Clifford Jones - a brave local in Bomber Command
Twenty years after the end of the First World War, the world would once again find itself aflame, and once more Australians would volunteer to go to war.
The armies of Nazi Germany rolled across the plains of Poland and crashed through Belgium and France, throwing the Allies back against the sea at Dunkirk. Europe was nothing but a mass of conquered nations - Norway, Denmark, Poland, Holland, Belgium and France - whose people lay cowering at the feet of their Nazi oppressors.
Only Britain stood unbowed, sheltered by the narrow waters of the English Channel, tremulously awaiting the onslaught of the German war machine.
But at this darkest of hours, the New World nations came forth to the help of the Old. Australians and New Zealanders fought in the skies above Britain and in the sands of North Africa. At the same time, Canadians and Americans poured forth men and materiel across the perilous waters of the Atlantic.
Even as Australians fought in the jungles of Papua New Guinea for the safety of their own nation, a steady stream of airmen made their way to Britain to fight in the air by day and by night.
One of these men was Clifford Jones, who had been born in Windsor before moving to Western Australia. He was 20 years of age and working as a civil servant when he signed up for the Royal Australian Air Force in June 1941.
Clifford’s personnel file shows that he was promoted to Leading Aircraftman two months after joining up and promoted to Sergeant in May 1942.
By this stage, the Allies in Europe were beginning to take the war to the German homeland with large-scale bombing raids on German military facilities and factories producing war material.
Training as an aircrew was a daunting and dangerous task. Many were killed in training accidents before they even got to fly over enemy-held territory. Much of this training was done in Canada, where crews could fly long distances, safe from attack by German fighters. Clifford Jones sailed from Brisbane for Canada in April 1943 and arrived there the following month. After some four or five weeks of basic training, he was then sent to the United Kingdom and arrived in July for further training. It wasn’t until June 1944 that he was finally posted to an operational unit, 467 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.
Although 467 Squadron was part of the RAAF, many of its early members were British, and it was only gradually, as more Australians were trained as aircrew, that the squadron became overwhelmingly Australian. The squadron’s task was to fly the famed Lancaster heavy bomber on night-time raids over Germany and occupied Europe.
The Lancaster was a four-engined bomber that could carry 12,000 lb of bombs over a range of 4,000 km. The plane carried a crew of seven men. These were the pilot, the flight engineer, bomb aimer, navigator, radio operator, tail gunner and upper gunner. Although they were robust, Lancasters were also large and slow, which made them targets for German night fights aircraft, and the anti-aircraft guns fired from the ground.
Clifford Jones joined the 467 squadron on the 6th June 1944, which also happened to be the Normandy invasion, known as D-Day. By now, he was a Warrant Officer and navigator. 467 Squadron was engaged in flying missions in support of the landings, which meant bombing German units and railway yards, bridges, and anything else that might assist the Germans in the battle.
Clifford’s first mission was on the night of the 10th and 11th of June when he was one of the crew of Lancaster DV 277 piloted by Pilot Officer Philip Ryan from Beechworth in Victoria. All of the crew were Australians, other than the flight engineer, who was English.
They took off from Lincolnshire at 10.04 pm to bomb railway facilities around Orleans in France and returned at 3.58 am. Because clouds obscured the target, the crew had to make three runs over the target before getting a clear view and dropping their bombs. The Squadron’s Operations Record Book records “navigation bang on.”
His sixth mission was over Gelenskirchen, and it was a good indicator of the risks of flying over Germany. Of the seventeen planes sent up by 467 Squadron, two did not return, and no message was heard of them as they went down. Other aircraft came back with damage from anti-aircraft guns or were attacked by German fighters. Jones’s plane had a fire in the outer left engine on the way home, and it had to be shut down, with the crew making it back on the remaining three engines.
That same month, Hitler launched thousands of jet-powered V-1 terror weapons at England from sites in France. Known as “Buzz Bombs”, they had a jet engine and short, stubby wings. Each carried almost a tonne of explosives and travelled at over 400 miles per hour. They were intended to terrorise London and the South Coast of England, and at their base, over 100 of these were launched each day.
Bomber Command waged a desperate campaign to destroy the V-1 launch sites hidden in tunnels near St-Leu D’Esserent and elsewhere before they could be launched. On the evening of the 4th July 1944, the first raid on St-Leu D’Esserent was carried out by 467 Squadron, but the mission was only partially successful. The entrances to the tunnels were blocked, but deep underground, the weapons remained intact.
On the night of the 7th July 1944, 221 bombers, including Lancasters from 467 Squadron, conducted a massive bombing raid to destroy the flying bombs in their tunnels. As they approached their target, the bombers were set upon by scores of German night fighters, which emerged from the dark, raking the bombers with cannon fire until they were burning wrecks.
The launch sites were destroyed, but 31 of the 221 bombers were shot down that night.
Clifford Jones and his six crewmates, including another Brisbane boy - Verne Cockroft - died as their Lancaster plummeted to the ground in flames near the village of Courgent. Not one of them was more than 24 years old, and the youngest member of the crew was just 19.
The Germans had forbidden the local French people from burying, killed Allied aircrew and threatened reprisals if they did. Despite this, the villagers of Courgent retrieved their bodies from the wreckage and buried them with honour in the town cemetery, where their graves are preserved to this day. The people of Courgent recognise them as champions in the fight for a free France.
In total, some 10,000 Australians served with Bomber Command in the Second World War. Of these, 3,486 were killed in action, and a further 650 died in training accidents.