Those Commemorated

Sgt JW HarrisDreux Cemetery

The final inscription on the War Memorial, the only one to commemorate a casualty of the Second World War, contains two curious errors. Sgt Harris was christened James William, rather than William James, and was generally known as "Jim"; furthermore, he lost his life not in 1941, but a year earlier. These errors will shortly by corrected by the addition of a small brass plaque.

On 16 June 1940, Blenheim IV R3817 of 59 Squadron took off from RAF Odiham on a mission to observe the advance of German forces; it crashed to the west of the small French town of Dreux, killing its crew of three: Pilot Officer Clive Robinson Wylie, aged 26 from Wellington, New Zealand; Wirless Operator/Air Gunner Sgt Thomas Arthur Thomas, aged 20 from Santa Cruz, California; and Observer Sgt James William Harris, aged 26 from Little Wolford. They are buried in adjacent graves at the Dreux Communial Cemetery, Eure-et-Loir.

The squadron's Operations Record Books for the period of the Battle of France are incomplete, and sometimes record only the name of the pilot, and not those of the other aircrew. Research continues, but it seems likely that this was only Sgt Harris's fourth operational mission.

The squadron had been based at Poix-en-Picardie, France since October 1939, but was evacuated to England on 20th May 1940 as enemy forces advanced. Reconnaissance sorties over France quickly resumed from bases in England, until the French surrender on 22nd June. The Battle of France proved costly for 59 Squadron, losing at least 16 aircraft and 26 airmen. Particularly painful were the losses of four aircraft and two crews to "friendly fire" from RAF fighters: sadly, R3817 and its crew were amongst this number.

James William Harris was the son of William, a labourer and tree-feller, and Sarah Harris (née Taylor) of Great Wolford. Baptisms of five of their seven children are recorded in the parish registers: Frank Raymond, born 1904, Thomas Edwin in 1906, Edith Daisy 1908, Kathleen Margaret 1911 and James William in 1916.

William and Sarah are recorded as living in Great Wolford in the 1939 Register. William died in 1949, aged 78 and Sarah in 1965, aged 92; both are commemorated in the Churchyard. A substantial obituary of William appeared in the Parish magazine in January 1950 and "in the evening the bell-ringers, under Mr George Hiatt, rang a muffled peel in his memory".

Lawrie Thompson / David Farman