Mervyn POWELL DFC

Poppy

POWELL, Mervyn

Service Number: 402817
Enlisted: 14 October 1940
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: No. 463 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Mackay, Qld., 22 June 1914
Home Town: Mackay, Mackay, Queensland
Schooling: Hill End School, Brisbane University
Occupation: Agronomist
Died: Aircraft (Lancaster JOJ LL882 463 Sqn, shot down / exploded mid air, returning from a night bombing raid - Lille, Langemaark, Belgium, 11 May 1944, aged 29 years
Cemetery: Wevelgem Communal Cemetery
Grave E. 464 Headstone Inscription "HE DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE"
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Glenella Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

14 Oct 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, SN 402817, Aircrew Training Units
11 May 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 402817, No. 463 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

Aftermath - the Langemark Lancaster

The End of Lancaster LM882, Call Sign Jo_J 463 Squadron

The end of a 463 Bomber Squadron RAAF Lancaster crew on the 11th of May 1944 at early dawn at Langemark, Hagebos, near Ypres ( IEPER ) in Belgium.
A witness account by Antoon Dumoulin ( * Langemark 26.04.1924 + Ieper 01.11.2009 ), Nieuwe Kalsijde 5B, 8920 Langemark, Belgium

It was less than calm that night, the 11th of May 1944. Scores of bombers, flying back and forth from their base in England. That night the target was Lille in France, situated some 30 kilometers from our Langemark village.

After the war we learned that these 1944 bombing operations were in preparation to the Normandy landings. The target being the railway junctions and marshalling yards of Courtrai/Kortrijk and Lille/Rijsel.

Around 00:15 could be heard, the drone of a low flying heavy aircraft. A short salvo of gunfire was followed by a big explosion.

At early dawn the doorbell rang. It was the local constable Marichal, who came to tell us that an airplane had crashed in the clay pit, in the grounds of the brickworks at Hagebos, which belonged to our family. He also said that there was total chaos at the crash site and many dead bodies. Joseph, my father, alerted me and we took our bicycles and rode over there, the crash site being halfway between Langemark and Boezinge villages.

It was a terrible sight. Close to brickwork warden’s house Callewaert a fuel tank had landed. On the left side of the house a motor, still smoking, lay buried in the ground, while to the right a part of a wing lay.

We went over to the machine shed, where the bricks were made, and saw the heavily deformed body of one of the crew, who had fallen through the roof.
In between the sheds, where the clay bricks were put to dry, we saw the pilot, lying still fastened in his chair, with his head driven into the ground. Further on at the corner of the clay pit, on the property of D’Herck lay part of the tail of the plane. In it we could see the body of the tail gunner, wedged between his machine guns.

Everywhere lay small pieces of wreckage. I myself was at that time on the run from the Germans, being sought by them after having been listed for and refused to go for labour work in Germany. I was particularly afraid of the Gestapo who were searching the wreckage on the other site of the clay pit. The pit was three hectares large, and I felt reasonably safe. They were more interested in what had happened than with the crowd at the site. To the right of the brick works near the railway line, there was another piece of wreckage and another two bodies.

When we arrived back at the machine shed, we noticed another hole in the roof. A folded dingy with a sail and oxygen bottle had dropped through it.
The same day the bodies were removed and put into coffins by the Germans. My friend Pieter Van Hoorne and I stayed in the area to look around.

The major part of the bomber plane had crashed into the clay pit, which was full of water. Since 1940 my father had stopped making bricks so they wouldn’t be used by the German occupation. The Germans were suspicious because they had only recovered six bodies of crew members. They thought there were more in the wreckage. To be sure of that they ordered my father to drain the pit. The brick works however had not been used for four years and we needed time to get the pumps working. He also obtained permission from the Germans to buy coal so that we could start up the boiler and pressure for the pump. Only by the 30th of May pumping the pit was started. This took two full days and nights.

At first only the upper gun turret was visible. Early in the morning of the third day the plane came completely visible. My friend and I decided to be the first to go and have a look in the wreckage. With the German Airforce guard we went over to the wreckage and got as close as some 10 meters to it. The soldier however, who had no suspicion towards me as I was the owner’s son, refused to go any further as his boots were now getting dirty in the wet clay.

The airplane lay in the deepest part of the pit, which still contained some water and slough. The nearest point in which it was possible to enter the wreckage was via the wing. I had to wade through the slough over a distance of 5 meters, after which I had to clamber on top of the wing and could than enter the main body of the plane via an opening. Inside I saw some crew’s jackets hung up, a first aid box, the control board with different built in instruments, and all sorts of things floating around. I then stepped on something big, which I found to be the body of a missing crew member.

The Germans also became curious, although they were not eager to get their uniform dirty. When we told them that another body had been found, they ordered me to help them to recover it. They brought along a rope and an axe. We made a hole in the fuselage, tied the rope around the body and lifted it while the soldiers pulled the rope while standing on the bank. That way they could pull the body on the bank, where they put it onto a stretcher and took it away. An officer joined them, he took out the papers and personal belongings from the pockets and put them into a bag. The body was put into a coffin and afterwards taken away.

Later some five soldiers from a Luftwaffe technical engineering unit came and dismantled the wreckage, while Vancoillie, a neighbouring farmer, pulled the bigger sections out of the water with his horses. Certain bolts and other specific parts were salvaged and put in specially adapted cardboards.

A lot of locals came to look at the Lancaster bomber. In the courtyard of the brick works a heap of destroyed pieces of wreckage was collected. The Germans also added the remains of two other planes. After the guards left, the process of pilfering the wreckage began. During that period of scarcity, everything that was usable was taken away. Luckily I was able to keep the rear wheel of the plane and a silk survival scarf with a print of a map of France and Spain. Sometime later the Germans removed the remaining wreckage. The reason that the wreckage stayed here without a guard being mounted over it, is probably due to the uncertainty at the time of the Normandy landings, which followed in June 1944.

In 1975 the parents of Powell came to visit the crash site where their son lost his life. My father and I could then give our witness statement to them after which they went with Mr Michel de Vinck to the cemetery in Wevelgem where the seven crew members were buried.

The photographs taken at the time immediately after the crash, were taken by young Michel de Vinck, son of Baron de Vinck of Zillebeke. He at that time visited the places where planes had crashed and took pictures that would later help to identify airplane numbers and fatal casualties.


Antoon Dumoulin. Provided by his son Koenrad Dumoulin 2020




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Langemark Lancaster - read in conjunction with "Bad Night Over Lille" a result of subsequent research

This story was first related to me in 1998 when I met Conrad Dumoulin in Ieper.

He had a photo of a crashed Lancaster, on a property owned by his grandfather, near Langemark just north of Ieper. His own father Antoon, a young man at the time, was an eye-witness to the aftermath of the crash and the recovery of the wreckage and the bodies of the crew. His account is recorded on the 463 Squadron page.

The accident report describes the events; the following text has been augmented with additional information:

Lancaster LL882 callsign JO-J took off from RAF Waddington at 2200 hours on the night of 10/11th May 1944 to bomb the marshalling yards at Lille, France. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb and 16 x 500lb bombs. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it did not return to base. Fourteen aircraft from the Squadron took part in the raid and three of these including LL882 / JO-J failed to return.

Post war it was established that the aircraft was shot down by a night fighter, flown by Lt Hans J. Schmitz of Jagdscwhader 4N. JG1. It was attacked from below by Schmitz's Messerschmitt Bf 110G night fighter equipped with upward firing cannon, nicknamed 'schrage musik" by the Germans. This allowed the fighter to get into the Lancaster's blind spot and open fire with devastating effect. The Lancaster exploded mid-air and fell in pieces into a waterlogged clay pit at the Dumoulin brickworks some 2kms west of Langemark (West-Vlaanderen) and about 8kms north of Ieper (Ypres). Schmitz was later killed in action in September 1944.

The other losses on this night appear to have been similarly lethal with just one survivor from the total of 12 aircraft lost from No. 5 Group including the six RAAF aircraft.

All the crew of JO-J are buried in the Wevelgem Communal Cemetery which is located about 22kms east of Ieper a town centre on the Meenseweg NB connecting Ieper to Menin, Wevelgem and Kortrijk, Belgium. Exactly why they were buried so far away is unknown.

The crew of JO-J were:
RAAF 402817 Sqn Ldr M Powell, DFC Captain (Pilot);
RAF FO Jaques, R (Navigator);
RAF Flt Sgt B Fraser, (Bomb Aimer);
RAAF 406700 Flt Lt Read, W N (Wireless Operator Air Gunner);
RAF Sgt H L Molyneux, (Flight Engineer);
RAAF 407199 FO Croft, R McK (Air Gunner);
RAAF 407821 FO Croston, D P (Air Gunner).

Steve Larkins March 2019

A link to the Aircrew Remembered page for this incident is posted against the names of each of the crew.

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Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Son of Thomas Alfred and Elizabeth May POWELL, of Mackay, Queensland, Australia. B.Sc. (Agriculture).

D.F.C. FOR QUEENSLAND PILOT
BRISBANE, March 25. Squadron Leader Mervyn Powell, son of Mr T. A. Powell, until lately growers' representative on the Central Cane Prices Board, has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for conspicuous devotion to duty. Squadron Leader Powell ia serving in the Middla East theatre.

PERSONAL
The death in air operations over Lille, France, of Squadron Leader Mervyn Powell, D.F.C.. son of Mr. T. A. Powell, a member of the Sugar Board, has been officially notified. Squadron Leader Powell, who was a Bachelor of Science, was a member of the C.S.R. technical staff, stationed in Fiji, and he returned to Brisbane to Join the R.A.A.F. at the commencement of the war. He served in the Middle East until Rommel was driven from Africa and he took part as commander of a Lancaster Squadron in bombing raids on enemy positions leading up to the invasion of Europe.

SQUADRON-LEADER POWELL.
It Is announced from London that Squadron-Leader Mervyn Powell. DFC. of Mackay, Queensland, has been killed in action over Lille (France).
Squadron-Leader Powell was commanding officer of a Lancaster bomber and was leading his squadron on a bombing mission over enemy occupied territory when his plane was shot down and he with others of his crew lost their lives. Squadron-Leader Powell, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. A. Powell, of Foulden, was born in Mackay and began his education at Hill End School. He was a brilliant student and graduated in Brisbane as Bachelor of Science. Before transferring to the Air Force he was a Captain in the Army Medical Corps. He went abroad as a member of the RAAF in June. 1941.

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