Sergeant Ronald Bentley, 1698420, Flight Engineer, 106 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
Ronald Bentley was born on the 23rd March 1923, the eldest child and only son of two children born to Horace Bentley and Kathleen Brook who married at St Mary’s Church, Horbury Junction on the 17th September 1921. At this time Horace was living at Middlestown and Kathleen’s home was Horbury Junction. Ronald’s father, Horace, was the second child and eldest son of six surviving children born to his parents, Frank and Catherine Bentley who, in 1911, lived with their children on Athold Street, Broadowler, Ossett. By this time Horace was aged 16 years and working in a local woollen mill as a piece marker.
In 1939, Ronald Bentley, aged 16 was living with his parents at 63, North Avenue, Horbury and was a steel work driller in a wagon works. His father, Horace, was a general labourer in the same wagon works. Both he and his wife, Kathleen were also Air Raid Wardens. There is a fourth person in the household who was probably Ronald’s sister and only sibling, Dorothy, born in 1925.
Ronald married Greta Clarke in Summer 1943 and they appear to have had one child, Charles S. Bentley, born in late 1943 or early 1944. In 1939 Greta, a tennis racket stringer, the daughter of gardener Joe Frederick Clarke and his wife Louisa Annie was living with her parents and two siblings on Belmont Terrace, The Green, Ossett. Following the untimely death of her husband, Ronald, Greta married Ernest Sykes in late 1946.
Ronald Bentley joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve at the age of 17 and served with 106 Squadron, training on Stirling bombers, before becoming a Seargent Flight Engineer on Lancaster bombers based at RAF Metheringham, situated between the villages of Metheringham and Martin, 12.1 miles (19.5 km) south east of Lincoln. Operated as a bomber airfield during World War II, the station opened in October 1943 and was decommissioned in the spring of 1946. During WW2, 106 Squadron lost 65 Lancaster bombers and 995 aircrew in operations flown from RAF Metheringham and other bases.
Lancaster ME832 ZN-J, "Hares Hounds", piloted by 21 year-old Stanley Montague Fucher, left RAF Metheringham at 23:25 on the 4th July 1944 as part of a 231 bomber raid on the V1 flying bomb silo at Saint-Leu-d'Esserent in France. Saint-Leu-d’Esserent in northern France was built on the chalk of Picardy. Near the town was an underground cave system which in the peaceful pre-war years had served to grow mushrooms. The Germans had adapted it as a hidden storage site for V-1 rockets.
With the target area having been identified previously, the air crews mapped their route in order to miss major towns and known flak installations which they might encounter over France. What had not been foreseen was the amount of Luftwaffe fighters which had been assembled to defend the supply depot. This force would have a serious outcome with no less than 13 RAF Lancaster's being shot down over occupied territory.
Above: A 106 Squadron, seven-man Lancaster bomber crew at RAF Metheringham in 1943. This is not Sergeant Bentley's crew, but the crew of Flight Lieutenant C.V. "Steve" Stephens.
At around 01:30 hours on the 5th July, Lancaster ME832 was attacked by two enemy fighters, which set the bomber's engines on fire, causing it to go into a spin; and although the gunners shot down one of the German fighters, it was too late to save their aircraft, which crashed fully loaded into the small woodland in the vicinity of Saint Germain la Poterie, with the loss of six of the crew. The bomb aimer, Canadian, Sergeant O.J. MacNaughton not only survived, but evaded capture by the Germans.1 The kill of Lancaster ME832 was claimed by Fw Gerhard Koch of 1/JG301.
The crew of the ME832 were as follows:
- Pilot Officer Stanley Montague Fulcher, Pilot, RAF, 21 years
- Flight Sergeant Francis Henry Stokeld, Navigator, RAF, 21 years
- Sergeant Ronald Bentley, Flight Engineer, RAF, 21 years
- Flight Sergeant O.J. MacNaughton, Bomb Aimer, RCAF
- Sergeant James Joseph Kearney, Wireless Operator, RAF, 20 years
- Sergeant Alfred Bradley, Air Gunner, RAF, 21 years
- Flying Officer William Hannah Clingen Ramsey, Air Gunner, RAF, 23 years
The "Ossett Observer" had a short obituary for Sergeant Ronald Bentley:2
"Horbury Airman Killed In Crash - Sergeant Engineer Ronald Bentley (21), RAF, who as briefly announced in our last issue, lost his life as a result of air operations over enemy territory on the night of July 5th. His wife lives at Belmont Terrace, Ossett and his parents at North Avenue, Horbury. It is known that Sergeant Bentley was buried at Beauvais National Cemetery, France. Educated at Horbury Council School and Wakefield Technical College, he attended St. Mary's Church and was a member of the Home Guard until joining up in 1942. He was formerly employed at Charles Roberts and Company."
Sergeant Ronald Bentley died on the 5th July 1944, aged 21 years and is buried in Grave 283 at the Marissel French National Cemetery. Marissel is an eastern suburb of Beauvais, a Cathedral town between Rouen and Compiegne. The Cemetery, known locally as the 'Cimetiere Militaire National de Beauvais-Marissel', is not actually in Marissel. It is located approximately 1 kilometre north of Beauvais town centre.
Above: Memorial at St Germain La Poterie.
Beauvais was a French hospital centre during the war. The French National Cemetery was made in 1922. There are 19 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-18 war and 158 of the 1939-45 war commemorated in this site. Of these, four from the 1939-45 War are unidentified.3
1. "The Salford Lancaster - The Fate of 106 Squadron's PB304", Page 38, by Joe Bamford.
2. "Ossett Observer", Saturday, April 28th 1945.