158 Squadron Association

"Strength in Unity"

The Crash Of Halifax LK839 At Fosten East Yorkshire

The Story Behind the Fosten Memorial Plaque – September 6, 2014

On Saturday, September 6th, 2014, the citizens of Foston (Foston-on-the Wolds), East Riding, Yorkshire, held a ceremony in the local Parish Hall, to unveil a plaque commemorating the 70th anniversary of the loss of Halifax LK839 and its crew. The bomber, which was from 158 Squadron based at nearby Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Lissett, crashed at Foston during the early morning hours of August 17th, 1944, killing the entire crew. The following is a brief account of the seven young men who made up the crew, the events leading up to the crash and the ceremony held by the community to dedicate a plaque in their memory.


The crew was comprised of five RCAF airmen and 2 RAF airmen who had first came together and ‘crewed up’ in February 1944 at No. 19 Operational Training Unit (OTU), located at Kinloss in the Scottish Highlands. Upon completion of this phase of operational training they were posted on May 25th, 1944, to No. 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), Riccall, to be ‘converted’ to fly the Halifax Heavy Bomber. Following completion of their HCU training, they were posted to 158 Squadron, Lissett, on July 29th, 1944, to begin operational flying as a trained bomber crew.

1. Pilot: FO. Walter Bigelow Tower Rosen, RCAF (#J/28758)

Walter, the only son of Walter and Lucie Rosen, was born in New York in 1915. His father was a lawyer and banker and his mother was a New York socialite and a relative of Winston Churchill. Following high school in 1933, he enrolled in Harvard University and graduated with honours in 1937. During his last year of university, he took flying lessons. Following a year in Graduate School at Harvard, he enrolled in Law School at Yale University in the fall of 1938. After graduation and concerned about what was happening in Europe and that the United States was remaining neutral he enlisted, like many young Americans at the time, in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on October 24th, 1941. He completed basic training in Toronto and was selected for pilot training. He successfully completed this training, received his wings and was promoted to Sergeant on September 25, 1942, and Flight Sergeant on March 25th, 1943. He was posted for overseas service and embarked on the troopship, “Queen Mary” on August 23, 1943. The ship arrived at the River Clyde on September 1st, 1943, and Walter then traveled by train to the RCAF Receiving Centre at Bournemouth. Following a brief stint at the No. 15 Advanced Flying Unit at Castle Combe in Wiltshire, and also a brief attachment to 407 Squadron (Coastal Command), he was posted to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at Kinloss in the Scottish Highlands where, as a pilot, he would select a crew and they would begin their operational training together.


2. Navigator: P/O. Frederick William Crawley, RCAF (#J/89905)

Fred was born on July 7, 1923, and was the eldest child of Bertie and Daisy Crawley of London, Ontario. His parents had originally immigrated to Canada from England. Fred attended high school in London and graduated in 1941. After a brief time as an accounting clerk, he enlisted in the RCAF Special Reserve on October 21st, 1942. He reported for training on November 4th, 1943, and underwent basic training in Edmonton and Toronto. Following this he requested overseas flying duties and underwent training as a navigator in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Fred received his Navigator’s Badge on September 17, 1943, and was promoted to Sergeant. He was posted to active overseas duty and reported to Halifax on October 2nd, 1943. He was then transported by train to New York to embark for England on the troopship “Queen Mary”, arriving there on October 16th, 1943. Fred traveled by train to the RCAF receiving unit at Bournemouth to wait for a further posting. After a brief training stint at No. 6 Advanced Flying Unit in January, Fred was posted to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at Kinloss on February 20th, 1944.


3. Bomb Aimer: P/O. John Joseph Grant, RCAF (#J/89906)

John, the fifth child of Alexander and Mary Grant, was born on August 6th, 1922, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. His father was originally from Scotland and his mother was from County Wexford, Ireland. He attended North Vancouver High School and left school in 1941. John worked as a truck driver for a short time and then enlisted in the RCAF on August 20, 1942. He reported to the Manning Unit at Edmonton where his initial training lasted until November 14th, 1942. Further postings included Service Flying Training School in Calgary, and No. 2 Initial Training School in Regina. This was followed by a posting to Bombing and Gunnery School at Mossbank, Saskatchewan, and later a posting to Air Observer School at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. On July 22nd, 1943, he was posted to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School in Jarvis Ontario, received his Bomb Aimer badge and was promoted to Sergeant. John reported to the Personnel Reception Centre in Halifax on October 2nd, 1943, for active service overseas. He traveled from Halifax to New York by train and boarded the troopship, “Queen Mary” on October 8th, 1943, arriving in Glasgow on October 16th, 1943. Coincidently, Frederick Crawley traveled to the UK on the same ship. John traveled by train to the RCAF receiving unit at Bournemouth to wait for a further posting. He was posted to No. 5 AOS for a short time and then posted to No. 2 Advanced Flying Unit, on December 21st. John was posted to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at Kinloss on February 20th, 1944.


4. Wireless Operator: SGT. Allen Henry Woolfrey, RAFVR (#1678701)

Allen, known by his family as “Bill”, was born in February 1923, in Belper Derbyshire, the second son of George and Winifred Woolfry. Allen finished his schooling in 1937, and worked in the accounts department of a large company in Derby. Allen enlisted in the RAF and was ordered to report to No. 3 Recruitment Centre and later No. 10 Recruitment Centre at Wigan, Lancashire, for basic training. Allen volunteered as a Wireless Operator and was posted to No. 4 Wireless School at RAF Madley in Herefordshire. Allen successfully completed the course and was posted to No. 12 Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Spittlegate. He then requested aircrew duties and was posted back to RAF Madley for further training. Upon completion of the course he was posted to No. 8 Gunnery School as all Wireless Operators also had to qualify as an Air Gunner. While on the course he was promoted to Sergeant and on December 23, 1943, he received his qualification as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. After a short stay at the Advanced Flying Unit at Dumfries in Scotland, he was posted to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss on February 20th, 1944.


5. Mid Upper Gunner: P/O. Keith Thomas Bielby, RCAF (#J/89968)

Keith was born on July 4, 1925, to Thomas and Verley Bielby who lived near the small farming community of Kelfield, Saskatchewan, approximately 150 km (90 miles) west of Saskatoon. His father died suddenly in 1937, leaving him the only male in the family. During the winter of 1942, Keith decided to volunteer as a Wireless Operator in the RCAF, and in May 1943, he was posted to No. 3 Manning Unit in Edmonton for basic training. Upon completion of basic training he was selected for training as an Air Gunner and was posted first to Air Gunnery School in Quebec City and later to Mont Joli, Quebec. Keith qualified as an Air Gunner and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and ready for active service. In early January 1944, he reported to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre for posting overseas. On January 20th ,1944, he embarked from Halifax on board the French passenger liner, “Pasteur”, and arrived at Liverpool on January 31st, 1944. He was then posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth and later to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at Kinloss on February 22nd, 1944.


6. Rear Gunner: P/O. Edwin George Beard, RCAF (#J/89967)

Edwin, known to his family at “Ted”, was the only son of Charles and Louisa Beard and was born in Toronto in March 1923. His parents, who had immigrated to Canada from England first settled in Toronto and later moved to Lethbridge, Alberta. Ted graduated from high school in 1941, and went to work in the accounts department of the Department of Transport. He volunteered for the RCAF Reserve in November 1942, and in February 1943, was ordered to report to Edmonton for basic training. On completion of basic training he was posted to No. 1 Air Gunnery School in Quebec City in early September 1943, followed by a posting to No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School at Mont Joli, Quebec on October20th, 1943. Ted successfully completed the course and was promoted to Sergeant. In early January 1944, he was ordered to report to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Lachine, Quebec. Keith Bielby had been on the same course in Mont Joli as Ted and was also at the Reception Centre in Lachine awaiting embarkation for the UK. He left from Halifax on board the French passenger liner, “Pasteur” on January 20th, 1944, and arrived in the UK on January 31st, 1944, and traveled to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth. Following a short stay, he was posted to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at Kinloss on February 22nd, 1944.


7. Flight Engineer: SGT. George William Blanckley, RAFVR (#1865666)

George was born in January 1922, at Gateshead, Northumberland, the only son of Joseph and Charlotte Blanckley. In 1936 George and his family moved to Slough, Buckinghamshire in the south of England where he found work as an engineering apprentice. He completed his apprenticeship in November 1942, and enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. On January 1st, 1943, he was posted to No. 11 Recruitment Centre at Skegness. At the end of February he was posted to No. 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at Marston Moor as a ‘Flight Mechanic In Training’. After two months at the unit he was posted to the Advanced Training School at RAF Cosford, and qualified as a Flight Mechanic in September 1943. He was then posted to No. 46 Maintenance Unit at RAF Lossiemouth where he volunteered for aircrew duties as a Flight Engineer. He was posted to No. 4 Technical Training School at RAF St. Athan in Wales and upon completion of the course he qualified as a Flight Engineer and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. After a brief posting at Marston Moor, he was posted to 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Riccall, where he joined F/O Rosen and the rest of the crew to undergo training on the Halifax Bomber.



Upon completion of their training ‘heavy conversion’ training at 1658 HCU at Riccall, the crew was posted to 158 Squadron, at RAF Lissett in East Yorkshire on July 29th, 1944, and assigned to “C” Flight. Their first operation came on August 3rd, 1944, when they were detailed to attack a “V-1” storage area at Bois de Cassan on the outskirts of Paris. A summary of the other operations undertaken by the crew follows:







  August 3

  LK839 / NP-S

  Bois de Cassan

  11:48 hrs

  16:27 hrs

    Daytime raid

  August 5

  LK839 / NP-S

  Foret de Nieppe

  11:21 hrs

  14:42 hrs

    Daytime Raid

  August 6

  MZ862/ NP-Z

  Foret de Nieppe

  11:23 hrs

  14:33 hrs

    Daytime Raid

  August 10

  MZ760/ NP-N


  20:45 hrs

  03:52 hrs

    First Night Raid

  August 11

  LW667/ NP-Z


  18:43 hrs

  22:26 hrs

    Railway Bridge Target

  August 15

  LK808 /NP-V


  09:58 hrs

  13:53 hrs

    Luftwaffe Airfield

  August 16

  LK839 / NP-S


  21:59 hrs


   Crashed on Return


On August 16th, the crew was part of a group of 23 squadron aircraft detailed to attack Kiel. This would be their first operation to Germany. They were assigned Halifax LK839 (NP-S), which they had flown on two previous occasions. The members of the crew were in high spirits as this was their last operation before starting a seven days leave. They were all planning to attend the wedding of George Blanckley and his fiancé Margaret in Slough. Their aircraft lifted off the Lissett runway at 21:59 and proceeded to meet up with the bomber stream detailed for the operation to Kiel. When they arrived over the target area German night fighters and intense anti-aircraft fire greeted them. However, they seemed to get to the target unscathed and completed their bombing run as directed by the Master Bomber. After successfully completing their bombing run they turned and headed for home.

The Aircraft


The aircraft flown by F/O Rosen on August 16th, 1944, was Halifax III, Serial No. LK839 and carried the squadron code “NP-S”. This Halifax had been built under contract by Fairey Aviation and had been delivered to 158 Squadron on March 31st, 1944. It first flew with the squadron on April 9th, 1944, on an operation to Villeneuve St. Georges. By August 1944, LK839 was considered a veteran aircraft in the squadron and was on its 50th operation, with a cumulated flying time of over 267 hours. It had been hit by flak on at least five previous operations, but had been repaired and placed back in service.


The Crash


When they arrived in the vicinity of Lissett on the return from Kiel they were in contact with the control tower and received permission to land. They were flying at approximately 2,000 ft. and approximately 2.5 miles from the airfield, when a fellow squadron pilot, also preparing to land, saw the aircraft suddenly plunge to the ground at Foston-on-the-Wolds. The shattered and blazing Halifax came to rest on the road between “Rose Cottage” and “Oak Tree Farm”.
The people of Foston were wakened by the crash and rushed to the scene to offer help. Several people risked their own lives to pull F/O Rosen from the remains of the cockpit. They carried him to the “Plough Inn”, the local pub. Others searched the area for the rest of the crew. Ted Beard and Keith Bielby were found alive but were severely injured and were also taken to the “Plough Inn”. The bodies of John Grant, Fred Crawley and Allen Woolfry were found in the farmyard. The body of George Blanckley was located later under the fuselage of the doomed plane. Ambulances arrived to take the three injured men to the emergency hospital at Driffield, but despite the valiant efforts of the medical staff, Ted Beard died at 05:00 hrs. and Keith Bielby succumbed to his injuries later that day. Walter Rosen fought on bravely but died the following day.



The Aftermath


On Tuesday August 22nd, 1944, F/O Walter Rosen, P/O Fred Crawley, P/O John Grant, Sgt. Allen Woolfrey, P/O Keith Bielby, and P/O Ted Beard were buried at Stonefall Cemetery, Harrogate, Yorkshire. The following day the seventh member of the crew, Sgt. George Blanckley, was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire. This is the same church where George was to have married his fiancé four days before. Immediately following the crash the RAF opened a Court of Inquiry into the fatal crash. The conclusion of the court was:

The cause of this accident is obscure. The crew gave no indication to flying control that there was anything amiss; and the most likely explanation is that trouble from unsuspected flak damage to the hydraulic system developed when undercarriage locks were released and flaps were de-isolated, causing the aircraft to go into a dive. The only evidence towards this is the fact that the undercarriage was almost down, at least on the Port side at the time of the crash. It is reported that there was heavy flak at the target.


Memorial Plaque


To mark the 70th Anniversary of the loss of Halifax LK839 and its crew, the gracious citizens of Foston had a brass plaque made in memory of the young men who died there on that fateful night of August 16/17th, 1944. A ceremony was held at the local Parish Hall to officially unveil the plaque on Saturday, September 6th, 2014. Community members as well as members of the 158 Squadron Association attended this very special event.


Bluey Mottershead, President of the 158 Squadron Association, presenting a wreath in remembrance of the crew of LK839, at Foston, September 6, 2014