Flight Sergeant Arnold William Habergham (RAF) 1912-1944
Air Navigator, 619 Squadron. Killed in operations over Revigny sur Orain, France on the night of July 19th 1944. Buried at Montreuil-aux Lions, British Cemetery, Aisne France.
Although Tom’s brother Arnold was not part of 26 Squadron, I feel it is well worth while to include these eyewitness and first hand accounts of his last moments and the escape of colleague James Alexander Nealey. The following was supplied by Bill Habergham (Tom and Arnold’s nephew).
The following statement was taken down by Monsieur Bernard Martin, now aged 78 but only 6 when the plane came down about 200 yards from where he now lives, I met Bernard only 4 years ago, he speaks not a word of English but he holds dearly to the memory of my Uncle and the 6 men who died with him. When he says in his proud French " Cette homme... These men died for me, for my family and pour La France, it is my duty to honour them" Well it brings tears to my eye's. All these years have gone by and still we remember!
EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE LAST MOMENTS OF LANCASTER
BOMBER, LM378, PG-J (JIG), 619 SQUADRON. JULY 19TH 1944.
Edited by Bernard Martin. Translated (probably badly) by Bill Habergham from the original French following the statements recorded on February 14, 2006, Mr. René Bahin to whom I offer my thanks in the text.
That night, he said, it must have been about two or three o’clock in the morning - it was 19 July 1944 - I had just fallen asleep when I was awoken by the loud noise of an aircraft which appeared to be in difficulties.
I got up and ran to the window. In front of me there was an enormous ball of fire passing, coming from my left. It was an enormous bomber, rendered almost invisible by he flames surrounding it. Pieces of the aircraft were falling onto the road close to the little bridge of Caumont, and in other places.
I watched this blazing torch as it passed in the direction of Montreuil aux Lions, falling to low altitude among the trees of the wood of [---]. Then, further away, at the bottom, the flaming torch veered to the right. In a chaos of metal fragments the machine crashed from the other side of the road from [---] onto the slope of a meadow. The shock was very violent. When dawn broke I went to the place. Pieces of human remains were scattered around the aircraft. The wreckage was still burning, with items scattered all around. “Personal objects of all kinds, papers, flight documents, etc. etc.”. The aircraft had passed over the mill at Sillon The rear of the aircraft had broken off and fallen in the mud, and still sitting in it was the rear gunner, who must have been Sergeant LOOSLI or Sergeant R.H. COX. One of the other crew members had fallen out of the aircraft, as if he had ejected?
In the boot of a severed leg was a flying map, which was still slippery. The spectacle was macabre. There were already wasps buzzing around the mutilated bodies. The Germans arrived almost immediately and chased everyone away. Bales of straw were placed in front of the house of Mr. and Mrs. Cotterot (known as Louis the Fourth), who ws married to the cousin of Mr. Brahin, who was called Miss “Pretty” [---] Brahin René, who helped do the harvest with his horse and his harvester, after putting bales of straw in place around the bombs which were of delayed action and were destroyed.
For about eight days the Germans milled around the little village of Montrueil and its surroundings in order to find the survivor, Sergeant Alexander James Nealey.
I was born in 1925, Mr. Martin and I was 19 years old. At that age I remember very well what happened. I would like to thank here Mr. and Mrs, René Bahin, farmer, at that time at Caumont farm (Municipality of Aulde [---]) for having received me in their home, and having explained to me the true and authentic facts of that dramatic and historic date which occurred close to the village of Montreuil aux Lions on 19 July 1944
Edited by Bernard Martin following the statements made by Mr. and Mrs. Bahin René.
Signature of Mr. Bahin René.
Relating to the statements regarding the crash of the Lancaster PGJ LM 378
COPYRIGHT: BILL HABERGHAM/BERNARD MARTIN
Continuation of edited version
The aim of this mission was to bomb the railway lines, but also the railway junctions. Some hours later we arrived over [---]. Our bombs were released and reached the target. The damaged tracks were cut.
It was at that moment that our aircraft was hit, and seriously damaged. With the rest of our bombs with delayed action, we could not continue with our mission to “Aulnoye”. We made a half turn. Our aircraft was already burning. We headed for the Thierry chateau. Over this location I was the first to jump, but none of my comrades got as far as that. The bomber was in flames and continued on its path. Perhaps the pilot was confident that he could put it down? I landed in a field, and I quickly folded up my parachute and hid it in thicket. I then started walking until I found a house. Arriving in front of one, I knocked on the door. An old man opened it, and let me in. The good man gave me some civilian clothes, then took me to a hotel in (Lisy Young?) in a horse-drawn trap. There a member of the Resistance asked me questions about my identity.
Three days later I was joined by three Americans. We remained there until 23 July 1944, until we left for [---], dressed as policemen. We remained there until 8 August 1944, and thereafter we were separated. I was joined by a member of the Resistance, who took me to a house in [---] where I remained until the Americans liberated the town.
I left France on 1 September 1944. I returned to Great Britain on 1 September 1944.
I was born on 22 June 1924. I joined the R.A.F. on 16 March 1943, when I was 19. In civilian life I was an apprentice machine operator. On the Lancaster I was the flight engineer. We were all trained in haste. Some of them could hardly take off and hardly knew how to read a flight map.
Text copied from the original. Bernard Martin
Mission: Peigny/Ornaim (?), Meuse, Department 55
and Alnoye [---], Yard 59 (?)
Edited on the basis of information from the R.A.F.
Statements by Mr. Alexander Nealey, escapee
Night of 18 to 19 July 1944
Night fell slowly on the base at Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire, a county in the centre of England. The powerful Rolls-Royce engines of our Lancaster bomber PGJ LM 378 of 619 Squadron, were running at full throttle.
We were all at our posts, ready for takeoff. The monster, with a wingspan of 43 metres, 31 metres in length, and weighing 17 tonnes, with engines pounding, launched itself down the long runway, then lifted off ponderously into the twilight. We were part of a force of 253 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitoes. Five, including us, belonged to 619 Squadron. We were leaving to attack two targets, one at [---] [---] (Meuse), the other at Aulnoye [---] (north).
These targets were important railway junctions.
On arriving at the place indicated, our bombs were released and hit the target. The German anti-aircraft batteries went into action. At 00.15 hours our aircraft suffered a serious hit. We made a half-turn. Our bomber started to burn. Arriving above Thierry chateau, I was the first to jump, not knowing where I was going to fall.
I saw my aircraft flying away, but none of my comrades were around me. I think they hoped to get out of it.
A few minutes later I landed in a field. I was thinking of my comrades as I folded up my parachute. In our aircraft there were some delayed action bombs still remaining. I hid my parachute in a thicket, then walked until I could find a house. I arrived in front of one. I knocked on the door several times. Some moments later an old man opened the door.
LM 378 95% probability hit by night fighter according to recent information, but no by anti-aircraft fire.
James Alexander Nealey was married. With his wife Mary he had a daughter named Marilyn. James Alexander Nealey died on 13/12/73 aged 49.