103 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Born Tuesday 18 May 1920    Died Tuesday 25 February 1941. Aged 20.

Son of Douglas Butcher and Edith Butcher (née Webb) of 17 Camden Road, Sevenoaks, Kent.

Commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 40, and on the Sevenoaks, Kent civic war memorial.

Known as Les, it was his former school friend, the late Clive Boulden, who made the compiler aware that Les was a Aldington victim of the Second World War.

Born at Fagg Farm, Bilsington, Ashford, Kent on Tuesday 18 May 1920, Leslie was the son of Douglas Webb, a Farmer, and Edith Emma Butcher (née Webb). When the Leslie and his parents lived in Aldington they resided at The Lindens, Clap Hill, Aldington, it also being the former home of Great War hero William Lee M.M.

By the time that additional family details of the Second World War Commonwealth war dead were added by the Imperial War Graves Commission, Leslie’s parents lived at Sevenoaks, Kent. Although Les was very clearly remembered by a number of his peers within the village of Aldington, and despite making various enquires, it proved to be impossible for anybody to recall with any degree of certainty, when the Butcher family had moved to Sevenoaks.

Les was serving as the tail gunner of six man crew of 103 Squadron, Royal Air Force Wellington Bomber T2621 PM-? When it took off from R.A.F. Newton, Nottinghamshire at 1815 hours on Tuesday 25 February 1941. Flown by 20 year old Horsham, Sussex native Pilot Officer (Pilot) John Kenneth Churchill Ralston, R.A.F., the Wellington was among a force of 80 R.A.F. Bomber Commend aircraft taking part in a raid on the German city of Düsseldorf.

For many years after Clive Boulden had told the compiler that he had known Les Butcher quite well, the quest to find out more about his time spent serving in the Royal Air Force commence. In stark contrast to the Great War casualties, British Second World War casualties are always far harder to research, due to the fact that most are not yet shown on census entries that are available for public viewing and, of more significance, their service papers are not yet available for viewing or purchase unless by a relative.

All of the books or websites viewed by the compiler, show that, over Germany, the Wellington is known to have exploded in midair, but what had caused the aircraft to explode has never been established. It was not possible to ascertain exactly where the aircraft crashed for a long time, though the compiler suspected that it was probably fairly close to the Dutch border as Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner), Alexander Edwards Laing is buried at the cemetery in the village of Griethausen, Kleve, Germany and Sergeant Air Gunner), David George Watt R.A.F.(A.A.F.) from Farnborough, Hampshire was buried at Lohmannsheide Forest Cemetery.

In October 2020 the compiler learned that Leslie’s aircraft had been coned by a searchlight of 13./III./Flak Regiment. 26, and then shot down by anti-aircraft fire by 10./II./Flak Regiment. 44. After being hit the bomber exploded and crashed in River Rhine 1 kilometer to the north of the Rhine bridge at Homberg near Duisburg.

On Friday 25 April 1947 Alexander’s grave was moved to Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany, created after the Second World War when burials were brought in from all over Western Germany and is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the country. David’s grave was moved to the same cemetery on Thursday 26 June 1947.

Les, John Ralston, Sergeant John Royal Crossley Pratt, R.A.F.(V.R.) from Heswall Hill, Cheshire, and Sergeant William McIntosh of Dundee, Scotland have no known graves and are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial at Cooper’s Hill, Runnymede, Surrey.

The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede commemorates by name 20,270 men and women of the air forces, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill. The engraved glass and painted ceilings were designed by John Hutton and the poem engraved on the gallery window was written by Paul H Scott. The Memorial was unveiled by H.M. The Queen on Saturday 17 October 1953.

No. 103 Squadron, R.A.F. began the war as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force, making it one of the first squadrons to be sent to France. The Fairey Battle squadrons suffered very heavy loses during the Battle of France. Six days after the German invasion, No.103 Squadron was forced to abandon its advanced bases and retreat back into the centre of France. Once there the squadron had to take over the surviving aircraft of No.218 Squadron, R.A.F. to bring its strength back up to 31 aircraft. By early June only 16 of those aircraft were left, and only half of those escaped back to Britain at the end of the campaign.

Built on the site of a pre-war civil airfield, R.A.F. Newton where Leslie was last stationed, had been assigned to No 1 Group R.A.F. Bomber Commend in June 1940, when 103 and 150 Squadrons, R.A.F. returned from France. These squadrons were re-equipped with Vickers Wellingtons in October 1940, but both squadrons were moved on to more suitable bomber airfields in July 1941.

Wellington Bomber T2621 on which Leslie lost his life, was in a batch of those which were delivered from the factory by Vickers (Weybridge) between June 1940 and February 1941.