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Sergeant Robert Frederick Kelly 1321703, RAFVR, 51 Squadron
Second World War Air Force Indian
By Philip Baldock

United Kingdom

Sergeant Robert Frederick Kelly
View record on CWGC
Died 31st March 1944, buried Oxford (Botley) Cemetery

Sergeant (Air Gunner) 1321703 Robert Frederick Kelly, RAFVR, 51 Squadron was born 1924, the son of Robert and Beryl Kelly of Wellington, Nilgiris, India.

On the night of the 30th/31st of March 1944, Sgt Kelly took off as Rear Gunner as a crew member of Halifax III LW579, MH-V from Snaith, Yorkshire; the aircraft, became airborne at 22.07 with a load of incendiaries (40x30 lb and 540x4 Ib). The “target for tonight” was Nuremburg and 51 Squadron despatched seventeen aircraft for the operation.

Two aircraft returned early - one with engines problems and the other due to an escape hatch becoming detached in flight. The raid was a disaster. In full moon conditions, the German nightfighters shot down eighty five bombers en-route and a further ten were lost over the target or upon return.

Six of the aircraft lost were from 51 Squadron. One of which was Halifax LW579. Having crossed the coast, upon return, the pilot was believed to be heading for either Chalgrove or Benson airfield although it was never established which one or indeed whether the aircraft had suffered damage or was low on fuel.

At 05.50 the aircraft crashed into Cowleaze Wood, just over two miles west of Stokenchurch, Oxfordshire.

None of the crew survived the crash:

P/O 159065 James Brooks, RAFVR, (P), aged 21 - buried Bo’ness Cemetery;

Sgt 1567790 Thomas Samuel Connell RAFVR (F/E), aged 20- buried Campsie Cemetery;

F/Sgt 1455591 Dennis Patrick McCormack RAFVR (Nav), aged 21 - buried Leeds Catholic Cemetery;

F/Sgt 1372859 Stewart Glass RAFVR (B/A) aged 23 - buried Yester Churchyard;

F/Sgt 1334079 George William West (W/Op), aged 22 - buried Nunhead (All Saints) Cemetery;

F/Sgt 1332240 Dennis Arthur Churchill RAFVR, (A/G) aged 20 - buried Greenwich Cemetery and

Sgt 1321703 Robert Frederick Kelly (A/G), aged 20 - buried Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.

A memorial to the crew now stands close to the crash site in Cowleaze Woods.

The grave of Sgt Kelly (copyright unknown)