Yorkshire war hero remembered

Pictured from left are Sergeant JT Glendinning, Sgt ER Jenkins, Pilot Officer DL Thompson, Sgt JM Williams, Sgt C Abbott, Flight Sgt Ramsay and Sgt G Phillips.
Pictured from left are Sergeant JT Glendinning, Sgt ER Jenkins, Pilot Officer DL Thompson, Sgt JM Williams, Sgt C Abbott, Flight Sgt Ramsay and Sgt G Phillips.

70 years ago on Sunday, Stirling BF 467 took off from RAF Newmarket, bound to lay mines in the sea off the coast of Denmark.

Among the seven-strong air crew was Dacre Banks brother and son Sergeant Clifford Abbott, a 21-year-old flight engineer.

207 planes left Suffolk, but Sgt Abbott’s was one of 22 to never return on April 29, 1943.

Sgt Abbott is buried in Svino cemetery, and survived by four siblings, older brother Arthur and younger sister Betty, who live in York, and brothers Max and Norman, who live in Knaresborough.

Norman invited the Harrogate Advertiser series to share photographs and memories of his brother at war, gone but never forgotten, seven decades after his death.

Norman explained his brother’s mission, laying explosive mines attached to parachutes underwater: “Clifford and the other crews were making a minelaying trip.

“The airmen called it ‘farming’. They had to fly very low to get the mines into the water. They couldn’t drop them, and flying over the water in the dark was so dangerous, because it was very difficult to judge the height.

“Clifford made 19 minelaying trips.”

German records show a Marine flak battery MAA 508 claimed to have shot down an aircraft in Langelands - belt on the night. It is presumed this plane was BF 467.

The other airmen were Sergeant JT Glendinning, a mid upper gunner from Glasgow, Sergeant ER Jenkins, a wireless operator from New Zealand, Pilot Officer DL Thompson, also from New Zealand, Sergeant JM Williams, a bomb aimer from Australia, Flight Sergeant Ramsay, a Canadian navigator and Sergeant G Phillips, a rear gunner from Essex.

Sgt Abbott and Sgt Williams were found in water near Nakskov on April 29, and buried in Svino on May 1.

The other airmen were found and laid to rest by mid-May. Norman said: “My father wrote to the family of the other six airmen, and some of them replied. My mother and father visited Clifford’s grave in 1950.

“My friend Lillian Smith from Essex came to Harrogate in 1940 and met Clifford, and wrote a wonderful poem after his death.”

Born in Nidderdale in March 1922, Sgt Abbott attended Dacre School, and later Summerbridge School. He first joined the RAF in 1941. The second oldest of the five siblings, he was to be missed in his home town, not least by his parents, who ran a general store in Dacre.

Norman explained: “Clifford was missed. He was very popular, but you have to remember that the ladies couldn’t cry when they found out.

“My mother lost Clifford, but our neighbours were losing sons, too, even in Dacre. It was a time when they couldn’t cry. My parents were shocked, the pair of them.

“But there was wonderful spirit of togetherness, and selflessness, people still joked and had fun.

“I grew up in the war and it took me some time to get accustomed to peacetime behaviour.

“We must remember Cliff and like young men and preserve their spirit as Lillian expressed in her poem.”

Norman learned of his brother’s death aged 17, and working on infra-red guidance systems at Hazlemere with the admiralty. Any enthusiasm he had to join the RAF waned after the events of April 1943.

Norman said: “I had been keen to join, Arthur had been in the RAF when the war began, and I wanted to follow my brothers into it, but when Clifford was killed I had to get written permission from my parents, and I didn’t dare go home and announce I was going into the RAF. It was the wisest thing I ever did, to stay in the admiralty.”

Seven Lancaster, seven Stirling, six Wellington and two Halifax airplanes were lost on the night of April 28, 1943.