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The Airmen's Stories - P/O R D Westlake

 

Richard Douglas Westlake was born on 10th May 1916 and joined the RAF in September 1936 as a direct-entry Airman u/t Pilot. After completing his initial training he was formally enlisted into the RAF on 19th October 1936. He completed his training but his pre-war service has not been traced.

He married Beryl Barlow in July 1939 in Chichester.

Commissioned in April 1940, Westlake was at No. 1 (C) OTU Silloth before joining 235 Squadron at Bircham Newton on 3rd July.

It is now known (May 2022) that Westlake went at first from Silloth to 22 Squadron, operating Beauforts at North Coates.

On the night of 5th/6th June 1940 he was piloting Beaufort OA-F L9797 on a sortie to bomb an oil depot at Ghent in Belgium. The flight was without incident until he was preparing to land back at North Coates. The airfield was dark but searchlights were operating, indicating that a raid was in progress.

Westlake signalled the searchlights to shut off but they disputed the signal code of the day and he resorted to firing signal flares of the prearranged colour, to no effect. He decided to circle out at sea and radio for instructions.

At this point the port engine started vibrating violently, the vibration rupturing a fuel tank and disabling the radio equipment. Heading to the coast with the port engine throttled back, Westlake found himself at 4000 feet, blinded by the searchlights, amongst barrage balloons and with the cockpit full of petrol fumes.

He told Sgt. SG Twitchin, the observer, to go aft and tell the other two crew members to bale out. He did so and then he and Westlake exited through the cockpit roof hatch and baled out.

The Beaufort continued to descend in circles and came perilously close to them before crashing into a house in Ashington, Northumberland.

Westlake and Twitchin landed close together but missed each other in the dark and made their way separately to the local police station.

The bodies of Sgt.(W/Op) LET Harris, age 20 and Sgt.(AG) Patrick O'Flaherty, age 23 were found close to the crash site. O'Flaherty was from Co. Mayo in the Irish Republic.

One had an opened parachute that showed evidence of having been damaged in contact with the aircraft after opening, the other was found with an unopened parachute some distance away with the ripcord missing.

The house, No. 77 Fifth Row, was destroyed and three occupants killed:

Henry Cox, age 52.
Eleanor Cox, age 49, his wife.
Gladys A Cox, age 18, their daughter.

Their son, William Cox, was injured, as were neighbours John and Hannah Hart.

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Westlake is next recorded as flying his first operational sortie on 13th July 1940 with 235 Squadron and his last with 235 on 26th September, although it seems he was with the squadron until 22nd December 1940.

His subsequent service is currently undocumented until he was released from the RAF in 1945 as a Squadron Leader.

Westlake died on 9th May 1994 in Chichester.

 


 

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