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Bristol Blenheim, Killeen, Co. Mayo, March 1942

On Friday the 13th March 1942, four young men of the Royal Air Force suffered a painful end to a routine training flight when they were forced to land among the small stone walls of County Mayo.

An aircraft had been observed heading east from Corraun Point, Co. Mayo at 15.45hrs and later, circling over Laherdaun.  The landing at Killeen was said by witnesses to have been at 16:15hrs.  The Army recorded afterwards that an aircraft had been fired upon by the Army post at Rathmullen, on Lough Swilly in Donegal, at 13:00 hrs, the suggestion being that it was this aircraft.

The Irish Army after the crash recorded that Michael O'Malley and his two daughters, Claire and Mary were first on the scene and helped to remove the injured crew members from the wrecked aircraft.  They then provided first aid to their injuries.  Neighbours James Gallagher and Mrs Healy provided refreshments for them after they were taken into Mrs Healy's home until the authorities arrived.  Local doctor H J Harte was noted as having provided medical assistance.

Blenheim Z6021The Army also recorded the assistance provided by Michael Mulvihill, Killeen and Tom Maycock from Rathkell, Laherdaun in carrying the injured on stretchers.  The wrecked aircraft was noted as having the markings Z6021 and large letter B6 on the fuselage and it was noted that it was a 'long nosed' Blenheim.  This reflected the fact it was a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV.  So far during the war, two intact short nose Blenheim Mark I had been involved in landings at Belcotton, Co. Louth and on the sea front at Clontarf, Co. Dublin.  This would be the first somewhat intact Blenheim Mark IV.  That said, as can be seen from the photo of the wreckage, it was very badly damaged.  The army reports describe it as having had its engines torn off and the fuselage broken in several places.  it had appeared to overshoot one field, went through a hedge, then through some boulders and ending up in a stone wall.

A comparison to a complete aircraft can be made using this amazing image taken in 2018 by Flickr user Downtime_1882, showing how much damage there appears to be to the Blenheim.  it appears to be completely severed along the line of the rear edge of the wing.

Blenheim Z6021 compared to full airframe.

The pilot reported to the Irish Army that he was on a training mission from the Isle of Man, that his wireless set went out of service, they lost their bearings and thus ran low on fuel.  It was described as being grey and brown in colour and was unarmed.  The aircraft was flying from RAF Jurby and belonged to No 5 Air Observers School.  This, as the name suggests was a location where observers, the term the RAF used for navigators, were trained.  This flight was undertaken to allow the two pupils, Haynes and Dunlop to gain experience in navigation, with Sgt Thomas along to provide wireless telegraphy assistance to them.

The AIR81/XXXX file for this crash contains a Air Ministry Form 765 with a large amount of data about the flight and the findings of the investigation.
Thia aircraft took off on a Navigation exercise over the Irish Seas at 10.45 hours on 13th March 1942.  The pilot departed from Base without obtaining W/T GO contrary to regulations and specific instructions by his Flight Commander.  The route to be followed was:— Jurby — Morecombe Bay L.V. — 53o 28'N 5o 55' W - Bardsey Is. -  Rockabill - Jurby.  The weather experienced was not good - Visibility 2-4 miles; cloud 10/10 or 1,000' to 2,000'.  Only one aircraft completed the exercise, the remainder returning to base soon after take-off.  It would appear that the crew of the aircraft in question became loast and force landed in Eire when out of petrol at approximately 16.00 hours.

The commander of the Training Wing added to the report in relation to contributory factors:  No communications was established with the aircraft from the time of take-off till the landing.  it is possible that the pilot took over the navigation after E.T.A. base and got hopelessly lost.  it is unlikely that the crew were able to get any D/F assistance.  Pilots have order to return to base if W/T 'GO' is not received with 5 minutes of take-off.
This would appear to be a case of disobedience of orders.

The report concludes with the officer Commanding 5 AOS stating that disciplinary action would be taken against young Rawcliffe upon his return to the unit.  This was signed off on the 17th March 1942 with no obvious input from the pilot or other crew members.

It is worth noting that there is a lot of confusion relating to the serial number of the aircraft involved.  A primary source in this case is the Irish Army report which states that the serial read from the rear of the aircraft was Z6021.  The pilots log book, in a not uncommon fashion refer to the aircraft only by its numbers, 6021 while one of the trainee navigators recorded his mount as V6021.  As luck would have it, there were two Blenheim Mark IV aircraft with both serials, V6021 and Z6021.  The RAF and Air Ministry's records refer to the aircraft a V6021 on telegrams sent on the day of the crash but also on the Form 765 written up four days later.  This in itself might not be a problem other than four month later in Egypt, three young men died when another Blenheim crash on take off.  Three of the men were members of the Royal Australian Air Force members and all their casualty files refer to that aircraft as being V6021.  The Form 78 aircraft record cards for the two aircraft record Z6021 being with 5 AOS since December 1941 and crashing in Ireland while V6021 was with 5 AOS early in 1942 but was transferred to North Africa.  Perhaps a error by a clerk in 5 AOS was transcribed throughout the history of the event.

A visit to Kileen in 2024, revealed that the crash took place in the fields behind the Lough Conn Milling Company Buildings, which was operated at that time by Michael O'Malley and his family.  The crashed aircraft ended up it seems in the far corner of the field shown in the photo below.

The following story comes from a local history publication, The Deel Basin, published in 1990 by the Crossmolina Historical and Archaeological Society.  I have included it for its local interest and the details of the crew and the O'Malley's family contact with one of the men's relatives. 

It should be noted that the story refers to there being only three men on board whereas there was of course four men, a crew made up of one officer and three other ranks.  The Wing Commander Begg mentioned in the article below was not the men's commander during the war, but was as noted by Sir H Maffey, the United Kingdom Air Attache in Dublin.  This telling of the story seems to form the basis for the entry in Donal McCarrons book, Landfall Ireland.

DURING the afternoon of Friday, 13th March, 1942, the peace and quiet of Crossmolina was disturbed by the sound of a low-flying aircraft. It was not too unusual to hear a plane as this was during the war years and English planes had occasionally flown over this part of the country. The pilot of this particular RAF aircraft had flown off course. He was not familiar with the area, nor were his two colleagues. They were looking for a place to land as fuel was running dangerously low. They flew over Crossmolina a number of times to see if there were any flat fields where they could land their aircraft. They even considered landing on some straight road but all the flat fields around the roads were all spiked with wooden stakes. For those of us who are too young to remember, the purpose of spiking roads and fields with wooden stakes was to prevent enemy planes from trying to land on our native soil. This was a task undertaken by the Local Security Force (L.S.F.). Unfortunately for this pilot and his crew the LSF in the Crossmolina area had done a very good job. Having no luck in Crossmolina the pilot decided to head out into the countryside in a desperate attempt to find a place to land his aircraft. At this stage they were running on a practically empty fuel tank.
Michael O'Malley was sitting at home by the fire with his two daughters, Claire and Mary, when they heard the distant sound of an approaching aircraft. As the plane got nearer Michael realised by the sound of the engine that there was something wrong. The three of them rushed out into the yard. Michael O'Malley was a member of the local security force and he knew that his experience was going to be called upon at this moment. He knew that the pilot was going to have to land very quickly so as to avoid crashing which would possibly mean the loss of all of those on board. Michael grabbed a white cloth that was hanging on the clothes line and ran over to a stone wall that was bordering a field near the house. He realised that this was the only field where the pilot would have any chance of landing his plane successfully. The pilot had spotted the three people running out of the house. He saw one of them with a white flag and had no choice but to trust this man on the ground.
Michael stood on top of the stone wall waving his flag in the direction of the field behind him. The pilot was now really struggling to keep the plane airborne. He saw the field that he was being directed to and prepared to land. Unfortunately he misjudged the height of the stone wall and got his undercarriage caught in it.
There was a loud bang as the plane hit the ground. Michael O'Malley and his two daughters ran up to the plane to help the crew. Two* of the officers were injured and the other* was suffering from shock. The three* men were taken from the plane as quickly as possible. Claire O'Malley was a member of the Red Cross and now more than ever her skill and expertise were needed. The two* injured officers lost a lot of blood. Claire administered first aid and made the men as comfortable as possible. It was not very long before help arrived in the form of the Irish army who took control of the situation. The three* men were brought immediately to Castlebar Hospital for medical attention. An armed guard was appointed to guard the plane and its wreckage until it was removed. The day after the accident the O'Malley family travelled to Castlebar to see the officers, but the three* men were under armed guard at the hospital and nobody was allowed to visit them. The good wishes of the three* men and their gratitude was expressed to the O'Malley family by an RAF senior officer.
A few years later, after the war, the O'Malley's were visited by Wing Commander Begg, who was the senior officer of the RAF pilot and his crew**. He expressed his thanks for the bravery and kindness shown to the officers. Two weeks after the plane crash at Killeen the U.K. representative of the RAF based in Dublin
wrote a letter to Michael O'Malley and his family to express his gratitude.

United Kingdom Representative To Eire,
50 Upper Mount Street,
27th March, 1942.
Dear Mr. O'Malley,
I am writing to express to you my thanks for the assistance you gave to the injured RAF officer and airmen after their plane had crashed near Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, on March 13th.
I understand you personally removed the injured men from their machine and that your daughters, Claire and Mary, rendered first aid. The prompt action of yourself and your daughters is much appreciated by me and by the members of my staff.
My Air Attaché, Wing Commander Begg, visited the hospital at Castlebar on March 14th and would have called on you personally to convey our thanks, but unfortunately this was not practicable.
With many thanks,

Claire O'Malley wrote to the family of the pilot whose name was Henry Thomas from South Wales. The pilot's girlfriend wrote a nice letter in reply, which follows:

        63 Count Road,
        Barry, Glann,
        S. Wales.
        6th April.
        My Dear Miss O'Malley,
        Your letters came as a great relief both to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and to me, and I should like to thank you and your father for the great kindness you                     showed to Henry and to his companions. They were certainly very fortunate in having you at hand to help them and I have since heard from Henry just how         good you were.
        You will be pleased to know that last week Henry was home and you can imagine how pleased we all were to see him looking quite well and very pleased         with himself. He is back at his old station now, so if you have been wondering what to do with the letter I sent, you could repost it to:
        Sgt. H. S. Thomas 983327,
        Sergeant's Mess,
        R.A.F., Jurley.
        We shall never forget your kindness and, as Henry suggested when he was at home, maybe when the war is over we shall be able to visit Eire and then             we shall be able to thank you and your father personally.
        Yours sincerely,
        Marjorie Pemberton

The four crew members suffered a variety of injuries as recorded in both the Irish Army report, G2/X/0985 and the UK Air Ministry port AIR81/XXXX.

Wing Commander M G Begg and his wife arrived in Castlebar on the 13th March and the following day brought away P/O Rawcliffe and Sgt Thomas, bringing them to the Beleek border post with Northern Ireland at 14:35 hours.  The two remaining men, Haynes and Dunlop, were brought to the border on March 19th.

Donovan Hilton
          RawcliffeP/O Donovan Hilton RAWCLIFFE 106079
Donovan was born in June 1918 to Dorice and Donovan McClean Rawcliffe in Canterbury, Kent.  They married in 1917 when Donovan senior was a Sergeant in the Royal Flying Corps.  His father had been a prewar officer in the Manchester Regiment.  His father

Donovan arrived in New York in July 1939 as a 21 year old Cambridge student going on a Thomas Cook holiday.  He travelled on to Bermuda and back to New York via Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He at that time held a Royal Aero Club pilots certificate having learned to flying with the University Aero Club, Cambridge.

He suffered a broken arm and cuts to his forehead during the landing in Killeen.  He was taken across the border along with Sgt Thomas on the day after the crash by M G Begg, the UK Air Attache.

By chance, Donovan Rawcliffe's log book survived the war and was bought by a militaria collector who kindly provided a copy of the page for the day of the crash.  Besides this, he was able to advise on his wartime flying career which was actually rather short.  He began his training at XXX in May of 1941.  He was awarded his flying badge with effect from 3rd September 1941.  He was posted to Jurby in at least February 1942 and that portion of his RAF ended with the crash in Mayo.  It is noted that he only recorded Dunlop and Haynes as his crew on the log page, this may have reflected their being pupils while Sgt Thomas was present as the wireless operator, however the distinction would be strange.  RAF and Irish records otherwise confirm the four men were on the aircraft.

Rawcliffe Flying Log

He did not return to flying until March 1944 when he arrives at 28 Elementary Flying Training School at Wolverhampton.  He flies a number of times on what appear to to be refresher training flights both with an instructor and solo, but the last flight is on the 5th of May 1944, and the log ends there.  The London Gazette provides a glimpse of his wartime progress having been commissioned as of 7th October 1941, and his promotions as Flight Officer and Flight Lieutenant published a year after.  An August 1944 Gazette however lists his transfer from the General Duties branch to the Administrative and Special Duties branch, indicating again that his wartime flying duties were at an end.  This was followed by a notice in September 1944 that, due to ill health, he was relinquishing his rank.

His name appears a year later as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers before again relinquishing the rank in 1946.

1951 newspapers published a long article describing Donovan as "... Mr. Rawcliffe, who is of independant means, ..." was seeking a copy of a photo of naked Tibetan monks standing in snow that he had seen on the cover of an unknown book he spied in 1934/35 in a Harrow bookshop.  He was seeking the photo for his soon to be published book, The psychology of Modern Occult".

Post war he can be found to have lived on the Isle of Wight with addresses as various farms in the area.  His name appears in a number of newspapers leters pages putting forward arguments in various debates and subjects.

He was the author of

He passed away in 1974

Sgt Henry Samuel THOMAS 983327
Son of William John and Jane Thomas, of Barry, Glamorgan where they were found listed in the 1939 England and Wales register living at the address he would give the Irish army three years later.

Sgt Thomas was not recorded as having any injuries by the Irish army and along with P/O Rawcliffe, was sent to the border with Northern Ireland the day after the accident.  He was performing the role of wireless operator on the aircraft for the training exercise.

Henry married Marjorie in the winter after his crash in Ireland, sadly, she would loose him to the war in little under two years.  He went on to serve with 622 Squadron of Bomber Command and on the night of 31 May 1944, he was shot down over France in Lancaster ND926 by a German night fighter.  He was buried with his fallen crew mates in Marissel French National Cemetery in the east of Beuavais.  one member of his crew managed to bale out, evade and survive the shoot down.  Part of his report upon return to the UK records the terrible circumstances of Sgt Thomas's death:

I sighted a Ju 88 about 30 miles North of Beauvais... He attacked us five times.  The mid upper gunner never opened fire and must have been hit in the first attack.. After the first attack the engineer reported on the intercom that our starboard inner was on fire. Sheets of flames went by the rear turret and I saw the Ju 88 coming again in our direction.  The captain ordered us to bale out... I entered the fuselage.. the aircraft was blazing furiously inside..... I put on my parachute and baled out by the entrance door.  The aircraft went down in a screaming dive on fire from nose to stern.. The next I knew I was in the air, saw my parachute and knew I was alive.  It was a clear moonlight night and I could see the aircraft blazing on the ground about ten miles north. I looked around for other parachutes but could not see any......
"I was told afterwards by a Frenchman who records the graves of English airman and was present at the funeral that my crew were buried together nearby and were recorded as five bodies.  The aircraft blew up from its own bomb upon crashing and small pieces were picked up 2 miles away, it was impossible to know how may bodies there were — and I feel that all the remaining six Of the crew, not five, were blown to pieces and buried. From a description of part of one of them I am almost certain the Pilot was amongst those buried"

Robert HaynesCpl Robert HAYNES 1004181
Born on the 19 February, 1916 he was the son of Robert and Lily Haynes, nee Langley.  He was working as a plaster block process worker in 1939 register and the family lived at Hawke Street, Haverton Hill, Billigham, Durham.

His son very kindly provided a copy of his log book and in this he records the purpose of the mission and the route taken.  He listed himself as 2nd Navigator, but passenger is also written in the duty column.

Haynes log book

Robert returned to flying duties in September 1942.  Following more training he was posted from 13 Operational Training Unit to 88 Squadron in June 1943.  He flew there for twelve month with his captain Edward G Connor RAAF using the twin engine bombers for strikes on targets in occupied Europe.  Many years later, in 1978, Robert was able to visit Australia and met his former pilot in Sydney.
Robert Haynes 88 Sqn

In 1945, Robert undertook a course in the RAF School of Administration and Accountancy.
School of Accountancy and Administration

Robert is the fifth man from the left at the rear of this group.

Haynes Group

His brother, Norman Haynes was lost on 18 April 1945 when his 8 (Coastal) OTU Mosquito was forced to ditch in the sea off Ramsey Head, Pembrokeshire. 

Robert passed away in December 1996 in Stockton, Durham in England.

LAC Joseph DUNLOP 1374048 was the son of Jean and George Dunlop from Glasgow, living at the time of the crash at 299 Edgefauld Road in the city.  Joseph was born on the 8 of August 1918

He suffered injuries in the crash including a broken ankle, bruising to his face and most seriously, the loss of two fingers.  From the AIR81 file it is apparent that his father made much efforts to learn about his sons condition in the days immediatly after the crash, even sending telegrams to Sir John Maffey in Dublin and phoning the RAF Attache's office.

it is not confirmed but he may have passed away in 2000 in XXXX.

The tattered remains of Blenheim Z6021 were dealt with by Army personnel in the days that followed.  Some recovered equipment was brought to Baldonnel followed by the remaining scrap on the 19th of March.

Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2024.