Thursday, 1 November 2012

Stanley Hugh Jenkins (1911-44), RAFVR flight engineer who died in WW2


Stanley was a son of Elizabeth Jane Jenkins nee Wilkins (1876-1953), who was the eldest sibling of my grandmother Gertrude Taylor nee Wilkins. He was therefore a cousin of my father.

On 26th March 1900, Elizabeth Jane Wilkins married Walter Hugh Jenkins at St Thomas, Charlton. She was aged 23, he was 24, born in Plumstead, a son of William Henry Jenkins, a blacksmith. Walter’s occupation was given as machinist on the marriage register. The witnesses were Elizabeth’s brother Albert and sister Ethel. Walter’s occupation was given as bookkeeper in the 1901 census and their address was 11 Elm Street, Plumstead.

The 1911 census shows Walter (35, a bookkeeping clerk at the Royal Arsenal) and Elizabeth (35) living in three rooms at 17 Piedmont Road, Plumstead. The census return says that they had two children but that both had died before the census date. One of these was Walter Leslie Jenkins, who died in 1907 aged 3. Elizabeth later had two more children, Stanley Hugh Jenkins (born May 16th 1911) and Winifred Jenkins (born April 11th 1913).

Walter Jenkins died in 1920 aged 44, when Stanley was aged 8. Electoral registers show that Elizabeth continued to live at 17 Piedmont Road with her children. Stanley is listed at the address from 1933 (when he reached the age of 21) and Winifred from 1937. The 1939 national register shows Elizabeth Jenkins living at 17 Piedmont Road with her children Stanley (a vehicle builder) and Winifred (a florist). Winifred married Norman William Sutch in 1943 in Woolwich.

Stanley joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), which was formed in July 1936. The object was to provide a reserve of aircrew for use in the event of war. By September 1939, the RAFVR comprised 6,646 Pilots, 1,625 Observers and 1,946 Wireless Operators. When war broke out the Air Ministry employed the RAFVR as the principal means for aircrew entry to serve with the RAF. A civilian volunteer on being accepted for aircrew training took an oath of allegiance ('attestation') and was then inducted in to the RAFVR. Normally he returned to his civilian job for several months until he was called up for aircrew training. During this waiting period he could wear a silver RAFVR lapel badge to indicate his status. By the end of 1941 more than half of Bomber Command aircrew were members of the RAFVR. Eventually of the "RAF" aircrew in the Command probably more than 95% were serving members of the RAFVR.

WW2 service records have not yet been made public so I don’t have full details of Stanley’s time in the RAFVR. However, I do know that he was a Sergeant and served in 578 Squadron as a flight engineer. 578 Squadron was formed at RAF Snaith, East Riding of Yorkshire on 14 January 1944. It transferred to RAF Burn, North Yorkshire in February 1944 and was disbanded there on 15 April 1945. It was equipped with Halifax Mk III bombers which had four Hercules engines and a crew of seven - pilot, navigator, wireless operator, bomb aimer, flight engineer and two gunners - mid-upper and rear. 578 Squadron carried out 2,721 operational sorties with the Halifax for a loss of 219 aircrew and 40 aircraft.

On the right hand side of the Halifax cockpit was a fold down seat that the flight engineer used. The centre mounted throttles could be reached by both the pilot and flight engineer. On take-off, the flight engineer handled these while the pilot concentrated on keeping the heavily laden aircraft straight. The flight engineer was there to assist the pilot, monitor the engines and fuel levels and transfer fuel to maintain the balance of the aircraft.

Halifax Mk III bomber

The 578 Squadron Association have supplied me with information on five operations that Stanley took part in during 1944, including 3 attacks on Berlin and one on Leipzig. On 15/16th March 1944, the squadron attacked Stuttgart. It was a night raid, the planes took off at 18.52 on the 15th. Stanley’s Halifax bomber later returned having completed its mission, but went out of control within sight of RAF Burn airfield and crashed at Selby Brickworks, killing him and most of the other crew. Only the navigator and wireless operator survived. The cause of the crash was never established. Stanley died on 16th March 1944 aged 32 and is buried in a war grave in Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery.


The grave is inscribed
126234 SERGEANT
S H JENKINS
FLIGHT ENGINEER
ROYAL AIR FORCE
16TH MARCH 1944 AGE 32

DUTY DONE
RIP

There are 988 WW2 burials in this cemetery, nearly all of airmen. Probate records show that Stanley’s mother was granted administration of his estate (£545).

Elizabeth Jenkins lived at 17 Piedmont Road until her death on 28 April 1953 aged 77. She was buried in Plumstead Cemetery in the same grave (K / 2222) as her husband. Probate on Elizabeth’s estate (£2001) was granted to her daughter Winifred, who died in 1981 (in Tunbridge Wells) aged 68. As far as I can tell, Winifred had no children.

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