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Saturday, August 20, 2011


One of the prerogatives of authoring a blog site is that within the grounds of common decency, one can blog whatever his/her hearts desires. Therefore this blog does not fall within the realms of either the Canadian Expeditionary Force or World War One but admittedly does have a CEF connection.
Pilot Officer (Air Observer) John Clements, RCAF

RAF Waddington today remains as one of the Royal Air Force's mainstay airfields. It is currently the home of the RAF's Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Units. They utilize NATO AWACs, flying the E-3 Sentry and Raytheon Sentinel aircraft, and the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper weapon. RAF Waddington is the home of 34 Air Wing, Combat Support Group 2 as well as the base of many flying and non-flying RAF units. It is the home base of the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic display team, the Lincolncolnshire County Ambulance (helicopter), and the only flying Avro B-1 Vulcan bomber. The RAF Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster, Spitfires, Hurricane and Dakota are frequent guests from nearby RAF Coningsby while the field is host since 1995 to the RAF Waddington International Air Show as well as being a nuclear weapon dispersal site. A very busy place and also home to my daughter Beverly, her husband Greg a RAF Corporal, and their young family.

The field was built in 1916 as a Royal Flying Corps training station. Its first occupant was 44 Squadron in 1917 flying Sopwith Camels and commanded by later World War II Bomber Command Leader "Bomber" Harris the Squadron being based here intermittently until 1982. During World War Two, RAF Waddington functioned as a large base for front line Bomber Command Squadrons particularly again 44 Squadron who entered the airbase once more in 1937 and later in the war were the first RAF Squadron to fly the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. The field is ideally located higher up in elevation from the surrounding fens, positioned a few miles from the English Channel and fast flying times to the Lowland countries of  Holland and Belgium, and facing favourable prevailing winds.

The town of Waddington still maintains its Elizabethan-era charm albeit with a modern grocery mart and take-out food stores. St. Michael's Church,  Three Horseshoes Pub and Market Square still are main destinations within the town as they were during the war. It was in this context that myself and wife Lynn decided to spend a couple of weeks visiting Bev and her young family and tour the surrounding countryside. When arranging our visit I noted that St. Michael's Cemetery was the final resting place to a number of RAF men, specifically one Canadian whose Common War Graves Commission listing showed that Pilot Officer (Air Observer) John Russell Clements RCAF was in fact a native of Milton, Ontario our new hometown.

John Clements was the grandson of one of Milton's first families William Clements and Drusilla Bowbeer. He was born June 8, 1915 as the first son to Captain Russell Matthew Clements and wife Alma Pearl Burling. Russell Matthew had served in the South Africa War (Boer War) 1899-1902 with the Canadian Mounted Rifles at a very young age (b.1884). He was awarded Boer War Land Grant #366. Post war he remained with the local militia unit the 20th Halton Rifles 13 years rising to the rank of Captain. He enlisted in World War One in Ottawa with the Canadian Army Service Corps # 2688437 but returned to Milton to supervise recruiting of the recently raised 164th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Post World War One, Russell Clements became the town postmaster and fulfilled several town functions at various times.

John Russell Clements spent his early life in Milton attending public school and Milton High School in this picturesque town. He was a 1938 graduate of the University of Toronto and obtained employment in Sudbury's Hollinger mines as an engineer. This is where he was employed when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in North Bay September 1940. Like most young Canadian men that enlisted in the R.C.A.F., John probably had dreams of flying a fighter Spitfire aircraft into the bowels of Germany. However that was not to be. He eventually ended up as a Pilot Officer (Air Observer) helping to fly large twin-engined Manchester bomber aircraft in British 207 Squadron, RAF out of RAF Waddington September 1942.

The infamous Avro Manchester 2-engined heavy bomber

The Avro Manchester bomber was not one of the Royal Air Force's finer moments. The aircraft was plagued throughout its service with troublesome and underpowered engines however the Manchester with two additional engines eventually developed into the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber - probably the best bomber of World War II. By the end of 1941, Manchester had restricted payloads (8,000 lbs) but mostly were restricted to attacking German naval ports in the English Chanel. By June 1942 they had been totally replaced in active service by their successor, the 4-engined Lancaster.

In this light, No. 207 Squadron Manchester # L7318 was sent on September 15, 1941 on a mechanical mission to Cumbria to assist another Manchester with hydraulic problems. L7318 carried  a flying crew of four, including P/O (Air Observer) John R. Clements #J/5313, RCAF and ground crew consisting of six men for an on board total of 10 as well as spare parts. They were able to repair the ailing Manchester and both took to the air for a return to Waddington. The repaired aircraft landed first while L7318 flew the circuit. "Suddenly and in full view of people at Waddington Hykeham near the Waddington runway apron. Today the location is sited near the town water facilities beside a farmer's field.
P/O John Russell Clements, RCAF, Milton, ON

Both the aircraft pilot F/L Ernest Crump, RAF and observer P/O John Clements, RCAF occupying the right hand seat were buried in Waddington's St. Michael's Church Cemetery. Here they peacefully remain to this day amidst fellow comrades of the First and Second War Worlds. John Russell Clements carries the distinction of being the first casualty from Milton, Ontario in World War II. Many more were to follow.

It is worth noting that both the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have John Russell Clements listed as a "Sergeant" while all other documentation I have seen list him as a "Pilot/Officer", a considerable difference, although admittedly I do not have a copy of his service file to confirm or deny his correct rank.

I told you there was a CEF connection. Well here it is. One of the other crew members to lose their life September 15, 1941 in L7318 was Pilot Officer (Navigator) John Patrick Sawyer, R.C.A.F. Sawyer aged 24 and the son of the late Lieutenant Robert Henry and Georgina Sawyer, formerly of Toronto, ON and now of Beaconsfield, Bucks, England. Lt. Robert Sawyer had joined the University of Toronto Training Company with a service number of 490813 June 12,1916, giving an address of 4 Maple Avenue.  He was a "steamship agent" and had previously been employed in that capacity in Nassau, Bahamas where son, John had been born in 1913. Lt. Robert Henry Sawyer transferred  to the Royal Flying Corps later became the Royal Air Force after joining the C.E.F.and was killed presumably in an air training accident August 3, 1918. Thus both father and son lost their lives flying in the airspace over England for the Royal Air Force in the two World Wars.

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