On The War Memorial Trail….. The WWII Pilot Killed At The Controls Of His Halifax Bomber

February 19, 2023. Whenever Pieter is interviewed, we are delighted when we hear from viewers or readers.  After an interview with Kevin Rollason ran in the Winnipeg Free Press, Craig MacKenzie contacted us about his uncle.

On reading the Saturday Free Press article on your quest to learn about Canadian soldiers who gave their lives during WW II and who were laid to rest in The Netherlands I thought that you might be interested in a story I put together about my uncle, P/O Douglas Mackenzie….”  Of course we were interested.  Pieter set to work to learn more.

Jack ‘Douglas’ MACKENZIE was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on April 27, 1921, the son of Charles Bellamy and Annie Elizabeth (nee Acheson) MacKenzie.  After graduating from high school in 1937, and attending Success Business College, Douglas worked as a clerk in Winnipeg at the T. Eaton Company Department Store, then at the Canadian Wheat Board, and lastly at the #7 Equipment Department of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

He left his last position on May 9, 1941 when he enlisted in the RCAF in Winnipeg, stressing his interest in flying duties and in becoming a pilot.

Douglas listed a number of sports he played – hockey, swimming, basketball, rugby, baseball, skiing, and handball.

….Douglas trained as an RCAF pilot….

POJDMACKENZIESilverCross from Craig MacKenzie

Jack ‘Douglas’ MacKenzie. (Photo courtesy of Craig MacKenzie)

After a few weeks basic training at No. 2 Manning Depot in Brandon, Manitoba, Douglas was sent to the No. 1 Service Flying Training School in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  He was then sent to No. 4 Initial Flying School (ITS) in Edmonton, Alberta for 4 weeks of training in navigation, theory of flight, meteorology, duties of an officer, air force administration, algebra, and trigonometry, plus tests that included physical and psychological exams, a session in a decompression chamber, and a simulated flight.

After passing the initial training, on July 27, 1941 he was sent to No. 18 Elementary Flying Training School in Boundary Bay, British Columbia, where he was given 50 hours of basic flying instruction over the next two months.

On September 12, 1941 Douglas was placed as a trainee in the bomber, coastal or transport pilot stream and sent to No. 15 Service Flying Training School in Claresholm, Alberta, for training on an Avro Anson.    (For more information on flight training schools, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_Commonwealth_Air_Training_Plan_facilities_in_Canada)

….Douglas was posted overseas in 1942….

On December 5, 1941 Douglas received his Pilots Flying Badge.  A few days later he was posted to No. 1 ‘Y’ Depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an embarkation depot for Air Force personnel soon heading overseas.

Douglas left Canada on February 9, 1942 and posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth, England.   (See https://www.birtwistlewiki.com.au/wiki/No._3_Personnel_Reception_Centre_RAF)

On April 27, 1942 he was transferred to 14 Advanced Flying Unit for training in different aircraft such as Wellingtons.  The next stage came on June 7, 1942, when Douglas was sent to No. 22 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford. This was part of No. 6 Group RAF Bomber Command to train night bomber crews with the Vickers Wellington.

On September 9, 1942 he joined No. 419 (Moose) Squadron RCAF, which was based at Leeming until the end of September, and then at Croft until November 9, 1942, followed by its final move during the war to Middleton St. George.

Formed in December 1941, No. 419 Squadron was the third RCAF overseas bomber squadron.  It was originally in No. 3 Group of Bomber Command, but became part of No. 6 (RCAF) Group when it was formed on January 1, 1943.

….The last flight of Halifax DT630….


Halifax Mark 3 bomber.  Photo source: http://www.raf.mod.uk Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=751869)

On February 3, 1943, Douglas was the pilot of Halifax DT630 (call sign VR-T), one of 8 heavy Halifax bombers sent on a night raid to Hamburg, Germany.  They took off at 6:34 pm from the airbase at Middleton St. George, England. (See https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/52181)


Map shows the plane’s path from England towards Hamburg.  It was shot down over The Netherlands before reaching its target.  (Map prepared by Wendy Nattress)

Craig MacKenzie documented what happened that night in ‘A Jump In The Night’, the title and story adapted from a March 28, 1970 Dutch article ‘Een sprong in de nacht’ by A. Jansen, originally published in the newspaper Drentsche en Asser Courant.

…Flying conditions were less than ideal. There was a strong wind from the southwest and, in spite of the protection of the low clouds, they encountered severe icing as they crossed the North Sea.  This made the Halifax difficult to keep airborne. Ice accumulated on the wings and fuselage, adding to weight and reducing the lift of the wings.

The crew had discussed turning back, but as they had aborted their previous mission, they decided against it.  They arrived at the Dutch coast ten minutes behind the main bomber stream and as a result had lost the protection of the surrounding bombers….

An account on the website http://www.419squadron.com/DT630.html states that “Being late and behind the main force was not the only problem that was facing the pilot.  He had lost contact with the rear gunner. The whole intercom system had stopped working. MacKenzie had to make a decision to turn back or keep going a little further to see if the intercom would return to normal.

Now some twenty-five minutes from the target area the Halifax was attacked … from astern and slightly below.  The turns to escape the attacking fighter did not help.  The whole length of the aircraft’s fuselage was racked by cannon fire, killing MacKenzie, and most likely Sgt. Gonnett in the Middle Upper turret. The heavy cannon shells also set off the incendiaries in the bomb-bay, severing lines to engines and other vital controls.

Sgt. Duthie worked at putting the fire out but was unable to because of the nature of the incendiary devices. The Navigator would later report he gave the bail out command via a pre-arranged call light series of flashes.….

….Guests at a Dutch birthday party were eyewitnesses….

Craig MacKenzie’s article included what was observed on the ground on the Cremers farm near Nord Sleen, The Netherlands.  “…It was the third year of the war, yet some rare spirits had been hoarded for special occasions…”  The Netherlands had been under Nazi occupation since May 1940.

On the evening of February 3, 1943, the Cremers family had planned a birthday celebration. “…The first drinks were about to be shared when the family and their guests heard the sound of an airplane, an airplane that was in trouble. A few peeked out the darkened windows. Others went to the doorway.  Several lightning like flashes appeared in the distance. These were soon followed by a ball of fire that plummeted from the heavens.  A deafening explosion accompanied another blinding flash.  It was 7:30 pm…” This was the end for Halifax DT630.

According to the Aviation Safety Network Wikibase report on Occurrence # 52181, the Halifax bomber was shot down by night fighter pilot Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Scherfling of the 10./NJG 1, flying a Bf 110 F-4 from Leeuwarden airfield.  Leeuwarden is in the province of Friesland in The Netherlands.

….Four died, three survived….

Sgt. Marquand was first out, followed by Garnett, who took time to check what was happening to the others in the crew in the front section. He noted that Sgt. Hill was still at his Wireless position and Sgt. Duthie still at the F/E position, but both were preparing to leave the out of control aircraft. At this point the enemy fighter returned and attacked the falling Halifax.

It is unknown for sure what happened to WOII Hill and Sgt. Duthie and why they did not escape. The second pass of the fighter may have caught them both before they had time to leave the aircraft….

In the end “…only Sgt. Marquand, Sgt. Garnett, and F/S Milton managed to bail out. All were captured and became PoWs…”  The other 4 crew members were buried in Sleen General Cemetery.

Dec 24 2022 J.D Mackenzie Begraafplaats Sleen (Drenthe) Hans Buis

Candle placed at the grave of Jack ‘Douglas’ MacKenzie. (Photo credit: Hans Buis)

On December 24, 2022, during the Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Ceremony, candles were placed at the graves of these 4 airmen, with photos sent to us by Hans Buls.  (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2022/12/26/2022-christmas-eve-candle-lighting-in-the-netherlands/)

In a February 14, 1943 letter to Douglas’ mother, No. 419 Squadron’s Wing Commander, Mervyn Matthew FLEMING, wrote that her son “…was a pilot of such qualities that the Service as a whole and this Squadron in particular can ill-afford to lose him.  He was exceptionally keen and capable at all times, and his loss is a blow to his comrades, with whom he was at all times popular…

….The crew of Halifax DT630….

  • Pilot P/O Jack Douglas MACKENZIE of Winnipeg, Manitoba, RCAF, killed
  • Flight Engineer Sgt. William Peter DUTHIE of Winnipeg, Manitoba, RCAF, killed
  • Navigator Sgt. William Nelson GARNETT, RCAF, survived
  • Bomb Aimer Sgt. Eric Raymond MARQUAND, RCAF, survived
  • Air Gunner W/O II Raymond Hepton HILL of Montreal, Quebec, RCAF, killed
  • Rear Air Gunner F/Sgt. Alexander Henry MILTON, RAF, survived
  • Air Gunner W/O II Lennox Alwin GONNETT of Westmount, Quebec, RCAF, killed

Thank you to Craig MacKenzie for sharing information about his uncle. Craig’s father was a navigator with Bomber Command and survived the war.  “‘Dumb Luck’ was a term that my Dad had used for why he had survived. Congratulate your husband on his valuable work”  Craig has posted a short musical tribute to Bomber Command, which you can watch:

Thank you also to Wendy Nattress for preparing the map showing the flight path for Halifax DT630. If you have a story to share, please contact Pieter at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.

…Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/ or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

Front cover OnTheWarMememorialTrailinEuropeDaria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten’ is available in print and e-book formats.  Net proceeds of book sales help support research costs and the cost of maintaining this blog. For more information on the book, please see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/

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© Daria Valkenburg

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