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102 (Ceylon) Squadron Association

102 (Ceylon) Squadron Association

Note: This page is based on a paper “FRIENDLY FIRE OVER FONTAINE L’éTALON” by Melanie Herman

Sgt Derrick “Bill” Sykes (570013)

- Born 22nd March, 1921 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire; second of 6 children.

- Attended Wheelwright Grammar School on an art scholarship.

- Entered the RAF in Sept 1936 aged 15 as part of Trenchard’s Boy Apprentices’ scheme; attended RAF Halton

  1936-39 & qualified as Fitter II A & E a fortnight before war broke out. His Entry (34th) was the only one to accept the King’s Shilling from Edward VIII.

– served with 102 and 108 MU with 46 and 47 Sqns (Hurricanes) in UK (1939-41 including

 ill-fated Norway expedition) and in N Africa (1941-43)

– volunteered for aircrew training Dec 1942; returned to UK Oct ’43; posted to No 4 SOTT @ St Athan Jan 1944; qualified F/Eng Feb 1944

– crewed up at 1663 CU (Rufforth) March 1944; joined 102 Sqn at Pocklington on 31/5/44

 Operation to attack V1 flying-bomb site @ Montorgueil farm (+-2k SE of Fontaine l’Étalon in the Pas de Calais); target code Z3053.

 First daylight raid by 102 Sqn since the beginning of the war; H Hour was 09H30.

 101 Halifaxes of No. 4 Group took part: 21 from 10 Sqn, 19 from 76 Sqn, 12 from 77 Sqn, 23 from 78 Sqn, 18 from 102 Sqn and 3 from 346 (“Guyenne” Free French) Sqn

 Fighter escort and cover over target was provided by 11 Group Spitfires including No. 485 (New Zealand) Sqn.

 Derrick’s aircraft MZ 753 “M” (made by English Electric in Preston and delivered to 102 Sqn on 10 June) took off from Pocklington at 07h49.

 S/LTreasure was B Flight leader that day; he would be the second S/L and 102 Sqn B Flight commander to die in 9 days.

 Some flak was experienced over the coast and at the target  

The target was to be marked by 5 Mosquitos of 8 Group and 2 Lancasters (for Master Bomber & his replacement).

 2 Mosquitos had problems with their Oboe equipment & by the time the other 3 and the Lancs arrived on target (at 9.31), the Halifaxes had begun their bomb run (at 9.29).

Official version recorded at debrief: MZ753 collided mid-air with Halifax LL549 (77 Sqn ex RAF Full Sutton)

In reality: while on the bombing run, a 10 Sqn Halifax (LM717 “W” ex RAF Melbourne) released its bombs on a Halifax flying below it (LL549 “N” ex 77 Sqn RAF Full Sutton); this a/c lost a wing which hit another a/c (MZ753); both a/c broke apart and one (or bot according to some witnesses) exploded*.

 Some witnesses in other aircraft reported seeing parachutes, but none was found.

 Both aircraft fell at Fontaine l’Etalon (+-50k W of Arras, 8k S of Hesdin) – LL549 in open land known as “Le Sept” between Fontaine l’Etalon wood and Montorgueil farm; MZ753 on the edge of the woods known as “Le Pommier”. The woods were extended in later years and the crash site is now inside the woods. The depression in the earth caused by the fallen aircraft, can still be seen in the dappled shade of tall trees.

 Bodies were collected and buried by villagers; local German Kommandant @ Le Quesnoy gave them 24 hours to find and bury the bodies; most of the large pieces of wreckage were removed by the Germans; one body (Richardson from LL549) was only found some days after the accident.

 Both crews are buried in the Fontaine l’Etalon churchyard against southern wall; 11 between the church’s main buttresses, 2 beyond the buttress closest to the church entrance and the last (Richardson) beyond the other buttress.

 Although the Germans insisted that all personal effects be handed over, villagers managed to hide (and bury along with the bodies) several items known to have been carried by the crew – Derrick’s “wedding” ring, for instance, and a commando knife carried by F/Sgt Stevens; F/O Bailey’s silver cigarette case even found its way back to his wife after the war.

* NOTE: Although no one is absolutely certain which aircraft was hit by the bombs and which by the debris (witness accounts disagree), it is generally accepted (from eye-witness reports in the air and on the ground) that this is the correct version

Crew LL549 “N” (77 Sqn – RAF Full Sutton):

F/Sgt Donald McConigill Stevens (28) (Pilot)

Sgt Michael Joseph Louis Priest (19) (Flight Engineer)

F/Sgt Leonard Charles Carter (22) (Navigator)

F/Sgt Harold Joseph Middleditch (21) (Air Bomber)

F/Sgt Dick Richardson (22) (W Operator)

Sgt Dennis Brooks (20) (Air Gunner)

Sgt Frank Dawson (20) (Air Gunner)

Crew LM717 “W” (10 Sqn – RAF Melbourne):

F/O Raymond Arnold Rosen  (Pilot)

Sgt Daniel Daley (Flight Engineer)

F/S Henry Charles Williamson-Rattray (Navigator)

F/O Jack Cyril Lelliott (Air Bomber)

Sgt Gordon Seymour Lind (W/Op AG

Sgt Arthur Stanley Fordham (Air Gunner)

Sgt A W D McKinnon (Air Gunner)

This crew was hit by flak a week later on 01/07/44 in a raid on St Martin l'Hortier; Rear Gunner Sgt AWD McKinnon survived and evaded capture; those who died are in Poix-de-Picardie (previously Poix-de-la-Somme) cemetery.


 Derrick was not supposed to fly on ops that day: he had obtained leave from Sunday morning 25 June in order to return home (Dewsbury, Yorks) for his wedding to fiancée Kathleen Boyer, scheduled for Tues 27 June; as he could not get transport off the base till the afternoon, he elected to join his crew on this “milk run”.

 reconnaissance photos taken during a 21 June raid on the Montorgueil launch site by USAAF 9th Air Force showed that this target had effectively been rendered inoperative; sadly this information only reached the squadrons on Sunday 25 June when the aircraft were already in the air.

 Derrick’s family waited in vain for further news after the “missing” telegram was received; some days later, his sister Daphne went to Pocklington and was told about the “collision”; it was her idea to go to the pub frequented by the airmen that led her to discover the truth of what had happened.

 It was well known that accidents of this kind happened often on night ops; as this one occurred in daylight, there were several eye-witnesses to the accident and in later years their accounts have been written up in several publications:

Sledgehammers for Tintacks: Bomber Command combats the V1 menace 1943-44 by Steven Darlow

Raider: the Halifax and its flyers by Geoffrey Jones

Halifax Crew: the story of a wartime bomber crew by Arthur C Smith

Diary of a Halifax Bomber (10 Sqn history) by Michael John Yalden

Bomber Crew (the companion book to Channel 4’s 2005 TV production) also makes reference to the accident.

It’s Suicide But It’s Fun! (102 (Ceylon) Squadron history) by Chris Goss

 As far as is known, it is also the only such accident in which the Bomb Aimer concerned was aware of his tragic mistake.

 Some members of the 10 Sqn crew had not realised that they were responsible for the accident until they returned to base; Jock McKinnon (the only crewmember to survive the war) reports that he was unaware until, in the truck from dispersal to debriefing, he heard the A/B apologise to the Pilot; they reported what had happened to G/Capt Thomson who put it down to the “one of those things that happens in war”.

 As a result of this incident, daylight flying formations within 4 Group were re-appraised: in future operations, Halifaxes were instructed to fly in loose V formations which would reduce the risk of collisions and of being hit by bombs.

 Several very small pieces of wreckage with the EEP (English Electric Preston) discovered at the “woods” crash site have confirmed this was where MZ753 came down.

 One of the Fontaine l’Etalons villagers (then a teenager) involved in the recovery of the crew’s bodies has also kept a larger piece of wreckage (leading edge of wing) since 1944 and has sliced off pieces to give to numerous crew families who have visited over the years. The villagers also continue to keep the crew graves in immaculate condition and have held regular commemorations.

Research by Melanie Herman

From information supplied by (amongst others)

Tom Wingham DFC

Sandy Sykes

Nigel Sykes

Wendy Robins

Pat Dick

Keith Bailey

Ron & Marion Archard

Mike Bland

Cas & Bob Collins

Judy Treasure

Jos Leclercq

Félix Lecocq

Anne Storm

Ron Everson

Bill Leyland

John Watkins

Arthur C Smith

Steven Darlow

Geoff Negus

Patricia O’Neill





Various kind respondents on Internet sites and per mail




Take Off


4 June.




  5 June.

Maisy Medium Battery 



Maisy H-Hour: 03:35
Plan of attack: Controlled Oboe ground marking with Master Bomber directing the attack and dropping greens if necessary. Main Force was to bomb the red Oboe TIs unless directed otherwise.116 aircraft were dispatched, 112 attacked. The main force was 93 Halifax IIIs and 15 Halifax (Is ?) of 4 Group. 8 Group sent 5 Lancaster IIIs to back up the Oboe TIs . Oboe marking was done by 1 Mosquito XVI and 2 Mk.IXs of 105 Squadron and 2 Mosquito IXs of 109 Squadron. All 5 marked successfully. Bombing was reported as concentrated

6 June..

 Saint Lo



8 June.




22 June.

Minelaying (nr. Cap de la Chevre)



24 June.




25 June.





Sqn Ldr Guy Benjamin Treasure



Sgt Derrick Sykes


 (Flight Eng)

Flg Off Sydney James Bailey



Flg Off Gordon Fraser


(Air Bomber)

Sgt Robert William Collins


Sgt Robert William Collins

Sgt Leonard Thomas Archard


 (Air Gunner)

Sgt Eric Boys Bland


 (Air Gunner)

Derrick “Bill” Sykes


Treasure and crew are recorded as being posted on to the Sgt Eric Boys Blande Squadron in June with Treasure listed as F/Lt promoted to Acting S/Ldr. They went on Ops almost immediately without Treasure doing any trips as a 2nd Pilot (he had done a previous tour)

                                                      Photo: Mrs Pat Dick (widow F/O Sydney Bailey)

Crew of MZ753 (at No. 10 OTU @ Abingdon/Stanton Harcourt)                                   

Back row – Sgt Robert Collins (W/Op), Sgt Eric Boys Bland & Sgt Leonard Archard (Air Gunners)

Front row – F/O Gordon Fraser (Air Bomber), F/Lt Guy Treasure (Pilot), F/O Sydney “Bill” Bailey (Nav)

Photo: Mr R “Sandy” Sykes

Derrick Sykes in N Africa with 47 (Hurricane) squadron (1943