West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History



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 daughter Rosalind.

Matthew Killingbeck and the Halifax Bomber crew

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 Killingbeck

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 censored.

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.

The Crown Inn at Leeming Bar

Above: Leeming with the Crown Inn standing in the distance

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 be informed.

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.


Site constructed and maintained by Michael Norfolk
This website is Copyright © 2005-2013 [www.pontefractus.co.uk] All Rights Reserved