On Remembrance Day at 11 O’clock as you stand silent and respectful it is important to remember that there are many lives and many stories that make up our military history. It’s easy for the details of the average individual to get lost amongst the thousands of others. By focusing on one almost random individual I hope the following helps bring some perspective to it all.
Take a look at the photo below.
Inside a hastily constructed gym, well erected despite the trying times in the middle of a 6 year war, the roof holds a monument. As I aimed my camera up, above my head were hanging 59 model Lancaster bombers. Each model adorned with the correct registration matching one of the 59 Bombers who flew out of Metheringham airfield in Lincoln, UK and didn’t return. All those aircraft and crew in the short 19 months that the field operated during the last of WWII.
Each aircraft representing its 7 man crew, many of whom perished. The stories from Metheringham aren’t particularly unique but as an Aussie that far from home it was a strong reminder of the many thousands of lives lost and of my countries contribution.
It’s a beautiful sunny day as I gaze around the rural setting that was, for a short period towards the end of the war, the home base of the RAF’s 106 Squadron. The land has been returned entirely to farming and there are only a few particularly well maintained buildings left over from what was an operational Lancaster base. Flight crew from around the world found themselves based here, doing their bit as part of 106. Amongst those that had come from so far away where many Australians and New Zealanders. These guys were probably the furthest from home of any of the crews.
When the 106 Squadron relocated to Metheringham they had already lost 57 Lancasters. The very detailed honour roll on the wall listed the fate of each of the further 59 aircraft that did not return … and the individual fate of each crew member. A separate honour roll lists the names of the RAAF and RNZAF crew members that were among them. Twenty three RAAF crew members had already been lost before 106 moved to Metheringham. Thirty seven more Australians would leave from this very field never to see their homes or their families again.
I’m sure at some stage we have all stood in front of an honour roll at a memorial or cenotaph and looked at hundreds of names. It’s a haunting sensation in a reflective mood. Sometimes difficult to comprehend that each of the names represents a life lost. It got me thinking … each name is a story, someone’s life story.
On returning to Australia I started looking into the photos trying to find the aircraft and the fate of some of the Aussies. Going back and forth between my photos of the honour rolls it seemed that the first Aussie lost from Metheringham was Pilot Officer KHW Kirkland, at this point he was just another name on a list of dozens more. The main honour board told me that he was the pilot of the 6th Lancaster to be lost from this field, ZN-Q, ND336, on 30th Jan 1944 during operation Berlin.
I wanted to know more so I started digging.
The Australian War Memorial website provided a photograph under which the caption reads in part,
Somers, Vic, 1941-08-27. Group portrait of graduates from No 18 Pilots Course who have completed their initial training at No 1 Initial Training School RAAF (Squadron 3, Flight 17). These airmen who enlisted in the RAAF under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) will now commence elementary flying training.
A photograph now provided a face to the name.
Pilot Officer Kirkland’s service records, with many others, are available through the Australian National Archives (search here ), show that he was born Kenneth Herbet William Kirkland on the 7th of January 1918 in Bellingen, NSW. His civilian occupation is listed as an Auctioneer. Interestingly there is still a Kirkland’s Real Estate in the same street as his home address.
Enlisting at the age of 22 years and 7 months on the 9th of August 1941 at Newcastle, NSW, his records show his next couple of years moving through the various RAAF pilot training units. No 1 Initial Training School (photo above), No 6 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) in Tamworth, Central Flying School then at Camden in early ’42. No 5 EFTS at Narromine, then to 8 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Bundaberg where he likely trained on Avro Anson aircraft.
Having attained the rank of Sergeant and remustered to Pilot on the 30th of June whilst at 8 SFTS, on the 24th of August, 1942 Kirkland departed Sydney NSW, arriving in the UK in November.
By mid ’43 just over eighteen months since his enlistment, Kirkland had found himself at No 14 Operational Training Unit at Cottesmore, UK and soon after on receiving a commission as Pilot Officer was posted on the 26th of October 1943 to the RAF’s 1660 Conversion Unit where I imagine he would have received his final training on the Lancaster.
Just over a month later on the 3rd December 1943, soon after that RAF’s 106 squadron begun operations from Metheringham, Pilot Officer KHW Kirkland (412972) was posted to Metheringham and the 106 to pilot Lancaster Bombers. His first operation was performed on the 9th of December and over the next 2 months Kirkland piloted a Lancaster on 8 operations over Europe, even squeezing in 4 days of leave between the 28th and the 31st of December.
It’s about this time I start thinking back to all those names on the honour boards. Australians and New Zealanders, Americans, Canadians and Brits alike. So many have given their life to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.
As Part of Kirkland’s service records there is a small typed note titled “Casualty Notification” listing his basic details and then it reads “Miss. bel. killed target Berlin”
Further research turned up this, here :
Lancaster ND336 took off from RAF Metheringham at 1719 hours on the night of 30/31st January 1944, detailed to bomb Berlin. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it failed to return to base.
It was believed that the aircraft crashed into the North Sea. The body of PO Kirkland was
washed ashore five weeks later on the 5th March 1944 on Nordstrand on Vlieland in the Dutch Frisian Island chain. He is buried in the Vlieland General Cemetery, Locality Friesland, Netherlands. Vlieland is one of the Frisian Islands lying off the north coast of Holland.
The other six crew members have no known grave and their names are commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing, Runnymede, Surrey, UK.
KHW Kirkland’s story is far from unique. It doesn’t hold tales of heroic deeds or unusual sacrifice. He was just an average guy, no doubt important to his family and friends, an Auctioneer, a lad from Bellingen who stepped up and served and like so many others paid the ultimate price for all of our freedoms.
Lest we forget.
Metheringham Visitor Centre
The Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre is small by comparison to most aviation museums your likely to find it is an amazing store of history being built up and operated by a dedicated band of volunteers. Working closely with contacts in Europe they are collecting and repatriating parts of downed Lancasters that flew from this airfield and never returned. As well as holding some amazing historical items they have some fascinating displays that can give you a real taste of what life would have may have been like at Metheringham when it operated as a Lancaster base.
In a second part to this article I will be focusing on some of the specific points of interest about RAF Metheringham including the use of FIDO the fog dispersal system and some of RAF Metheringham’s more famous tenants.
Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre is located on Westmoor Farm, Martin Moor, Metheringham, Lincoln, LN4 3WF and is only a stones throw from RAF Coningsby where you will find the Battle Of Britain Memorial flight.