The situation in Europe in the summer of 1939 was deteriorating and as a prudent measure, Leslie Hore-Belisha, Secretary of State for War, persuaded the cabinet of Neville Chamberlain to introduce a limited form of conscription on 27 April 1939. The Military Training Act being passed the following month. Only single men 20 to 22 years old were liable to be called up, and they were to be known as “militiamen” to distinguish them from the regular army. National conscription had ended in 1920. Each man was to be given six months of training before being allowed to return home on an active reserve status. Andrew McKenzie Munn was called up on 15 July 1939 and posted to join the Seaforth Highlanders at Fort George, northwest of Inverness. War was declared on 1 September 1939.
Andrew McKenzie Munn was a hero twice over, he fought with the BEF in France at the start of the War, he was evacuated, wounded, from Dunkirk and later transferred to the RAF as an Air Gunner on Avro Lancaster bombers. Later as an air gunner on Avro Lancaster W8428 on an operation to bomb the docks at La Spezia in northern Italy, he and all the crew on board were killed.
RAF 103 Squadron allocated 20 aircraft for the attack on La Spezia, consisting in total of 208 Avro Lancaster’s and 3 Handley Page Halifax aircraft. Three of RAF 103 Squadrons aircraft immediately returned due to mechanical issues, one aircraft failed to reach the target owing to an unserviceable d/r (distance reading) compass, another ditched in the English Channel and Lancaster W8428 failed to return. Bombing height was between 7,000 and 12,000 feet with Pathfinder aircraft going in first to light up the target with flares.
The goal was to cause maximum damage to the target area. Each aircraft had a bomb load of 5 x 1000 lbs G P, T D (General Purpose, Time Delay), 2 x 90 x 4 lbs (incendiaries) and 2 x 8 x 30 lbs (incendiaries). In addition, all aircraft carried cameras and nickels (leaflets). Take off on 13 April 1943 was at 2019 hours, the route taken was directly south from RAF Elsham Wolds to Selsey Bill, Cabourg (France), Lac du Bourget (France) and on to La Spezia in northern Italy, southeast of Genoa.
There was no cloud cover over the target, the anti-aircraft flax was intense at first but soon died down. A dozen searchlights were in operation and a smoke screen was being used to cover the target area. The Pathfinder Force lit up the target with white flares so that each aircraft could pin-point the target individually and bomb from a lower height than usual. Bombing height was between 7,000 and 12,000 feet. The raid, judging by the fires observed was a great success, but the battleships anchored at the port were not visible due to smoke. The bombing force after their long journey, returned to the UK landing between 0545 hours and 0700 hours. Only one aircraft managed to return to base, the others were diverted for an unknown reason to RAF airfields at Westcott, Tangmere, Wyton, Exeter, and Middle Wallop.
Munn and the crew onboard Avro Lancaster W8428 were posted to the War Casualties Non-Effective Accounts Department, as non-effective missing. Their aircraft most probably crashed following a mid-air collision with RAF 12 Squadron Lancaster ED714, over Saint-Mars-d’Outillé, south of Le Mans in France.
The crew of Avro Lancaster W8428 who died on 14 April 1943:
Flight Lieutenant Edward Claude Lee-Brown RAFVR (125695) pilot, age 20
Pilot Officer James Smart RAFVR (144753) navigator, age 19
Sergeant George Watson Houliston RAFVR (974219) flight engineer, age 31
Flight Sergeant James Joseph O’Brien DFM RAF (551549) wireless operator, age unknown
Sergeant Stanley Moseley RAFVR (1351789) air gunner, age 20
Sergeant Andrew McKenzie Munn RAF (657170) air gunner, age 24
Warrant Officer Class 1 James Willis Toon RCAF (R74721) air observer, age 23
The crew were all interred at Le Mans West Cemetery.
Munn was the son of William L Munn and Helen Munn, Coul Lodge, Auchterarder, Perthshire (late of Barnhill, Perth).
These are the missions they flew prior to being killed:
Edward Lee-Brown and his crew were posted to RAF 103 Squadron at RAF Elsham Wolds from RAF 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit on the 29th December 1942.
Their tour of 16 operations is shown below:
04-Feb-43 – Lorient – Lancaster – W4828 – P/O EC Lee-Brown
18-Feb-43 – Wilhelmshaven – Lancaster – W4828 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
21-Feb-43 – Bremen – Lancaster – W4828 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
25-Feb-43 – Nuremberg – Lancaster – W4828 – P/O EC Lee-Brown
26-Feb-43 – Cologne – Lancaster – W4828 – P/O EC Lee-Brown – Early return – MU gunner became unconscious because of failure of oxygen.
08-Mar-43 – Nuremberg – Lancaster – W4828 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
09-Mar-43 – Munich – Lancaster – ED528 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
11-Mar-43 – Stuttgart – Lancaster – ED612 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
12-Mar-43 – Essen – Lancaster – ED612 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
27-Mar-43 – Berlin – Lancaster – W4828 – F/O EC Lee-Brown
29-Mar-43 – Berlin – Lancaster – W4828 – F/L EC Lee-Brown – Did not take off – Passed take off dead line after runway change.
03-Apr-43 – Essen – Lancaster – W4828 – F/L EC Lee-Brown – Had to evade searchlights in the target area. Bombs fell short as a result.
04-Apr-43 – Kiel – Lancaster – W4828 – F/L EC Lee-Brown
08-Apr-43 – Duisburg – Lancaster – W4828 – F/L EC Lee-Brown
09-Apr-43 – Duisburg – Lancaster – ED612 – F/L EC Lee-Brown
13-Apr-43 – La Spezia – Lancaster – W4828 – F/L EC Lee-Brown – FTR – Crashed near Le Mans, France.
The Lee-Brown crew were involved in an incident during a fighter affiliation demonstration on 27 February 1943 when they were forced to bale out, the instructor, Flight Lieutenant Richard Noel Stubbs RAFVR, DFC DFM was sadly killed. At a height of 6000 ft, F/L Stubbs was demonstrating violent evasive action in Avro Lancaster W4857. During this the port fin collapsed inward and struck the port elevator which became detached. F/L Stubbs headed the aircraft back to base and ordered the crew to bale out. Stubbs attempted to land at RAF Elsham Wolds, aborted and then climbed steeply during which the starboard fin and elevator collapsed. The aircraft dived into the ground and burst into flames killing the pilot.
The crew who parachuted from the damaged aircraft were given a Caterpillar Club pin.
F/L Stubbs was a very experienced pilot who had completed 2 tours with RAF 75 Squadron and RAF 9 Squadron. At the time of the crash, he was attached to the Air Fighting Development Unit.
Flight Sergeant James Joseph O’Brien was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal on 25 April 1941 whilst serving with RAF 77 Squadron. He joined the RAF in 1937 at RAF Cranwell as a boy entrant.
A German night fighter flown by Lt Josef Pützkuhl (10./NJG 5) flying from Morlaix Airfield in Brittany, France claimed to have shot down a Lancaster over northern France – possibly it was the Lancaster that ditched in the English Channel.
Leslie Hore-Belisha is still widely associated in the UK with the amber “Belisha beacons” which were installed at pedestrian crossings while he was Minister for Transport.
Before joining the RAF, Andrew Munn served with the Seaforth Highlanders and was evacuated from France at Dunkirk.
The following is a personal account, written by Alexander McKenzie Munn about his experiences with the British Expeditionary Force in France 1939/1940. The original personal notes are held by the Seaforth Highlanders Museum.
(Notes in square brackets for clarification by Ken Bruce)
Advanced into Belgium by way of Tournai [west of Lille] travelling in dark, pretty tough going driving without lights – hide out most of the next day in orchard close to Albert Canal where Battalion dug in to take position (about 190kms). Got my first shot at enemy aircraft out on reconnaissance, fired a couple of magazines on the Bren (better luck next time). A few hours later they came back and made a raid on a convoy coming up. Fifteen of them swooped down from the cloud on the tail of the first, dropping their death dealing pills, very exciting to watch, but hell to be near them when they explode. They all got clear despite machine gun and AA fire. That night we took up flank action with the Battalion. Using our Bren Gun Carriers. About 2 am we had just about enough – Gerrie shelled us out despite heavy fire from our own artillery in the rear. It would have been suicide to stay and so we returned with a few losses. It really was very aggravating as we could see precious little to fire at. We lost two of the Bren Gun Carriers, one broke down, and the other was ditched in the darkness so we scuttled them.
We then stayed two days on the Franco Belgium border at Hal [Halle]. Discovered a chocolate factory that had been evacuated, Boko chocolate for soldier [much chocolate]. I carried a store in carrier only the heat of the engine and the weather did not help much. The worst sight was the poor people flying (fleeing) from their homes. Old men, women and children al on the trek with just one thing in mind – to get as far away from the fighting area as possible. The roads were packed with them, with their few personal belongings flung over their shoulders. That day I got a beautiful view of a battle between a Messerschmitt and a Spitfire, but sorry to relate the Spitfire bit the dust. The Messerschmitt managed to double round and follow the Spitfire up on the tail and gave it a few bursts with the machine-gun. The British pilot made a jump for it and his parachute and his machine made a perfect nosedive and hit the ground about 500 yards from me, bursting into flames – You talk about ‘Hell’s Angel’, it never had a look in. Shortly after this, we were called away to the region of Arras as we discovered Gerrie was there. How the hell he managed it I could not tell but it sure was an eye-opener for us.
[The Spitfire was most likely a Hawker Hurricane, Spitfires were not sent to France/Belgium with the BEF. The BEF was pulled back to the line of the River Dyle, to the west of Halle, but the Germans had broken through to the south at Sedan, France. There was a counterattack at Arras, France, but the BEF, French and Belgian forces north of the Somme retreated to Dunkirk soon after.]
The first night we arrived there after being hindered with refugees on the road all day, we were subject to another air raid in a wood which we rested in for the night. I like the word ‘rested’. We did not know what it was to rest. There were quite a few boys cracking up under the strain. No wonder when you see the black buggers [Stuka Ju 87 Dive Bombers], about fifty of them screaming overhead, dropping eggs wherever they pleased despite the barrage put up against them. We shot down a few but they still came on. If I was telling a fishy story, I would say they were a 1,000 strong. The burning question with everyone was, ‘Where is the famous RAF?’ We were beginning to think there was none. After two days of dodging shells, bombs and bullets from the Gerrie Infantry, we were shifted to Ypres [Belgium], what for? Well you better ask the War Office, but this sure was the hottest spot yet. Gerrie accounted for a few of our trucks, but we brought down two of their birds and took one crew alive. They were quite posh looking chaps with heir black tunics, breeches and leggings. Two of them had a few medals on their chest. There must be a Woolworth’s in Germany too. They could speak English to a fair extent, their excuse being they might need it one day. You can take that crack both ways. Some of the boys were for lynching them but the officers said they were more useful the way they were, maybe so, I don’t know.
We took up defensive positions that night and we were not there for more than two hours when we contacted Gerrie. After a night of popping at them or should I say any black object that moved, dawn broke and then came fireworks? He started shoving his trench mortar, 100 to the minute or so it seemed like anyway. All you could hear was the whistling over your head and exploding in the close vicinity. It was not so bad when they did whistle overhead, you knew at least you were safe anyway. Between the snipes and flying shrapnel, it was sure no paradise, so we decide to advance. The boys fixed their bayonets and pushed forward, boy did Gerrie retreat? I’ll say he did. He could not stand the cold steel. Quite a few tried to give themselves up but the ‘Jocks’ were so het up they gave them all they had. We advanced alright but the Bat. On our right flank did not so we were in a hotter spot than ever. Between front and side fire, not so healthy I may tell you. The boys began to suffer pretty heavy casualties and it was then a nicely placed shell found my carrier which were hidden in a hollow. I was lucky to be out of it all the time. When I saw it go up, I was not feeling in too happy a position, nor was my crew, the officer and sergeant. The only thing I had on me was my rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition.
At that point, the Bat. Decided to retire back a bit as Gerrie was pressing us, it was then some lucky guy drew a bead on me. By God, it fairly stung, so I dropped into a ditch and lay there for I think about one and a half hours. I could hear one or two Gerrie’s shouting to each other in guttural tones, but I just lay there still hoping they would pass by. It must have been a patrol because for the next hour I could hear nothing, so I decide to crawl along the ditch hoping I was making the right way. Somehow or other I managed to come in contact with a party of RA’s [Royal Artillery] in a small truck by the side of a deserted farmhouse. They were just ready to make a dash for it across an open piece of country to where one of their guns were, so I got in the truck and lay down hoping for the best. Glad to say we only encountered a few stray shots, none of whom hit us, but they were too close to be healthy.
I then arrived at a dressing station behind our lines and had my leg dressed. From there we were put into Red Cross trucks and transported to the coast. We were thirty hours on the road and we only travelled about 100 miles. What with air raids from Gerrie’s and the road blocked with traffic, it was a nightmare of a journey. We arrived at our destination, Dunkirk, everything was in chaos. I shall always remember it; the plane was burning all over and the smell and smoke was terrific. Cars, lorries and everything imaginable was left lying around. I managed to salvage myself a new battle dress and a few pieces of new clothing out of a salvaged RASC [Royal Army Service Corps] truck as my own was in a horrible state what with mud and blood on them.
After a few nerve-racking air raids, we managed to get on a ship. Four of them were lying at the end of the pier. I got into a first-class cabin on the 3rd deck, so feeling quite comfortable, I changed into my new togs and had a wash, the first for four days. I head there was tea ready upstairs, so I managed to limp up for some. While we were up there, the sky seemed to be alive with Nazi planes circling away up above, so we knew we were about to get it hot. Down they came one after the other, whining and roaring like the devil, and dropped some of their heavy bombs despite heavy fire from our ships. ‘Oh, where is the RAF? Some of their bombs went wild but our ship ‘Crested Eagle’, and the next one, were hit direct. I can still feel the blast of that bomb. I thought I could write ‘finish’ to my career. The next minute we got word to leave the ship, which was all very well, but there, was no pier or gangway left, so we were in a bit of a fix? I do not know how some of the wounded manged, but I slid down a rope on to the broken pier and made for the other boat. My leg was fairly giving me hell all the time. After getting as much as possible on board, we cast off ‘toot sweet’. The ship was packed tight with men, but everything was not so bad for a while. About five miles out the vultures returned circling round about us. The ship’s crew put up a heavy barrage with AA gun and a couple of Lewis machine guns but the aircraft seemed to be blessed by Lady Luck because though a few of the shells burst very near them, they seemed to live a charmed life. They repeated the same tactics as at the pier, diving at full speed and letting go with two or three bombs at a time sometimes the planes were inly about 500 feet up before they brought them out of the dive and boy did those engines whine! I’ll say they did, it was really nerve racking the noise they made.
Well as you understand we could not stand that bombardment, so the ship shook from bow to stern as the bombs contacted. What a hell of a din, the blast of hot air smote me across the face about one a second. After Gerrie did as much damage as possible, he drew off leaving the ship just totally wrecked, but still afloat and very surprisingly the engines were still running. How they made it I do not know. The cry went round the ship for fire extinguishers as the damn thing went up in flames. The noise was terrible, between the noise of the dying men and the cracking of burning wood as the fire was getting really desperate. Some of the men broke into song. I mind they sang ‘Loch Lomond’ and ‘Tipperary’ at the top of their voices. It made me think of a picture I once saw of the ‘Lusitania’ before it went down. Everything just looked the same. The heat and smoke were something terrible by now as the ship had turned back and was making for land, we thought we still had a ghost of a chance of life, at least what was left of us. She grounded about two miles out, but a destroyer could be seen steaming to our aid. There was magazine on board and the captain gave orders to jump for it. We were all pretty glad to get away from the heat and smoke which was suffocating us, so I made a bee-line for the side and like a mug dived off instead of jumping – I forgot at the time I was wearing a lifebelt around my neck. The distance to the water was about 15 feet and the impact as I hit the water nearly broke my neck. It was pretty sore for a day or two. When I stuck the water, I started swimming for the shore which now seemed an awful distance away. Too far for my liking. I noticed the destroyer had arrived and lowered a big flat pontoon boat to pick up the unfortunate ones who could not swim. I also noticed Gerrie still floating around way up in the sky. Surprising to relate I felt quite confident when I started swimming for the shore although after a bit the shore still seemed a long distance off. You make slow progress with the lifebelt and of course the salt water in my wound was giving me jip.
I limped up the beach to the sand dunes in front of me and discovered that we were not the only ones to be marooned. There was quite a large number of British soldiers there. I managed to scrape up dry shirt and underpants and I got an old leather coat from a French soldier. By gum – I needed it as the evening was wearing on and I was shivering like a leak. During the night between 2 and 3 thousand troops turned up on the shore and I discovered this was the first of the crowd that was on the retreat. They were to be loaded on to the ships, which were anchored out from the shore. They had come across the channel under cover of darkness. The troops were loaded on small boats, which held only about 10 men a trip, so you can imagine it was a painful night before we managed to get loaded again. Some of the soldiers got fed up waiting and waded out as far as possible and swam the rest, but this was soon stopped as the ships could not cope with them trying to get on board out of the water. It was dawn before I managed to bag a small pleasure boat, which was being used for loading purposes, and would you believe it – it stuck on a sandbank not far out, talk about luck! After about an hour of rugging and tugging, we managed to free it and we embarked safely on a destroyer, from there I fell asleep from pure exhaustion and was awakened at Dover sometime in the afternoon. I landed on English soil with nothing but a shirt, pullover, underpants and a leather coat, which had seen better days, no boots or stockings just like an African native, dressed up. Such is life!
I managed to get equipped on shore so I made for the hospital train which I boarded and landed in Sheffield and then life was a bed of roses, good food, nice nurses and of all things a good bed.
Very nice reading, but Hell to be in!
Andrew McKenzie Munn
6 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders
Transferred RAF 1941
Tail Gunner Aircrew (Lancaster’s)
Killed in Action April 1943
Buried Le Mans Paris
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (C 3697) Annotated section of a vertical aerial photograph taken during a night raid on the docks at La Spezia, Italy. An Avro Lancaster is silhouetted over the target area as a photoflash bomb (centre right) illuminates the docks below, revealing a ‘Littorio’ class battleship lying in harbour (‘A’). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211427
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1941-1945 (CH 9030) Avro Lancaster B Mark III, ED724 ‘PM-M’, of No. 103 Squadron RAF pauses on the flarepath at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, before taking off for a raid on Duisburg, Germany, during the Battle of the Ruhr. Three searchlights (called ‘Sandra’ lights), two of which are visible on the left, form a cone to indicate the height of the cloud base for the departing aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212948
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (C 4505) Vertical aerial photograph taken during the evening attack on the V2 assembly and launching bunker at Wizernes, France by aircraft of No. 1 Group. An Avro Lancaster of No. 103 Squadron RAF flys over the target area, which is covered by the smoke from high-explosive and incendiary bombs. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023326
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 8971) The pilot of an Avro Lancaster of No. 103 Squadron RAF based at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, wearing his oxygen mask while flying the aircraft at high altitude. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210938