Sergeant Ernest Coward  -  434 Squadron  
   

 

Sergeant Ernest Charles Coward - RAFVR

 

 Sergeant Ernest Coward was serving as Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on board Halifax Mk.V LK909 coded WL-G during an operation to Hanover on September 22/23, 1943. The aircraft left Tholthorpe at 1902hrs but failed to return, the entire crew perished.

The crew consisted of:

Name Service Trade Hometown Age
P/O Herbert Green RAFVR Pilot Ottley, Yorkshire 23
F/Sgt Robert Reynolds RCAF 2nd Pilot - 21
Sgt Stanley Hearn RAFVR Flight Engineer - 35
Sgt John Cross RAFVR Navigator - -
F/Sgt Alan Cudd RAFVR Bomb Aimer Morcombelake, Dorsetshire 21
Sgt Ernest Coward RAFVR W/Op/AG Rotherham, Yorkshire 20
W/O1 Allan Heaney RCAF M/U Gunner Ottawa, Ontario 21
F/Sgt Dennis Burge RAFVR Rear Gunner Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey 21

CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS:

Location: Ströhnen, South Barenburg.

 ‘G’ – Green took off at 19.02 hrs from Tholthorpe, Yorkshire as part of a group of  711 aircraft on the first major raid on Hanover for over 2 years. Five U.S.A.A.F B-17's from the 305th Bomb Group were in the formation, 422nd Bomb Squadron also joined which was their first night raid on Germany. 322 Lancaster's, 226 Halifaxes, 137 Stirlings and 26 Wellingtons took part. 26 aircraft would not return.

 Visibility in the target area was good but stronger winds than forecast caused the marking and the bombing to be concentrated between 2 and 5 miles south south-west of the city centre. It is unlikely that serious damage was caused.
LK909 was shot down by a Lt. Heinz Bock (Honours – EK 1 & 2 Night Fighter Operational Clasp) of the Luftwaffe 8./NJG1 night-fighter group flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4, at a height of 4,500 metres at 22.40 hours over Ströhnen, South Barenburg.
 
 The remains of LK-909 crashed near Han. Ströhnen, which is south of Bremen (war map reference L53/W6438). The crew were buried in a cemetery there known as 'Cemetery for All Foreigners'.

 The German authorities confirmed the deaths of the crew of LK-909 to the Air Ministry, via the International Red Cross in Geneva, by a Totenliste (Death List) but, did not state burial particulars. A Totenliste was the normal method of alerting the Air Ministry of the demise of Allied aircrew over Germany. A telegram dated 3rd December 1943 from H.Q. of No. 6 Bomber Group to 434 Squadron, stated that German authorities had informed the M.R.E.S. (Missing Research and Enquiries Section) at P4 (casualty) of the Air Ministry of the deaths of the crew of LK-909.

 Totenliste No. 190 stated that LK-909 crashed 4 Km’s east of Ströhnen and 8 bodies were recovered. At the time of burial in the ‘Cemetery For All Foreigners’ at Ströhnen, only Fl/Eng. Sgt. S. Hearn 1457812 R.A.F.V.R. was identifiable. The communal grave was marked by a cross bearing ’7 unknown English fliers, shot down near Ströhnen 22.09.43. Sgt. Hearn 1457812’.

 On 8th October 1945, the cemetery was visited by F/L. Cade of No. 8 section M.R.E.S. at R.A.F. Bunde, Germany. There, he discovered the communal grave of the crew of LK-909 and 42 other airmen from England and the Commonwealth.

 An Investigation Report (4MREU – G55) dated 13th May 1946 reveals that  F/L - E.T. Haines visited Han Ströhnen and interrogated the local Burgemeister. Haines was led to the cemetery and there, found the communal grave of the 8 aircrew from LK-909 previously reported by F/L Cade. The Burgemeister revealed that the aeroplane had been hit at high altitude and had broken up, falling to the earth in small pieces. F/L Haines ordered the Burgemeister to recruit local labour to exhume the coffins. Once the coffins were exposed, only four of the bodies were identifiable. They were:

Sgt. Hearn 1457812, Sgt. Green 1096580, W/O Heaney R.82526 and Sgt. Burge 1320913.

As the investigation progressed, the following came to light;

Coffin 1 contained Nav. Sgt. Cross J929899 or B/A Sgt. Cudd 1388584.

Coffin 2 contained R.A.G. Sgt. Burge 1320913.

Coffin 3 contained MU/AG Sgt. Heaney R82526.

Coffin 4 contained WO/AG Sgt. Coward 1332058 and 2nd Pilot Sgt. Reynolds R135119.

Coffin 5 Fl/Eng. Sgt. Hearn 1457812.

Coffin 6 1st Pilot Sgt. Green 1095680.

Coffin 7 contained Sgt. Cross J929899 or Sgt. Cudd 1388584.

 The crew had been buried in swampy ground and decomposition was advanced and the coffins were in a poor state.

 F/L Haines instructed the G.R.U. (Graves Registration Unit) to transport the bodies to the newly established Hanover War Cemetery and there, the crew were reburied in Plot 8, Row D with suitable headstones marking their respective positions.

 Lt. Boch, the Luftwaffe pilot that shot down LK-909, was killed in October 1943 during a forced landing at Bad Aibling airfield after being hit by flak.

 

Photo and information courtesy of Nigel Caldicott.