I have recently been contacted by Peter from Canada. His uncle, Derek Davies, flew with 100 Squadron during part of his long service career. Squadron Leader Davies (later Wing Commander) was flight leader of A flight. He would almost certainly have known Richard Curle and the other crew.
Peter shared a page from Davies' log book showing him taking Lancaster III ED559 up for a long test flight on 25 February 1943.
Date - 25 Feb 1943
Type - Lancaster III
No. - ED559
Pilot - Self and it would appear with Flying Officer Pirie as extra navigator
Passengers - Crew
Duty - Base - Kinnairds Head 59N.09W - Tiumpan Head (Hebrides) - Douglas - Tudwals Island - Alscott - Oxford - Base Formation to 19.00 ft
This appears to be an exceptionally long test flight, some 1,800 km / 1120 miles, possibly to ensure the new/extra navigator could plot a good course.
Base - RAF Grimsby
Kinnaird's Head - Fraserburgh
Tiumpan Head - Isle of Lewis, Hebrides
Douglas - Isle of Man
Tudwal's Isalnd - Llŷn Peninsula, Wales
Allscott - Telford (I think this is the Alscott Davies is referring to)
Back to base RAF Grimsby
Image courtesy of Derek Davies' daughter
From some research and from the attached diagram it appears that the crew of a Lancaster would have stowed their parachutes before taking off. Given that this means that the crew had time to clip on their parachutes (most likely the chest mounted variety) it would appear that the crew had time to do this.
As Richard Curle was found with parachute attached I would theorize that the aircraft was most likely hit by flak and the pilot attempted to gain height to allow the crew to bail out. Given the parachute is attached it's almost certainly not the case that the aircraft ditched (no point wearing a parachute when ditching in the sea).
This is intriguing information but also incredibly sad as it could be the case the crew did exit the bomber but were lost at sea. Would crews voluntarily bail out over the sea? That is a very interesting question.
It has taken nearly a year to get the following information. I applied to the Red Cross in April last year to see what information they had about Richard Curle, the skipper of ED559. The Red Cross only accepts a certain number of requests per quarter and I had to wait until October of last year to submit my request. Today I received the following letter from them.
It provides much more detail about where and when Richard Curle's body was found. It also adds some information that is incredibly important. Richard's body was found attached to a parachute. This means that the crew may have bailed out of the Lancaster. I need to verify my information but I don't believe the pilot of a Lancaster flew with the parachute attached. If Richard was found with a parachute attached then it would mean that he bailed out of the Lancaster. Also, I have read many accounts where the Skipper would not leave a stricken aircraft until all the crew had had a chance to get out. I will post a query on a forum I use to validate this.
Here is the letter and the translation:
PROCES-VERBAL RELATIF A L'INDENTIFICATION, A L'INHUMATION DU CORPS D'UNOFFICIER DE L'AVIATION ANGLAISE TROUVE EN MER
L'an mil neuf cent quarante treis, le trois du mois d'avril à quinze heures, le Sieur NORMANDIN Guy, patron du bateau "MONTCALM", s'est présenté à la Mairie du Château d'Oléron et Nous a déclaré que le trois avril mil neuf cent quarante treis, dix heures trente, alers qu'il se treuvais sur les lieux de pêche, entre boué Saint-Nicolas et le fort Boyard, au sud, il a trouvé dans saon filet un corpe déchiqueté qui semblait aveir fait un séjour prolongé dans l'eau.
Le corps amené au Pert du Château d'Oléron, confié aux auterités allemandes, a été identifié carre étant de nationalit anglaise. Il était revêtu de l'uniforme de l'aviation anglaise aur lequel était fixé un parachute et portait une plaque d'idetité ou figurait l'inscription suivantes:
R.A. CURLE Pff. CE. 121280 R.A.F. V.R.
L'inhumation a été faite au cimetière du Château d'Oléron le quatre avril mil neuf cent quarante treis, dix heures, en présence du seus-officer allemand faisant fonction de chef de la place, du Maire et du représentant de la Croix-Rouge.
Les honneurs militaires ont été rendus par les troupes d'occupation qui, dans l'accomplissement de tautes les fermalités, ont agi avec correction envere le défunt.
MINUTES CONCERNING INDENTIFICATION AND BURIAL OF THE BODY OF ENGLISH AIRMAN FOUND IN THE SEA
In the year one thousand nine hundred and forty three (1943) on the third day of the month of April at fifteen hundred hours, Mr Guy NORMANDIN, the owner of the boat "MONTCALM", presented himself to the Mayor of Château d'Oléron and told us that on April 3rd, nineteen hundred and forty three, at ten thirty in the morning, when he fishing between the buoy at Saint-Nicolas and Fort Boyard, to the south, he found in his net a corpse which seemed to have been in the water a long time.
The body was brought to the Port of Château d'Oléron, and entrusted to the German territories, and was identified as being of English nationality. He was wearing the uniform of the English Air Force, to which was attached a parachute and an identity tag on it with the following inscription:
R.A. CURLE Off. CE 121280 R.A.F. V.R.
The burial took place at the Château d'Oleron cemetery on April 4, 1943 at ten o'clock in the morning, in the presence of the German deputy officer in charge of the area, the Mayor and a representative of the Red Cross.
Military honours were rendered by the occupying troops, who, in the accomplishment of the duties of the civilities, acted with honour towards the deceased.
As and when information is found I'll post to this blog.