Sergeant William James Gilchrist

Sergeant William James Gilchrist RAFVR (1824389) was the son of William and Mary Gilchrist of Greenburns, between Coupar Angus and Kettins and at the time of his death, they were staying at Crossgates, Fife. William was employed at Carmichaels Farm just north of Longforgan before joining the RAF during WW2.

Shortly after arriving in London on 15 January 1944 to assume duties as Supreme Allied Commander, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower he agreed to RAF Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder’s ‘Transportation Plan’ to use the air assets of the Allies to bomb French roads, bridges, rail lines and marshalling yards in order to slow the movement of German forces and supplies to the D-Day invasion areas. In March 1944, Eisenhower directed the RAF and the USAAF to begin intensely striking at a long list of targets in France such as the major transportation centres at Noisy-le-Sec, Tergnier, Juvisy, and Rouen, with the intention of making roads, bridges, and railroads unusable for the Germans.

On 18 April 1944, less than two months before D-Day, Sergeant William James Gilchrist was the upper air gunner in Handley Page Halifax Mk III, LW522, MH-J of RAF 51 Squadron on a bombing mission to Tergnier, in the Aisne department, Hauts-de-France. Tergnier had a large railway marshalling yard, where the Creil-Jeumont railway joins, and it located on the Canal de Saint-Quentin where it also joins with the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise

Take off was at 21.20 hours from RAF Snaith, east of Goole in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The bomb load was 7 x 1,000 lb and 6 x 500 lb high explosives. On board Halifax Mk III LW522 were:

Sergeant Charles CHRISTIE (1049057) RAFVR Flight Engineer
Sergeant William James GILCHRIST (1824389) RAFVR Air Gunner
Sergeant Desmond William KENNEDY (1620864) RAFVR Air Bomber
Sergeant Philip LATCHFORD (1038622) RAFVR Wireless Operator
Flight Sergeant Colin SHACKLETON (1398483) RAFVR Pilot
Flight Sergeant Fred TAYLOR (1549593) RAFVR Air Gunner
Flight Sergeant Eric Oscar Downing YORKE (1439296) RAFVR Navigator

Handley Page Halifax Mk III LW522 collided in the air with RAF 158 Squadron Halifax LV946, both aircraft crashing at Seraucourt-le-Grand, a commune in the Aisne department in Hauts-de-France, northern France. Sergeant William James Gilchrist was 26 years old and all the crew are buried at Grand-Seraucourt British Cemetery, about 8 kilometres southwest of St. Quentin on the east side of the River Somme

Research by Ken Bruce


On the night of 18/19 April 1944, Bomber Command aircraft made many heavy attacks on railway-yards and workshops at Noisy-le-Sec and Juvisy, near Paris, and at Rouen and Tergnier, with more than 4,000 tons of bombs being dropped; 14 aircraft were reported missing that night.

Wilfred Owen, officer and poet, was killed as he crossed the Sambre–Oise Canal at the head of a raiding party: Owen’s death occurred only a week before the WW1 ended.

Handley Page Halifax LW522 was delivered by the English Electric Company (Preston/Salmesbury) between 22 December 1943 and 20 January 1944. Samlesbury would go on to produce 700 Handley Page Hampdens and 3,000 Handley Page Halifax Bombers for the Royal Air Force. By the end of the Second World War, the site had five main hangars and three runways.

Under Lichtenstein night fighter radar andBenito (ground station) night fighter interception control of Luftwaffe 4. JD (Jagdgeschwader), at least 18 aircraft of NJG1 and NJG4 (Nachtjagdgeschwader) flying Messerschmitt Bf 110’s operated against the 18 April 1944 raids between 22.43 and 01.18 hrs.
These fighters tallied four Halifax abschüsse (kills) over France. Between 22.47 and 22.55 hours. Nine Bf110 G-4s of II./NJG1 were scrambled
from St. Dizier for ungeführte Zahme Sau (Tame Boar tactic) duties. Oberleutnant Hager, the Kapitän of the 6. Staffel downed a Halifax of the Tergnier force with Schräge Musik (upward-firing autocannon or machine gun) armament.

Luftwaffe Feldwebel Erich Handke later recalled:
‘We took-off for a Wilde Sau sortie and flew a long way to the west to get into the returning Tergnier raiders near St. Quentin. We simply flew without any ground information towards the target markers until I gained a single contact heading west. We had to climb to 5,000 metres before we slowly caught up. At 500 metres range we saw the enemy. As it was on a homeward course, we fired into the fuselage with the Schräge weapons and wiggled the rudder a bit as he did so, at which the Lancaster immediately caught fire in the fuselage and both wings. It then went down in great spirals with a monstrous shower of sparks (2-300 metres) trailing behind, which looked like a comet. It crashed NE of Rouen.
In the meantime I’d gained more contacts. We pursued one, and again saw the enemy at a range of 500 metres. At first it looked like a Lancaster, but to judge by the tail it must have been a new Halifax. After a burst from 50 metres below it was burning as nicely as the previous one and went down immediately, SW of Dieppe. I then gained a lot of contacts which were already out over the sea, but they were all going very quickly whilst losing height. We were now only 2,500 metres up. If we had been able to catch up to them at all, it would only have been at the English coast, in the light ack-ack belt. As our Radar could under no circumstances be allowed to fall into enemy hands, we were only permitted to chase the English to our own coast. In addition, we also didn’t have a single life vest with us. As a result, we flew 30 km inland, against the remaining home-bound bombers, then turned in behind them, however we were soon over the sea again, barely catching them up, and only 1,500 metres up. As the return flights had just ended, we gave up and flew home. Behind us another attack on Rouen had started, but we had too little fuel to be able to do anything more.’

The crew returned to Laon-Athies at 01.22 hrs. Both Abschüsse were officially anerkannt on 6 July 1944.

The earlier short lived night fighter tactic mentioned above was known as Wilde Sau (Wild Boar or Sow), it was used until developments in German radar equipment made it more immune to the allied bomber tactic of using Window/Düppel (chaff -thin pieces of aluminium dropped to confuse radar).

Dundee Courier and Advertiser 20 January 1945
THE STRATEGIC BOMBING OF GERMANY, 1942-1945 (CH 12598) Squadron Leader Peter Hill, briefs crews of No. 51 Squadron RAF on the forthcoming raid to Nuremberg, Germany in the Operations Room at Snaith, Yorkshire, 30 March 1944. The Station Commander, Group Captain N H Fresson, sits third from the left in the front row. No. 51 Squadron lost six Handley Page Halifaxes that night (30/31 March 1944), suffering 35 men killed (including Sqn Ldr Hill) and seven… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: HANDLEY PAGE HP.57 HALIFAX. (HU 92965) Halifax B Mark III, LV857, in flight shortly after completion by the Handley Page Ltd works at Radlett, Hertfordshire. In its brief service life, this aircraft served with Nos. 35, 10 and 51 Squadrons RAF before crashing at Schwarzbad while returning from a raid on Nuremberg on 31 May 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BOMBER COMMAND (CE 113) The damaged tail of Halifax II HR868/MH-B of No 51 Squadron, which was attacked by a night-fighter on its way to Frankfurt on the night of 20-21 December 1943. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BOMBER COMMAND (E(MOS) 933) American aircraft production representatives during a tour of the English Electric factory at Preston in the autumn of 1942. The aircraft in the background, Halifax II DT 567, was destined to be lost on a mine-laying sortie while operating with No 51 Squadron on 8 March 1943. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 12601) The Station Commander at Snaith, Yorkshire, Group Captain N H Fresson, is joined by other officers on the balcony of the control tower as they await the return of Handley Page Halifaxes of No. 51 Squadron RAF from a night raid on Nuremberg. Note the ambulance and crash tenders with their crews standing by below the tower, and the searchlight beam pointing skywards to show the cloud base. Five airc… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BOMBER COMMAND (CH 10447) WAAF sparking plug testers at work at Snaith, home to the Halifaxes of No 51 Squadron, June 1943. The WAAF in the foreground is busy testing the spark, while at the far end of the bench another airwoman notes with an electric pencil on the side of each plug the number of flying hours it has done. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 10293) The crew of a Handley Page Halifax of No 51 Squadron RAF hand in their parachutes at Snaith, Yorkshire on their return from a bombing raid on the Ruhr, Germany. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 5831) WAAF fabric workers and workshop hands at a Coastal Command Maintenance Unit at ,Gosport, Hampshire, clean and paint an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of No. 51 Squadron RAF. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CE 97) The damaged tail section of Handley Page Halifax B Mark II Series I, HR782 ‘MH-V’, 51 Squadron RAF, following its collision with an Avro Lancaster while returning from a raid on Munchen-Gladbach on the night of 29/30 August 1943. HR782 was ten miles from its temporary base at Ossington, Nottinghamshire, when the Lancaster, apparently on a reciprocal course, collided with the aircraft, damaging the… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 18743) The Officer of the Watch in the Watch Office at Snaith, Yorkshire, guiding Handley Page Halifaxes of No. 51 Squadron RAF back to base after a night raid on Nuremberg. The Station Commander of Snaith, Group Captain N H Fresson, can be seen waiting outside on the balcony of the Control Tower. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: