ON the night of April 8, 1942, a young pilot named James Linehan took off from RAF Feltwell in a Wellington bomber, bound for a raid on Hamburg. He never returned.
Listed as missing, presumed dead, even his final resting place is a mystery, but his niece has embarked on an epic and at times emotional search to find out more about him, his fellow crew members and their final moments.
Nicola Gaughan, a photographer and designer, is a lifelong Hanwell resident who has spent the past couple of years in an exhaustive bid to find out more information about her uncle.
Her quest has taken her across the country and put her in touch with people from the other side of the world.
She said: “My uncle gained his wings and joined 57 Squadron on November 6, 1941. Having done a lot of research, I discovered his RAF career was very short and tragic, lasting only 12 missions. Jim was just 20 years old.”
While Miss Gaughan always knew about her uncle’s death, she knew very little else. She was spurred into finding out more when her last surviving uncle Patrick, one of Jim’s six brothers, became seriously ill.
“It occurred to me that maybe I could find the crash site and tell Patrick about it before he died. I did a lot of research. I also joined several online forums and received much help, particularly from one particular forum, the website ww2talk.com.
“Everyone was very helpful, with one man in Australia even paying for me to have some files digitised, as one of the crew was Australian.”
Sadly, her uncle died in April last year, before Miss Gaughan found any clues to the crash site, but by then she had amassed a sizeable amount of information and decided to continue with her research.
She discovered one possible location in the North Sea, north of Holland, as well as another possible site between Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven.
Meanwhile, she decided to find out more about her uncle Jim’s fellow crew members.
Looking on the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission website, she discovered details of Australian pilot Noel Morse: “By chance I found the obituary for his father in the Sydney Morning Herald for 1946. I emailed the paper asking them if they could help me.
“They ran a piece in their RSVP section and about three months later I got an email from one of PO Morse’s nephews in Sydney. It was an amazing feeling.”
She then started her search for Flight Sergeant George Hillary Vogan: “Just after Christmas 2010 I received an email from someone in his family. Again it was an amazing feeling and they sent me information.”
The search for the first of the UK crew, Sgt Graham Lakeman, resulted in her scouring the internet for Lakemans, even bringing her into contact with well-known folk singer Seth Lakeman, who, it turns out, is Sergeant Lakeman’s nephew.
Miss Gaughan also got in touch with Reta Riddler, the last surviving Lakeman family member from the Second World War era.
She drove to Devon to meet her, an experience which she describes as ‘an incredibly emotional day’.
She is now searching for two crew members – Sergeant Norman Joseph Naylor and Rear Gunner Sergeant Ronald Geoffrey Richards.
Jim Gaughan may be dead but his memory lives on, thanks to a member of his family he never met.
If you can help Nicola in her search, email email@example.com