South Shields Local History Group

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Falconer, Sidney Godfrey (RAF)

Flight Lieutenant Sidney Godfrey Falconer D.F.C. D.F.M.

Having read the recent article in the Gazette about the Air Raids on South Shields during the War, I subsequently came across an article in a local paper from October 1943 about a young man who had displayed outrage on witnessing the first raids on South Shields and vowed to help do something about it by joining the RAF.

Flight Lieut S.G. Falconer D.F.C. D.F.M. Newcastle Chronicle Oct 1943

The headline ran “Joined R.A.F. to avenge Shields raid” The article continued in revealing that 3 years ago, a 19 year old King’s College agricultural student, Sidney Godfrey Falconer of Fort St, South Shields, stood watching air raid damage near to his home. He said to his father William, “Someone has to go up there and pay them back for this. I’m going to join the R.A.F.” Now, he is Acting Flight-Lieutenant Falconer DFC DFM. The award of the DFC is announced this morning and it follows the DFM he won in July last year. Two days after the talk with his father he volunteered for the R.A.F.

This piqued my interest in this brave young man so I dug a little deeper to see what I could find out about him.

Sidney carried out his first operation on February 14th 1942 flying as 2nd pilot to New Zealander Sgt Lamason in a raid of 28 aircraft on Le Havre.  In total he flew ten operations with Lamason.  His first operation as captain was on 29th May1942 in Short Stirling Mk.I HA-L s/n R9311 on a raid to Gennevilliers and he was officially commissioned as Pilot Officer on 20th June 1942. His last operational sortie was on the 24th August to Frankfurt.  Sidney flew his bomber in all three 1000 bomber raids on Germany.

He completed an amazing 50 operational missions over Germany (30 was the norm) and was transferred as an instructor but volunteered again for operational flying duties.

His D.F.M. was for service with 218 Squadron whose motto was ‘In Time’ and was established in 1918 and is known as The Gold Coast Squadron.

A Stirling Bomber

The Distinguished Flying Medal citation reads :
“Temporary Sgt S G Falconer was Captain of a Stirling aircraft which set out to raid Bremen on the night of 27/28th June 1942. About two miles over the Dutch coast, in the light of a full moon, the aircraft was attacked by a JU88, which climbed suddenly from about 3000 feet below on the port bow, passed underneath hand then came in on the port quarter. At the same time Sgt Falconer saw a second JU88 coming in from the starboard bow and, immediately afterwards, the rear gunner reported an ME110 approaching from dead astern. The ME110 and the rear gunner opened fire simultaneously at about 350 yards, the Stirling’s rear turret being rendered useless at once. The mid upper gunner took over fire control but a burst from the Messerschmitt, which was now coming in from the starboard and above, put that turret out of action. In the mean time the first JU88 had shot away the British bombers rear turret pipe lines and the second JU88 had been pumping her with tracer.”

The first JU88 attacked from dead ahead and, although the front gunner returned fire, his turret was rendered unserviceable after the first burst. During the whole of the combat, Sgt Falconer had been taking violent evasive action. Just when it seemed like he had shaken off his three attackers, a single engined unidentified enemy fighter appeared and raked the Stirling from nose to tail. The complete battle lasted for nearly 20 minutes and was fought from 15 000 feet down to sea level (the Stirling’s trailing aerial was actually whipped off over the Zuider Zee). With two of his crew wounded, his front mid upper turrets useless, his astrodome, blind flying panel and oxygen system shot away, flying controls and control stick damaged, brake system, intercom and TR9 out of action, Sgt Falconer set course for home and weaved his way through strong concentrations of light flak over the Dutch coast. Sgt Falconer showed daring and adroitness of a very high order. His cool courage and command of the situation were remarkable. His expert and stout hearted captaincy undoubtedly saved the lives of his crew. He has now taken part in 20 operational sorties embracing 101 operational hours. His loyalty, fearlessness and sense of duty are outstanding. He is very strongly recommended for the immediate award of the DFM.”

Sidney managed to land the aircraft with his wounded comrades on board. The RAF Ground Crew could do nothing with the badly shot up plane. It did not return to service until 1943.

This raid on Bremen consisted of 144 aircraft – 9 aircraft were lost. The aircraft bombed blindly through cloud after obtaining Gee Fixes (Gee navigation was a radio navigation system and could produce accuracy of a few hundred metres at ranges to about 350 mile. It was used for the first time on a raid on Essen in March 1942) – The important targets of the Atlas Werke shipbuilding company and Korff Oil Refinery were severely damaged. On the ground 7 were killed and 80 injured.

Sidney had flown in the 1000 bomber raid on Cologne in May 1942. 218 Squadron had 19 Stirlings in the force. 41 aircraft were lost. Sgt Sidney Falconer’s bomber R9331 had damaged its undercarriage on take- off so all 8 men on board having successfully completed their mission knew they faced a belly landing on return. Sgt Falconer put the Stirling down safely. May 1942 was an expensive month for 218 Squadron which had lost 8 aircraft and 5 crews (40 men) from 79 sorties.

On the 13th July 1942 in Stirling bomber BF315 HA-F Sidney and his crew were briefed to attack Duisburg. They successfully bombed the target dropping their bomb load by aid of illuminating flares and no doubt with relief turned for home still very wary of enemy night fighters given his previous experience.

His Distinguished Flying Cross was for service with 214 Squadron whose motto was ‘Avenging in the shadows’. The squadron served in No.3 Group and flew some of the bloodiest missions of the war. They had the highest percentage of losses of Group 3.

His award was announced in the London Gazette on 15th October 1943. The Citation reads FALCONER, Sidney Godfrey, A/F/L (129233, RAFVR*) – No.214 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 15 October 1943. Citation in Air Ministry Bulletin 11720. “A first class operational pilot and captain of aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Falconer has successfully completed many operational sortie of a varied nature. He has set a high example of keenness and courage in his squadron and been unfailing in his devotion to duty.”

Falconer died on the 8th May 1944 in a Horsa glider crash. The report of the crash stated “Horsa LJ496 crashed while approaching for landing on the aerodrome and all four were killed. The Glider coming in to land on No. 1 runway crashed three hundred yards short of the runway. The two glider pilots were killed along with Instructors F/Lt Austin (RAF Pilot) and F/O Falconer (RAF Pilot).” Shortly after casting off from the aircraft tug, the glider was seen to take a steep turning dive to port. It was seen to check, still turning to port with port wing very low. The port wing struck the ground and overhead cables and crashed. The glider was thrown on its back”

Horsa gliders were used 1 month later on the eve of D-Day on the 5thof June, ’44 to capture Pegasus Bridge.

F/Lt Sidney Godfrey Falconer DFC DFM (129233), RAFVR, aged 23 is buried in South Shields (Harton) Cemetery, Durham. Son of William and Annie Falconer, né Jackson of South Shields. He left behind an elder brother Douglas W Falconer born 1914 and sister Constance born 1918.

The grave of Sidney Godfrey Falconer in Harton cemetery

His epitaph reads “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends”

Sidney lies in Section 9 Grave 8367 of Harton cemetery.

(Photo courtesy of Falconer family)
(Photo courtesy of Falconer family)
(Photo courtesy of Falconer family)

His brother Douglas was also an extraordinary man. He read Physics at Durham University and became a teacher in Newcastle, and then at Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire. In October 1939 25 year old Douglas William Falconer (99928) was commissioned into the 2ndBattalion East Yorkshire Regiment. In 1940 the regiment was sent to France as part of the 3rd Infantry Division under Montgomery in the British Expeditionary Force. During the Fall of France, the battalion was one of the last off the beach at La Panne at Dunkirk – Douglas had succeeded in bringing back almost all his platoon. At La Panne the Army Engineers managed to build several makeshift piers by driving lorries into the sea at low tide. Smaller boats could come up under cover of darkness when the shelling had subsided and take soldiers on board directly. As the Germans advanced on Dunkirk the evacuation from La Panne was abandoned and the beachmaster rowed out to be picked up by ship.

La Panne

Douglas Falconer then became an instructor and played an important part in the training and planning for D-Day. He was awarded a military MBE for this role. On the 1st Jan 1946 he was promoted to Major. When demobbed he decided to read for the Bar and joined the Middle Temple and was called to the Bar in 1950. He became a patents judge in the Chancery Division of the High Court from 1981 to 1989 and was Knighted on the 27th March 1981 at Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Sir Douglas Falconer died in 2007.

The achievements of Sidney and Douglas are all the more remarkable as they grew up in the North East during the years of economic depression when Dad William, a shipyard worker, was often unemployed and poverty was the norm.

One thing is sure, we in South Shields should remember Flight Lieut Sidney Godfrey Falconer D.F.C. D.F.M. with pride and celebrate his memory as a local hero.

Written and researched by Dorothy Ramser

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