Today we conclude the remarkable story of local lad Sidney Falconer, who took to the skies with the RAF to get back at the Germans who bombed his home town during the Second World War.
Telling the story of this brave airman is local historian Dorothy Ramser.
“Sidney had flown in the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne in May 1942,” reveals Dorothy.
“The 218 Squadron had 19 Stirlings in the force which lost 41 aircraft.
“Sgt Sidney Falconer’s bomber R9331 had damaged its undercarriage on take-off so all eight men on board, having successfully completed their mission, knew they faced a belly landing on return.
“However, Sgt Falconer put the Stirling down safely.”
May 1942 was a costly month for 218 Squadron which had lost eight aircraft and five crews (40 men) from 79 sorties.
On July 13, 1942, in Stirling bomber BF315 HA-F, Sidney and his crew were briefed to attack Duisburg.
They successfully attacked the target, dropping their bomb-load by aid of illuminating flares, and no doubt with relief, turned for home, still very wary of enemy night fighters, given Sidney’s previous experience.
Sidney, who as mentioned previously, had already been awarded the DFM, was honoured with the DFC for service with 214 Squadron whose motto was Avenging in the shadows.
As Dorothy goes on to explain: “The squadron served in No.3 Group and flew some of the bloodiest missions of the war. They had the highest percentage of losses of Group 3.
“His award was announced in the London Gazette on October 15, 1943.”
The citation reads: Falconer, Sidney Godfrey, A/F/L (129233, RAFVR*) – No.214 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 15 October 1943.
Citation in Air Ministry Bulletin 11720.
“A first class operational pilot and captain of aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Falconer has successfully completed many operational sorties of a varied nature.
“He has set a high example of keenness and courage in his squadron and been unfailing in his devotion to duty.”
Sidney Falconer died on May 8, 1944 in a Horsa glider crash.
The report of the crash stated: “Horsa LJ496 crashed while approaching for landing on the aerodrome and all four were killed.
“The glider coming in to land on No. 1 runway crashed three hundred yards short of the runway.
“The two glider pilots were killed along with Instructors F/Lt Austin (RAF Pilot) and F/O Falconer (RAF Pilot).
“Shortly after casting off from the aircraft tug, the glider was seen to take a steep turning dive to port.
“It was seen to check, still turning to port with port wing very low.
“The port wing struck the ground and overhead cables and crashed. The glider was thrown on its back”
Dorothy continues by saying that Horsa gliders were used one month later on the eve of D-Day on June 5, 1944, to capture Pegasus Bridge.
The official records state that F/Lt Sidney Godfrey Falconer DFC DFM (129233), RAFVR, aged 23 is buried in South Shields (Harton) Cemetery, Durham.
He was the son of William and Annie Falconer, nee Jackson of South Shields. He left behind an elder brother Douglas W Falconer, born 1914, and sister Constance, born 1918.
The grave of Sidney Godfrey Falconer, in Harton cemetery bears the epitaph reads: “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Dorothy goes on to reveal that: “Sidney lies in Section 9 Grave 8367 of Harton cemetery.
“His brother Douglas was also an extraordinary man.
“He read physics at Durham University and became a teacher in Newcastle, and then at Bromsgrove School, in Worcestershire.
“In October 1939, aged 25 year old, Douglas William Falconer (99928) was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.
“In 1940 the regiment was sent to France as part of the 3rd Infantry Division, under Montgomery, in the British Expeditionary Force.
“During the Fall of France, the battalion was one of the last off the beach at La Panne at Dunkirk – where Douglas had succeeded in bringing back almost all his platoon.
“At La Panne, the Army Engineers managed to build several makeshift piers, by driving lorries into the sea at low tide.
“Smaller boats could come up under cover of darkness when the shelling had subsided and take soldiers on board directly.
“As the Germans advanced on Dunkirk, the evacuation from La Panne was abandoned and the beachmaster rowed out to be picked up by ship.
“Douglas Falconer then became an instructor and played an important part in the training and planning for D-Day.
“He was awarded a military MBE for this role.
“On January 1, 1946, he was promoted to Major.
“When demobbed, he decided to read for the Bar and joined the Middle Temple and was called to the Bar in 1950.
“He became a patents judge in the Chancery Division of the High Court, from 1981 to 1989, and was knighted on March 27, 1981, at Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
“Sir Douglas Falconer died in 2007.
“The achievements of Sidney and Douglas are all the more remarkable as they grew up in the North East during the years of economic depression when dad William, a shipyard worker, was often unemployed, and poverty was the norm.
“One thing is sure, we in South Shields should remember Flight Lieut Sidney Godfrey Falconer D.F.C. D.F.M. with pride and celebrate his memory as a local hero.”