Category Archives: Aircrew Stories

F/L Lawrence Nelson

L Nelson - In B17
F/L Lawrence Nelson. N.89324. Downloaded from Internet

F/L Nelson completed his basic flying training at No. 14 S.F.T.S Cranfield between the 6th August and the 6th December 1940, flying Magisters and Oxfords. Then he was sent to Cape Province in South Africa and was based at No. 61 Air School at George flying Ansons from the 4th February to the 26th March 1941. He completed his final training with No 1 OTU while at Silloth Airfield from 17th June 1941  until the 9th August 1941 at which point he joined 206 Squadron.

Hudson J P5155 Silloth - Nelson

His story is drawn from a website entitled 2016 Squadron Coastal Command. Pilots: Part 1.  Extract downloaded 27 February 2016.

“P5155 ‘J’ was a Hudson that Lawrence Nelson had been piloting during his time at No. 1 OTU in Silloth before joining 206 Squadron, he was there at the same time as Ken [F/L Kenneth Bass]. On the 1st August 1941 he had been on an night navigation exercise from Silloth via the Mull of Kintyre and Chicken Rock. When landing back at Silloth the Hudson ran off the edge of the runway and the port undercarriage leg collapsed resulting in minor damage and no injuries. His logbook was signed off by Wing Commander R.A.B Stone “Accident due to inexperience”. Lawrence had spoken to Simon [Simon Nelson, Lawrence’s son] about it explaining that there were green lights on the dashboard that showed the wheels were down, they were really bright especially at night so it was common practice to place a cloth over them to avoid being blinded. On this occasion the cloth fell away blinding him at a crucial moment of the landing phase. To top things off when the Ground Crew were recovering the Hudson they somehow managed to set fire to it (possibly a discarded fag) and the aircraft was completely burnt out.

This incident also appears in the books ‘Naught Escape Us‘ by Peter Gunn and ‘Lockheed Hudson in World War II‘ by Andrew Hendrie. They both state the following…

“P5155 Swung on landing, u/c collapsed, Silloth, 2.8.41”

Hudson J P5155 Silloth

Ken’s logbook has a record of him flying this Hudson as 2nd Pilot on the 28th July 1941 Turret Firing (extract above). This was just 5 days before the accident!”


F/O Frederick Charles Jordan

Flying Accident at RAF Silloth 16th September 1944

Story told by Brian Jordan

F/O Frederick Charles Jordan

After completing his active tour of duty in Gibraltar in 1943, my father, F/Officer F. C. Jordan 171365 RAF, was posted to Hooton Park and then to Silloth for instructional duties, arriving in Silloth in August 1944.

At 21.05 on the 16th September my father took off from Silloth with five other crew members in a Wellington Mk X HF179 to practice Leigh Light homings. Many Coastal Command Wellingtons had a large spotlight fitted in a ‘dustbin’ turret that could be lowered and raised under the fuselage. This light was used at night to illuminate submarines found on the surface, typically recharging their batteries.

The crew on that flight were:

F/Lt Lawrence William Hamilton Coe 120942 RAFVR Pilot (1)
F/O George Edward Lumley 171707 RAFVR W/Op
P/O Harry Chambers Waters 174902 RAFVR Pilot (2)
F/O Oswald John Lander 55093 RAF Navigator

F/O Frederick Charles Jordan 171365 RAF W/Op

A N Other (Still unidentified)

Approximately two hours after take-off, the plane flew into the sea killing four of the crew, my father and one other (unidentified) being the only two survivors to make it to the surface.

The entry in my father’s logbook read: L.L Homings – Crashed in Irish Sea – 5 miles West St. Bees Head – 4 crew killed. Picked up by S.S. Green Isle and taken to Whitehaven Infirmary – No dinghy seen.

My father sustained two broken ankles, a broken arm and cracked ribs and spent until April 1945 in the RAF Officer’s Hospital in Cleveleys.

The RAF 1180 Accident Report Form relating to the crash states the following:-

“A/c (aircraft) flew into sea during Leigh Light Exercises. Pilot homing on a ship burning full navigational lights was seen to fly into sea. Leigh Light not burning at time.”

I assume that the ship that picked the survivors up was in fact the ship being used for homing exercises, and that witnesses on the ship had seen the aircraft crash, without the Leigh Light on.

Another statement said:-

“E of J (Error of Judgement) when carrying out a training dummy attack. Too low, hit the sea. Instructions given not to fly below 300ft.”

Finally, the recommendations from the Air Officer Commanding were:-

“Radio altimeter be fitted. Officer I/C (in charge) of night flying be a pilot. Master of ship be thanked. Two survivors picked up. AOC (Air Officer Commanding) and AOC I/C concurs.”

The resting places/memorials of the crew who were killed are:-

F/Lt Coe                                   Runnymede Memorial, Surrey.

F/O Lander                             Silloth (Causewayhead) Cemetery, Holme Low, Cumberland.

F/O Lumley                            Darlington West Cemetery, Durham.

P/O Waters                           Runnymede Memorial, Surrey.

My father was eventually invalided out of the RAF in September 1945 and passed away in 1996, having only flown once in a Cessna since the accident.

Dad Crash 1 Dad Crash 2


Jan Vella

VELLA J 311 Sq
F/Sgt Jan Vella. Photo Copyright Pavel Vancata
A gold watch, which was presented to F/Sgt Pilot Jan Vella in Silloth in 1942,  was lost in the wreckage of Oxford DH404 in the Scottish Mountains in 1945, then found in 1973 by a hill-walker, and eventually taken to Prague and presented to Jan’s daughter, in 2006,  64 years later. The following is Jan’s story. It tells of the respect and love he generated in those who worked alongside him, his brave deeds and the journey taken by the watch after his sad death. 

Continue reading Jan Vella

Philippe Grignon

He was one of many Commonwealth pilots who trained here.

“It was certainly a training airfield during my few weeks there in 1942. Our Canadian crew trained there on Hudson aircraft.

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

Derek Martin

His work was training aircrews to work together and to practise navigation and sorties over the Atlantic where they would be employed on anti-submarine work.

“The most interesting work was probably training crews to operate the new navigation system ‘Gee.’ We were the first Coastal Command training unit to have the equipment (which has been in use in Bomber Command) and it was a highly secret affair. The navigation training rooms were always locked and no mention could be made of the system.”

 It wasn’t only British crews who were trained at Silloth. Another function of the OTU was to acclimatise aircrews who had learned to fly in the wide open spaces of the USA and Canada, to the misty, crowded scenery in Europe.

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.


S.D. Durden

“I was there until the end of May in which time I was crewed up with another Air Gunner/Wireless Operator also a navigator and finally a pilot who, by the way, was a Wing Commander ex-Spitfire coming on to bombing operations for a change from fighters. During this month there was plenty to do – tests to be carried out and passed consisting of Radio Homings and Bearings on M/F and H/F frequencies, radio assisted control approach photography, bombing practice, gunnery practice with firing both day and night plus night time circuits and landings. At the end of May after passing all these tests we were posted out to an operational unit.”

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

L. Cooper

Stationed in Silloth in 1945.

“During my training the aircraft I flew were the Wellington XIV. These, I believe, were all ex operational aircraft from various Coastal Command Squadrons.”

Most of the aircrew attached to No 1 OTU spent a very short period of training at Silloth before being posted to operational squadrons. The way in which crews were formed seemed rather ad hoc as described in his letter:

“This was where Coastal Command crews of various aircrew trades got together and formed a complete crew. This was done in this case at the Officers’ Mess where it gave one a chance to meet the officer aircrew as well as the NCO. It always seemed a good idea to either form an all officer or all NCO crew since one had a better chance of getting to know members of the crew you belonged to. 

Continue reading L. Cooper