On November 17, 1942, Halifax II, Serial # W7863, “NP-V”, was detailed to drop leaflets (nickel) on the French city of Nancy. The aircraft was piloted by Sgt S/Ldr Seymour, and carried a crew of eight including a second pilot. Although the Squadron was based at Rufforth at the time, the aircraft departed from Linton-On-Ouse at 17:18 hours. The aircraft was intercepted by a night fighter and was shot down and crashed near Consigny, 22km ENE of Chaumont, France. Only the Mid-Upper gunner survived to become a prisoner of war. The members of the crew are buried in the Consigny Communal Cemetery, Consigny, France.
Graves of the Crew of Halifax W7863 “NP-V” in the Consigny Communal Cemetery. The graves are lovingly maintained by the local people of Consigny and the CWGC.
Most of the crew members of Halifax W7863 on this operation were among the first airmen posted to 158 Squadron when it was formed in February 1942. It is also apparent that this crew would not have gone through training as a unit and regularly flew together but rather for the most part had been assembled from other crews for this operation. Notably most of this crew were over 30 years of age, also several members of this crew were ‘leaders’ in their respective trades.
Sqn Leader Seymour was from Kirkella, Yorkshire, and was the son of George and Lady Seymour. He attended RAF College, Cranwell, served in India, posted to No. 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit and was posted to 158 Squdron at East Moor on July 27, 1942. Sqn/Ldr. Seymour was ‘A’ Flight Commander and was 31 years old at the time of his death.
F/O Fairbairn was from Christchurch, New Zealand. He was the son of John and Alice Fairbairn and was initially trained in New Zealand and later under the BCATP in Canada. He embarked from Canada on June 18, 1941, and after arrival in the UK was posted to No. 22 OTU and later to No. 104 Squadron at Driffield on September 17, 1941. He flew seven operations with 104 Squadron and was posted to the newly formed 158 Squadron on February 14, 1942. He flew 17 operations with the squadron with a number of different pilots. He was Deputy Navigation Leader and was 30 years old at the time of his death.
F/Lt Jones was from Notting Hill, London, UK., and was the son of William and Elric Tudor-Jones. He was initially posted to No. 51 Squadron at Dishforth and later posted to 158 Squadron at Driffield on April 22, 1942. He flew 10 operations with the squadron and was Squadron Bombing Leader at the time of his death. He was 31 years old.
P/O Slide was from Brimingham. His initial training was at No. 22 OTU and was posted to No. 104 Squadron at Driffield on October 10, 1941. He was then posted to 158 Squadron when it was formed on February 14, 1942. He flew 19 operations with Sgt. V.G.J. Agutter and was assigned to fly with S/Ldr Seymour on November 17, 1942. He was the only member of the crew to survive the crash and was captured and made a POW. He remained in the RAF after the war and relinguished his commission in 1955. He was 32 years old when he was shot down.
Sgt Anstruther was the son of Jack and Mary Anstruther of Harrow, Middlesex, UK. He was posted to 158 Squadron at East Moor as ground crew and re-mustered as an Air Gunner in July, 1942. He flew as a member of Sgt. G.S. Hughes’ crew for 11 operations and was assigned to fly the operation to Nancy on November 17, 1942, with S/Ldr Seymour. He was 30 years old at the time of his death.
Sgt Murray was the son of John and Alic Murray from Worthing, Sussex. He took his HCU training at 1652 Unit at Marston Moor and was posted to 158 Squadron on July 27, 1942. He flew with several crews and was on his fifth operation when he was assigned to fly the operation to Nancy on November 17, 1942, with S/Ldr Seymour. He was 26 years old at the time of his death.
Sgt Greensmsith was the son of Clarence and Constance Greensmith of Dorridge, Warwickshire. He was trained at No. 4 School of Techinical Training at St. Athan and was posted to 158 Squadron in August, 1942. He flew with several crews and was on his sixth operation when he was assigned to fly the operation to Nancy on November 17, 1942, with S/Ldr Seymour. He was 35 years old at the time of his death.
Sgt Service had enlisted at Padgate. He was assigned to 1658 HCU at Riccal for his conversion training and was posted to 158 Squadron at Rufforth on November 15, 1942. He was assigned to fly as ‘second pilot’ with S/Ldr Seymour to gain experience with bombing operations. This was his first operation with the squadron.
The following is a heartwarming account prepared by Tony Fairbairn, the nephew of the Navigator on Halifax W7863, who recently discovered his connection to F/O Leonard Fairbairn and was able to visit his grave and memorial in April 2019.
When I made a working visit to RAF Linton-on-Ouse in 1991 as part of a Tactical Evaluation Team, little did I know it was the last place on this earth that my Uncle Leonard would tread alive before becoming victim to a German night fighter in World War Two. At the ripe old age of 30, Fg Off Leonard Fairbairn RNZAF was a Halifax navigator on 158 Squadron. Bill Chorley’s fine book In Brave Company devotes a paragraph to Leonard’s demise, describing how Halifax W7863, captained by Sqn Ldr Paul Seymour, was flown over to Linton from its newly allotted main base at Rufforth to be loaded with leaflets for a drop over France. As the squadron Deputy Navigation Leader, Leonard was part of an experienced crew which included Flt Lt Robert Tudor-Jones, the unit’s Bombing Leader. Despite this pool of expertise W7863 was not fated to make it. Taking off from Linton in the early evening of 17 November 1942 the Halifax was caught over France by Luftwaffe night fighter pilot Heinrich Wohlers and shot down in woods near the village of Consigny just after 9 o’clock.
Oddly enough, I didn’t become aware of this drama until around 2008, when I stumbled across a photo of the graves, in Consigny, of seven of the crew who were killed, and further information that one of the crew, wireless operator/air gunner Vincent Slide survived. By then, agonisingly, Slide had passed away and I had missed a golden opportunity to talk to someone who had been there and who had known and worked with my uncle. Nevertheless, I vowed to visit the graves and pay my respects to an uncle I had never had the chance to meet, and his gallant crew.
This I finally achieved in April 2019. My wife and I flew to Basel in Switzerland, hired a car and made the one-hour road trip north to the delightful town of Kaysersberg, in France’s Alsace wine region, which we made our base for four days. On our second full day in France we set off on the three-hour drive to Consigny, a tiny village in the canton d’Andelot, set in fairly remote farming country. We were by now aware that, in addition to the seven graves, there was also a memorial stone to commemorate the crew’s sacrifice. We located the grave without too much difficulty, tucked away at the side of a chapel, held the crewmen in our thought for a while and took some photos. But of the memorial, there seemed to be no sign. The village was deserted, until a solitary little old lady with a stick hobbled across the street and disappeared into a nearby cottage. I knocked on the door and in broken French explained that my uncle was one of the crew in the graveyard. She said ‘’Oh yes, there is a couple two doors away who know all about that.’’
The couple in question turned out to be the charming and friendly Robert and Anny Janny, who not only ‘knew all about’ the crash but had personally arranged a fiftieth anniversary ceremony in November 1992 to mark the incident, together with the placement of a marble memorial bearing the names of the crew. Robert and Janny were only too happy to chat enthusiastically about the pivotal part they had played in organizing what was clearly quite a lavish ceremony. The local gendarmerie provided a band, there was a march-past, and the pair produced a souvenier brochure (in French) which described the crash in detail. Within its pages can be found an accurate diagram of the Halifax’s route from Rufforth to Linton to Consigny, together with a photo of a boy standing next to the wreckage of the Halifax, obviously shortly after its crash in woods. I asked if the boy was still alive and was told ‘Yes, he lives in the next village!’ Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to track down the ‘boy’ who must now be in his late seventies. The brochure also contains a tantalising photocopy of an OS-scale map indicating the exact location of the crash. This must be about a mile to the NNE of Consigny village. The Jannys kindly gifted us a copy of the brochure, which, needless to say, is of great interest to our family. The climax of the ceremony must have been the unveiling of the monument, and the Jannys gave us directions on how to find it. The reason we had missed it, located at the opposite end of the village from the graves, was that it is now surrounded by a hedge which, planted at the time of the unveiling, is now quite tall and full. The graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but it speaks volumes for the villagers that they funded the crafting and siting of, and have subsequently maintained, what is a most impressive memorial.
The interest and concern shown by the French for the Halifax crew, shot down all those years ago, was most touching. But it was typical of the friendliness and hospitality we were afforded throughout the whole of our five-day visit to the country. For us, this was a long-overdue pilgrimage and heading home we felt a quiet sense of satisfaction that we had at last made the effort to visit the final resting place of Leonard and the Seymour crew.
Memorial at Consigny unveiled in November 1992, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the crash of Halifax W7863 of 158 Squadron and the loss of seven airmen on November 17, 1942. Photo courtesy Tony Fairbairn.