RCAF Iroquois Squadron 431

By Sandra McHugh

In World War II, RCAF Iroquois Squadron 431 executed 2,584 sorties, dropped 14,004 tons of bombs, lost 72 aircraft, and suffered 490 aircrew causalities, including 313 deaths, and 14 operational personnel deaths.1 My father, Edward McHugh, was part of the ground crew of this squadron.  He was an electrician by trade and when he enlisted during the summer of 1940, it was determined that the RCAF needed aircraft electricians. He began his training in Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP). Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had agreed that Canada would manage the BCATP at 231 facilities across Canada, mainly at air bases.2

Great Britain’s Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command was formed on July 14, 1936 and became part of the air defence of the country.  It was made up of groups and the Canadians were included in these groups. Group 6 was established on January 1, 1943 and was entirely made up of Canadian squadrons. At its peak, there were 14 squadrons belonging to group 6, including Iroquois Squadron 431.3

Squadron 431 operated Wellington X, Halifax V, and Lancaster X aircraft.  The Halifax and Lancaster aircraft had higher speed and greater bomb loads than earlier aircraft.4 The Canadian squadrons were stationed in Burn, Tholthorpe, and Croft, Yorkshire, allowing them to make sorties out across the English Channel, out into the North Sea, and into mainland Europe. Their targets included military targets, U boats, industrial centres, and Nazi occupied territories. The battle honours of Squadron 431 include the English Channel and North Sea, the Baltic, Fortress Europe (areas occupied by Nazi Germany), France and Germany (1944-45), ports in the Bay of Biscay, the Ruhr valley, Berlin, German Ports, Normandy, and the Rhine.5

My father almost never spoke about the war.  Despite the camaraderie and deep friendships he forged during his time of service, it was a dark period of his life and he wanted to forget about it. The few times he spoke of it, he mentioned the busy work leading up to a mission, whereby the ground crew would be working intensely to ensure that everything was the best it could be.  Each person was acutely aware that a small detail could mean the difference between life and death.  Each team of the ground crew was assigned to one bomber and they would wait for their bomber to come back after the mission.  Sometimes the bay remained empty and the bomber never came back.  My father never got over the pain of waiting for a bomber that would not return.


A special thanks to W.E. Huron for his publication about Squadron 431: The History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942-1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft

1 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, p. 8


3 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, pages 3 and 4

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bomber_Command

5 Heron, W.E., A Yorkshire Squadron, the History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and more, 1942–1945: Burn, Tholthorpe, Croft, General Store Publishing House, 2009, p. 8

Ground crew. Edward McHugh, wearing overalls, is in the front.
Ground crew. Edward McHugh, wearing overalls, is in the front.
Ground crew.
Ground crew.

31 thoughts on “RCAF Iroquois Squadron 431”

  1. Am looking for info on my grandfather Garfield Murray sands who was in the 431 in late 1944 and into 1945 from what we can gather. Any assistance is appreciated

    1. Hello Hayden. Unfortunately I don’t have my book right now as I have loaned it to someone but I will be happy to look up your grandfather as soon as I get it back. Did you try Library and Archives Canada? You can order his service records, if you want. It may take a long time to get them but it is worth the wait.

  2. I too am looking for information about my grandfather. His name is Jason (Judd) Dickson R208079. and all I know is that he was in the 431 squadron and he was a wag. Any information about my grandfather or the PDF for W.E. Herons book would be great.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Jocelyn. I have loaned my book to someone so I am unable to look up your grandfather right now but I promise I will as soon as I get it back. Have you thought of asking for your grandfather’s service records from Library and Archives Canada?

      1. Thank you that would be great. I hadn’t thought of that but I will look into that as well.

  3. Good day.
    My Father Maurice Content flew with Reg Harrison in 431st Sqd. He was Mid Upper Gunner. Any books available on the subject ?

    1. Hi Michel,

      W.E. Heron has published A Yorkshire Squadron, The History of 431 RCAF Squadron.


      1. Sandra my uncle Gordon Walker was an LAC for the 431 when they rotated back to Canada to refit to go to the far east. some of them were house at a Y camp near Cole Harbour N S .about 5 went swimming and got caught in a ripe tide four were lost inciuding my uncle. this happened just four days before the war ended August 11 1945. hope to find the book thanks Art Walker

      1. Thank you very much for this report !
        Dad was on the crew of the second and 3rd crash. He got a mention in Dispatches for pulling Mr. Harrison off the burning wreckage of the second crash. He can be seen standing at the opposite end of Skipper on the picture of the crew standing on the plane.

      2. Sandra, I will be contacting Mr. Harrison who travelled from Saskatoon to Bromont for my wedding in 2006.
        I am certain that he has not seen a copy of W.E. Heron : A Yorkshire Squadron, The History of 431 RCAF Squadron.
        Is there any posibility of having a PDF version which I could print for him ?
        And, if possible, is there anyone who could trust me in lending me a copy so Mr.Harrison could sign it ? I will make certain that the copy is returned promptly to the owner.

      3. As you can see, John has Mr. Heron’s email address so that would be the best way to get a PDF copy. I tried to see if there were any PDF versions available on line but with no success. Even ABE books does not have a printed copy. But I have a printed copy and would be happy to lend it to you. You can borrow it as long as you need it.

      4. would be possible to get the e mail of W.E.Heron so I could get a pdf copy as well thanks Art

      5. Oh Arthur, this is so sad about your uncle. What a terrible tragedy. I looked up my dad’s service records and he was also in Nova Scotia at that time, probably for the same reason as he had told me that he had volunteered for the far east. And yes, no problem for Mr. Heron’s email address. I will send it to you privately.

      6. thank you I will try our library for book and try and get it on pdf also. I go to the museum in Nanton Alberta a couple of time a year they have lots of pictures one is of the whole 431 sqn great place to visit

    2. Michel, my dad Reg Harrison was so sorry to lose contact with you. If you could email me at sulhar@rogers.com with your contact information, I’m sure he would love to reconnect. Susan Harrison

    3. Hi Michel-With regard to your Dad Maurice Content I keep in touch with Reg Harrison as my interest is researching aircraft crashes in County Durham,England where I live.If you could contact me that would be great. Regards,Philip Smith

  4. Can you please provide any information on Sgt James (Stuart) Wilkinson 431 Sqn RCAF – Tail Gunner on Lancaster KB-806 piloted by F/L James Lightbown DFC.

    1. Graham, I have W.E. Heron’s book and did find J.S Wilkinson took part in a sortie to Cologne on December 30, 1944. As you say, the pilot was J.R. Lightbrown, F.J. Kumsky, Navigator, B.D. Stickles, Bomb Aimer, J. Gordon, Air Gunner, and L.K. James, Flight Engineer.

      Sgt. Wilikonson was transferred to ‘R’ Depot on February 5, 1945. I found this on the Archeion.ca web site:

      “R” Depot was orginally RCAF PDC [Personnel Despatch Centre]. It was redesignated “R” Depot and was located at Warrington until June 1945 when it moved to Torquay. The centre was used for Canadians returning home after the end of the Second World War in 1945. It was closed in 1946.

      Also Sgt. Wilkinson’s service number was R142454. This number may help you in your research or if you decide, if you haven’t already, to request his service records from Library and Archives Canada.


  5. My Grandfather was part of the 431 Squadron, Tail Gunner, they went down over Germany after several successful missions. I’m named after Him all three names. Maybe because of that I’ve always had a connection and curiosity to know more.
    With incredible respect and a thankful feeling I somehow stumbled onto this,thanks!

  6. Hello I am trying to gather information about my father Harry (Hal) Southworth Ames, he was a tail gunner of Group 6 Squadron 431 Iroquois in 1944 and 1945. At some point becoming a Gunnery Instructor. We are unable to find a copy of W.E. Heron’s book. I’m wondering if you could assist me with other sources of information. Thanks Susan Ames Craig

    1. Hi Susan. Yes, your father is listed in W.E. Herron’s book. I will send you the info. Also Library and Archives Canada is a good source of information. You can request your father’s service records.

  7. I am looking for others who served with my great Uncle Michael Walter Bachinski(butts)who was the flight engineer for the all Canadian crew chosen to fly the first Canadian built Lancaster to England in August 1943.Hor his service he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.I never met my uncle as he died in 1995 and I never started my family research until 1997.

    1. W.E. Heron, in his book A Yorkshire Squadron, lists the flight crews of all the sorties. Your great-uncle flew on Feb. 4, 1945 – Bonn, Feb. 7, 1945 – Goch, Feb. 13, 1945 – Dresdon, Feb. 20, 1945 – Dortmund, Feb. 14, 1945 – Chemnitz, Feb. 21, 1945 – Buisburg, Feb. 26, 1945 – Mainz, Mar. 2, 1945 – Cologne, Mar. 14, 1945 – Zweibrucken, Mar. 15, 1945 – Hagen, Mar. 25, 1945 – Hanover, Mar. 31, 1945 – Hamburg, Apr. 4, 1945 – Leipzig/Meresburg, Apr. 8, 1945 – Hamburg, Apr. 10, 1945 – Liepzeig, Apr. 13, 1945 – Kiel U Boat Yards, Apr. 25, 1945 Frisian Islands

  8. Do you no any information about my granddads brother Bruce Samuel fudge service no j17663 431 sqdn died 22june 1943 buried st Runnymede grace 173

    1. Bruce Samuel Fudge, RCAF gunner, was on a Wellington X aircraft that took off from Burn on June 21, 1943. The aircraft lost contact with the base as soon as it took off and never returned. Gunner Fudge’s name is on the Runnymede Memorial on panel 173. Thank you to W.E. Heron for this information in his book A Yorkshire Squadron. The History of 431 R.C.A.F. Squadron and More.

      1. I have a copy of a panoramic photo of the entire 431 Sqn taken in May 1944 if you would like a copy.

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