Flying Officer Bernard Lambert, RAF: Failed to Return

Flying Officer Bernard Lambert, RAF: Failed to Return

Who was Bernard Lambert, and what happened to him?

During the Second World War, a young Royal Air Force man named Bernard Lambert was sent to Canada for pilot training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, like thousands of other young airmen.

He was befriended by a Canadian family, in due course earned his wings, and was sent back across the Atlantic to active wartime service. For some months he wrote regularly to his Canadian friends. Then, suddenly, the letters stopped.

All that could be learned from an inquiry to the RAF after the war was that Flying Officer Lambert’s aircraft had been lost somewhere over the North Sea.

Seventy years on, we set out to discover the rest of the story.

Old Photographs

Four photographs of Bernard Lambert have survived in the collection of Shirley Horton, three of which are reproduced on this site by kind permission of the family:

  • Four members of the Horton family with Bernard Lambert on the front steps of the family home in Moncton, NB, Canada, c.1943;
  • Studio portrait of Pilot Officer Bernard Lambert, most likely taken “out west” when he got his wings, c.1943; and
  • Four airmen: Bernard Lambert with three other airmen – an RAF observer and two flight sergeants of the Royal Australian Air Force – in front of an RAF aircraft (Lockheed Hudson?), date and location unknown. This photograph is printed on a postcard.

Starting with the Memories

Bernard Lambert and the Horton Family

Photo: (left to right): Sidney J. Horton, Marion E. Horton, Shirley A. Horton, RAF Pilot Officer Bernard Lambert, Ella M. (Steeves) Horton; c.1943, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada; photographer unknown. Source: Private collection. All rights reserved.

We began the search for Bernard with scraps of memory from 70 years ago.

Our goal was to try to learn more about who Bernard Lambert was and what really happened to him, when all communication ended so suddenly back in November of 1944.

Most of the family members who knew and remember the young RAF pilot are no longer with us, or the memories have badly faded over the years, but the family stories that remained at least gave us a starting point for researching this small piece of World War II history.

RAF Flying Officer Bernard Francis Lambert, c. 1943-44 Source: Private collection

Second World War RAF Flying Officer Bernard Lambert

From England to Canada to WWII

  • Bernard Lambert was in the Royal Air Force and was in Canada in 1942-1943 in connection with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He is remembered as saying he was from the city of York, North Yorkshire, England. He was understood to have no family apart from a foster father, an elderly clergyman (possibly named Ford, possibly living in York) of whom he spoke very highly.
  • Bernard Lambert met the Horton family of Moncton, New Brunswick (site of RAF No 31 Personnel Depot Moncton) when he was hitch-hiking on the road and they gave him a drive. (With two sons serving in the RCAF, Sidney Horton always made a point of giving rides to hitch-hiking BCATP airmen.)
  • Bernard was sent out west for training and stayed in touch with the Horton family. In December 1943, he sent a Christmas card from De Winton, Alberta[?]. He may also have trained at No. 38 SFTS (Service Flying Training School) Estevan, Saskatchewan.
  • Bernard Lambert came back through Moncton and may have trained further at No. 8 SFTS Moncton for training. His rank then was Pilot Officer.
  • Bernard wrote from overseas for some months in 1944; then the letters stopped.
  • After the war, Sidney Horton wrote to the War Office to ask about Bernard Lambert. He was told that Flying Officer Lambert’s aircraft had gone missing over the North Sea.

The Search Begins

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

With the knowledge that Bernard Lambert was a casualty of war, the first stop for information is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, an impressive organization that was established in 1917 (as the Imperial War Graves Commission) to ensure that those who died in the service of the Commonwealth forces are honoured and never forgotten.

Commonwealth Air Forces memorial, Cooper’s Hill, Runnymede Source: Andrew Mathewson [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Casualty Details

Casualty Details – B.F. Lambert – Certificate Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

CWGC War Dead Register

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s online database holds basic information on the 20,000-plus Commonwealth airmen whose names are inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, Surrey, UK.

The name of Flying Officer Bernard Francis Lambert, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, appears on Panel 207 of the Runnymede Memorial.

  • His service number was 151807.
  • He was a member of RAF No. 251 Squadron.
  • He died on 9th November 1944, aged 22 years.
  • And he was the son of Francis John and Hilda Lambert, of West Norwood, London.

B.F. Lambert, Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve)

Photo: RAF Pilot Officer Bernard Lambert, studio portrait c. 1943; photographer unknown. Source: Private collection. All rights reserved.

British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Canada, 1942-1943

Now that we know Bernard’s middle name (Francis) and his service number (151807), it is possible to make an effective search of the London Gazette archives. This search turns up a few items:

April 16, 1943 – B.F. Lambert made Pilot Officer

Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

GENERAL DUTIES BRANCH.
To be Plt. Offs. on prob. (emergency)…
Ldg. Acm…
1492323 Bernard Francis LAMBERT (151807)

Source: Supplement to the London Gazette, 13 July, 1943 page 3161

October 16, 1943 – B.F. Lambert made Flying Officer

Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

GENERAL DUTIES BRANCH.
Plt. Offs. (prob.) to be Flg. Offs. on prob. (war subs.)…
B.F. LAMBERT (151807)

Source: Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 October, 1943 page 4677

Questions for Further Research

  • When and where did Bernard enlist?
  • Where was he between signing on and coming to Canada?
  • When (and where, if not at Moncton, New Brunswick) did he first arrive in Canada?
  • For how long was he in Moncton, on that first occasion? Doing what?
  • Can we confirm that Bernard did, in fact, train at EFTS De Winton and SFTS Estevan?
  • Did he return to Moncton immediately after earning his wings, and for how long was this second stay?
  • Where did he go next? Off to war, directly, or first to an Operational Training Unit (OTU) for advanced training, as Pathway to Pilot (RAF Museum online exhibit) would suggest?
  • Did any of the men with whom he trained end up posted to the same squadron?

The Aircrew

Photo: (left to right) RAAF Flight Sergeant Ronald Alfred Smith[?], unknown RAF Flt Sgt/Observer, believed to be ; RAF Flying Officer Bernard Francis Lambert, RAAF Flt Sgt John Desmond Jenner. Location unknown; photographer unknown; photograph taken 1943 or 1944. Source: Private collection. All rights reserved.

This photograph shows Bernard Lambert and other members of an air crew posed in front of what appears to be a Lockheed Hudson, an American-made aircraft widely converted for use in meteorological surveys and the occasional air-sea rescue by RAF/Commonwealth squadrons in World War II.

The photograph must have been taken between October 1943, when Bernard got his wings, and November 1944, when his aircraft failed to return to base.

The two RAAF men have been identified with help from the Australian War Memorial website, but the name of the other RAF man (Observer), possibly Chouchoux (alias Syms), is still not confirmed.

Questions for Further Research

  • Is the aircraft in the group photograph a Hudson, as we suspect?
  • When and where was the photograph taken? Perhaps the aircraft’s markings “M1” (or “MI”?) and C-type(?) roundel would give an military aviation buff a clue to the date and location of the photograph…
  • What is the gear that’s just visible through the airplane’s small rectangular windows?
  • Can we identify, with absolute certainty, the three men in the photo with Bernard Lambert? Presumably these men were the crew of RAF Hudson FK752

No. 251 Squadron

Royal Air Force Meteorological Reconnaissance

CWGC records tell us that Bernard Lambert was serving with RAF No. 251 Squadron at the time of his death. This fits with what we know about his aircraft being lost over the North Sea.

A meteorological reconnaissance and local communications outfit, also equipped for air-sea rescue, RAF No. 251 Squadron was formed in August 1944 by the re-numbering of No.1407 Flight at Reykjavik, Iceland. It flew Avro Anson, Lockheed Hudson, and (until October 1944) Ventura aircraft out of Reykjavik Airport on Iceland’s south coast. The squadron was disbanded in October 1945.

No. 251 Squadron’s motto was “However wind blows” and its badge was a weathercock – the traditional “tower rooster” that sits atop a weathervane and turns with the changing direction of the wind.

“However Wind Blows”

Memories of WWII Source: Peter M. Williams

RAF Air-Sea Rescue and Meteorological Reconnaissance in Iceland, World War II

An internet search on the Squadron motto led to a wonderful find – a memoir by veteran Peter M. Williams of Cardiff, Wales.

Peter M. Williams had trained as a pilot in Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, though not in the same locations as we believe Bernard trained. Late in 1944, however, he had been posted to Reykjavik, Iceland, to the 251 Squadron.

He would have been a colleague of Bernard in 1944, and – who knows? – perhaps a friend.

Sadly, Mr. Williams passed away early in 2009. Still, his Memories of WWII give us some idea of the kind of experiences that Bernard may have had while training in Canada and posted to Iceland.

Three aircraft were lost between November and March [1944-45]. One crew returned to the island but crashed on a hillside… [Their bodies] were recovered, brought back and buried … at Fossvogur cemetery, Reykjavik.

The other crews were posted missing and it was assumed that they came down into the Atlantic, probably caused by the severe weather conditions experienced in the northern hemisphere winters with only a few hours of daylight. In each of these two crews of five members were three Britons and two Australians.

One of those missing aircrews had been captained by RAF Flying Officer Bernard Lambert.

An epilogue to Mr. Williams’ memoir adds an article written by 251 Squadron veteran A.A. “Archie” Clark, which had appeared in Intercom, the Aircrew Association’s magazine, in Autumn 2005. It tells how Mr. Clark and others, the fifteen remaining 251 Squadron members who had kept in touch with each other, raised the money to erect a monument in Reykjavik to two lost aircrews of their squadron.

A photograph shows six of the veterans in Reykjavik, standing beside that RAF Memorial to 251 Squadron, in June 2005. Their names are given: Stuart Leyburn, Bill Swanson (of Canada), George Holtum, Peter Williams, Tony Smith, and Archie Clark. The Royal Air Force was represented officially by Wing Commander T. Fauchon at the dedication ceremony for the memorial stone.

Reykjavik Memorial

Reykjavik, Iceland – 251 Squadron – War Memorial Source: Wolfgang Buchhorn (Diedeldum), via Photobucket

251 Squadron Memorial

The story of Peter Williams and its epilogue was the first we’d read of the incident in which Bernard died, and the first mention we’d found of the 251 Squadron monument erected by the veterans in memory of their lost colleagues.

Photographs of the Reykjavik Memorial at Fossvogur Cemetery, taken by Elaine McCrorie, can be seen at Photobucket and Lost Ancestors.eu.

The inscription can be read easily in those photographs, and from it we learn the designation of the aircraft, Hudson FK 752, and the names of the men in that aircrew who made their last flight on November 9, 1944:

F/O. B. F. Lambert
F/Sgt. H. J. E. Syms
L/AC. I. B. Martin
F/Sgt. J. D. Jenner, R. A. A. F.
F/Sgt. R. A. Smith, R. A. A. F.

Missing with No Known Grave

RAF Lockheed Hudson on reconnaissance patrol, May-June 1940. Source: Royal Air Force official photographer [Public domain]

Hudson FK 752

Knowing now that two of the five crew were of the Royal Australian Air Force, we go to the Australian War Memorial website, where a search for “Hudson FK 752” turned up a publication in several parts that deals in detail with RAAF personnel who went missing during the Second World War.

In an entry for “423365 Flight Sergeant SMITH, Ronald Alfred” listed in RAAF PERSONNEL SERVING ON ATTACHMENT IN ROYAL AIR FORCE SQUADRONS AND SUPPORT UNITS IN WORLD WAR 2 AND MISSING WITH NO KNOWN GRAVE, we find this summary:

Hudson FK 752 of 251 Sqn RAF took off from RAF Station Reykjavik, Iceland, at 1230 hours on 9 November 1944, to carry out a normal meteorological flight. Clear icing conditions were encountered on the outward leg. The return journey was carried out under similar conditions, until an SOS was received at 2057 hours when the aircraft was approx 75 miles south west of Reykjavik. The trouble being encountered was not stated. At 2105 hours the aircraft key was held down enabling the D/F station to get a bearing. After that there was no further contact with the aircraft which did not return to base.

Crew:
RAF FO Lambert, B F Captain (Pilot)
RAAF 423365 Flt Sgt Smith, R A (Wireless Operator Air)
RAAF 423132 Flt Sgt Jenner, J D, (Wireless Operator Air)
RAF Flt Sgt Syms, H J E
RAF LAC Martin, I B

Considerable air and sea searches were carried out but no trace of the missing aircraft or crew was found. It was believed that the aircraft had become loaded with ice to such an extent that it was forced down into the sea.

Remembered with Honour – Commemorated in Perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Casualty Details – B.F. Lambert – Certificate – Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This certificate in memory of B.F. Lambert is an image take from a PDF file created by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and downloaded from their website.

You can download a PDF file of a similar memorial certificate for any of the 1,700,000 Commonwealth forces men and women who died in the First and Second World Wars, or the 67,000 Commonwealth civilians who died in the Second World War “as a result of enemy action.” Begin your search at www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/.

References

  • No. 31 Elementary Flying Training School, De Winton, Alberta, Canada
    Chronicles No. 31 Elementary Flying Training School, De Winton: Remembering a very special wartime pilot training school, by Tim Johnston (Originally published in the Kerby News, November 2011)
  • Peter M. Williams – Memories of WWII
    Peter M. Williams was in the RAF during World War II and posted to No. 251 Squadron in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1944. This is part of his story in his own words.
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
    Casualty Details – LAMBERT, BERNARD FRANCIS. The CWGC also has Casualty Details for SYMS, HENRY JEFFREY ELISHA (RAF) and MARTIN, IAN BUCHANAN (RAF), crew of Hudson FK 752 on 9 November 1944.
  • R.A.F. Memorial – Reykjavik, Iceland
    Photographs and transcription of the war memorial, in Reykjavik, Iceland, for two aircraft crews of Royal Air Force Coastal Command 251 Meterological Squadron, 1944-1945.
  • Australian War Memorial – Missing With No Known Grave (cached PDF)
    RAAF Members Attached to the Royal Air Force in the Second World War and Missing With No Known Grave – compiled by Alan Storr (2006), from the collections of the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia.
  • RAFweb.org – RAF Flying Badges (Obsolete)
    Visual guide to old Royal Air Force badges, part of Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. This is the private website of an amateur historian of the RAF, a former instructor in the Air Training Corps and Officer in the RAF Volunteer Reser
  • Roundels of the World – United Kingdom
    Visual guide to British roundels and fin flash, variations in use by the Royal Flying Corp and Royal Air Force, including the C-type roundel introduced May 1942.

Author

likes to make and do and think and explore and share what is discovered. She is also incurably curious. If you are, too, you can find her posting as Flycatcher...r...r on Twitter and Google Plus.

2 comments

  • War heroes have a special place in my heart. Bernard Lambert was one of the brave souls who lost his life for the country. An interesting article that throws light on a real life story and the truth that how he disappeared could never get revealed. My heart goes with lots of such unsung heroes and salutes them for their bravery.

    Reply
    • Bernard and his crew were so very young, it is heartbreaking to think of the loss of life and potential, isn’t it? As you can tell, this particular story really touched me because of the family connection, and because for so many years it wasn’t known what happened to this young airman. Of course the War Office at the time could only release that information to the Lambert family, so Bernard’s sweetheart in Canada was left wondering for years if he was alive, or if not, how he met his end. Digging into the records to solve the mystery, all these years later, was an exercise in history and genealogy that truly engaged me. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about it.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *