West Wales has a long and distinguished military history, with the Royal Dockyard at Pembroke, and the Army bases at Pendine, Penally and Castlemartin, but the newest of the Armed Forces is the Royal Air Force, and during the 20th Century, twelve R.A.F. or R.N.A.S. bases were created throughout the area. This page serves to commemorate the men who flew from the only one of these bases to be situated in Carmarthenshire: R.A.F. Pembrey. Many thanks to John Davies of Llanelli for the photographs of the War Graves at St. Illtyd Church, Pembrey, and to Dave Wakeford, the son of Squadron Leader Lionel Wakeford, for the photograph of his late father and for details about him and the crash. Thanks also to Steve Jones for the photo and details regarding F/O Beverley Thompson, and for the extra details on some of the other airmen buried at Pembrey.
RAF Pembrey started as a training base for anti-aircraft gunners in 1936, with 280 Ground Defence Squadron. In 1938 plans were drawn up for an airfield and the airbase was operational by 1939. After the loss of France there was a great need for airfields to defend Britain from the Luftwaffe and Pembrey became a Battle of Britain fighter base, and formed part of 10 Group, Fighter Command. Headquarters of 10 Group were at RAF Box, which controlled the airfields in its area. Pembrey was home to 92 Squadron from 18 June 1940, and then to 79 Squadron, from 8 September 1940. The area saw a great deal of action with both the airfield and the nearby Royal Ordnance Factory at Pembrey being major targets for German bombers, and it is believed that 25 official kills were accredited to aircraft flown out of Pembrey during this time. In 1941 Pembrey became an RAF Gunnery School, equipped with Vickers Wellington’s, Fairey Battles and Bristol Blenheim’s, using the airfield’s Spitfires as dummy targets to teach the crews how to shoot down enemy fighters.
A noteworthy incident was the story of Oberleutnant Arnim Faber, Adjutant of III fighter Gruppe of JG2, who on 23 June 1942 had engaged Spitfires over the south coast of Britain and on heading towards Exeter, mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel. Being short on fuel, he landed at Pembrey believing it to be a Luftwaffe airfield in France. The Pembrey Duty Pilot, a Sgt. Jeffreys, grabbed a Very pistol and ran from the control tower and jumped onto the wing of Faber’s aircraft as it taxied in. Ironically, Faber was piloting the latest enemy fighter, the Focke Wulf 190A, a type the RAF had only ever seen flying over France.
In 1945 Fighter Command once again took over the base, and RAF Pembrey became home to 233 Operational Conversion Unit which flew De Havilland Vampires and Hawker Hunters. On its closure on 13 July 1957, Princess Margaret flew on the last Valetta aircraft to leave the runway. There were five huge hangers for bombers and a number of smaller blister-roofed hangers for fighter aircraft but these were taken down in 1962 and only two remain. There was an observation tower near Allt Cunedda Farm, a radio station on the Pinged Road and a domed star navigation building that still stands on the approach to the airfield. There were a series of anti-aircraft batteries and numerous pillboxes to defend the area, as well as numerous concrete anti aircraft emplacements used to train Gunnery crews. Along the railway line tank blocks protected against invasion and along the top end of Cefn Sidan, the stakes that defended against landings are still visible at low tide.
Pembrey has been host to many Squadrons and aircraft types over its time, as well as being home to a large number of airmen over the years. One of the more famous of these airmen was Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, of Dambusters fame, whose photograph is below. The following were the main Squadrons stationed at Pembrey during its active history. Although not an extensive list, it gives an insight into the character of Pembrey during its service history:
Squadron Numbers 595, 92 and 118 flew Spitfires; Numbers 32, 79 and 316 (formed at Pembrey) flew Hurricanes; Numbers 238 and 248 flew Bristol Beaufighter’s; Numbers 256 and 307 flew the Bolton Paul Defiant’s, and Number 233 OCU flew Vampires, Tempest, Mosquito, Meteors and Hunters from there.
R.A.F. Burials at Pembrey (St. Illtyd) Churchyard
There are five Commonwealth burials of the 1914-18 war here, and there are twenty two more burials of the 1939-45 war, one of which is an unidentified airman of the R.A.F. There are also seven Polish Air Force war burials here. Some of these men were locals, and have been remembered on the Pembrey War Memorial. Those who are not on the Memorial are remembered below. Also, once buried at Pembrey, was a German crewman of a Luftwaffe Junkers 88 Bomber.
Buried here are the entire four-man crew of the ill-fated Handley-Page Hampden, Serial P4311, which had been detached from 14 OTU for training at RAF Pembrey. The aeroplane crashed on the edge of the Gwendraeth Marshes on 17 September 1940.
John Raymond Baldock, Pilot Officer, 4087075, Royal Air Force. John was born on 4 January 1932 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and was serving at RAF Pembrey with 233 OCU. He was killed when he crashed his Vampire jet, Serial VZ106, into Fan Hir, in the Black Mountains on 9 October 1953. John was just 21 years old, and is buried at Pembrey.
Spencer Rhys Bevan-John, Pilot Officer, 81933, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Spencer was the son of Rhys Bevan John, B.A., M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. and Katharine Bevan John, of Pembrey. He was a Scholar of Brasenose College, Oxford, when he volunteered into the RAFVR, and trained as a Pilot. Spencer was posted to 53 Squadron, which flew the Bristol Blenheim IV, based at Thorney Island. Soon after the outbreak of war 53 Squadron moved to France to undertake strategic reconnaissance duties. The Squadron returned to the UK in May 1940 to fly reconnaissance missions from south-east England and in July began bombing sorties. Spencer was killed when his Blenheim crashed into the Borth Sea on 30 September, 1940. He was aged only 19, and was brought home for burial at Pembrey. Spencer’s brother D.R.S. Bevan-John was captured by the Italians when he was a crew-member aboard a Sunderland of 228 Squadron, that was shot down in the Mediterranean on 6 August, 1941.
David Jack Blair, Sergeant (Pilot), 754538, Royal Air Force. David was the son of William Blair and Margaret Blair (nee Wood). He served as a Pilot at RAF Pembrey, and died as part of the crew of Handley-Page Hampden, Serial P4311, which had been detached from 14 OTU for training at RAF Pembrey. The aeroplane crashed on the edge of the Gwendraeth Marshes on 17 September 1940, killing its four man crew. He was 21 years old.
George Warden Brown, Sergeant (W.Op./Air Gnr. U/T), 970851, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Gordon was the son of Robert and Mary Brown of Dundee. He was part of the crew of Handley-Page Hampden, Serial P4311, which had been detached from 14 OTU for training at RAF Pembrey. The aeroplane crashed on the edge of the Gwendraeth Marshes on 17 September 1940, killing its four man crew. George was 20 years old.
John Douglas Laing Cooper, Sergeant, 971470, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. John was the son of James D. Cooper and Robina M. Cooper of Giffnock, Renfrewshire. John was killed on 17 September 1940 during the crash of Handley-Page Hampden, Serial P4311, which had been detached from 14 OTU for training at RAF Pembrey. The aeroplane crashed on the edge of the Gwendraeth Marshes on 17 September 1940, killing its four man crew.. He was 22 years old.
Montague Beaumont Glover, Lieutenant, 159476, Royal Artillery. Montague was the son of Beaumont and Louisa Vernon Jane Rigby Glover, and the husband of Vera Annette Elizabeth Glover of Herne Hill, London. He served with the Royal Artillery, based at RAF Pembrey, probably in charge of an Anti Aircraft gun, when he died on 11 August 1941. He was 47 years old.
Harold George Henry, Leading Aircraftman, (W.Op/Air Gunner), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Harold was the son of George and Mabel Frances Henry, and the husband of Kate Ivy Henry. He died on 24 May 1942, aged 31.
John Harvey Hutchinson, Wing Commander (Pilot), 16112, Royal Air Force. John was the son of William and Asta Hutchinson, of Finchampstead, Berkshire, and the husband of Beatrice K. Hutchinson, of Finchampstead. John was based at RAF Pembrey, and died when his Miles Magister, Serial P6347, hit the cable of a tethered barrage balloon at Langley, near Slough on 8 October 1940. He was buried at Pembrey.
Frederick William Rupert Jacques, Pilot Officer, 3520735, Royal Air Force. Frederick was born 27 June 1929 at Batu Gajah, Malaya. He served with 233 OCU based at RAF Pembrey. Frederick was killed on 20 June 1957 when his Hawker Hunter, Serial WT563, crashed soon after take off into Kidwelly Railway Station. Frederick was 27 years old and is buried at Pembrey.
George Alfred Layton, Leading Aircraftman (W.Op/Air Gunner), 1376316, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. George was the son of John T. Layton and Elizabeth H. Layton, of Ilford, Essex. He was serving at No. 1 Air Gunnery School. George was killed in a training flight in a Blenheim, Serial L1218, when it crashed at Pinged on 24 May 1942. He was aged 24.
Wilfred Leonard Morris, Leading Aircraftman (W.Op/Air Gunner), 1259526, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Wilfred was the son of Frederick Wilfred L. Morris and Gladys Morris, of Ealing, Middlesex. Wilfred was attached to No. 1 Air Gunnery School at Pembrey when his Blenheim, serial Z6242, crashed into the sea near Burry Holms on 1 August 1941. He was 25 years old.
Robert Noble, Gunner, 1744624, Royal Artillery. Robert was serving at RAF Pembrey with the 66th Battery, 80th Light Anti Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, when he died on 11 February 1942.
Stephen John Maxwell Ogilvie, Sub-Lieutenant (A), Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Stephen was the son of Sir William Heanage Ogilvie and Lady Vere Magdalen Ogilvie (nee Quilter), of St. John’s Wood, London. He served with 748 Squadron, based at the Royal Naval Air Station named H.M.S.Vulture, which was situated at St. Merryn, Cornwall. Stephen died on 7 October 1943 when his Seafire, Serial NX954, crashed into Bideford Bay after a collision. His body was washed up on Cefn Sidan Beach. Stephen was aged 22.
Alec Frederick Prior, Aircraftman 2nd Class, 1357325, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Alec was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Prior, and the husband of Elsie Mary Prior, of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. He died at Shrewsbury on 15 April 1941, aged 27, and was buried at Pembrey.
William Leyson Rhys, Sergeant (Pilot), 1380898, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. William was the son of Tudor Leyson Rhys and Miriam Rhys, of Pembrey. He was serving at 1655 Conversion Unit at Horsahm St. Faith, training to fly the Mosquito. William was killed when he crashed Mosquito, Serial DZ346 at Norton, Suffolk, on 31 October 1942. He was aged just 20, and is buried at Pembrey.
Bernard James Skelly, Warrant Officer, 418189, Royal Australian Air Force. Bernard was born on the 5th April, 1918 in Australia, the son of Bernard James and Katherine Mary Skelly, and the husband of Nancy Pearl Skelly, of 9, Murchison Street, St. Kilda, Victoria, Australia. Bernard was posted to the 1st Air Gunnery School at RAF Pembrey, and was sadly killed in an accident on 26 January 1945 when his Spitfire, Serial AR320, crashed at New Hedges, Tenby in a heavy blizzard. Bernard was aged 26.
Basil York Sowter, Pilot Officer (Pilot), 42083, Royal Air Force. Basil was the Pilot of the of the ill-fated Handley-Page Hampden, Serial P4311, which had been detached from 14 OTU for training at RAF Pembrey. The aeroplane crashed on the edge of the Gwendraeth Marshes on 17 September 1940, killing its four man crew.
Beverley John Wentworth Thomson, Flying Officer, 421138, Royal Australian Air Force. Beverley was born on 25 March 1923, the son of Harold Wentworth Thomson and Madge Thomson of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. He had married Mary Thomson, of Llanelli, while posted to the 12th Advanced Flying School at RAF Pembrey, where he was killed in an aircraft accident on 6 January 1945 aged just 21. The crash was in fact Carmarthenshire’s worst air disaster, with six men killed, mostly 19 year-old trainee Air Gunners, who were training aboard Wellington LN553 when it crashed into nearby mudflats. (Courtesy Steve Jones).
Charles Albert Venn, Sergeant (Pilot), 969799, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Charles was the son of Charles Edward and Alice Edith Venn, of Penarth, Glamorgan, and was at RAF Pembrey attached to 79 Squadron, which were then based there, equipped with the Hawker Hurricane Mark I. Charles was killed on 24 February 1941 when his Hawker Hurricane, Serial P3122, crashed whilst on target practise at Cefn Sidan Beach. He was 26 years old.
Lionel Hubert Wakeford, DFC, Squadron Leader, Royal Air Force. Lionel was born in Weymouth in 1915 and Joined the RAF at age 15 as an apprentice at RAF Halton. By the outbreak of WW2 he was a Sergeant Pilot in Egypt (Heliopolis) flying Bristol Bombay aircraft with 216 squadron throughout Egypt, North Africa and Greece. Later returning to the U.K. flying Wellington Bombers. He was an early member of the Pathfinders with 139 Squadron flying Mosquito aircraft. By the end of the war he had flown over 2,400 hours at which time he had the rank of Squadron Leader. He was twice mentioned in Dispatches and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Post war followed service with 29 Squadron. Moving to RAF Pembrey to form 233 Squadron a conversion unit in 1952 where he ran the tactical wing. On 22 September 1953, Lionel was training Pilot W.H. Williams in flying the Vampire Jet, and the aeroplane took off from Pembrey Airfield. However shortly after take-off Lionel requested permission to return to base. The aircraft was seen to weave for 2 miles approaching the airfield which was a method of losing speed. Unfortunately the Vampire crashed at the edge of the runway. The inquest found that the aircraft had suffered a sever fire probably starting immediately after take-off (possibly a re-ignite after a “flame out”) which had led to the crash. Both men were killed on impact, and Lionel is buried at Pembrey (St. Illtyd) Churchyard. On 9 March 1953, another Vampire Pilot based at Pembrey had been killed, when he crashed into a field at Llanybri.
William Richard Aelwyn Walters, Pilot Officer (Pilot), 61501, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. William was the son of the Reverend Canon Thomas William Walters, M.A. and Emmeline Florence Walters of Branksome Park, Bournemouth, Hampshire. He served as a Pilot with 79 Squadron, which was based at RAF Pembrey, equipped with the Hawker Hurricane I. William was flying over Carmarthen Bay in Hurricane Serial P3268, when he was forced to ditch after a mechanical problem. He died of hypothermia as a result on 27 April 1941, aged 29.
The Unknown Airman. On 25 May 1943 the body of an unknown RAF Airman was washed ashore on Cefn Sidan Beach. He is buried at Pembrey. The base of the headstone is carved with the simple, yet moving, enscription chosen by Rudyard Kipling after World War One, and which adorns thousands of graves of unknown Allied servicemen; ‘Known Unto God’.
Polish Air Force Burials at Pembrey
Bohdan Anders, Pilot Officer, 79 Squadron. Died on 2 June 1941 when flying a Miles Magister, Serial R1838, of 316 Squadron, when he hit a barrage balloon cable near Malpas, Cheshire. His headstone commemorates both himself and Olech Kawczynski, below.
Olech Antoni Kawczynski, Pilot Officer, 79 Squadron. Died on 8 May 1941 when flying a Hawker Hurricane, Serial Z2324, which crashed while on target practise on Cefn Sidan Beach.
Jacek Zygmunt Fran. Kinel, Sergeant Pilot. Died on 8 May 1944.
Waclaw Oyrzanowski, Flight Sergeant, 307 Squadron. Fatally wounded, while acting as a Mechanic, in Mosquito, Serial DD644, Piloted by Kaptain Roman Grzanka, which crashed at Pennard on the Gower on 27 June 1943. Walclaw died the following day, 28 June 1943.
Roman Grzanka, Kaptain, 307 Squadron. Roman was a famed one-legged Pilot in the Polish Air Force. He was Pilot of Mosquito, Serial DD644, based at RAF Fairwood Common, when it crashed at Pennard on the Gower on 27 June 1943. Roman was killed in the crash, and his Co-Pilot, Sergeant (Mechanic) Oyrzanowski died the following day.
Stan Piatkowski, Pilot Officer, 79 Squadron. Died on 25 October 1940, when he crashed his Hurricane, Serial N2728, near Carew Cheriton after a routine patrol over Linney Head.
Stan Szmejl, Flying Officer (Pilot), 79 Squadron. Died on 24 June 1941.
Leon Jan Watorowski, Pilot Officer, 317 Squadron. Died on 8 December 1944, when he crashed his Spitfire, Serial NH492, into the sea off Port Talbot.
Luftwaffe Burial (World War Two)
UnterOffizer Krock, Luftwaffe. UnterOffizer Krock was one of a four man crew of a Luftwaffe Junkers 88 which crashed in Carmarthen Bay on 5 August 1942. Krock’s body was washed ashore at Laugharne, and he was buried at Pembrey. In the 1960’s the German War Graves Commission re-interred his body to Cannock Chase German Cemetery.