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Bristol Blenheim L9415, Donegal, December 1940

On the 21st of December 1940, Blenheim L9415 of RAF 272 Squadron Aircraft took off from RAF Aldergrove outside Belfast to carry out a convoy escort mission over the north Atlantic. On the return journey the crew of three Royal Air Force Sergeants encountered bad weather and running low on fuel, were forced to bale out of the aircraft. 

Two of the crew, the pilot Sgt Hobbs and wireless operator/Air Gunner, Sgt Newport, parachuted to the ground near the Irish army posts at Fort Lenan and Fort Dunree.

Location of L9415

The Irish Government Information Bureau released the following statement to the newspapers on the night of the 22nd December:

"At about 8.15 last night (Saturday) a British 'plane crashed at Sledrin, some three miles north-east of Buncrana, Co. Donegal.  The 'plane was wrecked.  Before the crash the three members of the crew bailed out.  Two were found soon afterwards  They were uninjured and have been interned.  A search for the third offlicer continued during the night.  He was found this morning suffering from exposure, and is now receiving medical attention".

This was printed in a large selection of Irish, Northern Irish and Scottish newspapers.
The location where the aircraft came to grief is in many sources described as Slidrum, Sledrin.  The name of the area is and was then Sladran, near Buncrana.

An RAF Form 765 signed on the 23 December 1940 by the Officer Commanding 272 Squadron states:  Following signal refers: -
From headquarters, R.A.F.N.I. reference No. D.S.O.2. dated 21st December 1940, Blenheim L9415 of 272 Squadron of Aldergrove believed to be aircraft seen over county Donegal this afternoon as reported by U.K. legation, Dublin.  Two members of crew are safe after parachute descent.  Third member in aircraft still missing.  Aircraft believed to have been short of petrol.

At that point in time, the RAF in Northern Ireland was still under the impression that Sgt. Ricketts was missing.  He had found himself stuck on a rock in Lough Swilly.  On the morning of the 22nd he swam ashore at Lenankeel and was initially looked after by a local woman.   He was then brought to the Irish Army post at Fort Lenan hat morning and kept there under care for two days before being sent onto the Curragh.

Upon his release in October 1943 from internment, Sgt Ricketts was interviewed and filed the following Evasion report:
1. Internment
We took off from the R.A.F. station at ALDERGROVE at 1300 hrs on 21 Dec 40 on convoy escort duty.  On the return journey we encountered bad weather, ran out of petrol, and had to bale out.  We landed at the entrance to LOUGH SWILLY, CO. DONEGAL, and were interned at THE CURRAGH.

The wreckage of the aircraft was brought to Athlone Army Barracks over 24 - 25 December. 

The three crew on the aircraft are first found flying a shipping escort mission with 272 Squadron on the 23 November 1940, the unit having being formed on the 19th November from an Aldergrove based detached flight of 235 Squadron.  That flight had been at Aldergrove for over a month  They again flew a convoy escort the following day.   They did not fly an escort mission in December until the 17th.  They flew again on the 20th.  The Squadron Operations Record Book records their next operational missions started at 12.35 on December 21st but reports only, Crashed in EIRE. interned.  The crew of three had been flying sorties with 235 Squadron from St Eval in Cornwall since the summer of 1940

Sgt Sydney John HOBBS 742901   Pilot
Sydney James
          HobbsSydney was born in July 1916 in Wandsworth, to Alice and of Arthur James Bray Hobbs.  By the time of his internment in the Curragh his parents lived in Battersea.

Sydney also had a letter sent to  his father, stopped by the censor, dated the 23 Dec 1941.  In it he had said:
We got into difficulties on Saturday night last and I ordered the crew to jump, and when they had gone I headed her for the hills and jumped myself. 
Both myself and my air gunner Newport got away with crooked ankles, but my
Observer landed on a rock in the sea and had to spend the night there. He
swam to the shore in the morning and is suffering from exposure. We have
been very kindly treated, but am afraid this camp will send me off my head in
no time - so will father please do the necessary.  There are three of us
 here and none of us want to stay. We still have a job to do. There are also
 three officers with us.

There is absolutely nothing more that  that I can say because there is
nothing that I have done, but when not quite so miserable I will endeavor to write a longer letter.

Sgt Hobbs was married on 7th June 1941 to his fiance Joan M Greenland.  She had traveled over from England to visit and they had decided they would be married locally in Ireland near the Curragh, away from their families and friends.  They would have the pleasure of the internees of the Allied internee camp instead.  The couple then traveled to Dublin and had their wedding meal in the Clarence Hotel on the banks of the river Liffey.
Hobbs escaped in July 41 and reported to 143 squadron with effect from 3 August 1941.  He was killed in a flying accident in Scotland just one month later when Beaufighter T4648 stalled on landing at Dyce on 14 August 1941 with 143 Squadron.

Probate Calendar records address as Flat 3, 4 Orlando Road, Clapham, to widow Joan Moira Hobbs.

Sydney was employed as a draughtsman in the Deptford Board of works, and the organizations journal, Aquarius, published the following obituary and photo in their September 1941 publication.


Sydney HobbsMany people in the Board, especially in the Kent Area, will hear with sorrow of the death of Sergeant Pilot S. J. Hobbs in a flying accident at Aberdeen on Thursday, August 14th, but his colleagues at Deptford
will mourn the loss of a friend in whose career they took a personal pride and whose recent escape from an internment camp in Eire gave them so much pleasure mixed, alas, with a too-well-founded anxiety.

Jack Hobbs enjoyed sports which called for speed and a certain reckless enthusiasm, and his sturdy diminutive figure was well adapted to rugger, skating and motor cycling, activities to which flying seemed a natural outlet, and which he learnt in his spare time a year prior to the outbreak of war.

In the office he was a neat draughtsman who concentrated on his work, hut he was also an artist with a flair for caricature, as the Deptford Staff well know. Beneath a quiet exterior lay a spirit of independence and a determined will together with a truly modest and sweet disposition, qualities which earned the respect and affection of his fellows to a lasting degree and which were unchanged by his experiences of the last two years.

He was called up on the day war broke out and entered on an eventful and courageous flying career. He was in the early bombing raids on the Frisian Islands and was over Narvik to protect our ships, and patrolled the sky and engaged enemy planes while the troops were being evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.  He accompanied bombers in raids on Hamburg and Bremen, and was in the greatest battle of all - The Battle of Britain — last autumn.

Our very deep sympathy goes to his family and to his wife whom he married so recently in Eire just prior to his escape from internment.  From our own sense of loss we can, in some measure, appreciate what must be the feeling of those who were bound to him in closer ties.

He was buried, after cremation, in the “R.A.F. Pilots Corner” at Brookwood Cemetery, at his own request.

Per ardua ad astra P.B.F

Sydney John HOBBS
Sydney's young wife Joan, finding herself widowed only weeks after their marriage, lived until 2006, having never again married.  She did however save and keep a great many photos and documents relating to Sydney and a large collection of letters, including a great many letters for her young pilot, and also from Douglas Newport, written to her from internment in Ireland.  Joan's neice very kindly traveled to Ireland in 2019 to share some of these photos.

Below, a copy of a letter from the Irving Air Chute of Great Britain company to Sydney Hobbs, sent via the United Kingdom office in Dublin, confirming that his commanding officer had provided the official confirmation that the three airmen had indeed successfully bailed out of their aircraft.  The caterpillar pins referred to were those of the Caterpillar Club, and were awarded to those who had successfully used an Irving parachute.

Caterpillar Club letter

Part of the tradgedy of Sydney Hobbs story was his marriage in June 1941, only weeks prior to his escape and subsequent death in the aircraft crash.  His wedding to Joan Greenland took place at Ballysax Church of Ireland chapel near Naas, and was attended by just some close friends.  The image below shows the wedding party.  The two people at the left of the photo are not known but it is assumed that the lady was the Maria Dowling named as one of the witnesses at the wedding.  Third from the left is the Reverend Harry V Flint, then Joan and Sydney Hobbs.  The final person is understood to be Douglas V Newport, Sydney's navigator.  This copy of the photo was marked on the back with a detailed description of the colours of at the clothing and every persons complexion and appearance.  It is believed that the image was to be colourized or was the source of colour information for the person doing the work.

Hobbs wedding

Another photo of the bridal party, with Sydney and Joan in the center, Douglas Newport on the right and, it is assumed, Maria Dowling on the right. 

Hobbs wedding

It is not known when the image below was taken exactly, but it includes both Sgt Hobbs and F/Lt Proctor so is likely to have been around the time of Sydney Hobbs wedding, though the lady in the photo does not appear to be his wife Joan.  This small and battered photo shows the following Royal Air Force internees:
Standing, Left to Right: Herbert Wain RICKETTS, Denys WELPLY, David SUTHERLAND, Douglas Victor NEWPORT, Leslie John WARD, Robert George HARKELL, William Allan PROCTOR, George Victor JEFFERSON and Aubrey Richard COVINGTON.
Kneeling, Left to Right: Norman Vyner TODD, Sydney John HOBBS.

RAF Internees

Among Sydney's items kept by Joan were this letter interning him in the Curragh, signed by the Irish minister of Defense, Oscar Traynor on 20th March, 1941.

Sydney Hobbs

Sgt Douglas Victor NEWPORT 615682 Wireless Operator / Air Gunner
Douglas Victor
          NewportDouglas was born in October 1920 in Bristol to Florence and Henry G Newport.

Douglas had had a letter which he had written to a fellow airman, stopped by the British censor on or around 5 Jan 1941.  The letter contents were summarized as follows in the censors memo:
“Writer appears to have made a forced parachute descent the night of 22nd/23rd 12.40
The pilot lost his way 250-300 miles out – the D.F. calibrations went wrong and A.D.F. bearing became impossible.  S.O.S. & O. sent out for 31/2 hours.  
Pilot caught by mountains & cloud at 200 feel.  Petrol gave out – crew baled out – Pilot and Sgt landed safely with slightly twisted ankles – Observer landed in the sea and spent night on a rock.
Pilot and Sgt. went to nearest house under the impression they would be allowed 24 hours in which to leave the country, but guards arrived within ˝ hours and took men to a fort.
Writer fears ‘Dick’ must be regarded as missing believed killed – & thinks he was drowned.

Newport escaped from the Curragh in August 1942 in the Derby Day breakout, along with five others, and returned to operations thus is not present in the Tees wedding photo in 1943.  His father was advised by telegram that Douglas had arrived back in the UK on 4th September 1942.  Douglas returned to flying duties following his escape.  He was it seems posted in 279 Squadron in the middle of December 1943, from XXX.  He continued to fly with this unit on Air Sea Rescue duties until at least November 1944, and for most of that time served alongside former internee, pilot F/Lt Denys Welply until his death in November 1944.

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail published a notice of his wedding on the 6th July 1945.
NEWPORT —COOPER—On 3rd July, at St. Mary's Church. Acklam. Middlesbrough. W/O Douglas Victor Newport (RAF.), eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Newport, of Bristol, to Marjorie Cooper (W.A.A.F.),

Douglas died on 12 December 1969.

Sgt Herbert Wain RICKETTS 581473 Observer
herbert Wain
          RickettsBert, as he was known to friends and family, was initially thought to be missing by the authorities as he had landed in the sea, and had had to spend the night clinging to a rock offshore.  In the morning, he swam to shore.
Ricketts was released from internment in October 1943 as part of the general release. He returned to operations and was killed on 31 March 1945 when the Stirling transport he was flying was shot down over Norway.
Son of William Henry and Bertha Ricketts, of Rowsley, Derbyshire, died aged 26.  He had one brother, John Selwyn Ricketts, who had served as a soldier during the war.  His mother predeased them in 1934.
Herbert Wain Ricketts of Rowsley, Derbyshire was born on 11th November 1918 and joined the RAF about June 1939 as a direct-entry Airman u/t Observer. He completed his training and was with 235 Squadron in June 1940, serving with it throughout the Battle of Britain.
He was commissioned in March 1944 gaining officer serial number 54692.
He was posted in with a new crew to 299 Squadron on 7 Dec 1944 from 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit.  299 Squadron was a part of transport command and provided supply dropping services in support of airborne troops and resistance movements within occupied Europe.

The 299 Squadron ORB records only briefly Herbert's duties with the unit:
9 Feb 1945 – Flew an Air Sea rescue mission and the following day was posted with F/O Peat to SAS Wivinhoe Park for a week.
He had flown with the same crew on March 23rd on Operation Varsity,:  RHINE.  Successfully released glider at D.Z. “A” by map reading.   S/S WARD GLIDER PILOT. Load 1 Jeep, 1 Trailer, and 1 M/C.  Weather excellent.  L/F North of Area.  Good trip.
Ricketts was killed with the rest of his crew on 31st March 1945 as a Flying Officer Navigator with 299 Squadron, aged 26.
Stirling 5G-R serial LK332 took off from RAF Shepherds Grove at 9pm to drop supplies to the resistance in Numedal, Norway. Before reaching the target they were shot down by a German night fighter. The aircraft crashed, burning into a bog.
The other crew members were:
WO PS Brinkworth
Sgt. JA Elliott
Sgt. KC Hayward
F/Lt. R Trevor-Roper
F/O D Peat
The crew are buried at Indre churchyard, Sondeled, Norway.

Probate calendar records address as 22 Chatsworth Road, Rowsley, with probate to to William Henry Ricketts, Railway man, his father.

Herbert also appears in this group photo from 1943, at the extreme left, standing.
Internee Group

Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2021, Dublin and Sligo. A big thank you to A Day, to the niece and nephews of Bert Ricketts and the relatives of D V Newport.  Also the people of Rowsley Village.