Remembrance Day: Mission soldier killed in action in 1943

Clifford John Vosper Kettley’s Halifax aircraft was shot down over Holland

Mission’s Clifford John Vosper Kettley was killed in action in 1943. / Mission Community Archives Photo

Clifford John

Vosper Kettley

Second World War

Honour Roll

by Val Billesberger

Mission Archives

Born in Khedive, Sask. on Oct. 6, 1919, Clifford John Vosper Kettley moved to Mission at age seven, where he grew up and attended school, graduating from Mission High School in 1937.

By 1941, Clifford – known as Jack – was working for Canadian Canneries in Mission as a picker and labourer.

On March 21, 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was assigned as a warrant officer serving as a wireless operator with the 405 (City of Vancouver) Squadron, which flew Halifax bombers.

In April 1943, the squadron was selected to join No. 8 (Pathfinder) Group, an elite corps of crews with high navigational ability who were tasked with marking targets for operational bombers.

The 405 Squadron was the first one formed overseas and the only Canadian Pathfinder Squadron. The cost in human lives was grievous with an attrition rate of six per cent on average per mission.

In 1943, Rosalie and Clifford Kettley received the dreaded news that their son, aged 23, had been killed in action.

After leading a successful night raid on July 25, 1943 W/O Kettley’s crew in their HR864 LQ-M for Mother, Halifax aircraft were shot down over Ten Boer, Groningen, Holland en route to Essen, Germany. In addition to Kettley, five other crew members died: P/O Michael C. Smyth, tail gunner; F/O Marcel E. Tomczak, pilot; F/S Edward White, air gunner; Sgt. Albert Wood, flight engineer; and F/O Alexander P. McCracken, navigator.

Only one person survived – F/O Alex J. Sochowski, bombardier, who became a P.O.W. and was interned in Stalag Luft 3. The crew is buried together at Ten Boer Protestant Cemetery.

In Mission on Feb. 25, 2006, W/O Kettley’s sacrifice was memorialized with the naming of a new cul-de-sac after him.

It was the first street named after a veteran in Mission with signage incorporating a Legion poppy. At the unveiling of the sign for Kettley Place, then Mayor James Atebe stated: “We are proud to have taken this step to recognize those whose sacrifice guaranteed our freedom and I hope every time we see the poppy on those signs we remember.”

But the story does not end there.

In 2013, Frank Moore of Ontario, a retired banker and charter member of the Tillsonburg Military History Club, rescued a small brown suitcase from a close friend who had acquired it from the executor of the McCracken estate in 2008 and intended to auction it off piecemeal on eBay.

The suitcase contained a treasure trove of McCracken family records documenting their service in both World Wars. Included in the suitcase contents were the exchanges of letters between the crew’s mothers and various notifications from R.C.A.F. authorities, providing extraordinary information about the McCrackens and the mothers coming together to comfort one another during wartime.

One was a letter from Kettley’s mother Rosaline to Alexander McCracken’s mother, Catherine. Dated Nov. 28, 1943, she wrote: “We have been notified by the Air Ministry that the international Red Cross quoting German information state that our son lost his life July 25 and is buried in Tenboer Cemetery with Eddie White. The Government apparently do not accept this news as official as it comes from enemy sources but they have now posted our boys as ‘missing believed killed.’ This as you will understand is a great blow to our hopes unless some horrible mistake has been made.”

Near the end of the letter she recalled: “The last our boy mentioned his plane, it was ‘M’ for ‘Mother’ as mother took good care of us when we were young and we hope she will continue to do so.”

Through the extraordinary efforts and initiative of Frank Moore, this captivating Second World War story has been preserved with the assistance of Ben Mayville, a forensic police officer, and commemorated in a painting by Doug Bradford capturing the final moments of the HR864 LQ-M for Mother which was financed by Jeremy Van Dyke.

As there are no known relatives of the McCracken family, on May 4, 2020, Frank will travel to Ten Boer and donate the suitcase of materials to the citizens of Ten Boer who have diligently continued to honour the fallen crew of the HR864 LQ-M for Mother since 1943.

On Oct. 23, Mission archivist Val Billesberger was among the individuals who received an email from a citizen of Ten Boer who lives only 300 metres from the cemetery. In it he offers to “place a wreath, photo, card or flowers on the graves…” and states that in recent years on Christmas Eve the citizens of Ten Boer light candles on the crew’s graves.

Thanks to Frank Moore, the Mission Community Archives now houses a digital copy of the Kettley letter from the McCracken suitcase and a detailed inventory of its contents along with documentation of his work over the past six years. And, through the generosity of Jeremy Van Dyke, the archives acquired two of the numbered commemorative prints of the painting by Doug Bradford.

– with files from Jim Hinds and Franke Moore

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