Lincolnshire Remembers: Broken rules led to heartbreaking death of two brothers in WWII

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With Remembrance Day around the corner, Lincolnshire Reporter has teamed up with the International Bomber Command Centre to bring you some of the most heartbreaking stories of bravery by those flying with Bomber Command.

All four stories published over the next few days will chart the tales of brothers who fought and ultimately died for this country, and today features the Kirkham Brothers.

The Bomber Command Memorial Spire. Photo: Marc Freeman

Ernest and Thomas Kirkham

Ernest Bruce and Thomas Yarwood Kirkham were sons of Percy and Jean Kirkham, who moved to Canada in 1911 from Britain.

Their father, Percy joined the local police force and quickly rose up the ranks but his career was interrupted when he joined the Coldstream Guards at the beginning of World War One (Private 5140).

He became a PoW and was detained in a German camp at Schneidemuhl.

Following in their father’s footsteps

After growing up around a serviceman father, both brothers joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Ernest trained as a navigator and achieved the rank of Flying Officer whilst Thomas trained as an air gunner with the rank of Flight Sergeant.

There will be a number of services and tributes across the county on Remembrance Day

There will be a number of services and tributes across the county on Remembrance Day

They were separately posted to England at the end of their training:

  • Ernest went to the 44 Squadron based at RAF Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire
  • Thomas went to the 432 Squadron based at Skipton on Swale, Yorkshire

Rules broken

Following the terrible losses of families and friends in World War One due to the ‘Pals Brigades’, it became policy that siblings must not serve together or be engaged on the same mission in World War Two.

However, on the night of August 3, 1943 the Kirkham brothers were both detailed for Hamburg.

It could not practically have been anticipated that this might occur so the golden rule of siblings not taking part in the same raid was broken.

The raid comprised 740 aircraft, of which 30 were lost, representing a loss rate of 4.1%, which was typical for a raid of this size and period of the war.

There was a thunderstorm over the target area and the raid was a failure.


Bodies lost

Ernest was in a Lancaster and Thomas in a Wellington.

The Lancaster was attacked by a night-fighter and crashed off the coast of Holland and the Wellington crashed into the sea with the loss of all of the crew.

Neither of their bodies was found as a result of which they are both commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial and unfortunately they are not together on the memorial since the losses are detailed by rank.

Ernest is on Panel 174 and Thomas on Panel 183.

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