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The Fallen of Kirkby

Fraser Farish

Fraser Farish
  • Son of William and Anne Isabell Farish, of ‘Bank House’, Sandside;
    husband of Kathleen May (née Dickinson).
  • Pilot Officer / Air Bomber Fraser Farish, 188313, 97 Squadron RAF Volunteer Reserve.
  • Killed 10th November 1944 near Cernay-en-Dormois, Marne, France, aged 21.
  • Buried in the Clichy Northern Cemetery, Paris, France, Plot 16, Row 13, Collective Grave 3. Commemorated in Books of Remembrance in York Minster and Ulverston Grammar School (now Ulverston Victoria High School).

Fraser Farish, the son of William and Anne Isabell Farish, and middle brother of Andrew and Alan, was born on 24th August 1923. He was brought up at Bank House, Sandside, Kirkby-in-Furness (then still housing a bank), and attended Ulverston Grammar School before taking a job at the LMS Railway Company office at Millom station.

Shortly before the Second World War, Fraser’s father was the village reporter for the local newspaper, but he was ill when a mysterious event occurred, and Fraser had to take his place. On the dark and rainy night of 28th July 1939 an RAF de Havilland Rapide bi-plane, carrying the Air Minister, Sir Kingsley Wood, made a crashed-landing on Gunson Height, the highest point of Kirkby Moor. Five passengers were injured, and Sir Kingsley spent the night at the Vicarage. Fraser visited the scene of the crash, investigated and wrote up the story for his father.

Very soon afterwards when war broke out, Fraser wanted to fly, but had to wait until he was 17. All three brothers volunteered to serve their country, Andrew in the Army, Fraser in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, and Alan in the Merchant Navy. As soon as he was old enough, Fraser was posted to St John’s Wood in London where the first planes he learnt to fly on were biplanes; next Fraser was sent to Canada for a year to undergo aircrew training.

On 25th May 1944, while home on 3 weeks leave, Sergeant Fraser Farish married Kathleen May Dickinson at the Church of Christ, Wallend, the church attended by both families. The bride was 19 and the groom 21, and tragically he was to be killed only six months later. Their wedding was recorded in the grammar school magazine, The Ulverstonian (Vol. XI No.2), under the heading ‘Old Scholars’ Weddings’.

Kathleen believes that one of Fraser’s missions was to attack the German battleship Bismarck, which had been spotted at anchor in a Norwegian fjiord. This was probably in May 1941, when the battleship is known to have been there with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. If so, the German ships sailed under cover of cloud before the RAF could get there.

From September 1944, Fraser was flying in Lancaster bombers out of Coningsby, Lincolnshire with 97 Squadron, Bomber Command. A new American Long Range Navigation system (LORAN1) was being tested, and Lancaster Mark 1 bomber PB200 was among six of 97 Squadron’s Lancasters flying a training mission on the night of 10th November over France; two did not return. Fraser was not in his usual plane, but LORAN required an extra wireless operator to join the flight, and he volunteered for the mission in order to qualify for six weeks leave, having missed one mission with his own crew through having ’flu.

Kathleen first received a telegram saying Fraser was missing; then a week later a second brought the news that his plane had crashed and all 7 crew were killed.

On the back of her photograph of Fraser in RAF uniform, his mother had written “Killed due to enemy action”, and it is presumed that was what caused PB200 to dive 2225 feet into marshy ground 180 km to the north east of Paris. The small village of Cernay-en-Dormois (around 150 inhabitants) is in the départment of Marne and the region of Champagne-Ardenne. There, in marshy ground, the plane made a crater 15 feet deep and 20 feet across. Of the eight crew, only the bodies of the pilot, Flying Officer Peters, Sergeant/Flight Engineer Ace, Sergeant/Navigator Saunders and Flight Sergeant Farish were found at the scene. They were taken to the U.S. Army Hospital at Chalons-sur-Marne, and later buried in Commonwealth War Graves in Clichy Northern Cemetery on the outskirts of Paris. The plane was completely burnt out and the other crew members, Flight Sergeant/Air Bomber Welham, Sergeant/Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Piper, Flying Officer/Air Gunner Negus and Sergeant/Air Gunner Worley were presumed to have baled out or been killed by enemy action.

Fraser was described in the mission log book as one of “the squadron’s most capable operators”. As was common practice with men who had served their squadron well, Flight Sergeant Fraser Farish was promoted to Pilot Officer after his death. We know of two memorial services for Fraser Farish: one was held at the Church of Christ in Kirkby and reported in the Barrow News of 7th December 1944; the other was on All Saints Day in 1955 and was for all ‘Fallen Airmen’, with the Duke of Edinburgh in attendance. His Royal Highness made a speech in which he recognised the great contribution of the RAF in the Second World War.

Fraser’s bravery and sacrifice cannot be overstated: following his training in Canada he was offered a post as a trainer – a job which would have kept him safely on the other side of the Atlantic for the rest of the war. He refused, arguing that he had not joined up for that, but rather to help defend his country. At that time, life expectancy for Bomber Command aircrew was six weeks.

Fraser’s brothers, Andrew and Alan, survived the war. Andrew was in Italy in November 1944 and one night he recorded in his diary dreaming of Fraser crashing in a plane. It was only when he came home after the war that Andrew discovered Fraser had died that very night, 10th November 1944.

1 The LORAN system was a development of the British GEE radio navigation system, which used two transmitters in England sending out parallel radio beams 70 yards apart. One carried Morse Code dots and the other dashes, and the pilot had to fly between the beams. If he only heard dots or only dashes in his headphones, then he had deviated from the correct course. As the bomber approached the target, Morse letters were transmitted directing the crew where to drop their bombs.

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