404108 Sergeant Rupert Sutton Whitcombe – Royal New Zealand Air Force

Rupert Sutton Whitcombe was born in Whangarei on 6th January 1920 the third son of Janet Catherine Martin (nee Kinnis) and Henry George Whitcombe[i]. Rupert had twin older brothers Athol Henry and Nigel George Whitcombe born on
22nd August 1918[ii].

The family moved to Wellington in the early 1920’s and all three boys attending primary schools in the Kilbirnie area
before attending Rongotai College.  Rupert left school when he was 15 taking up employment as a bacon worker with
J C Hutton (NZ), Wellington[iii]. It was about this time, 1934 / 1935 that the Whitcombe family moved out to Tawa Flat.[iv]
As a young man Rupert was active in the Tawa Tennis Club.

On 21st June 1940 Rupert signed papers for to enter the Air Force Reserve the attestment papers noting that he was prepared to transfer to the regular Air Force on five days notice, after 1st September 1940. On 27th October 1940 Rupert enlisted as a Leading Air Craftsman and as an Air Gunner under training.
Leading Aircraftsman Whitcombe completed his initial training at Levin and
following that on 5th December 1940 was sent to Calgary, Albert Canada.
On arrival in Calgary Leading Aircraftsman Whitcombe was trained at the No2
Wireless School as a wireless operator and then was sent, on (?) January 1941
to Dafoe, Saskatatchewan and the No 5 Bomber and Gunnery School. On
23rd June 1941 Aircraftsman Whitcombe was awarded his Wireless/Air Gunner
badge and promoted to Sergeant.

                                                                                           Sergeant R S Whitcombe 

Sergeant Whitcombe then was shipped to England where he underwent further
training before joining No 50 Squadron based at Swinderby, Lincolshire for
operational flights. Flying as part of the crew of a Manchester bomber Sergeant
Whitcombe flew 12 sorties including anti shipping strikes and mine laying but also
in air raids on the German cities of Saarbrucken. Dusseldorf, Osnabruck, Frankfurt,
Kassel  and Nuremburg[v].

The Manchester was an underperforming bomber and was replaced with the
renowned Lancaster. Sergeant Whitcombe attended a conversion course in
October 1942 returning to his 50 Squadron, which was now based at Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire on the 11th January 1943. Sergeant Whitcombe completed missions against the German cities of Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Bremen and Nuremburg and also the French city of Lorient which held German submarine pens.

                                                                                                        On 1st March 1943 Sergeant Whitcombe, on his 19th mission,                                                                                                                and the other seven members of  50 Squadron’s Lancaster
                                                                                                        ED 423 VN - N took off from Skellingthorpe for a air raid  joining                                                                                                            155 Lancaster’s, 86 Halifax and 60 Stirlings, the target was Berlin.                                                                                                          The raid was undertaken in the month  of the 10th anniversary                                                                                                   year of Nazi party  coming to power and was a demonstration of the                                                                                                            RAF power, the raid was considered a success.[vi] Twenty
                                                                                                        aircraft were lost, one aircraft was 50 Squadron's  Lancaster
                                                                                                        Type III  ED423  VN - N.

                                                                                                         50 Squadron Lancaster R5689 VN-N  1942

VN_N  was returning from the Berlin raid when it was attacked by a German nightfighter over Holland. The attack crippled the bomber and when it was attacked a second time near Rotterdam the bomber went into a steep dive crashing at 0044, 2nd March 1943 at Ridderkerk 10km SE from the centre of Rotterdam.

The remains of the crew were recovered from the wreckage and initially buried in the Cemetery Crooswijk in Rotterdam. ‘The graves were located in the immediate area of the entrance to the cemetery and thousands of Dutch citizens visited
the graves and paid their respects as a sign of solidarity with the Allies. The Germans were bothered by this overt expression of sympathy for the fallen fighters. They ordered the bodies exhumed and reburied in a dark corner of the cemetery. As a result more Dutch patriots tan before visited the graves.’[vii]

404108 Sergeant Rupert Sutton Whitcombe RNZAF is buried beside other other members of the crew

1391377 Sergeant Edward James Gray RAFVR
175887 Sergeant John Hughes RAFVR
1331427 Sergeant Leonard Arthur Ketley RAFVR
575832 Sergeant Clifford Howard Lewis RAF
1140185 Sergeant Robert Emmerson Stockburn RAFVR
655982 Sergeant David Thomas RAFVR

404108 Sergeant R S Whitcombe's grave, Crooswijk, Rotterdam

Initially reported as missing when VN-N failed return information this was
reclassified as missing believed dead and finally with information from
German Authorities via the International Red Cross Sergeant Whitcombe
was classified in August 1943 as Officially presumed dead.

Sergeant Rupert Sutton Whitcombe is commemorated on the Rongotai
College Roll of Honour, The Honours Board at the Tawa RSA, the Tawa
Community's  War Memorial and will be named on the Porirua District
Memorial Wall, Te Rauparaha Park, Porirua.

Also lost on the raid were
NZ405276 Flying Officer Bryan Frank Robert Hotson - 214 Squadron
NZ41549 Flight Sergeant Peter George Roberts - 103 Squadron
NZ415056 Flying Officer Norman Scott Black 

Rupert’s father served in WW1 43320 Trooper H G Whitcombe NZ Mounted Rifles
Rupert Sutton Whitombe’s two brothers also served in WW2 both in Field Artillery
20834 Gunner Nigel George Whitcombe
21085 Gunner Athol Henry Whitcombe

Lest Tawa Forgets: Bruce Murray (Tawa Historic Society inc)
NZDF Achieves
Archives New Zealand Military Files
NZ BDM Online
Paperspast Online

Sergeant R S Whitcombe: Auckland Cenotaph
Sergeant R S Whitcombe’s grave: New Zealand War Graves Project
50 Squadron Lancaster R5689 VN-N  note this is not Sergeant Whitcombe’s plane but an earlier 50 Squadron Lancaster that had been written off after crash landing in 1942.

[i] NZDF Achieves
[ii] NZ BDM
[iii] Lest Tawa Forgets
[iv] Tawa Flat Women’s Institute, 12 June 1935, Evening Post. 
[v] Lest Tawa Forgets quoting the flight log book of Sergeant Whitcombe
[vi] Bomber Command Revisits Berlin, WW2today.com
[vii] Countdown to Freedom page 373 
Lancaster R5689 VN-N  over Skellingthorpe  1942