IN MEMORY OF
MATTHEW GEORGE KILLINGBECK
Regular readers of the Digest magazine
will recall that in January 2007, we published an article by Mrs Audrey
Milner featuring her recollections of Pontefract Workhouse. You may
also recall that at the end of that article Mrs Milner mentioned her
husband, Matthew George Killingbeck, who served with 10 Squadron, Halifax
Bombers, and was sadly lost on a fateful mission over Berlin in 1942.
Mrs Milner submitted some wonderful photographs of Matthew and his fellow
colleagues and we felt that in memory of Matthew it would be appropriate
to feature those photographs in an article dedicated to him. Mrs Milner
still finds it deeply upsetting to talk about Matthew, despite the intervening
years, and we are indebted to her for allowing us to commemorate his
life within the pages of the Digest. This article is dedicated to the
life of Matthew George Killingbeck and to Mrs Audrey Milner and her
Matthew Killingbeck and 10 Squadron at Leeming Bar (Click to enlarge)
The fitting shop at the Prince of Wales Colliery
in Pontefract was a far cry in comparison to being a member of the R.A.F.
and part of the air-crew of the Halifax bombers, but that was where
Matthew George Killingbeck worked in 1939, at the age of twenty-seven.
Matthew was a very keen sportsman and held a great passion for playing
rugby. He was captain of Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club during
the period when Eddie Waring, better known as the rugby league commentator
and later co-presenter of the television series “It’s a Knockout”, was
the club’s manager. Matthew also played rugby for Featherstone Rovers
and Castleford during the 1930's, along with Arthur (Bruss) Atkinson
and ‘Ginger’ Crossley. However, all this was to change in 1940.
Matthew had a keen interest in flying and with the onset of the Second
World War he left his rugby career and the Prince of Wales fitting shop
behind and volunteered with the R.A.F. to be part of the air-crew.
Matthew George Killingbeck
These were worrying times for Britain. In the
face of the German advance through Europe, the allies had been
forced to retreat and were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk
in May/June 1940. The following month, in an effort to gain air
superiority before a planned invasion of Britain, the German Luftwaffe
began a sustained air offensive in what was to become known as
the Battle of Britain, the first major battle to be fought entirely
by air forces.
A minority of British public and political sentiment favoured
a negotiated peace with Germany, but the recently installed Prime
Minister, Winston Churchill, refused to consider an armistice
with the Nazis and he prepared the people of Britain for a long
war. Despite the largest and most sustained bombing campaign ever
attempted, Britain stood firm against the enemy and summing up
the effect of the battle and the contribution of Fighter Command
in one of his most famous speeches, Winston Churchill stated that,
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many
to so few".
Matthew’s initial training was at Blackpool,
prior to moving to Wilmslow for further training. He was very
happily married, and his wife Audrey and their young daughter
Rosalind, were able to move to Wilmslow to be with him during
that time. Matthew was then transferred to Sealand before moving
to Leeming Bar, North Yorkshire, where he was able to secure accommodation
for his wife and daughter at the Crown Inn.
While Matthew was on operational duties, Audrey would
help out in the bar at the Crown. One day a coach party arrived at the
Inn en-route to Darlington, and their accents sounded very familiar
to Audrey who enquired where they had come from. She was told that they
all came from Castleford and when they learned that Matthew had played
rugby for their home town, they all wanted to meet him. Unfortunately,
Matthew had been on a bombing raid over Germany the previous night and
was still sleeping, and Audrey explained that she did not want to wake
him. The party were disappointed at missing the opportunity to meet
Matthew, but arrangements were made for them to call back at the Crown
on their return journey and an unforgettable party was held in the Crown
Inn that night.
Matthew moved once more, and this time was stationed in Elgin, Scotland
and it was here that he obtained his wings. Audrey was not able to go
with him on this occasion and all the letters he posted back home were
After obtaining his wings, Matthew returned to Leeming Bar and Audrey
was again able to stay at the Crown Inn in order to be with him. Audrey
stated that these were very happy times shared with Matthew and their
daughter. It was however, also tinged with deep sadness.
Above: Leeming with the Crown Inn standing in
The Crown overlooked the aerodrome at Leeming Bar,
and each night Audrey would watch the planes take off on their perilous
missions; so many people owed their lives to these brave men who confronted
danger at every second. The following morning, from the safety of the
Crown, Audrey would look out over the airfield at the returning aircraft,
noticing the empty spaces on the tarmac where planes had not made it
safely back home. It was a time of sadness, anxiety and worry at these
losses, and of fear for the great danger that these courageous crews
endured. It was also a time of empathy for the families of those valiant
men who had been lost during those terrible times and who had yet to
Matthew always flew with the same crew which formed part of Number 10
Squadron. He was a rear gunner on the Halifax, which was an extremely
dangerous position to fly.
In 1942 Matthew's sister had arranged to be married, and she had asked
Matthew if he would give her away. This would mean trying to change
his leave to two weeks earlier than planned if he was to be able to
attend the wedding. He applied for a change of leave and this was granted.
Upon his return to duty, Matthew’s usual crew had just completed their
turns of duty and were commencing their leave and so, for his final
mission before being grounded for six months, he was requested to fly
with a different crew.
Tragically, on that fateful mission, Matthew’s plane was shot down on
9th May 1942 while on an operational flight over Berlin with the loss
of all on board.
Matthew is buried in the war cemetery in Heerstrasse in Berlin; the
Cumberland turf within the cemetery being specially imported from the
United Kingdom. Audrey has travelled the sad journey to Heerstrasse
War Cemetery to visit Matthew's grave and Matthew's name is included
on the memorial Roll of Honour in Heerstrasse War Cemetery.
The Digest are sincerely grateful to Mrs Milner
for allowing us to publish this brief memorial to Matthew and for allowing
us to reproduce the accompanying photographs.
We would also like to express our appreciation to Delna Evans for her
assistance in compiling the above article.