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal had to respond to a report of an aircraft having landed on the beach near Ballyliffen.
It turned out that at 18:30 hours that evening a single engine Royal Air Force (RAF) Westland Lysander aircraft had made an emergency landing. The crew of two men reported they were flying from Valley in Angelsey, Wales saying they had lost their bearings and had been forced to land having only a half hours fuel left.
The subsequent Irish Army Intelligence (G2) report, G2/X/1038, subsequently recorded the names of the crew as Flight Lieutenant "J. Crabbe" and Sergeant "A. Fryer". No christian names or service numbers were recorded in the report or at least don't seem to have survived if they were. The aircraft, a Westland Lysander, a type operated by the Irish Air Corps at this time also, was recorded as such but no identifying marks were noted. What was however recorded were the next of kin addresses of the two men, Yeadon, Leeds for Crabbe and Coventry for Fryer.
The two airmen were accommodated over night in Fort Lenan with the Irish Army Garrison there. Additional fuel was delivered from Northern Ireland the next day and, refueled, the Lysander and it's airmen took off at 13:30 hours. The report records the crew as being 'on a training flight' thus giving the authorities the necessary free hand to allow the crew to depart and not be interned. At this stage in the war, Allied crew were not being interned in any case. This done, the file was prepared and entered in the records.
In 1987, Flypast magazine published a two part article by Dave Smith on the aircraft which crashed or landed in Ireland during the war. It included an extract from the Operations Record Book (ORB) of 275 Squadron based at RAF Valley at that time, relating that one of their aircraft flown by Flt/Lt Crabb, the Officer Commanding 1486 Gunnery Training Flight, had avoided internment after landing on a beach in Eire by claiming that he and his aircraft were involved in a 'humanitarian flight'. The UK National Archives database however, appears to not have a record of the ORB for this unit.
The Irish Army G2 file was reveiwed 2006 at the Irish Military Archives in Cahal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Noting the relevant information and in particular the two men's next of kin addresses the the local newspapers and libraries in Yeadon and Coventry were contacted.
Sgt. John 'Jack' William Frederick Fryer 1198788 RAFVR
First success came with Coventry Library who were able to advise that a John W F Fryer was registered at that address with his family after the war up until the early fifties. A search of the London Gazette newspaper did confirm that there was one John William Frederick Fryer who served with the RAF during the war. Replies were then received from a letter printed in the Coventry Telegraph from two Coventry men who wrote that they knew a Jack or Jackie Fryer who lived at the address in the Irish Army report, had served with the RAF and who ran with the Godiva Harriers Athletic Club. He used to be a visitor to the home of John Hartley, on club business with Mr. Hartley's father, a club official. John Hartley remembers him as being light hearted and humorous. Ron Bettridge, the other writer, used to visit the Fryer household with his mother before the war. He recalls that the man he knew as Jackie Fryer was at that time learning to play the saxophone and clarinet. Ron, a teenager at the time, learned through his mother that Jackie went on to fly fighters with the RAF and served in North Africa. He also noted that Jack's sister's name was Joyce, one of the name's on the Coventry Library records. Ron used to follow Jackie's running results in the same Coventry Telegraph newspaper after the war. John Hartley did pass on the sad news that Jack Fryer has passed away. Jack appears to have married and had two children after the war and passed away in Scunthorpe in 1983.
Finally, in January 2007, one of the always kind posters on the RAF Commands message forum, mentioned he could provide an index of aircrew log books held by the DORiS archive at the RAF Museum at Hendon, north of London. One of the listed logs was that of a John William Frederick Fryer! A request to the museum yielded the reply that this was indeed the log book of the Sgt. Fryer I sought! He recorded in his log that he was being transferred from Valley by Flt/Lt Crabb to 93 Squadron at Andreas on the Isle of Man. Their compass failed and they had to force land at Ballyliffen in Eire. The next two entries have them flying to Eglinton airfield in Northern Ireland and thence to Andreas their original destination. 93 Squadron had indeed prepared at Andreas and in the Winter of 1942 moved to Gibraltar and thereafter fought in the campaign in Tunisia.
Above, the extract from Jack Fryers log book showing the
landing in Donegal.
Finally in 2016, contact was made with Jack Fryers daughter and
she was able to provide a number of wonderful photos on of Jack
while on duty. Her husband was able to provide the
following narrative on Jacks service,
"Whilst at a Christmas works party in about 1978, I was with
Squadron Leader J.W.F. Fryer, my father in law to be. We were
talking to an Irishman who worked for the BBC and was called
MacKenzie too. I commented on his name and that his accent was
not Scottish. He replied that he came from a little village in
Eire called Ballyliffie (I may have the wrong spelling).
John Fryer said “I think I know the place” and went on to describe the police station in some detail. Mr MacKenzie confirmed the description and asked how he came to know it so well, “you weren’t locked up there were you?” Now at this point I should point out that John was never one to spoil a good story for a halfpence worth of truth, but it does all ring true. He said that they were delivering an aeroplane to northern Ireland, when an instrument fault forced them to land in the Republic. They were immediately arrested by the Garda and taken to the police station. However, they were put in an unlocked cell and were able to make good their escape.
John went on to serve in Egypt, Sicily, Italy and Germany. I should perhaps add a caveat. I noted a discrepancy between his medals proper and the miniature on his mess kit. He explained that you have to apply for those on the mess kit and he had not applied for the Sicily star, as he left Egypt flat on his back with amoebic dysentery (amoebiasis), spent 6 months in a Sicilian hospital and then moved to Italy, before recovering. He therefore thought it ingenuous to claim a medal for that kind of service. In training he was known as Jackie, in Italy he was known as Willy, but since then, just plain John.
After his wartime service he had a short spell in civilian life before returning to the RAF with a commission. He served in Germany, Bruni, Singapore and of course all over Lincolnshire. Most of his latter service was in Air Traffic Control, he worked on the Berlin airlift and latterly was SATCO (Station Air Traffic Control) at RAF Manby and GATCO (Group Air Traffic Control) for the east midlands based at Finningly (now the Doncaster Robin Hood Airport). He retired from the Air Force as a Squadron Leader and worked for several years until his death in 1983 (aged 63) as the Secretary of the Community Health Council, based in Scunthorpe.
I have attached some photos of John with Lysanders, This was rare as, once he finished training, he flew almost exclusively Spitfires. I also include a photo of him as a sergeant pilot and outside Buckingham Palace as a Sqdn. Ldr., on his way to the garden party. There is also a photo of him at Hendon Museum in front of a Hurricane he once flew. It was a training aircraft, so most of his colleagues would have flown it too.
I don’t know if it will be of interest to you, but he had another very close call in Italy on 4 January 1945. I have attached a photo of him in front of his Spitfire IX with a large hole in it. His log for that day reads “What a show. We got 6 direct hits and left the whole place burning (Jerry H.Q. south of Lugo). I got hit by a 20mm in the oil tank (of the Merlin engine). Just got back as she started to burn. No oil or glycol the engine. Target observed burning 8 hours later.” The shell lodged in the sump of the engine. Despite losing oil and power, he managed to nurse his aeroplane back to base. He calculated a difference in trajectory of 1.5 degrees would have shot his arse off - hence the silly grin (his words not mine).
Flt/Lt John Malcolm Crabb 84967 RAFVR KIA 7 Jan 1944
The letter sent to the newspaper in Yeadon resulted in the receipt of a letter from a woman in South West England in October 2006. This letter was from non other than the widow of Flt/Lt J Crabb! A good friend of hers, still living in Yorkshire, had seen my letter in the Wharfedale Observer newspaper and had the good fortune to send it on to her. The address in Yeadon had been her parent's where she was living at the time while her then husband, John Malcolm Crabb, from Leicester, was on active service. She was able to confirm that he was in 1942 stationed at RAF Valley, in Wales acting in a training roll. They had met in London while both were working for the Civil Service before the war. They were married in April 1942 in Yeadon but sadly, the maelstrom of war would take John from her after only 21 months. John was killed in action on January 7th, 1944 while flying Hawker Typhoon JR436 with 193 Squadron, a fighter bomber unit based at RAF Harrowbeer, near Plymouth. He was shot down over the Channel and for that reason his remains were not recovered and his name is thus recorded on Panel 202 of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Runnymede Memorial in Surrey. Ed McKay, one of his comrades at the time was able to tell Stephen Fryer of the RAF Harrowbeer Interest Group the following of John Crabb, "Johnny Crabb was my Flight Commander on 193 Squadron and was shot down by a 190 off the Channel Islands. He was a top notch pilot and leader". John's widow, Margaret, married again after the war and lives now happily with her husband in the South West of England. John was born in Leicester in 1920, the son of Mary Isabella and William Johnston Crabb. His father was a school master. Sadly, his mother passed away in the summer of 1935.
The final piece of the jigsaw, the aircraft identity? The aircraft in Fryer's logbook, '1552', being a Lysander, can only match the serial number of aircraft T1552, a Lysander Mk. III, part of a batch of 250 delivered between Aug 1940 and Feb 1941. It had served with 4 Squadron but had been passed on to 9 Group Target Towing Flight which in turn became 1486 (Fighter) Gunnery Flight in early 1942. T1552 is listed as being assigned to this Flight, the same that was mentioned in the Flypast article. Thereafter, T1552 was passed onto the USAAF airbase at Goxhill, as a unit liaison aircraft presumably until it was struck off charge on 26 February 1944.
John Crabb had been commissioned as a Pilot Officer (P/O) on 7 Sep, 1940, promoted Flying Officer (F/O) 7 Sep, 1941 and Flight Lieutenant (Flt/Lt) on 7 Sep 1942.
John 'Jack' Fryer was commissioned as a P/O (service number 176380) on 22 Jan. 1944, prom. F/O 22 Jul. 1944 and Flt/Lt 22 Jan. 1946.
And so, for me, the small mystery of the Ballyliffen Lysander is solved and the crew of Ireland's only wartime visiting Lizzie can be remembered.
Compiled 2016: With special thanks to M. Mill's, P & B MacKenzie, Victor Laing and the Irish Military archives staff, N. Burls at the RAF Museum, Hendon, R. Byatt at the Local Studies Service, Coventry Library, Ed McKay RAF (Ret), Stephen Fryer RAF Harrowbeer Airfield Group (www.rafharrowbeer.co.uk), The Wharfedale and Coventry Telegraph newspapers and their fabulous readers, R. Buttridge and J. Hartley of Coventry, D. Earl for information on T1552 from ?RAF Aircraft T1000 - T9999 J.J.Halley?, T. Kearns, E. Martyn for their assistance on the RAF Commands forum and M. Gleeson for encouragement, the London Gazette website.