One thing that my research into Portsmouth’s Second World War dead has shown is the sheer number of young men who were killed on operations whilst serving in the RAF, and in particular in Bomber Command. There were young men who were going into action night after night in the skies over Europe. Bomber Command lost more men killed than any other comparable command in the British armed forces during the war.
We tend to think of Portsmouth as being a naval town, which of course it is – we all know about the devastating loss of life caused by the sinkings of HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham. We are also perhaps more conscious of the armies role, especially as Portsmouth was the launchpad for D-Day.
Yet we hear very little about the young men of Portsmouth who were killed serving in the RAF. And they were overwhelmingly members of Bomber Command, killed in the strategic Bomber offensive during 1943 and 1944. They were mostly called-up servicemen, the peacetime RAF had expanded massively. They were also remarkably young – most were in their early to mid twenties. Not only were they going into action every night, but they were performing roles operating a complex aircraft – Pilots, Navigators, Wireless Operators, Flight Engineers, Air Bombers and Air Gunners.
Remarkably, two un-related Portsmouth men were killed on the same aircraft. Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy DFC (21 and from Southsea) and Pilot Officer Alan Hargrave (24 and from Portsmouth) were members of 7 Squadron, which operated Lancasters from Oakington. Crew members of PB148 MG-C ‘C for Charlie’, McCarthy was the Pilot and Hargrave the Navigator. Bomber Crews formed by a process of ‘palling-up’, so either McCarthy and Hargrave teamed up as two Portsmouth lads, or by a huge coincidence they found themselves on the same crew.
On an operation to bomb a target at Sterkrade in the Ruhr, 7 Squadron was in the Pathfinder role. C for Charlie, however, came to grief in the skies over Holland. There is no indication as to how the she was lost, but all of the crew are now buried in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery in Holland.