June 25th 1944, loss of a Rugby Star.

Sir Arthur Harris’s continuation of the bomber initiative of 14th February 1942, in which German cities became the focus for RAF raids, led to massed formations of light and heavy bombers striking at the very heart of Germany.

In order to achieve these aims, bomber forces of 1,000 aircraft would be required, meaning every available Bomber Command aircraft would be utilised along with those from Operational Training Units (OTU) and (Heavy) Converstion Units (CU).

On June 25th, 1942, whilst on operations to Bremen, the third of the ‘1,000’ bomber raids, one of the first operational aircraft casualties  for 1651 CU would occur when N7442 was shot down shortly before 01:00 by a Luftwaffe night-fighter over Holland. One factor that made this particular loss so great was that not only did all seven crewmen onboard lose their lives, but one of the crew, P/O. Lewis A. Booth (s/n: 118627), had gained international caps playing for England’s National  rugby team.

Born on September 26th 1909, Lewis Booth was the son of Alfred and Amie Booth. He was educated initially at Giggleswick School in Yorkshire, after which he transferred to the Malsis School becoming one of sixteen boys who was lost during the war and since commemorated on the Chapel’s Stained glass window.

Booth attended the Malsis school for two years, 1920-22, when the school first opened. A grand School, it was founded by Albert Henry Montagu, which grew and expanded over the years.

Ten years after he left the school, Booth made his international rugby debut in a game against Wales at Twickenham (January 21st, 1933), in front of a crowd of 64,000 fans; a game in which Wales beat England by 7 points to 3. Booth played his last international match against Scotland at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium two years later on March 16th, 1935. Throughout his two year international rugby career he achieved seven caps for England scoring three tries, his first for England against Ireland at Twickenham, on 11th February 1933. After serving his national team, Booth went on to serve his country joining  the Royal Air Force where he achieved the rank of Pilot Officer within Bomber Command.

On the night of 25/26th June 1942, he was in a Short Stirling MK.I flying with 1651 Conversion Unit (CU) based at RAF Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire. 1651 CU was one of three Conversion Units set up in January 1942, by merging previously formed Conversion Flights. It served to convert crews of No. 3 Group to the Stirling, a rather ungainly aircraft that developed a poor reputation as a bomber. 1651 CU would join that night, sixty-eight other Stirlings in a force of over 1,000 aircraft; a mix of heavy and light bombers, ranging from the Hampden and Whitley to the Halifax and Lancaster.

Take off was at 23:58 from RAF Waterbeach, the weather that week had been good with little rain for many days. After forming up they headed for Germany a course that would take them across the North Sea and on to the western coast of Holland. Just 40 minutes into the flight, whilst over Waddenzee, the Stirling was attacked by a Luftwaffe night fighter and shot down with the loss of all seven crewmen on-board.

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945.

A Stirling MK.I bomber of 1651 HCU at Waterbeach. @IWM (COL202)

P/O. Booth was publicly reported missing four days later on Tuesday 30th June in an article in the local paper “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer”, which stated that he had been ‘lost in a Bomber Command raid’. The article highlighted Booth’s rugby career, saying that he had been a member of the Headingly Club playing over sixty games for his county team Yorkshire, before leaving to join up. 

P/O. Booth died just short of his 33rd birthday, he left behind a wife, Gladys, and a son Michael. His son would follow in his father’s footsteps also taking up rugby and also playing for his home country. P/O. Booth’s body was never recovered and remains missing to this day.

P/O Lewis Booth is joined by two other Pilot Officers, two Flying Officers, a Flight Lieutenant and two Sergeant Pilots amongst other ranks and service personnel all honoured by the Malsis School. Amongst the many awards they’ve achieved are three D.F.C.s and an A.F.M.

The game of rugby was hit hard by the Second World War, during which Germany would lose 16 of its international rugby players, Scotland 15, England 14, Wales 11, Australia 10, Ireland and France both 8, Wales 3 and New Zealand 2. All these losses were a severe blow to the international game, a game that brought many enemies face to face in a friendly tournament where there was little more at stake that honour and a cup.

With no official burial, P/O Booth’s service was commemorated on Panel 68 of the Runneymede Memorial, Surrey.

Lewis Booth @Tim Birdsall from the Malsis website.

Sources

ESPN Website accessed 12/6/19.

The British Newspaper Archive.

Old Malsis Association website accessed 14/6/19.

Rugby Football History website accessed 14/6/19.

10 thoughts on “June 25th 1944, loss of a Rugby Star.

  1. Those 1000 bomber raids must have been a sight to see and struck terror into the enemy. I remember my Dad telling me that he remembered seeing a couple of them going out as a child and the planes just kept coming and coming. Another sad loss of life though as they all were.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another fascinating post, Andy! My old Secondary School Head Master was a pre-war Rugby man and also an amateur boxer. He was a Welshman by the name of R G R Jones. He also flew as a Navigator on Halifaxes during the war. He wouldn’t talk about it much but I did get a “Head Master’s special commendation” for my science coursework from him once when my science master sent my project to him. My project was on the invention, development and applications of RADAR. Of course I’d covered H2S and my old Head Master had used it operationally! One of our English Masters had been in Coastal Command on Sunderlands, flying Anti-Submarine patrols and his wife, also a teacher at our school, was a plotter in the Fighter Command Ops Room during the Battle of Britain. In fact, I can still pick her out in “that” famous photograph! My history master, Mr Rawle, had taken a German bullet in the chest at El Alamein. Tough breed they were! (And nobody mucked around in their classrooms. You simply didn’t dare to!) Even our neighbour had been an Air Gunner on Hampdens!

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      • Mr Thomas, he from Coastal Command would, but often he said those patrols mainly consisted of endless mind-numbing scanning of the ocean! Mrs Thomas, his wife, was the plotter at Fighter Command HQ. She always said that she enjoyed her work! Great sense of cameraderie between the girls. She was on duty on Sunday September and once described the tension, but at the same time, the nervous excitement caused not only by the action but by the presence in the upper Gallery of Winston Churchill. She said it was like being back at school, being watched over by a teacher, the irony of which struck me straightaway! Mr Rawle never talked much about his time as a Desert Rat. I think it was too traumatic for him. He much preferred the deeper past. Mr Jones only ever mentioned the flying aspects. Actually being shot at or dropping the bombs, he kept silent about. His nickname was in fact “Bomb Head”, but that was mainly due to his explosive temper if you were on the wrong side of him. Luckily for me, I was always on the other, kindlier side of him!Best place to be, quite frankly!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that is fairly common with people from the era, not to talk about it. I’m currently researching the life of a pilot who served in the Middle East flying patrols, convoy escorts and the like, and some of it sounds quite tedious. There are sightings of Ju88s and subs, but they are actually quite rare. I can imagine sitting in the operations room with Churchill etc looking over you is quite daunting for a young waaf, not the sort of thing you experience on a daily basis!

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