Three Marauders of 14 Squadron in formation © IWM (CM 5000)
Mark (right) with Flying Officer Philip Matthew Todd
At the time of his arrival at 14 Sqn based at RAF Alghero, Sardinia, Mark Irwin now classified as Sergeant aircrew was to meet his crew for the first time. This included the 1st Pilot F/O Morris Trevor Holmes, 2nd Pilot F/O Philip Matthew Todd, the Navigator Sgt Cornelius Swinnerton Keefe, Mark Irwin was one of three WOP/AG’s the other two being P/O William Hayden Scourfield and Sgt Walter Herbert Ellis. Flying Officer Holmes completed his conversion onto the Marauder in early August and thereafter the crew undertook normal patrols around the Mediterranean area.
Date of Death:13/09/1944
Rank:Sergeant (Wireless Operator)
Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Cemetery:Cagliari (St Michele) Communal Cemetery
It was just such a normal patrol when the crew arrived early on the morning of 13th September 1944, to Marauder no. FK124 as one of three aircraft to carry out an early morning patrol. Three aircraft taxied out that morning with FK 124 being the lead aircraft and took off at 05.45hrs. The second aircraft took off at 0547hrs but there was a delay before the third aircraft took off, because it is believed, of the crash of FK124 into a hill, 1200 feet high, some 5 miles and slightly to the left of the centreline of the take off path. The aircraft appeared to have failed to clear the hill by some 20 feet. The subsequent Board of Enquiry raised more questions than it answered, in that it stated that faulty instrument flying was to blame. The runway at RAF Alghero (now the International Airport for Sardinia) is aligned approximately north – South and Standing Orders clearly stated that at all possible time’s take-offs should be to the South out over the sea. If however a northerly departure were required due to wind then a right hand flying pattern away from the hill would be flown. The weather that morning whilst being dark records a clear moon with no wind and so a southerly direction on take off would be the norm, but as the aircraft departed on the northerly runway, a cause of the accident was also listed as departing off the wrong runway. One can only be puzzled that the crew of FK124 appeared to have been happy to taxi out and take off on the wrong runway.The crews of the two aircraft following also appeared to have taken off on the wrong runway, and finally that no-one in Air Traffic Control appeared to pass comment. The Accident Investigation Report states “vital evidence of F.C.O (Flight Control Office) not available as Sqn left the area, and controlling wing now disbanded”.
In recent years an enquiry to the Air Historical Branch of the RAF by Sgt Irwin’s niece, Joan Southworth, elicited the response that the Air Ministry Casualty File appeared to have nothing further to reveal, but that a copy of the document could not be supplied as the file was classified. It seems strange to say the least that fifty years on details of a wartime flying accident remain classified.
The crew who all died in the crash were recovered and buried initially it is believed in the Alghero Cemetery, but were later re-interred in a separate War Cemetery at St Michelle Communal Cemetery, Sardinia.
The other men killed were:
161066 F/O (Pilot) Maurice Trevor Holmes - from Sutton Coldfield
158759 P/O (Pilot) Phillip Matthew Todd -from Somerset
1126779 Sgt (Nav./B) Cornelius Swinnerton Keefe - from London
1543941 Sgt (W.Op./Air Gnr.) Walter Herbert Ellis - from Yorkshire
185942 W/O (Air Gnr.) William Hadyn Scourfield
Mark Irwin's entry is courtesy of David Winterbottom
Mark Irwin was born in Oldham on November 22nd 1923. His parents were Mark & Ann and they lived at Moor Edge Terrace in Royton. Mark had two older sisters Mary Ruth and Alice. As a young man Mark was employed at the Market Place Post Office in Oldham. He joined Royton ATC on 12th January 1942 being no. 42 on the Squadron roll and in the meantime reported to No 3 Reception Centre at RAF Padgate, Warrington on 11th February 1942 being placed on the Reserve list the following day before returning home.
He resigned from the ATC in early September 1942 before reporting once again to Padgate and a week later to No 10 Signals Reception Centre at RAF Squires Gate, Blackpool on 7th September 1942 having been selected for training as a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner (WopAg). On completion of his basic Signals Training he was posted to No 2 Signals School at RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire.
The course was very thorough and intensive, including learning the requirements for inspection, maintenance and testing of radio, visual signalling and intercommunication equipment in addition to being able to operate such equipment. They were required to undertake maintenance of batteries and be able to operate teleprinters as well as operating petrol electric generating sets. Four weeks exactly was allotted to learning the Morse code and being able to read it at six words per minute, the ultimate goal being 25 words per minute. The Morse training instructors were civilian staff, and service personnel made up the instructors on the technical staff. Despite all this students were still required to carry out normal service duties in this case, parades, guarding of the camp and the local watchtower on top of White Horse Hill. The duty was two hours on and four hours off which naturally had a detrimental effect on a student’s progress. Once proficient in Morse within the classroom the trainees then underwent practical experience in a “flying classroom”, the School had on strength a fleet of De Havilland Dominie aircraft flying students in groups of six in order to practice air to ground transmissions.
Once deemed proficient further practice was gained by flying in a 2 seat aircraft with just a pilot. Upon successful completion of the course at Yatesbury, and whilst awaiting the next stage of training Mark Irwin was posted to No 3 Pilots Advanced Flying Unit on 6th May 1943 based at RAF South Cerney and its satellite airfield at Long Newton. This comprised various 2 seat training aircraft of the type in service with the RAF at that time, and was a holding point prior to moving on 14th July 1943 to RAF Madley and No 4 Signals School.RAF Madley situated six miles south west of Hereford was initially a grass airfield, which was home to some sixty 2 seat Proctor aircraft and 18 De-Havilland Domine training aircraft and was to give students further practical experience in airborne radio communication.
Before Mark shipped overseas he got married in Middleton to Isobel Wright in the last quarter of 1943. On November 6th, Mark was posted to No 13 Air Gunners School at RAF El Ballah in Egypt for training in the second of his dual roles and embarked for the sea journey arriving on 5th December 1943. Following completion of the Air Gunnery Course he reported to No 5 Middle East Aircrew Reception Centre on 6th February 1944 before a further posting to RAF Gianaclis on 26th February 1944. Having been posted to 22 Personnel Transit Camp at Almaza on 14th May 1944 he received a further posting to 1 BPD and finally posted to his first operational unit, 14 Squadron RAF based at Cagliari, Sardinia.
14 Squadron formed at Shoreham on 3 February 1915 and except for a short period in 1919 remained a fully operational Squadron from its inception through to the RAF expansion of the late 1930s operating throughout in Egypt, Palestine and Arabia. At the start of hostilities in 1939 the Squadron was equipped with Vickers Wellesleys before re-equipping with Blenheims and in the summer of 1942, B-26 Martin Marauders.