The Airmen's Stories - P/O V A Ricketts
Victor Anthony Ricketts was born on 27th January 1913 in Penzance, he went on to be
the pre-war Air Correspondent for the London Daily Express.
He was awarded Aero Certificate 13588 at the
London Air Park Flying Club on
8th February 1936 (his ID photo below).
In December 1937 he approached New Zealander Arthur Edmund Clouston, a civilian test pilot who would later serve with 219 Squadron in the Battle, with a proposition for an attempt on the record for flying to Australia and back. Ricketts would arrange sponsorship if Clouston would take him along as second pilot.
It was all arranged and they took off at 4am on 2nd February 1938 but came to grief in Turkey, damaging the port undercarriage leg as they took off.
They returned to England and a second attempt was planned on a revised route. They took off from Gravesend in DH88 Comet G-ACSS 'Grosvenor House' during the night of 15th March 1938 and landed back at Croydon 10 days, 21 hours and 22 minutes later. They established eleven records, including the first direct round trip England-New Zealand-England.
Ricketts joined the RAFVR in March 1939 as a Sergeant-Pilot. Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training, was commissioned on 1st February 1940 and joined 248 Squadron on the 10th.
248 had been formed as a night-fighter unit but transferred to Coastal Command soon after Rickett's arrival. The squadron served on attachment to Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain.
In 1942 Ricketts was serving with No. 1 PRU. On 4th March he was detailed to photograph the Renault works near Paris, attacked the previous night.
Despite bad weather, low cloud and poor visibility he succeeded in obtaining valuable photographs. For this operation he was awarded the DFC (gazetted 2nd June 1942).
Above: a photo-reconnaissance Mosquito.
Ricketts failed to return from a photographic sortie to Strasbourg and Ingolstadt on 12th July 1942 in Mosquito PR II W4089. His crewman P/O George Boris Lukhmanoff DFM was also lost. The crash must have been discovered at some point as Ricketts and Lukhmanoff are buried in Calais Canadian War Cemetery. Ricketts was 29 years old.
(Lukhmanoff's background is unclear, he is recorded as 'son of Boris and Valentina Lukhmanoff, of San Francisco, California, USA'. They were probably immigrants from Russia).
Above: Ricketts (left) and Lukhmanoff
Above image courtesy of Carole, daughter of F/O VA Ricketts
November 2020 - the website was contacted by Nathalie Touresse, the daughter of Michel Ringot, who is 82 and recently lost his sight. This led to him reminiscing about the past and an incident that occurred when he was very young, his account follows with the original French also shown:
On 12th July 1942 a little boy aged four and a half, unaware of any danger, sat on the terrace of a former pigeon house more than three metres high and observed his environment. This consisted of vegetable gardens and an old field in which was located two batteries of German Anti-Aircraft Guns (flak).
They had stopped firing as overhead there was a fierce combat between Allied aircraft returning to England and German fighters. For this child this was a magnificent spectacle with white and black tracer bullets filling the sky. Suddenly, in front of him at very low altitude, just clearing the last houses on the edge of Calais, he saw a twin-engine aircraft in great difficulty.
The left (port) engine was in flames, with the right (starboard) engine at full throttle, the tailplane had lost half of its structure.
The aircraft passed so low and so close to him that he saw, above the glass nose, the cockpit and the face of the pilot who made a hand gesture that seemed to respond to the great gestures that the little boy was making. This gesture was in fact a goodbye, since a few second later the aircraft crashed and a huge ball of fire rose into the sky.
The little boy was me.
This memory has always haunted me and after many searches, with the help of my children, I found evidence that a photographic Mosquito version coming back from a mission and flown by two airmen had, in fact, disappeared above Calais.
It was with great emotion that I went to the Canadian Cemetery of Calais in Leubringhem (St. Inglevert) to visit, more than 75 years later, the grave (D6) of Victor Anthony Ricketts, the pilot, and grave D11, the grave of navigator Georges Boris Lukhmanoff.
It was finally certain that what remained in my childhood memory was not imagination but a sad memory of that time.
In 1940 Calais, a port city located on the Opal Coast between Dunkirk and Boulogne-sur-Mer and 35km opposite Dover, had become a key strategic area for the Germans. In anticipation of an Allied landing a whole series of defences, blockhouses and radar installations had been constructed, as well as an airfield located in Marck, NE of Calais, where German fighter squadrons were permanently stationed.
I served during the years 1958/1960 in Air Traffic Control in the Air Force and I suppose that the badly damaged Mosquito had become uncontrollable. This explains why the right engine of the aircraft was at full throttle to delay the stall as much as possible in order to avoid crashing on the city but on the contrary try to crash at the airfield located North-East of Calais. Currently the site has not changed …. neither the house, nor the small path taken by gardeners nor the airfield, which is now an aerodrome for businessmen and which is located less than 7km from the City of Calais.
Michel and his wife Francoise visit the cemetery.
With thanks to Nathalie Touresse and family.
En souvenir de deux Héros de la RAF disparus dans un crash sur Calais.
C’était le 12 Juillet 1942, sur la terrasse d’un ancien pigeonnier à plus de trois mètres de haut, un petit garçon de 4 ans et demi, inconscient du danger, observait son environnement constitué de jardins ouvriers et d’un ancien champ où se trouvaient deux batteries de DCA (La Flak) qui avaient cessé de tirer car, dans le ciel, se déroulaient de violents combats entre les avions alliés qui tentaient de gagner l’Angleterre à 30 Km et la chasse allemande. Pour cet enfant le spectacle était magnifique de voir ces traces blanches et noires qui zébraient le ciel.
Soudain, face à lui, en très basse altitude, rasant les toits des dernières maisons de la Ville de Calais, il vit arriver un bombardier bi-moteur en grande difficulté … moteur gauche en flammes, moteur droit plein gaz et la queue à moitié arrachée.
L’appareil passa si bas et si près de lui qu’il aperçut, au dessus du nez vitré, le poste de pilotage et le visage du pilote qui lui fit un geste de la main semblant répondre aux grands gestes que le petit garçon faisait. Ce geste était en fait un adieu puisque quelques secondes après l’avion s’écrasait et une énorme boule de feu montait vers le ciel.
Ce petit garçon c’était moi.
Ce souvenir m’a toujours hanté et après maintes recherches, avec l’aide de mes enfants, j’ai retrouvé les preuves qu’un « mousquito » version photographique revenant d’une mission et piloté par deux aviateurs avait, en effet, disparu au-dessus de Calais.
C’est avec beaucoup d’émotion que je me suis rendu au Cimetière Canadien de Calais à Leubringhem (St Inglevert) pour me recueillir, plus de 75 ans après, sur la tombe D6 de Victor Anthony RICKETTS, le pilote et D11 la tombe du Navigateur Georges Boris LUKHMANOFF.
J’avais enfin la certitude que ce qui était resté dans ma mémoire d’enfant n’était pas le l’imagination mais un triste souvenir de cette époque.
En 1940, Calais Ville portuaire située sur la Côte d’Opale entre Dunkerque et Boulogne/sur/Mer et face à Douvres, ville distante de 35 km, était devenue un secteur stratégique primordial pour les Allemands qui déployèrent, en prévision d’un débarquement allié, toute une série de défenses …blockhaus, radar, pistes de dégagement dans le secteur ainsi qu’un terrain d’aviation situé à Marck, au Nord Est de Calais, où stationnait en permanence la chasse allemande.
Ayant été affecté durant les années 1958/1960 au suivi opérationnel du contrôle aérien dans l’Armée de l’Air, je suppose que le Mosquito, trop endommagé, était devenu incontrôlable. Ce qui explique que le moteur droit de l’appareil était « plein gaz » pour retarder au maximum le décrochage afin d’éviter de s’écraser sur la ville mais au contraire d’essayer de se « crasher » aux abords du terrain d’aviation situé au Nord-Est de Calais.
Actuellement le site n’a pas changé… ni la maison, ni le petit chemin toujours emprunté par des jardiniers, ni le terrain d’aviation qui est devenu un aérodrome pour hommes d’affaire et qui est situé à moins de 7 Km de la ville de Calais.