Pilot: F/O Bob Fletcher, F/S Joe Nelson, S/L Ken Foster, F/S Jack Beesley, W/O Wally Layne, S/L Robert "Red" McKinna, F/S Harry Page
The Pathfinder Year - 97 Squadron at Bourn
LANCASTER JA708 OF- P
Shot down 23rd/24th September 1943
Pilot: F/O Bob Fletcher
Flight Engineer: F/S Joe Nelson
Navigator: S/L Ken Foster - killed
Bomb Aimer: F/S Jack Beesley
W/OP: Wally Layne
Mid-Upper Gunner: S/L Robert "Red" McKinna - killed
Rear gunner: F/S Harry Page - killed
On 23rd/24th September 1943, Bourn's crews were briefed for two separate attacks, against Mannheim and Darnstadt. Flight Lieutenant Fletcher's crew were one of those listed for the Mannheim trip.
Squadron Leader Ken Foster took the place of the regular navigator and Squadron Leader McKinna, the Squadron's Gunnery Leader, replaced James White (who had just finished his tour) as mid-upper gunner. Robert McKinna, nicknamed "Red" by his chums owing to his distinctive hair colour, had arrived at Bourn at the beginning of July from the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit at Upwood.
There was a mix-up in the targetting of the raid and the small town of Frankenthal, just north of Mannheim, together with the neighbouring town of Ludwigshaven, was the place which received the bomb loads. The little town was devastated and the historic town centre totally destroyed. Bob Fletcher's crew did not know of this mistake as it was not common knowledge until many years after the war, and as James White writes, "The sad thing is that our crew was shot down being unaware until their dying day that, along with the rest, they had failed to bomb the correct target".
Five minutes after dropping the bombs the crew were picked up by the blue-tinged radar-controlled searchlight master beam and immediately coned. Bob put the aircraft into a tight corkscrew rapid descent and eventually got free. He then started to climb again to regain lost height. It was then that a night fighter that had apparently followed them down attacked and set the aircraft on fire. Bob ordered "bale out" and seeing the Bomb Aimer and the Flight Engineer exit through the forward hatch and checking over the intercom that no one was left, believing that the rest had left via the rear escape hatch, baled out himself.
Unfortunately he did not know that Wally Layne had gone down the fuselage to check on the two gunners. Finding them both dead in their turrets, Layne returned to the front of the aircraft, passed the dead body of Squadron Leader Foster, to discover that he was alone in a blazing aircraft. In his own words, he said the shortest prayer possible and jumped.
All four of the crew who baled out survived to become prisoners of war, although Wally Layne remained on the run for ten days before being captured.
Raid card for La Spezia. David Layne sent this by email on 15th March 2008, with the following comment: "Looking at the site today I saw the raid card for Brown's Spezia raid. My father was on this raid too and attached is a drawing by the same artist, A Pollen, for the same raid."
Above: Graves of Harry Page and "Red" McKinna
Below left: Ken Foster, below right: his parents' grave which gives his details
Below left; Wally Layne, Below right: Fletcher crew with ground crew
Extract from Bomber Command Losses - 23/24.9.43
Lancaster III JA708 OF - P. Op Mannheim. T/O 1930 Bourn. Shot down from 16,000 feet by a night fighter. Those who died rest in Rheinberg War Cemetery. S/L Foster was the Navigation Leader and S/L McKinna was the Gunnery Leader. He was a noted amateur golfer, having won the Highland Amateur title in 1935, and finished second in the 1937 Irish Amateur competition.
F/L R.A.Fletcher(pow), F/S J.E.Nelson(pow), S/L K.J.Foster DFC & Bar(+), F/S J.F.Beesley(pow), P/O W.H.Layne(pow), S/L R.A.McKenna DFC & Bar(+), F/S H.R.Page(+).
The following is taken from some notes on Ken Foster by an old friend
Kenneth Jack Foster, called "Ken" was born November 11, 1916, in Pendleton, Salford Manchester; he was the son of John and Winifred Foster. In addition to his official CWGC gravestone, he is memorialized on his parents´ tombstone in Southport, which reads "Also Sqd. Ldr. Kenneth J. Foster .... Killed in Action 23rd Sept., 1943. Interred in Germany."
His name appears on a roll of honour in Southport.
Ken´s brother John (also of the RAF, who died in the U.S. in 2006) once wrote of Ken´s "high spirits and great zest for life." This was so true! His enthusiasm was a very outstanding characteristic. The older of his two sisters likes to remember that Ken taught her "to dance the slow fox trot", and the younger, fourteen years old when Ken died - kept a scrapbook about him during the war and called him her "hero". There was also a brother, Ron, who was a little boy when he lost his big brother, Ken.
As a young boy Ken moved with his family to Southport, where he was a student at King George V School.
Ken enlisted in the Royal Airforce Volunteer Reserve on 31 July 1939.
He loved music and dancing; Ken was an expert dancer, and you could almost say he had a "passion" for dancing. Fishing was a hobby.
Ken married Eileen and had a daughter, Karin.
He was in 78 Squadron, June 10, 1940.
June 12, 1940 he was posted to 51 Squadron, stationed at Dishforth in Yorkshire.
Awarded DFC, gazetted 18 July 1941, flying as Navigator with 51 Squadron, "raids on Berlin and other German targets, carried out in very bad weather. On his 29th Sortie a direct hit on the target at Ludwigshafen was proven by a Night Photograph taken at the same time. .... Foster has throughout shown great courage and devotion to Duty, as well as skill in Navigation and has been an excellent example to Observers in this Squadron."
In 1941 he went to an Astro Course in Canada. His return to England and to 51 Squadron was via Bermuda from where, on Feb 2, 1941, he flew the Atlantic Ocean as Navigator with a British crew ferrying an American bomber plane, the PBY flying boat, to Pembroke Dock, England.
Awarded Bar to DFC, gazetted 10 April 1945. Sq/Ldr Kenneth Jack Foster 77915, with effect from 23rd Sept 1943. "He has taken part in numerous operational missions which have included most of the major operations against German targets. On three occasions, he has rendered valuable aid to the squadron by acting as captain of inexperienced crews. He is a very keen captain of aircraft and a skilled and experienced navigator ..."
It is thought that Ken died after jumping from the aircraft with his parachute, but there are three differing versions of how he lost his life. His body was found in a forest district called "Bösenberg" (on a hill which itself also has the name "Bösenberg) and is located about six kilometres from the village of Maikammer in Germany. Ken Foster was the only member of the crew ever to be buried in Maikammer.