How to Search for Unsung Heroes on this blog?

FeaturedHow to Search for  Unsung  Heroes  on this blog?

Use the search button on the left side to look for someone’s name among more than 370 posts I wrote about this RAF squadron.

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Use the comment section or the contact form below to write to me like someone whose grandfather was Theo Griffiths’ navigator.

 Theo and Ric montage

 

The End of the Beginning

The End  of the Beginning

This is post no. 384, and the end of the beginning of this blog about RAF 23 Squadron.

I will repost for you the first  article I wrote in 2010 so you won’t have to search for it…

This blog about RAF 23 Squadron wasn’t  meant to pay homage  only to a French-Canadian  Mosquito pilot from Bromptonville, Quebec,  a small town in the Eastern Townships.

Eugene Gagnon

Eugène  Gagnon DFC

Since  2010, a 84 year-old man had been  trying  to convince  the  people of Bromptonville to pay homage  to Eugène  Gagnon, a hometown boy,  who had died  in a plane  crash near Windsor Mills  on October  21st, 1947. Eugène had never talked much about what he did in the war with the RCAF let alone with the RAF.

Eugène Gagnon was like a brother to Marcel Bergeron.

In 2010, Marcel asked for my help to find more about  his war hero when  he was just 14 years-old. At first he didn’t not have much information to go on, only Eugène’s discharge papers…

And a knock on the door of a World War Two veteran.

This is really how this blog started. A knock on a door!

First post April 5, 2010

This could be the start of the amazing story of the airmen of a forgotten squadron in Little Snoring.

Please leave a comment…

Little Snoring - June or July 1945

Picture taken in 1945 before the squadron was disbanded (Courtesy Tom Cushing via Peter Smith)

Squadron 23

No. 23 Squadron formed at Fort Grange, Gosport on 1 Sep 1915 under the command of one of the RAF’s most experienced operational pilots – Captain Louis Strange. After a brief period attempting to counter German airship flights over London, the Squadron moved to France with its FE2Bs initially employed on escort duties. By early 1917, Spad single-seaters had arrived, and were being used on offensive patrols. By the end of the War, the Squadron had converted to Dolphins, and flew these until disbanded at the end of 1919.

On 1 July 1925, No. 23 Squadron reformed at Henlow with Snipes, but these were replaced shortly after with Gloster Gamecocks. In 1931, the Squadron was tasked with carrying out trials on the new Hawker Hart two-seaters, taking the production version, known as Demons, on strength in 1933. It wasn’t until late 1938 that the squadron received its first monoplanes in the form of Blenheims, and these were used as night-fighters in the early days of World War II whilst based at Wittering. In 1941, Havocs replaced the Blenheims, and these were used with great success in the intruder role, until themselves replaced by the Mosquito in mid-1942. At the end of the year, the squadron moved to Malta in support of allied operations in the Mediterranean before returning to the UK in 1944.

In September 1945, the Squadron had disbanded, reforming a year later at Wittering with Mosquito night-fighters. By late 1953, Venom night fighters had joined the Squadron, before Javelin all-weather supersonic fighters replaced these in 1957. In 1964, the Lightning replaced the Javelin, and it was with this classic aircraft that the squadron continued until Phantoms were received in late 1975, this coinciding with a moved to Wattisham in Suffolk. After the Falklands War in 1982, the Squadron occupied Port Stanley airfield until reduced to a Flight of four aircraft in 1988, reforming at Leeming with Tornado F3s. Defence cuts following the end of the Cold War saw the unit disbanded in March 1994. No. 23 Squadron was again reformed, this time as part of the Waddington AEW Wing in 1996, sharing not only the aircraft with the already established No. 8 Squadron, but operational duties in Europe and the Gulf.

The Squadron was officially disbanded on 2 Oct 2009.

This Squadron has been virtually reformed…

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If you have any information about 23 Squadron and you wish to share what you know, you can contact me using this form.

La médaille de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec

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On November 11th, 2016, this medal was awarded posthumously to Joseph Achille Eugène Gagnon who flew 33 operations with RAF 23 Squadron.

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Eugène Gagnon never received any recognition from his hometown of Bromptonville except when he died on October 21, 1947.

Early in 2016 I had received a phone call from Clément Gagnon, a man who was looking for veterans to honour with a medal given by l’Assemblée nationale du Québec. On November 11, 2016, Jacques Gagnon, Eugène’s nephew, received the medal from a member of the National Assembly of Quebec.

When Maxime Laporte, the President of the Société St-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, mentioned the fact in his presentation of the medal that Eugène Gagnon had flown 33 night operations mostly over German airfields, murmurs were heard from the people attending the commemoration.

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When Jacques Gagnon heard those, he felt a tremendous pride as well as a profound humility when he received the medal.

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Crew A – Denyer and Graham

Crew A – Denyer and Graham

I am so glad  Eddy  wrote  back about  his  Uncle seen  on the left.

1 - His Crew

Harold Stone could not remember who was in Crew A.

I found it in cyberspace…

Douglas A20 Havoc crash – RAF Ford – 9th July 1941

A brief story of how two young men trained together, flew together and died together. 

Sergeant Robert Denyer (Pilot) 927380 RAF  23 Squadron (Night fighters).  Died 9th July 1941

Flight Sergeant Donald Graham (Air Gunner) 628544  RAF 23 Squadron (Night Fighters) – died with his pilot on 9th July 1941

They are both buried in the CWGC section of the church graveyard at St. Mary’s at Clymping, Sussex

Robert Denyer and Donald Graham were assigned to night fighter duties with 23 Squadron and were based at RAF Ford, Sussex.  They had flown together as a crew for a few months and had initially trained together on Bristol Blenheims.  As far as I can make out they flew nearly every one of their flights as a crew together.

They lost their lives when their Douglas A20 crashed on 9th July 1941 but prior to this they had a close shave whilst training at RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire on 23rd June 1941.  They were flying at night in Blenheim L1403 when one of the engines suddenly stopped and disintegrated in mid-flight.  Both Denyer and Graham evacuated the aircraft and baled-out at 1500 feet. Denyer was uninjured and Graham was slightly injured.

At the beginning of July 1941 the squadron moved to RAF Ford, Sussex and were re-equipped with the Douglas A20 Havoc (also known as the ‘Boston’).  Sgt Denyer and Sgt Graham were assigned A20 Havoc serial number BJ485.

On the night of 9th July 1941 a number of aircraft from 23 Squadron took part in night training exercises. All the aircraft took off from RAF Ford on what was primarily one of a number of training flights to familiarise the crews with the A20 Havoc. Sgt Denyer was the pilot of Havoc BJ485  and Sgt Graham was the Air Gunner.   During the night training flight the aircraft had a major mechanical / engine malfunction and crashed.  Both Sgt Denyer and Sgt Graham died.

About Blenheim L1403 near Little Fenton.

On 23rd June 1941 this trainee night-fighter crew were carrying out a training flight when one of the Blenheim’s engines broke apart in the air and the aircraft became uncontrollable. The two on board abandoned the aircraft from 1500ft which then crashed near Little Fenton, not far from the airfield at 03.00hrs. It was later found the engine had failed through oil starvation. A letter found on the superb RAF Commands forum website give additional information as to what happened to this crew after this incident, as prior to leaving the OTU this crew were one of two to volunteer to join an “intruder” operational squadron.

Pilot – Sgt Robert Gordon Denyer RAFVR (927380). Uninjured.

Air Gunner – Sgt Donald Clinton Charles Graham RAF (628544), of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. Slightly injured.


Robert Denyer and Donald Graham were soon posted to 23 Squadron, and both lost their lives on 9th July 1941 during “night operations” when their aircraft, Havoc BJ485 crashed soon after taking off from Ford airfield after it had suffered some form of engine failure. It is believed they were learning to fly the Havoc type when the crash occured. Both are buried at Clymping Churchyard, Sussex. F/Sgt Graham was twenty four years old, Sgt Denyer’s age is not given in the CWGC online register but he was probably born in the Reigate area of Surrey in 1921, he was the son of Henry and Louisa Denyer (nee Appleyard).


Blenheim L1403 was built to contract 527114/36 by The Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd. at Filton as a bomber variant and was awaiting collection in November 1938. It was initially taken on charge by 34 Squadron at Upper Heyford the following month but was transferred to 21 Squadron based at Watton in March 1939. In late 1939 the aircraft was transferred to 90 Squadron at Upwood but on 4th April 1940 90 Squadron and 35 Squadron merged, the aircraft later became attached to 17 OTU at Upwood when it formed on 8th April 1940 but shortly after this date it was flown into MU for conversion to MkIf status, it next appeared on charge with 23 Squadron at Collyweston during the summer of 1940 before moving with the unit to Ford on 12th September 1940. Before the end of 1940 it had a spell on the books of 600 Squadron at Catterick and 219 Squadron at Tangmere. In early 1941 it returned to the care of 23 Squadron at Ford but 23 Squadron ceased operating Blenheim MkIf’s in April 1941 so the aircraft was transferred to the newly formed 60 OTU at Leconfield on 28th April 1941. 60 OTU were moved to East Fortune on 4th June 1941 and their role as a Blenheim OTU ceased so the aircraft was transferred to 54 OTU at Church Fenton. As a result of the incident detailed above on 23rd June 1941 Cat.E2/FA damage was recorded.

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Blenheim Mk I