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Lest We Forget
Robert Charles Medforth
MEDFORTH, ROBERT CHARLES LAC R78265 – aero engine mechanic. From Pennant, Saskatchewan. Killed in action Jan 1/45 age 36. #6403 Servicing Echelon, Belgium. Died of injuries sustained when the airfield at RAF Station Evere, Belgium was strafed by enemy aircraft. Leading Aircraftsman Medforth is buried in the Brussels Town Cemetery, Evere-les-Bruxelles, Belgium.
They Shall Grow Not Old – Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum Memorial Book
Bob’s Fresh Grave
Bob’s Grave With Flowers
Leading Aircraftsman Robert Charles Medforth is buried in the Brussels Town Cemetery, Evere-les-Bruxelles, Belgium.
Whitey, Bill and Bob Medforth
Operation Bodenplatte (Baseplate) launched on January 01, 1945, was an attempt by the Luftwaffe to cripple Allied air forces in the Low Countries during the Second World War. The goal of Bodenplatte was to gain air superiority during the stagnant stage of the Battle of the Bulge, to allow the German Army and Waffen-SS forces to resume their advance. The operation was planned for 16 December 1944, but it was delayed repeatedly owing to bad weather until New Years Day, the first day that happened to be suitable for the operation. – Wikipedia
This is a written eyewitness account of what happed that day from a member of my dad’s crew. 127 Wing moved to Base 56 (B56) on Nov.4.44 and remained there until Mar.1.45.
It is typed as it was written by hand.
Here’s the Story
127 moved from Mechelan to Evere – another ex-Brussels Airfield – now another bombed out mess, but the best one to date as we had a few amenities – hangers are mostly unsafe and unusable but we have discovered a properly working flush toilet in an otherwise wrecked washroom – how and why is really interesting because no other taps and plumbing worked – we also have a good cement apron to work on.
January 01, 1945.
Most personnel had been up a little late doing a little celebrating and were slightly groggy.
One squadron was just preparing to take-off. We had 4 brand new Spitfire 16’s to check out and put the squadron letters on so I started to head over to 403 disp (Dispersal) to get the stencils KH. At right angles to our work pad, a road went up at a slight rise behind an old hanger.
As I walked, suddenly I could hear gunfire from aircraft coming from the Mechelen Airfield direction. Then, what I first thought was a Spit IX aircraft appeared from that way after flying across our airfield. I said to the Spit – Hey! You better check out Mechelen as he sort of rolled up and there were black crosses well marked under his wings. Then aircraft started roaring across our aircraft and airfield. I jumped into a boarded up German slit trench as some 109’s came low over the old hanger firing as they turned to hit our new aircraft. They weren’t shooting at me but one 37 mm slug went into the wood beside me, the old German gas barrels also got hit and also our aircraft.
When I left about 2 minutes ago, Robbie was running up one Spit. Whitey was on the wing tip. I ran back down the little road. Fire was coming out of the cockpit of Robbie’s Spit. I jumped up on the wing. The cockpit was empty, Whitey got up from the ground, he had dropped beside the cement in a patch of old oil, half of his face was black.
A few of the rest of the crew had dropped on the cement apron. Bullets had bounced off the cement all around them, no one was hit – Robbie and 3 others had run to the top of the old smashed hanger. Their backs were covered in red brick dust as slugs had missed them by inches and imbedded in the bricks – and were later dug out for keepsakes. One fellow had been sitting on our prized toilet wondering what all the noise was when a slug came through the wooded door, hit the toilet between his legs, smashed the china bowl and left him sitting on a pile of rubble.
Bob Medforth got a cannon shell through both thighs. Some of the gang found him and applied field dressings to stop the bleeding, got a stretcher and ran him over to the M.Q.’s (Medical Quarters) and requested immediate attention. There were casualties coming in there pretty fast.
I carried on down to the apron to get our Bren gun, it was gone. I never heard it fire, the ammo was still there. The German planes were still raising hell in the vicinity.
A pilot who had finished his tour, ran out and jumped in a aircraft that was still running from the Squad that were leaving for take off – when the Germans hit – as he got clear of the ground he nailed two German aircraft who were crossing in front of him, two more German aircraft followed in behind him and shot him down over Brussels.
I was sent to the crash site right away by truck to find out definitely who was flying that Spit. He went down in Rue de Victare, a narrow cobblestone road solidly built up on either side.
The Spit had gone down straight in making a fair sized pit in the street – the hole was filling with bloody water. I rolled up my sleeves and started picking out pieces trying to find some proper identity.
The two men with me couldn’t stand the sight of the mess and couldn’t help. I had managed quite a pile of gore when a local Belgium came up with the pilot’s wallet. It somehow had landed on the sidewalk.
When I got back I found out that some idiot had run off with our Bren gun. He didn’t know how to use it even if he had brought along the ammunition. One fellow who had been running around trying to help but was too excited to do any good had a small caliber bullet right through his foot and he didn’t even know it. When one of the others asked him how come your boots are all bloody? He fell down and couldn’t walk and had to be carried.
The worse part was when some of the crew went back to the MQ’s to see how Bob was doing, they found that he was exactly the way they had left him on the stretcher, only now he was dead – from shock. The MO staff had done nothing for the seriously wounded and had only treated some of the minor injuries and hadn’t even put a blanked over Bob to prevent shock.
There were a mass of stories. The head man of the Tactical Airforce was visiting in his “Mobile Home Dakota” – it was a complete write off.
Our Bofors anti aircraft crew got shot up and put out of action very early.
We had two young pilots up for a practice flight before any operational duty. They got mixed in with the German aircraft and made a few circuits with the attacking aircraft before they had a chance to escape. The Germans couldn’t shoot at them without endangering their own aircraft. Our two pilots were too green to try being heroes.
Next day we could muster about 12 serviceable aircraft out of our four squadrons. Some aircraft were slightly damaged but some were complete write-offs.
The total aircraft destroyed that day must have been tremendous. The German air force also took tremendous losses in aircraft but their real losses were experienced pilots that they couldn’t replace.
Our losses were really only in aircraft and for most of these replacements were already available. We were changing from Spit IV’s to Spit 16’s.
Submitted by Mark White to RCAF 403 Squadron/Wolf Remembrance Day 2012
Next time, the epilog.
That’s an amazing find of the pictures of Bob Medforth’s grave and funeral procession.
I identified the rear pallbearer as my father, George White right away.
The picture she found of Bob’s grave appears to have been taken at a later date than the pictures I have of Bob’s grave. The inscription on the cross is different. There is snow on the ground and there are also many more crosses in the cemetery.
As Jennifer says, it is truly a very heartbreaking image. The participants look devastated.
I recall my dad say how Bob’s death was devastating to his crew members. Bob was 36 years old when he was killed. He was much older than the rest of the boys who were all in their early twenties. He was very well respected and he was their moral leader and mentor of sorts. I recall my dad saying Bob influenced him a lot with his politics. Bob was from Saskatchewan, and he was apparently a very strong supporter of the CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation), the predecessor to the NDP (New Democratic Party of Canada).
I’ve looked through my dad’s old pictures and I don’t think I have any more shots that I can positively identify as Bob Medford. I’ve often wondered if the fellow on the right in the following photo is Bob.
I have many pictures of my dad’s crew. They stayed together pretty much for the duration of the war after landing in Normandy. This one, showing some of the boys, was taken by their tent in Normandy. The three boys in Jennifer’s picture carrying Bob’s coffin are in this shot. I’m not sure who the fellow middle row left with the white shirt is. Middle row right is “Whick” Whickson from Toronto. My father George White from Kenora Ontario is in the front row centre.
Pierre, I noticed Bob Medforth’s niece left a comment on you website blog last June. Why not update her on your latest information this Remembrance Day?
Very few people have the chance to see a pilot’s logbook.
Even fewer have the chance to see a Spitfire pilot’s logbook.
Even fewer have the chance to read one…
Greg had enough trust in me to share what I consider the most precious documents of his grandfather.
As we can see Walter Neil Dove was in thick of it with his first missions.
I don’t think Greg knew that.
He was posted with 403 Squadron at Evere in Belgium.
The Germans were planning to launch a surprise attack through the Ardennes.
Greg’s grandfather took part in missions during the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive on the Western front.
You can click on the image to zoom in.
Every detail of his missions is there…
Type of aircraft
Plane identification code
He is on a strafing sweep over Munster. The mission lasts 1h50.
US 3rd Army reports the establishment of four additional crossing of the Saar river on both sides of Sarreguemines and inside the town. American tanks are reported to be approaching the town of Rohrbach to the southeast.
Troops of the British 8th Army cross the Lamone River south of Faenza.
Communist rebels in Athens continue to fight. British casualties are claimed to be very light but the Greek police are estimated to have suffered 600 killed, wounded and missing.
Prime Minister Churchill defines the British government position on the crisis in Greece to be aiming at “clearing Athens of all who are rebels to the authority of the constitutional government.” The House of Commons supports the position in a vote 279 to 30.
An American naval force, commanded by Admiral Smith and consisting of 3 heavy cruisers and a destroyer escort, bombard Iwo Jima.
On Leyte, the US 77th Division advances from its beachhead to within 1 mile of Ormoc. Attacks by the Japanese 26th Division, near Buri, are repulsed by other US forces.
If you look at the bottom of the logbook’s right page, you will see Walter Neil Dove was there when the Luftwaffe launch Operation Bodenplatte on January 1, 1945.
I am sure Walter Neil Dove saw a lot of flak around that day… but this time it was directed at enemy planes swooping down on Evere airbase.
As a footnote…
There is something important that happened also on December 8, 1944.
George Stewart and Paul Beaudet flew their last mission with 23 Squadron…
This is KH-J!
And we could be December 8, 1944, after Walter Neil Dove’s first mission with 403 Squadron.