only search the 427 site


On May 1, 1943, the Lion Squadron moved from Croft to Leeming and began converting from twin engine Wellingtons to four engine Halifaxes. The training took place at No. 1659 conversion Unit commanded by W/C Bob Turnbull at nearby Topcliffe. This change meant that the pilots and other trades went back to school. The feature item for the bomb aimers was the introduction of the Mark XIV bomb sight reputed to be far superior to the old Mark IX. For example, the settings changed automatically according to the height and speed of the aircraft. Similarly, the bombsight was controlled by a gyro compass which allowed for banking and turning of the aircraft. The Instructor for some of the inflight training exercises was a smashing looking young gal. She was a civilian clad in airforce battle dress who crawled out into the nose of the Halifax with the bomb aimers to check and explain the settings. We were all slow learners in the cosy confines of the Halifax but graduate we did. We were saddened some months later to hear that our young mentor had been killed in an air crash. We never heard the details.

About 60 years later in conversation with a hometown friend who flew a tour on 76 Squadron I learned more. In the 76 Squadron Book of Remembrance one of the entries is Dorothy Robson, the Mark XIV Instructor at Topcliffe. This is her story. In 1937 Dorothy attended Leeds University for a degree in Physics, an unusual ambition in those prewar days. She graduated with a BSc in the summer of 1940. Dorothy then tried to join the WAAF but was rejected. Eventually she was accepted to work as a Scientist with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, joining the team of Scientists who were developing the secret Mark XIV bombsight. Dorothy realized that the bombsight would be even more effective if correctly installed and if the bomb aimers on the Squadrons were more expertly informed. To this end, she became a regular visitor to bomber airfields in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, doing air tests whenever possible.

A week before her twenty fourth birthday Dorothy did an air test with a crew in a new aircraft that was supposed to make its first operational flight that night. The navigator on the crew had stood down to allow Dorothy take his place in the nose of the Halifax. No one knows exactly what happened but not long after take off on a misty November morning, the aircraft crashed in high ground near Market Weighton. Three of the crew were killed instantly; the midupper gunner was dead on admission to hospital and the pilot and rear gunner died the following day. Dorothy, grievously injured, lived for just one more day. Dorothy had asked her father, if anything like this happened , to have her ashes scattered from the air, and this was done. Because she was not a member of the armed forces, her death was not formally marked by any memorial or medals, but her name is listed in the 76 Squadron Book of Remembrance.

Thanks to Vern White