WWII Lancaster bomber crash unites French villagers and the pilot’s Perth family

Lancaster pilot Richard Godfrey, second from left, with his crew.
Flt Lt Godfrey's siblings Monica Murray, Jo Wann, Jack Godfrey, Brian Godfrey, Mary Bianchini and Fay Murray with, front, Claudine and Francios Adroit visiting from France.  Picture: David Baylis
Lancaster pilot Richard Godfrey, second from left, with his crew. Flt Lt Godfrey's siblings Monica Murray, Jo Wann, Jack Godfrey, Brian Godfrey, Mary Bianchini and Fay Murray with, front, Claudine and Francios Adroit visiting from France. Picture: David Baylis

WORLD War II pilot Richard Godfrey and his Lancaster crew were over France on their 27th operation.

The Boomerang’s June 1944 mission was to support the Allies’ D-Day landing campaign by bombing the Massy-Palaiseau rail junction in southern Paris.

But they would not make it, killed after coming under German attack and crashing near the village of Montigny.

Flight Lieutenant Godfrey’s West Australian family grieved for years without the full knowledge of what had happened – as did the New Zealand and British families of the rest of the crew.

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And the crash haunted the people of Montigny.

Claudine Adroit’s 93-year-old mother still remembers that fateful night and always wondered who the deceased were and where they had come from.

Claudine, who established email contact with the Godfrey family last year, was able to fill in the details for her mother.

And she was able to personally pass on the high esteem the crew was still held in decades later when she visited the extended Godfrey family in Maida Vale last week.

Justin Bianchini takes up the story:

Flt Lt Godfrey’s Boomerang

Memories of war stir emotions

TO this day, she can hear the Lancaster bomber crashing in the night.

Claudine Adroit’s 93-year-old mother Simone was 22 when West Australian pilot Dick Godfrey and his crew were shot down near her village of Montigny in the early hours of June 8, 1944.

They were on a bombing mission to support the Allied D-Day campaign, and she would always wonder about who they were.

She also would bring up Claudine to know of the night the RAF men were killed, sparking a search for information that ended with her meeting Flight Lieutenant Godfrey’s sisters and brothers in Maida Vale last week.

Claudine and one of the decorated pilot’s nephews had established contact on email a year ago after he had left information about the crash and his details on an ancestry website.

She was able to tell – in person – the gathered Godfrey family what her mother had experienced.

“On that night she saw the plane, the lights and someone told her it was the end for this plane,” Claudine said.

“And so they saw the plane exploded. She remembers them; until now she said that she can hear the noise of the plane when it happened.”

Claudine’s mother had also recalled the lead-up to their burial.

“The next day, the Germans buried the bodies,” Claudine said.

“My godmother gave a sheet to the bodies.

“And then my mother saw the coffins. But they were not allowed to go.

“They buried them at night.

“My mother and grandmother stayed outside and they saw the coffins passing by the house.

“They buried them in the churchyard; I think there was one cross (they were removed after the war to a military quarter).”

Claudine’s mother’s account and the care by the villagers has moved Flt Lt Godfrey’s siblings.

“We were delighted that someone cared,” his sister Monica Murray said.

“Because he died in a strange land. And I didn’t believe they’d killed him. It took me a while to understand that he was never going to come home.

“But we were so pleased that there were people that cared there.

“They were wonderful that they honoured his death.

“They would come in there every year on the anniversary celebrating the death of those boys who gave their lives for them.”

And Claudine’s mum’s reaction when she found out who they were?

“At first she thought they were all Americans,” he said.

“Two years ago I told her they had come from New Zealand and Australia (there were British personnel on board as well).

“She thought that was amazing to know that people from very far away could come to Europe.”

And if pilot Flt Lt Godfrey’s parents were alive to hear of the care shown to their son?

“They would be very pleased,” his sister Mary Bianchini said.

“He was the eldest in the family… always exceptional in everything he did,” Monica added.

“Nothing stopped him.”

RAF WRITES TO THE FAMILY OF MISSING PILOT

Dear Mr Godfrey,

You will have been informed by the Air Board Melbourne, that your son Aus. 415247 F/Lt. Richard Gerard Godfrey, failed to return from an experimental flight on the night of 7/8th June, 1944. I am writing to express my deepest sympathy with you in your anxiety.

He was Captain and Pilot of an aircraft engaged on an important bombing mission over enemy territory, and after take off, nothing further was heard. It is possible that the aircraft was forced down and in this case he may be safe and a prisoner of war. In this event it may be two or three months before any certain information is obtained through the International Red Cross, but you may rest assured that if anything comes through you will be immediately notified.

Your son had been with the squadron for over nine months, and was one of the most experienced Pilots. He had successfully completed 26 operational sorties, and his loss has been a great blow to the squadron. He was admired by all who knew him and he will be very much missed by his many friends in the squadron.

His personal effects have been safeguarded and forwarded to the Central Depository, RAF. Colnbrook, who will communicate with you in the near future.

May I, on behalf of the whole squadron, express our most sincere sympathy, and hope you will receive good news.

Yours sincerely,

R. Swales

No. 622 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Mildenhall, Suffolk

June 8, 1944

n The family received confirmation of Flt Lt Godfrey’s death the following year, in May 1945.

IN PILOT GODFREY’S OWN WORDS

Richard Godfrey, Dick to his family and friends, kept a journal in 1939 when he was a 16-year-old Aquinas College student from Cannington, and he later wrote home from England during the war:

We played Guildford 1sts today. Aquinas won by about 15 goals.

June 14, 1939

Cadets, I was made a lance-corporal today, which entitles me to one stripe.

July 3, 1939

I got my stripe at school. I started to milk the cow of a morning today.

July 6, 1939

Mum’s birthday today. Went to an anti-gas demonstration.

July 16, 1939

School. Hitler is making things uncomfortable in Europe.

July 27, 1939

Cadets. Taught how to take advantage of cover. Entered for three-day camp.

August 14, 1939

I am learning to drive the car. War in Europe probable.

August 29, 1939

Germany declared war on Poland.

August 30, 1939

Sat for my Junior Exams today. Papers not difficult.

November 20, 1939

 

By the time you receive this letter I shall be a Pilot Officer and probably by the time I receive its answer a Flying Officer so things are looking up.

November 1943

The weather has been generally excellent these last few days; that and with spring in the air I am in fine spirits. I can never become accustomed to the thrill of flying in and out, and round and over, these fleecy white clouds on days like these.

April 1944

We had a sudden spurt last week and I daresay you read in the papers of aircraft making deliveries over Hunland. The result was that I did three ops in five days.

May 23, 1944

THE TELEGRAM ARRIVES

BRIAN Godfrey remembers the telegram announcing bad news about his brother.

“I actually took the telegram from the telegraph boy saying he was missing in action,” he said.

“I was only five years of age but I still remember it.

“We knew the family of the telegraph boy… he gave it to me, said give this to your mum and then shot through.”

Jack Godfrey said there were 17 allied planes shot down the night his brother died.

“It was (around) D-Day,” his sister Monica Murray said.

“He was told to drop his bombs on a certain place and then they contacted him – because he was acting Wing Commander at that time, at 21 mind you.

“They were told to hide in the clouds to get out of the way because they still had our men on the ground fighting the Germans.

“So they weren’t allowed to drop their bombs. And a Lancaster bomber is huge; there is no way you could hide it.

“And the Germans had these little planes that just came in and got them.”

Long gone but not forgotten

THE people of France have never forgotten the ill-fated crew of the Lancaster bomber Boomerang.

A plaque was unveiled in the town near the crash site and more recently a roundabout was named in their honour.

It followed the efforts of Claudine Adroit, whose father was part of the French Resistance, and others to uncover the full story of pilot Richard Godfrey and his men.

Claudine was in Perth last week with her husband Francios to meet the pilot’s family after visiting the family of New Zealand gunner George Gardner, also killed on the night of June 7-8, 1944.

“It is really moving to see the face of these men we haven’t met but became part of our lives,” Claudine wrote to the Godfrey family last year on receiving a photo of the crew.

“Oh marvellous, beautiful,” the Godfrey family said last week on Claudine making the journey to Australia to meet them.

The plaque dedicated to the airmen. Picture: No 622 Squadron WWII Facebook page