|The Lost Gunner - by Lyndon Pugh
F/Sgt. Billy Banks RAAF and his crew had been in action throughout the Battle of the Ruhr in the Spring and Summer of 1943. Their aircraft crashed off Zaandvoort in Holland, after an encounter with a Luftwaffe nightfighter, and six men died in the early hours of the 26th June 1943. One member of the crew, bomb aimer Geoff Brook, survived and served out the rest of the war in a German prison camp. The author was fortunate enough to talk to him in detail before his death.
The rear gunner on this aircraft was Sgt. Ronnie Pugh of Abercynon, Glamorgan. Occupying the most dangerous position on the Lancaster Bomber, he was the first casualty.
For many years, it was believed that the body of Ronnie Pugh had not been recovered, and he remains ‘Killed in Action, Lost at Sea’ as far as the official record is concerned. This proved not to be the case, and this book is the result of extensive research into what happened over Amsterdam on the night of the 25th/26 June 1943. It tells the story of the seven crewmen involved, giving some detail of their family backgrounds and their operational history. A separate chapter explores the role of gunners on WWII heavy bombers.
101 Squadron operations in 1943 are examined in some detail. The chapter on the Gelsenkirchen raid of the 25/26th June 1943 forms the centrepiece of the story. The circumstances which led to the crew flying on that raid after they had been stood down following operations to Krefeld, Mannheim and Wuppertal earlier in the week are examined. This led to the related story of one of the most interesting crews to serve in 101 Squadron during WWII. They were a unit which combined great bravery, skill and commitment with a dismissive attitude to authority and discipline which had unforeseen consequences for them and their comrades.
Bomb aimer Geoff Brook’s description of the last moments of Lancaster ED373 SR–K provides some of the details of the attack by the nightfighter and its aftermath, and contradicts the information provided in other sources. Geoff’s story continued with his activism as a POW, and several attempts to escape, leading to a short time spent at Belsen just before the end of the war.
The final element in the story is the search for the grave of Ronnie Pugh, and the facts concerning the recovery of the bodies. The crucial intervention of a Dutch aviation expert, who had already investigated the loss of this crew, led to confirmation of the author’s view that Ronnie Pugh was actually buried as an unknown RAF sergeant in the New Eastern Cemetery in Amsterdam. Jon van der Maas went even further, and pointed us to the grave. This brought the quest to an unexpected conclusion.