Flight Sergeant Wilfred Rodgers Groff
Earlier this week, while on a 3-day pairing with Captain Andrew, we struck up a conversation about our family members who flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during World War II. It was during this conversation that Andrew asked me if I had ever looked up my Uncle Billy’s service and flight records. I immediately pulled out my phone and about 15 minutes later, I came upon a 264-page PDF with an exhaustive list of documents of my Uncle Billy’s service in the RCAF: everything from his birth certificate to his enlistment interview, flight training records, death certificate and even a letter from his commanding officer the day after his last mission was now at my fingertips. The find was simply awe-inspiring and was just what I needed after learning earlier in the week that my application to join Jazz (Air Canada Express) was not successful. Clearly my current frustrations pale in comparison to the challenges Uncle Billy and his wife Norma both faced almost 80 years ago.
So, I’d like to use this post to introduce to the world to my great uncle Billy, Flight Sergeant Wilfred Rodgers Groff, a bomber pilot who was tragically lost flying a mission in WW2, and the only other pilot in my family.
Uncle Billy was born in 1918 in Lethbridge, AB and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force reserves in 1940 at the age of 22. His intake interview indicated that he would be a good candidate for aircrew as a wireless operator or gunner.
During his initial training in Toronto, ON, he was identified as good pilot material and he was transferred to Elementary Flying Training School in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, QC. Base on his training records, he was a determined and keen student, but struggled a bit with aerobatics. During this time, he completed 65 hrs of flight in a Fleet Finch Mark II, a bi-wing trainer aircraft.
After Elementary Training, he was transferred to No. 8 Service Flying Training School in Moncton, NB where he began flying the Avro Anson Mark II, a twin engine aircraft. During this time, it was noted by his instructors that through continued hard work, he was a developing into an average pilot while completing 147 hrs.
With his flight training complete, in the summer of 1941, he reported to No. 1 Embarkation “Y” Depot in Halifax, NS and staged for his overseas deployment with the RAF 44 Squadron.
On July 29, 1941, Wilfred Rodgers Groff married Norma Edith Mary Fielder, in Halifax, NS.
On September 9, 1941, mere weeks after his marriage, he was received by 3 Personnel Reception Centre based at Bournemouth (UK) where he waited for his assignment with the RAF.
On March 1, 1942, Uncle Billy was appointed to the RCAF 420 Bomber Squadron at the Royal Air Force Station Waddington, UK.
On March 26, Uncle Billy was dispatched on his first sortie over enemy territory with four other aircraft to complete a night bombing and mine dropping run to the Frisian Islands, an archipelago on the north shore of the Netherlands and Germany. That evening, the planes left the airfield in Waddington at dusk (19:27), and were expected to return in the early hours of the following morning. Unfortunately, Uncle Billy’s plane was the only one not to return and was suspected of being downed by either enemy anti-aircraft “flak” (abbreviation for the German word Fliegerabwehrkanone, aircraft-defense gun) or during a fateful encounter with an enemy fighter jet.
On March 27, his flight commander drafted a personal letter to his wife Mrs. Norma Groff with a brief summary of the mission, its crew, and their respective experience. The letter further indicated that the commander had full confidence in Uncle Billy and that the plane he flew was in good working order. It was a personal and heartfelt letter that obviously brought great pain to the author as it was himself who dispatched Uncle Billy on his first and – sadly – final operational mission.
On March 28, Billy’s commanding unit Air Ministry Kingsway, filed a report of his accident indicating that his plane was missing over their intended target and was presumed downed by enemy action.
Three days later, on April 2, a letter was sent to his wife Mrs. Norma Groff indicating that Uncle Billy’s plane didn’t return from his mission and he was to be reported as Missing in Active Service. The letter included a brief overview of the mission and the names of the other Canadian airmen flying with him that evening.
Several months later, on November 16, 1942, Uncle Billy’s death certificate was signed and his death was made official in the eyes of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
On October 21, 1944, as per a long standing tradition in the RCAF, Uncle Billy was posthumously promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant upon the recommendation of his Commanding Officer.
The following primary sources helped illustrate the ultimate sacrifice of my Uncle Billy.
Born October 10, 1918
Enlisted October 8, 1940 (22 yrs old)
Reserve Interview Report
Reserve Enlistment Agreement:
Wireless Operator, Air Gunner
Initial (Ground School) Pilot Training
January 5, 1941 to February 7, 1941
No. 1 Initial Training School
Elementary Flying Training (Single Engine)
February 22, 1941 to April 22, 1941
No. 11 Elementary Flying Training School
Service Flying Training (Twin Engine Aircraft)
May 5, 1941 to July 27, 1941
No. 8 Service Flying Training School
Complete Flight Training Record
420 Squadron Appointment March 1, 1942
First & Final Mission March 26, 1942
Hampden O (AE298 PT-D) on a mission to Frisian Islands on 1942-03-27
On Thursday, 26 March 1942, the aircraft of the 420 squadron (RCAF), took off for a mission to Frisian Islands in Netherlands from a station (airfield) in or near Waddington. One of the crew members was Sergeant W Groff RCAF. He departed for his mission at 19:27. He flew a Hampden (type O, with serial AE298 and code PT-D). His mission was planned for Friday, 27 March 1942. Back to Normandy
March 26: Air gunners practiced clay pigeon shooting. Aircrew received lecture from Signals Officer. Link training practice. Five aircraft were detailed to drop mines off Frisian Islands. Four were successful but one aircraft, AE298 “D”, is reported missing. Aircraft carried 2×250 bombs on wing hard points in addition to the mine (PDM 3, Ass22, PDM2, Ord). Four successfully deployed their mines and two dropped their bombs on targets of opportunity. (BC:-2) AE298 “D”: pilot Sgt WR Groff; nav Sgt LO Stalker; wop/ag Sgt RHD Morgan; ag F/Sgt AF Williams. All on board were killed in the crash. 420 Squadron Hampden
Died March 27, 1942 (23 yrs old)
Report of Accident
Death Announcement Cablegram
Letter to Mrs. Groff
Missing on Active Service Announcement
Letter to Mrs. Groff
Post Mission Incident Report
Letter to Mrs. Groff
Official Death Announcement
Reply to request for information for mission details
Posthumous Promotion to Flight Sergeant
Certificate of Presumption of Death
Last Pay Certificate
Name: GROFF, Wilfred Rodgers
Rank: Flight Sergeant
Unit: 420 Squadron
Plane: Hampden I AE-298 PT-D
Missing since: 26/27-03-1942
Runnymede Memorial: Panel 104
Next of Kin: Son of Colin Gemmel Groff and Katherine Wilson Groff; husband of Norma E. M. Groff, of Three Rivers, Province of Quebec, Canada.
KIA Information: Known to have crashed in the North Sea, north-west of Vlieland.
No. 1 Initial Training School – Toronto, ON
No. 11 Elementary Flying Training School – Cap-de-la-Madeleine, QC
Ministry of Defense – Quebec City, QC
No. 8 Service Flying Training School – Moncton, NB
No. 1 Embarkation Depot – Halifax, NS
RAF 44 Squadron – Waddington, UK
RCAF 420 Squadron – Waddington, UK