ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

16 January 2005

60 YEARS ON
BRITISH AIRMAN REVISITS ROYAN

Flight Sergeant Jim Sherwood on the flight deck
of a 189 Squadron Lancaster in 1945
1945
On 5th January 1945, Flight Sergeant Sherwood, J. took part in a bombing raid on German Gun Emplacements situated in the town of Royan in Southwest France, overlooking the Estuary of the River Gironde, and designed to deny the Allies access to the port of Bordeaux, which they needed to reinforce the troops advancing on the Third Reich. Woking Branch ACA member Jim Sherwood was a member of a mostly Canadian crew of a Lancaster in 189 Squadron (but with an Australian Wireless Operator), taking part in his second Operation as part of a force of 300 Lancasters, which dropped some fifteen hundred tons of High Explosives. This raid devastated the town, and resulted in the deaths of over 400 of the French population of the town, which they had mistakenly been advised had been evacuated by the occupying troops.

A solid concrete blockhouse for a German Gun covering the approaches to the River Gironde, and camouflaged as a house in Royan
Blockhouse
Jim subsequently wrote: "As we approached the target we ran into a lot of enemy flak, and just in front of us a Lancaster took a direct hit and exploded into a million pieces. One moment there was an aircraft with seven men on board, and the next it was gone - a terrifying experience! Four Lancasters were lost on this op, two to enemy action, and two which collided on the way back across France. One of them was from 189 Squadron, and all but the rear-gunner, Sgt Powell, were killed."

On 5th January 2005, Jim again visited Royan, but this time at the invitation of the Civic Authorities to take part in a 60th Anniversary Service of Remembrance at the War Memorial, where he laid a wreath and made a short speech on behalf of the Aircrew Association. There were 38 Standard Bearers from all different French Units and Organisations present, together with about 500 civilians from the general public. With just Jim, the Mayor and the Chief of Police at the head of the procession, and laying one wreath each, Jim confesses that he found this a somewhat daunting experience.

Jim with the Colonel in charge of Gendarmerie,
who was responsible for the organisation
of the Memorial Celebrations
Colonel
During that busy day, he also was interviewed for both local Radio and Television, and the local paper carried reports on both the 4th and 7th January. In these illustrated articles it was reported that: "For the first time, Jim Sherwood will stand on the soil of Royan. He had advised Denis Butaye, the museum's curator, that he wished to lay a wreath of flowers at the memorial of the victims of the bombing, in the name of an association of old aircrew of the RAF. His request was submitted to the extra-municipal commission charged with establishing a calendar of commemorations. The Mayor, Philippe Most, has requested that the National Associations reserve their finest welcome to the English veteran."

Jim paying his respects to the people of Royan, after laying a wreath at the War Memorial on 5th January 2005
Wreath laying
The Mayor, in his speech provided a brief reminder of the historic facts: "After the fall of Marennes on September 11th 1944 and the liberation of Rochefort on the 12th September 1944 the vice tightened round the 'Royan Pocket'. A state of siege was declared by the occupation forces who called upon the mayor for an evacuation of the town. This measure was only partially respected as old people and invalids were given authorisation to stay in their houses. . . there were no more than 2000 remaining in December 1944 . . . On the night of Jan 4/5 1945, two waves of British Bombers above our beautiful city . . . delivered their deadly bombs at 4 o/clock and 5.30 in the morning. The human toll was 442 civilians killed, hundreds of wounded were buried in the rubble and the city razed to the ground. Thanks to the courage of the inhabitants and the genius of its architects in the 1950s, Royan has recovered its splendour but the memory of the tragic hours of the occupation and the bombing have not been erased. In the name of the Municipality of Royan it remains for me now the honour of thanking Mr Jim Sherwood, former Flight Engineer of a Lancaster of 189 Squadron which took part in the second wave of the bombing mission, both for his presence here, and his touching words. He has cone to lay a wreath on behalf of the Aircrew Association."

Jim was very grateful for a large grant from the National Lottery Heroes Return fund towards his travelling expenses, which made his visit possible.



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