WILLIAM GILMOUR FRASER
Service: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Unit: 224 Squadron
Rank: Sergeant - Flight Engineer
Service number: 1551105
William Fraser was born in 1918 in Cathcart, Glasgow, son of William Gilmour Fraser and Janet Drummond Fraser of Newton Mearns, previously of Alder Road, Eastwood, Glasgow.
He served in 224 Squadron RAF which in April 1941 was based in Limavady in Northern Ireland for anti-submarine operations and in December it moved to St Eval in Cornwall. A return to Limavady came two months later and in April 1942 the squadron moved again to Tiree where in July it began conversion to Liberators which were part of the lend lease agreement with the USA. In October 1942, 224 Squadron was part of Coastal Command, equipped with the American Consolidated Liberator 3A bombers, and based at Beaulieu in Hampshire. In the autumn of 1942 preparations were underway for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. Convoys of ships carrying troops and equipment were made their way across the Bay of Biscay under the protection of aircraft of RAF Coastal Command circling overhead.
Each aircraft had a letter on the fuselage to identify it. One of them, serial number FK242, bore the letter K, giving it the call sign ‘King’. It was one of the first aircraft in the RAF to be fitted with a ‘short-wave’ radar system. At the time it would have been regarded as ‘top secret’. On 31st October 1942 flight FK242 took off from Beaulieu with a crew of seven, including William Fraser who was the flight engineer. Their task was to escort the ships transporting troops and equipment for Operation Torch. They spent a long day patrolling the Bay of Biscay, keeping watch for enemy submarines and reconnaissance aircraft.
The Liberator could carry enough fuel for 14 hours flying, but after it had been airborne for ten hours, a distress signal reported that the fuel was low. On the way back to Beaulieu it struck a barrage balloon cable as it passed over Plymouth. The damage was serious and the bomber was diverted to land at Harrowbeer, an airfield by Yelverton on the edge of Dartmoor between Plymouth and Tavistock.
The runways had been built for fighters and were not long enough for bombers. Nevertheless, the duty watch at Harrowbeer was warned a Liberator was approaching for an emergency landing. No sooner had they been made aware of it than the damaged aircraft arrived over the airfield. It was pitch-dark and there were no runway lights. Now very low on fuel, the situation with K ‘King’ was becoming desperate.
Those at Harrowbeer could only watch helplessly as K ‘King’, hampered by low cloud, made two circuits of the airfield before disappearing to the north. The aircraft came down in a field two miles away. In view of the low fuel warning it must have run out of fuel. The bomber struck the ground a hundred yards from Fullamoor farmhouse, ploughed across a field and smashed into a stone wall and hedge bank. Of the crew of seven, six died but the rear gunner survived, although he was seriously injured.
William Fraser was 23 years of age when he was killed. He and two other members of the crew are buried in Buckland Monachorum Cemetery, Devon. His grave reference is Sec. R. 1. Grave 6. The inscription on the cross which marks William's grave is:
"For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother."
On 8th April 2017, a service was held at Plaster Down on the edge of Dartmoor, two miles south east of Tavistock.to dedicate a memorial to the crew of the Liberator who died on 31st October 1942.
Image reproduced by permission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
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