Bransles, in France, is a village and commune in the Department of the Seine et Marne, some 28 miles south east of Nemours, a small town on the Paris-Fontainebleau-Montargis road, about 9 miles south of Fontainebleau on the Paris-Montargis railway line.
In Bransles Communal Cemetery, Row 1, Grave 6, stands a wall, overlooking seven white headstones, surrounded by a small, carefully tended garden. Set into that wall is a plaque with the following inscription:
“ ROYAL AIR FORCE GRAVES - BRANSLES
On the evening of the 27th June 1944, sixteen Lancasters of 106 Squadron formed part of a force of 103 Lancasters detailed to attack enemy lines of communication at Vitry-le-Francois.
Early on the following morning 28th June, as a result of enemy action, two of the aircraft (both Lancasters from 106 Squadron) were shot down and their crews perished.
The seven airmen of one of the Lancasters are laid to rest in the Cemetery of Bresles.
They were carrying out their tenth operation; these young airmen, five from England; one from Jersey, CI, and one from Londonderry, NI had united for the defence of Freedom and the fight for the restoration of Liberty to the oppressed people of Europe who were suffering the tyranny and unlawful occupation of their beloved country.
Pilot P/O NW Easby
F/Engineer Sgt EP Richome (CI)
Navigator F/Sgt A Robinson
Air Bomber F/Sgt JAG Dixon
W/Operator SgtCA Collison
MU/Gunner Sgt LK Webb
Rear Gunner Sgt D Hetherington
IN THIS JUST CAUSE THEY GAVE THEIR LIVES. MAY OUR HEARTS BE AS BRAVE AS THEIRS.
LEST WE FORGET “
Keith Webb’s neatly written personal Collins Diary for the period January to May 1944 still survives, recording his day to day activities and thoughts as a raw 19 year old recruit in the RAFVR.
His early weeks of 1944, at Scampton Nottingham, were filled with lectures on such subjects as intelligence, hygiene, gunnery and behaviour as a prisoner, as well as “scrounging around with the Regiment” and “We have been out on a route march today for 5 b……. miles long, were we cheesed” !!
Most evenings seem to have been spent either watching films at the camp cinema, quiet games of cards and visits to the local village pubs – “we decided to give one ofthe local villages the once over. Wilton was dead so we went to pub and dance at Denholm. Drink was good but as for dance, Pooh!”
Occasionally, there would be the chance to get a few days leave at home in Raunds, although that could take him up to 8 hours travelling by hitch-hiking and train to Rushden. Despite the many hours spent sleeping on Nottingham Station, it was always good to get home –to have a nice bed, Bignalls tea party, the ATC, visit the Woodbine, dance at the Highfield, pictures at the Tivoli (Raunds) and Rushden Ritz and, of course, to see his girlfriend.
Mid-January found him in hospital for a few days with a touch of flu – his crew mates came to see him, “Norman, George, Paddy and Dick came up tonight, was I glad to see them, it cheered me up no end” as they also brought him letters from his parents and girlfriend.
Leaving hospital, he went to see the Medical Officer, hoping for some sympathy – “the rotten old b……. didn’t give me not a speck of leave. I am on 7 days light duties.”
On 4th February, following a visit to “Roses” munitions factory at Gainsborough – “we had a real good time plenty to eat and see and free beer” – the crew went to stay at Norman Easby’s house, in Leeds, for the weekend.
Early March saw him posted, with his crew, to a Conversion Unit at Winthorpe – “We arrived early this afternoon amid plenty of wet and mud. What a dump afterScampton”. He was disappointed with “all the old lectures again” but managed to escape to Newark to “drown our sorrows in the Cross Keys”.
Evening were still mainly spent going to the cinema, going to the pub or just laying around.
After a slow start, training stated to become more intense by mid-March – night vision exercises, dingy drill, parachute emergency exits – although there had been no actual flying so far – “another day of ground aviation, it’s damn boring is this bit, I guess it’s not hard work.”
At the end of March, he drew his harness and his first hour on Gee, but still no flying.
After several false starts, Keith and his fellow crew members finally got airborne on 4th April – “We have been doing circuits and bumps today. It took 3 hours to do 3 circuits. We shouldn’t have finished then if we hadn’t burst a tyre”.
During the following month, the crew continued in further training exercises – solo circuits on 7th April, cork-screws over the Wash on the 8th, a 4 hour cross-country day flight on the 11th, their first solo night flight on the 17th and on the 19th April - “We have done it, yes we managed to do our first night cross-country what a feat. We got back to base about 5am so that means we can lay in tomorrow morning. Yipee!” Lectures and further intensive flying exercises continued during April and May and on the 7th May, the pilot, Norman Easby went to receive his commission.
Following a farewell party on the 12th May – “we had a lovely feed, ham, tongue and trifle stuff and beer” – the crew arrived at their squadron the following day.
May 13th is the last diary entry – “the place is dispersed but the huts are quite good and the mess is a great improvement on what we have been used to at training stations.”
At the back of the Diary, Keith recorded the other crew addresses, as follows:
Dixon, “Elmhurst”, Mayfield Rd, East Cowes, IOW (this is John Arthur Glanville Dixon who was the AirBomber)
Robinson, 23, The Groves, Chester (this is Anthony Robinson who was the Navigator)
Easby, “Ashwood”, Wensley View, Chapel Allerton, Leeds 7 (this is Norman Wilson Easby who was the Pilot)
Collison, 6, Curteis Corner, Biddenden, Kent (this is George Alex Collison who was the Wireless Operator)
Hetherington, Brook Hall, Culmore Rd, Londonderry, NI (this is David Hetherington who was the Rear Gunner)
Richomme, c/o Mrs Day, 78, Winchester Road, Fordhouses, Wolverhampton (this is Eric Philip Richomme who was the Flight Engineer).
Keith’s own address was 21, Park Avenue Raunds.
Our thanks go to David Rogers for creating this article from source material kindly loaned to us by Chris Carter.