The Airmen's Stories - P/O J Mansel-Lewis
John Mansel-Lewis of Pembrey, Carmarthenshire was the son of a former RFC pilot. He was educated at Lambrook and Stowe School. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in April 1939 and, with training completed, he was posted to a bomber squadron.
In early 1940 he was serving with 4 (Continental) Ferry Pool, flying aircraft to France. On 15th June he was detailed to fly a Hurricane, fitted with long-range tanks, to the Middle East, one of a group of 12 Blenheims and 12 Hurricanes.
During the night of the 17/18th the aircraft were to leave Tangmere and cross France but the fluid situation there caused the plan to be changed. Early on the 18th the aircraft took off independently for the Middle East, via Marignane, Tunis and Malta.
Mansel-Lewis and P/O MA Sims landed at Angouleme and next morning flew on to Marignane, where they joined 3 other Hurricanes and a Blenheim. In the afternoon of the 19th the six aircraft set off, led by the Blenheim, but two Hurricanes turned back with fuel problems.
The remaining four pressed on through the gathering darkness and as they approached the African coast the weather deteriorated. The Blenheim crashed into the sea. Mansel-Lewis ditched nearby, struggled free and after a three-hour swim reached the coast.
In the morning of the 20th he was found by Arabs and taken to Bizerta. There he met Sims, who had baled out. The pilot of the third Hurricane had crashed and been killed. Mansel-Lewis and Sims were sent to Casablanca, where they embarked on HMS Ark Royal, which landed them at Gibraltar that night. From there they returned to England with a convoy. Mansel-Lewis was posted to 7 OTU Hawarden on 3rd September and after converting to Spitfires he joined 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill on the 16th. He claimed a Do17 destroyed on the 27th and a Me109 on 1st December.
In early March 1941 Mansel-Lewis joined 243 Squadron, then forming at Kallang, Singapore. On 4th April he was a passenger in Blenheim L6667 of 27 Squadron on a formation practice flight. The aircraft flicked over and dived towards the sea. Mansel-Lewis baled out but was struck by the propeller and killed.
Also lost were S/Ldr. CD Hackett and Sgt. D Beaman. Mansel-Lewis was 20. He is buried in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore.
The tragedy was compounded when the RAF tug ‘Buffalo’ headed for the impact point to look for survivors and struck a mine. Eight RAF personnel and twelve locally-employed crewmen were killed.
(Photographs courtesy of Jonathan Morford and Captain Robert L Koprowski, US Army (Veteran))