Flight Sergeant F.J. Stuart, CGM
What follows are the details of one particular Thunderbird. An ordinary man, with an ordinary crew, thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and how they rose to the occasion. While outstanding in some regards, this serves as a typical example of the thousands of brave airman who served with No 426 Squadron and all Bomber Command throughout the war.
His Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying),of which only 103 were awarded, represents possibly the most heroic act realized by a member of 426 Squadron during the war.
The citation for his Conspicuous Gallantry Medal put forward by his squadron CO (W/C W.H. Swetman) reads: “In a raid on Leipzig on the night of 20/21st October 1943, described by returning airmen as appalling, with sixteen aircraft failing to return, this airman piloted an aircraft detailed to attack Leipzig. Before the target was reached, the aircraft was intercepted by a fighter which attacked with great persistence. Much damage was sustained before F/S Stuart succeeded in flying clear. Shortly afterwards, another fighter made a series of attacks but, with superb skill, F/S Stuart evaded them. His aircraft was badly crippled; the cockpits, turrets, hydraulic gear and other essential equipment were damaged. The petrol tanks had been pierced and one of the gunners wounded. Undaunted, this valiant pilot went on to bomb his target and afterwards flew the crippled bomber to base where he effected a masterly landing in the face of heavy odds. This airman set an example of courage, resolution and devotion to duty beyond praise.”
Frederick “Freddy” John Stuart was born and raised in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the son of Frederick and Lydia Stuart. As a lad he was active in Scouting, and later joined the Territorial Army. He worked as a solicitor's clerk, and through his best friend, Billy Churchill, met and married, Constance Howey, another solicitor's secretary. When war broke out Freddy transferred to the RAF and did his training in Canada.
Sgt Stuart on his wedding day to Conny Howey, best man Billy Churchill, the bride's maids are Freddy's sisters Ella and Jean.
Inspecting the battle-damage. F/S G.V. Andrew, F/O R.J. Dunphy and F/O J. Dodge examine the shattered mid-upper turret, 29 Oct 43.
Waiting for interrogation after a raid on Berlin, 24 Nov 43. P/O F.J. Stuart, CGM (foreground with mug), F/L R.S. McCartney (Squadron Adjutant), Capt R.G. Burrows (visiting RCOC officer), F/O J. Campbell and F/L W. Spafford.
Mrs S. Spears of Prudhoe, Northumberland, at the front doors of Stuart Block with S/L M. Walters and F/L S. Kimberley.
When No 426 Squadron formed, 15 Oct 42, it was supplemented by many RAF members. Sgt Stuart, a newly minted pilot of the Volunteer Reserve eagerly joined the Canadians at Dishforth, and began his operational flying Jan 43 with a mixed crew of RCAF and RAFVR. Stuart and his crew had a very close call during a raid on Essen, 27-28 May 43. Eight minutes after their bomb run, at 14 000 feet over Bochum, heavy flak hit their Wellington X. Shrapnel made a flying sieve of their aircraft: holes appeared in the astrodome, the top and side of the rear turret, the bomb aimer's perspex, the port propeller, the bottom of the port engine, the port and starboard tailplane, and the tail. Despite the damage Freddy got the crate back to Dishforth and, luckily, no one was injured. 2 Jun 43 the first four Thunderbird crews were selected for conversion training to Lancaster IIs and departed for East Moor. They were captained by F/L J.G. McNeill, P/O W.L. Shaw, P/O D.D. Shuttleworth and Sgt F.J. Stuart. Stuart and Shuttleworth with their crews returned to Dishforth 20 Jun 43. On 10 Jul 43 Freddy was promoted Flight Sergeant.
On 20 Oct 43 426 Sqn was requested to supply fourteen aircraft for a raid on Leipzig. Take-off was scheduled for 1715, the round trip being about seven hours. Each Lanc would carry one 4000-pound bomb and 3120 pounds of incendiaries. Stuart and crew, Lanc II DS686/OW “D”, were halfway to Hanover from Brennen when they were repeatedly attacked by a single-engine night-fighter, a Messerschmitt 109. The enemy aircraft attacked four times and hit the tailplane and fuselage, disabled the mid-upper turret and wounded it's gunner, Sgt McGovern. Stuart flew corkscrews and diving turns while the gunners returned fire; in particular F/S Andrew, the rear gunner, who warned his pilot of each attack. Several minutes later a Junkers 88 appeared on the starboard quarter down and began it's attempt to bring down the bomber. This time the enemy managed three attacks before Stuart lost them in the clouds. The Lanc was badly damaged; only the pilot's skilful flying and the rear gunner's marksmanship and lightning reactions saved it from certain destruction. Not only was the mid-upper turret disabled, but two of the rear turret guns were also inoperable: one with a link stoppage and the other with a round jammed in the serve mechanism. Despite these problems, Andrew had fired 2200 rounds during the seven attacks. Other damage included: a smashed pilot's windscreen, a hydraulic-system failure, many bullet holes in the top of the starboard side of the fuselage and wing, shot-up navigation and wireless equipment, the trailing aerial shot away, a failure in the boost gauge of the starboard outer engine, and bullet holes in the starboard inner fuel tank. Despite all the damage, Stuart chose to go on with the mission and bomb the target, which was still 140 miles away. With most of his instruments destroyed, navigator F/O Dunphy directed the aircraft to the target, and home again; for his part he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. McGovern suffered wounds in the arms, legs and chest, and was temporarily blinded in one eye, but after four months rejoined the Thunderbirds, and later received a commission and the DFC. The Leipzig raid involved 358 Bomber Command Lancasters, of which sixteen were lost.
P/O Stuart, the oldest of his crew at age 27, was piloting Lancaster II LL630/OW “D” during an operation to Frankfurt on 20-21 Dec 43 when it was lost with all hands aboard. They are buried at the Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany. Stuart (twenty-three missions) and many of his team were almost finished their operational tour. The rest of the crew were: F/L Roderick Dunphy**, DFC, RCAF, Navigator (Winnipeg Manitoba, twenty-one missions), F/O Albert Rudman, RCAF, Bomb Aimer (Chapham, London, twenty missions), F/O John Flynn, RAFVR, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (Manor Park, Essex, twenty-two missions), Sgt Frank Taylor, RAFVR, Flight Engineer (Kings Norton, Warwickshire, eight missions), P/O Thomas Hastings, RAFVR, Mid-upper Gunner (Graswell, County Durham, fourteen missions), and F/O George Andrew, RCAF, Rear Gunner (Sarnia, Ontario, twenty-two missions). The night of their deaths, they were part of a raid involving 650 Bomber Command aircraft, of which forty-one were lost.
Conny, who had given up her job to be near her husband, was lodging near York. She moved in with her parents in Newbrough and gave birth to a daughter. She remarried some time later and her new husband proved an excellent stepfather. She had another daughter, and the sisters are to this day the best of friends. Conny returned to the work force when her second husband died, first as a buyer for a department store, and then back to her roots as a solicitor's secretary. She passed away in 1987.
On 8 May 07, Air Vice Marshal J.M.M. Ponsonby, OBE, officially opened the Stuart Block, a multi-million pound, state of the art, accommodation building at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. On 3 Sep 07, Stuart's daughter, Mrs Sandra Spears, who was born a month after her father's death, and twelve other relatives, made an emotional pilgrimage to Linton. On the occasion Mrs Spears said, “This visit has meant everything to me. I never believed I would come along and see where he flew from. To think he is so well thought of by the RAF that they named a barrack block after him makes me so proud. I think it is fantastic.”
This portrait, with a record of his citation below, adorns the main wall of the Orientation Cell office.
In Jun 09 the Technical Instructor Flight, Orientation Cell, 426 Squadron, 8 Wing, Trenton, was dedicated to F/S F.J. Stuart, CGM, RAFVR, in recognition of his acts of bravery.
Mrs Spears, who was contacted in this regard, and sent a photo of the portrait replied,
“I am so proud that my father is held in such high regard and loved your painting of him.”
The CGM was the other ranks' equivalent of the DSO, but unlike it, could only be awarded for gallantry in action against the enemy. In precedence the next higher award was the Victoria Cross.
** In July 47 Manitoba named twenty-five lakes after men who lost their lives on active service during the Second World War. R.J. Dunphy was from Winnipeg, the son of Ella Rae and Kenneth Austin Dunphy. There are more than 4200 lakes, islands, bays and other geographical features named after Manitoba's war dead.