Canadian air force hero’s sacrifice to help save his D-Day crew


SUNDAY ADDENDUM: The records at Croydon Minster, the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, have given DAVID MORGAN further clues to local history, this time a story of wartime bravery in 1944

Led by Mounties: the Queen’s funeral procession in London last Monday, led by a contingent from the RCMP

As a detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – the “Mounties” – led the Queen’s funeral procession up the Mall on Monday, they served as a reminder of the strong ties between our countries.

The Doldorph and Croydon families also have a connection to Canada.

Known then as the Parish Church, now Croydon Minster, people who lived and shopped in the Old Town in the first half of the 20th century will have been familiar with the Doldorph surname.

The Daldorphs lived at 51 Church Street. They had a watchmaking and jewelery shop there and the family lived above the shop. John Adolphus Christian Daldorph was the son of a Danish immigrant who established the first Daldorph watchmakers on Upper Charles Street in Clerkenwell. Evidence of this family business in Clerkenwell can be found in the 1891 Kelly’s Directory.

Shop in the old town: an early 20th century advertisement for the Daldorph family business

John, the Daldorph of Croydon, was married at the parish church on 1 August 1906.

His bride was Helen Deacock, who had lived at 75 Waddon Park Avenue. At 22, she was 10 years younger than her husband. Her father Edward, who signed the register, was described as a stationer.

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The couple had four children: Una, born 1907, Ida, 1911, Joan, 1913, and Edward, 1922. John was to be a pillar of the local community, serving as minister at the parish church during World War II. Two of his children did military service during the war. Una, a nurse, used her medical skills in a military setting. Edward, a mechanic, served in the Royal Air Force as an engineer.

Wedding day: the register of John Daldorph’s marriage in the parish church to Helen Deacock in 1906

It was John Daldorph’s nephew, another named John, who would live through an episode of war with tragic casualties typical of so many conflicts.

Nephew John joined the RAF, as did his father Roy in the 1920s. John was a flight sergeant posted to 437 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, based out of Blakehill in Wiltshire. The squadron’s main focus in early June 1944 was supporting the D-Day landings.

In a DC-3 Dakota, John Daldorph had flown sorties on day one of Operation Tonga’s landings to tow troop-carrying gliders to the area around the Norman city of Caen in the early hours of the Allied invasion.

Towards Normandy: a DC-3 Dakota towing a troop-carrying glider on D-Day 1944

He took off again late in the evening of June 6 to drop more troops and supplies in the area. But as soon as the Dakota took off, she lost contact with her formation leader.

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Daldorph’s co-pilot, Flight Officer Jones, decided to continue flying independently.

That would always be risky. Shortly after reaching the French coast, their plane was hit by anti-aircraft shells and the Dakota caught fire. Once over the landing zone, the containers and paratroopers were released.

As the fire spread, the rest of the crew were ordered by the pilot to abandon the aircraft. Unfortunately the intercom didn’t work properly and there was some confusion. In the end, only Daldorph and Flight Officer Williams, the navigator, escaped.

However, this only tells half the story. Daldorph later reported that the pilot had every opportunity to escape the burning plane. Jones could have escaped through the pilot’s escape hatch as the crew jumped. He chose to stay at the controls and make sure the Dakota continued flying at a constant altitude so the crew who parachuted had a chance of surviving.

Shortly after the two crew members fled the plane, it crashed into a field near the village of Bassenville and the town of Troarn in Calvados. The pilot’s body was found in the rubble by villagers who ran to the crash site along with the unconscious Warrant Officer Engelberg, the rear gunner. He had been wounded in the first flak strike and was unable to escape the plane. He died shortly after the crash.

A subsequent investigation found that the containers that the plane was supposed to drop were still among the rubble. The anti-aircraft explosions had destroyed the trigger mechanism.

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It was thanks to Flight Officer Jones’ selfless act of refusing to parachute that Daldorph and Williams survived.

In September 1944 an officer discovered Jones’ grave near a house owned by Mme. Dohamel. He reported that the tomb was in excellent condition, adorned with two flowerpots and bearing a cross with the inscription “Mort for La France” and “Vive L’Angleterre.In May 1946 Jones’ body was removed and buried in the British Military Cemetery at Ranville.

Uncle John left Croydon to spend his retirement in Claro, Yorkshire, where he died in 1958.

Nephew John Daldorph lived to be 90 and died in Enfield in 2014.

Edward Daldorph died in December 2021 at the age of 99.

Flight Officer Jones’ heroic sacrifice has been forgotten over the years, but a campaign has been launched in Canada to retell the story of his selfless sacrifice so that modern generations can be made aware of it. Generations of Daldorphs will forever be grateful and the story should be passed on to their children as well.

Previous articles by David Morgan:

David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Headmaster of Croydon, now a Volunteer Education Officer at Croydon Minster, providing tours or illustrated lectures on the history of the Minster for local community groups.

To read his previous articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people associated with it, click here

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or to book a school visit, call the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or visit www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page

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