158 Squadron, Royal Air Force Reserve
Killed in action on Tuesday, 22nd June 1943, aged 21
Albert William Reffles was born in the second quarter of 1922 at Portsmouth, the second child and only son of Albert Edward Jenkins Reffles and Elizabeth Finley. They had been married in Portsmouth on 26 December 1910 and their daughter Violet was born in 1912.
Albert Edward was born in 1886 in Christchurch New Zealand, and moved to the UK during the 1890s. He enlisted into the Army Service Corps during the Great War on 31 May 1915, and went to France with the 341st Company for two years. He was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal, and was discharged on 28 July 1919.
Sergeant Albert William Reffles was the mid upper gunner of Halifax Mk II registration HR 785 of 158 Squadron, based at Lisset airfield near Bridlington East Yorkshire. Also on board were; Pilot Sergeant 1318312 Kenneth Charles Smart, Navigator Sergeant 1392262 William Charles Thomas Dempsey, Air Bomber Flying Officer 134156 Roger Nelson Freeman, Wireless Operator Sergeant 1377043 Roland Phillip Hansford, rear gunner Sergeant 1106835 George Joseph Hanrahan and flight engineer Sergeant 961265 Kenneth Ernest Gordon White.
The Halifax took off at 23:11 to take part in a bombing raid on Krefeld in Germany. At around 00:41 the planes was seen to suddenly dive from a height of around 15,000 ft near Lincoln and crash into the ground. Local workmen saw the bomber on fire and rushed to the scene, where the intensity of the fire prevented anyone approaching the aircraft. The body of the pilot was seen in an upright position at the controls. All the occupants were killed and the wreckage was destroyed by fire and explosion.
F/O Freeman and Sergeant Hansford are buried in at the church of St Germain in nearby Thurlby. Sergeant Smart was buried at Kingston-upon-Thames, Sergeant Dempsey at Manor Park, Sergeant Hanrahan at Huddersfield and Sergeant White at Crayford. Smart, Freeman, Dempsey and White were married.
The official report into the accident found that the Handley Page Halifax was relatively new, being delivered earlier in that year and having acquired 76 total flying hours. Pilot Smart had around 400 flying hours experience, but no conclusions were found as to why the aircraft suddenly dived into the ground.
The Memorial to the fallen of 158 Squadron, Lisset Airfield, Yorkshire.
The memorial was unveiled in May 2009, it consists of seven 8ft high steel airmen, with the names of the 851 personnel who perished in the squadron on the reverse.
It was designed by Peter Naylor, who also kindly provided the stunning image.
Information regarding the crash of HR 785 comes from the accident investigation report, National Archives reference AVIA 5/22. Many thanks are also given to Kevin Bryett & the 158 Squadron Association, and Stephen Hansford for the information on Roland Phillip Hansford.
Plot G Row 12 Grave 2, Highland Road Cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Albert William Reffles is buried alongside his parents in the cemetery. He is also commemorated on the Southern Grammar School and St Margaret’s Church memorials.
Many thanks go to Tim Backhouse and the Memorials & Monuments in Portsmouth website.