Finally UK Recognition for 624 Squadron RAF
After 68 years disbandment, a dedication of a Memorial Plaque to 624 (SD) Squadron RAF in the Allied Special Forces Memorial Grove at the National Museum Arboretum in Staffordshire took place at 12.30pm on Saturday 29th September 2012.
Six reunited veterans of the squadron attended, along with approx. 80 invited guests including families of squadron members, in fact one family all the way from Australia. A number of speeches were made including speeches by the son of Squadron Leader John B Austin the first C.O (Peter Austin) and the daughter of Wing Commander Clive S G Stanbury (Sally-Anne Barrat) the second C.O. Following the speeches and a reading of a poem, veteran Stanley David unveiled the plaque and the Honour Guard from 4624 Squadron R.(Aux).A.F. stood to attention for the last post a minutes silence followed by Reveille, this was then followed by a wonderful flypast of 2 spitfires from the BBMF.
624 Squadron RAF From May 1943 (1575 Flight - later to become 624Squadron) flew, regularly at night over occupied Europe many times at less than 500 feet, delivering supplies and agents to the resistance groups in Albania, Corsica, Greece, Italy, Sardinia, Yugoslavia, but mostly when based at Blida in Algeria they flew to the Pyrenees area of France, until September 1944. The squadrons missions were top secret and each aircraft operated completely on its own for the entire duration of a mission.
The low level night flying in Specially Adapted Four Engined Heavy Bomber aircraft took a large toll in crews as can be seen in the Role of Honour section of the website. However their missions where vitally important in order to keep supplies and agents flowing to the resistance workers on the ground so that they could carry out their vital job during the liberation of Europe of causing as much disruption as possible behind the German line.
These activities caused vital troops to be kept away from the front line, helped to destroy vital communication and infrastructure, as well as disrupting the flow of enemy troops and equipment around Europe.
As one old member of the Maquis said during a reunion in France during 2005 “It was only the sound of the Halifax aircraft coming over at night that kept their spirits up when they were being hunted down and tortured. For they knew then that each aircraft would bring them more guns and ammunition with which they could fight to liberate their country and free their families”
Little was ever told about this squadron until the last 15 years when the story started to unfold, when 2 or 3 members of 4624 Squadron R.(Aux).A.F. traced approximately 6 veterans of the Squadron and held 2 small reunions in 1997 and 1998 at RAF Brize Norton. During 1998/9 Ron McKeon was trying to trace information on the loss to his family of his uncle and with stories he heard from a small number of veterans, developed the website www.624squadron.org “A Tribute to The Unsung Heroes of 624 Squadron” and teamed up with 4624 Squadron. Following this and with the power of the internet more and more of the veterans came to light and at one stage there was about 35 – 40 veterans attending the annual reunions. Over the years there has been quite a despondency that 624 Squadron were not recognized anywhere in the UK. Finally now, after teaming up with the Allied Special Forces website who have now developed the Special Forces Memorial Grove at the National Memorial Arboretum, this has all been rectified.
The cost of the plaque and the event has been raised through donations through the website, fund raising by 4624 Squadron “C” Flight and Thales UK, and a commemorative DVD is being produced for all known surviving veterans and families of veterans who have sadly passed away without recognition, including the 77 who lost their lives whilst serving on the squadron.
The organisers would like to thank all involved for their support and assistance in finally getting the Unsung Heroes of 624 Squadron recognized and making this such a memorable day.
Nick Tatam said on the 28-Sep-2013 at 12:51
My father, G W Tatam (Bill) served with flight 1575 and 624 Squadron in Algeria as bomb aimer.He made very light of it and likened it to "odd jobs" for a crew which had lost its pilot before operations could begin. What a pity I missed the unveiling of the plaque.
Paul Sterling said on the 6-Nov-2014 at 13:50
Hi, My Dad Robert Sterling was in the 624 Squadron, he was a Navigator with his flight crew "P.O. Wally Fairey(pilot) Johnny Paget(bomb aimer) Len Brereton(flight engineer) Paul Senecal(rear gunner) Bill Tinker(dispatcher-gunner) Sidney Mines and Vic Scott(wireless operator) I know if he could travel he would have loved to have been there. I will forward this site to him so he can read it.
Nick Tatam said on the 7-Nov-2014 at 17:17
The plaque I was referring to I think was at the National Arboretum. Soon afterwards I attended the unveiling of a memorial to all the special squadrons at St Clement Dane's.I was accompanied by my my sister, two brothers and my eldest daughter. Apart from us there were three other representatives of 624 Squadron including Ron who runs the website for 624. At one stage my father's navigator was George Matheson whose superb navigational skills had got his crew into Special Duties, but he may have served with another crew as well.There is a picture of him with one of his crews on the website.
Sean Gallagher said on the 22-Sep-2015 at 15:06
Having just come upon the website, I thought it might be interesting to note my family connection with RAF 624 Squadron. Reconstituted in, I think, 1942 or '43 (for perhaps the third time) it was given in command of my cousin, Squadron Leader Michael Gerard Gallagher, who commanded it until or perhaps beyond the end of the War.
Michael had joined up at the start of the War and flown Hurricanes for most it,until called to 624.He and my father were first cousins; Michael and I,second. I met him only in about 1996, when he got in touch with me in London out of the blue. He invited me, together with his wife and mine, to dinner at the RAF Club, in Piccadilly, where we talked about family, and much else - everything except the War, and his part in it. In that regrettable constrained English way, I did not wish to probe him on what rank he'd attained, or what he'd done; and he,similarly, did not want to launch into any part of his story without being asked. I know he stayed in the RAF for some time post war; before leaving to become a test pilot with, possibly, the Southampton-based aircraft manufacturer.
Michael was ill when we met. We met only three or four times, but kept in touch by phone (he lived in Hitchen, I in Kensington, London). We planned a major family reunion - I 'appointed' him OC Family Reunion Ops Manager - but that event never took place. Michael was struck down with cancer, which I understand he took on with great fortitude, and - as I would have expected - unfailing humour. Ill myself at the time of his funeral,I was sadly unable to attend. I was pleased, in due course, to receive a copy of the memorial encomium delivered by a close friend of his, who had also been one of Michael's young pilots in 626 Squadron. I appears Michael was a very dashing chap indeed,and mentor to said friend,and an inspirational squadron leader.
I regret often that we did not spend more time - much more time - together and that I did not get him to tell me as much as possible of his brave and exciting wartime story. In fact, I suspect that might have been rather more circumspect than otherwise; 624 Squadron, from my own limited researches, was greatly valued, vitally important; but essentially and necessarily secretive, even years after cessation of operations.
Margaret Henderson said on the 6-Oct-2016 at 18:07
My mother's Aunty Maggie lost her son, Sgt Andrew John Mitchell of the Volunteer Reserve 624 Squadron in April 1944 when he was just 19. I believe he is remembered on the Malta Memorial. His parents were Mr and Mrs Andrew S Mitchell, Aberdeen. I was interested to read about the plaque at the National Arboretum which I have never yet visited.
clashergems.online said on the 24-Jul-2017 at 19:41
For the following 11 years from the mid-19, he fulfilled armament and ordinance roles in the United Kingdom and Middle East, with the exception of a 20-month period between February 1930 and October 1931 when he commanded 41 Squadron.
Calum Mercer said on the 14-Nov-2017 at 15:32
My uncle serviced with 624 Squadron and died on 27th June 1944 dropping supplies to the resistance near Lamastre in the Ardeche. Several years ago I went with my father to visit the site and grave and attend the remembrance ceremony held each year. We met some who had been there at the time in the resistance and also a lady who who been a little girl in the farm nearest the crash site. It was very moving to see how much their sacrifice was remembered and valued by the people.
Susan Hayes said on the 9-Jan-2018 at 20:37
Calum Mercer - I am the later partner of Ron McKeon who sadly passed away in 2015. I have some details for you, Your Uncle was a crew member on JP 206 Warrant Officer Godsell Crew.
Sergeant Mercer was killed when his aircraft Halifax JP206 crashed in the target area near Lamastre, France, the Resistance had marked the drop site which was a field near a wooded area and surrounded by mountainous terrain, they hid in the wood and waited. The drop went well and the pilot banked the plane to make sure they had hit the spot, as he turned to climb back out, the wing caught a tree and the plane crashed into the side of the hill, hitting a stone bridge, killing all on board.
Villagers went to assist but discovered nothing other that the battered remains of the plane scattered across the fields. The wreckage remained there until the war ended.
The bodies were taken to the Town Hall and laid in state with a Guard of Honour until the funeral. They had draped a Union Jack over two of the coffins, just where they got those from in a small village in France at the height of war is a mystery. The room was full of flowers, put there by the villagers, these boys were heroes and the people of the Ardeche knew that they had paid the ultimate sacrifice on their behalf.
On the day of the funeral up to 4000 Ardechians attended, coming from miles around, the town band played as they walked behind the two coffins, winding up the steep road to the local Cemetery, the crew are buried amongst the locals in the Lamastre Protestant Cemetery.
Grave Reference: Coll. grave.
I hope this helps if I can assist any further please contact me by e mail firstname.lastname@example.org or via 624 Squadron facebook page.
Susan Hayes said on the 9-Jan-2018 at 20:41
Paul Stirling, Vic Scott from Walley Fairey crew is still with us and was 96 on December 16th 2016 and still has a lucid mind, a wonderful chap.
Susan Hayes said on the 9-Jan-2018 at 21:27
Margaret Henderson - Ron (late Webmaster) and myself visited the memorial in Malta and Ron laid a wreath there. His Uncle is remembered on there, he was with Driscoll's crew on JN896. I have a video of the Plaque ceremony but can't post it on here. If I can assist any further please contact me on email@example.com or contact me on 624 squadron facebook page.
Calum Mercer said on the 19-Mar-2018 at 09:54
Hi Susan. Thanks for that. When I was there it was very moving to meet people who had been there on the day, both when it crashed and at the burial ceremony. It was fascinating to hear a bit of what it was like at the time from those who had lived through it and the contribution my uncle and so many of his comrades made. I hope to go back this summer when we are on holiday in the south of France