Allen Bachelder was born in Kemptville Grenville County, Ontario, Canada on May 3, 1919, the only son of Leland William and Rachel Helena Bachelder. Allen junior was raised with three sisters, the eldest was Gertrude, followed by Lola, the youngest sister being Margaret. Allen graduated from MacDonald College, St. Anne de Bellevue with Diploma in Agriculture in 1940. In September 1940 he departed for the start of his training which would commence at the Toronto Manning Depot, there followed a stint at Yarmouth Novia Scotia where he found himself pulling guard duty. This was followed by a brief period back in Toronto, again guarding, this time the equipment stores! Recruits began their military careers at a Manning Depot where they learned to bathe, shave, shine boots, polish buttons, maintain their uniforms, and otherwise behave in the required manner. There were two hours of physical education every day and instruction in marching, rifle drill, foot drill, saluting, and other routines. Remedial high school education was offered to bring 17 and 18 year old recruits up to the RCAF academic level. There was also a standard aptitude test — the RCAF Classification Test.
After 4 or 5 weeks a selection committee decided whether the recruit would be trained for aircrew or ground crew. Aircrew “Wireless Air Gunner” candidates went directly to a Wireless School. “Air Observer” and “Pilot” candidates went to an Initial Training School.Allen obviously showed that he was up for the task ahead as he was senton February 3rd 1941 to Montreal to commence studies at No. 1 Wireless School at 4565 Queen Mary Road. In late June 1941, Allen was posted to No.4 Bomber and Gunnery School (No.4 B&GS) based at Fingal, Ontario. Obviously, a keen and intelligent young man Allen was home by July 20th 1941, a qualified Wireless operator / air gunner. Allen left for Halifax on August 1st 1941, and departed for Great Britain on August 15th part of an Atlantic Convoy routed via Iceland, he eventually docked safely in Scotland.
There followed a period at 3 PRC, Bournemouth located on England’s south coast, The function of the PRC was to orientate aircrew as they arrived, to organise refresher courses and various other attachments, and to act as an agent for the air ministry in arranging postings. The main role was really to keep aircrew employed until they could be utilised. Allen was then posted to No.12 Operational Training Unit based at RAF Chipping Warden. This was followed by a spell with 1651 Conversion Unit in May 1942, followed by his posting to No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron on June 16th 1942. How and when Allen was joined by his new skipper, Sergeant William Laidlaw is unclear. William had cut his teeth on the squadron having completed seven operations in the 2nd pilot role since February. These operations included the 1000 Bomber raids on Cologne on May 30th and Essen on June 1st, both on which were flown with Pilot Officer Brian Ball.The crew’s first operation together was undertaken on July 21st when the squadron dispatched eight crews to attack the city of Duisburg. Sergeant Laidlaw was aloft from Downham Market at 23:55hrs in Short Stirling Mk.I W7475 HA-H “Harry”. The target was successfully located and the all high explosive load was dropped just north of the aiming point. The whole area was enveloped in fires and smoke as the crew turned for home.
It was back to Duisburg on the 23rd for the crew, this time they were airborne in Short Stirling W7563 HA-R “Rodger”. On this occasion the city was totally cloud covered, flares which had been dropped to add identification were of little value and the crew dropped their 6x1000lb + 7 x 500lb bombs from 9,500ft knowing that accurate bombing was impossible. After a two day reprieve Duisburg was again on the Battle Order for the night of July 25th, nine squadron crews were detailed and briefed for yet another crack at this important target. Aloft just after mid-night in Stirling BF319 HA-F “Freddy” the crew climbed for altitude over the North Sea. On testing his guns the rear gunner, Sergeant Leslie Barnard reported that he had a hydraulic oil leak, and his turret was out of action. It was a bitter blow to the crew, however they were keenly aware that continuing onto target was an unnecessary and foolhardy risk, the 10,500lb of high explosives was jettisoned. The crew sat out the next two raids on Germany, both directed against the port of Hamburg, on the 29th the Laidlaw crew were detailed and briefed to attack Saarbrucken. Once again airborne in BF319 HA-F the crew settled down for the flight across the North Sea, inexplicably Sergeant Leslie Barnard reported that once again the rear turret was unserviceable, one can only imagine the frustration felt by the whole crew. The sighting of two enemy fighters made the decision to abort all the more palatable. As on the previous operation the entire load of high explosive was jettisoned at 01:07hrs from 12,000 feet, the crew landed back at Downham Market just after 02:20hrs. The month of August started with a lull in operations, it was not until the 6th the squadron was called upon, the target was once again Duisburg. Eleven crews were detailed and briefed for this the final raid of the series on Duisburg.
The crew were aloft in Stirling N6072 HA-P “Peter” at 01:10hrs, this Short & Harland built Stirling had arrived on 218 on February 24th. No.3 Group laid on 91 aircraft for this operation, drawn from almost every squadron, the assortment of Wellingtons and Stirlings were part of a force totaling over two hundred and sixteen bombers.
One can only surmise that there was no mechanical malfunctions while on route, perhaps the crews luck was changing. Having gained altitude over the North Sea the Laidlaw crew settled down for the flight over occupied Holland and into Germany. Crews started reporting contacts soon after crossing the coast, elements from NJG1, NJG2 were airborne and immediately making their presence felt. No. 3 Group was split into three waves, the first wave, the Flare Force who would open proceeding at 02:30hrs, (Zero hour). They would be followed by the Incendiary Force who would bomb between 02:32hrs and 02:50hrs. Finally the Main-force, all of which was loaded with high explosives, these were scheduled to attack between 02:45hrs and 03:00hrs. Sergeant Laidlaw was part of the main force wave loaded with 6x1000lb GP + 7x500llb GP. At around 02:57hrs Short Stirling N6072 was intercepted and shot down by Hptm Ludwig Bietmann of 5./NJG1 flying a Bf110. The encounter resulted in the stricken aircraft crashing into the west bank of the Maas near Kessel, 2 miles south of Venlo, taking with it four of the young crew. Three of the crew managed to take to their parachutes, the pilot, Sgt Laidlaw, the Irish Wireless Operator Sgt David Maffett and Sergeant John Green the observer.
The remaining crew were all killed, their bodies were initially buried in the temporary military cemetery at Venlo, post war they were re-buried in the Jonkerbos War Cemetery. Information from Mr Cliff Smith a relative of Allen records the following :Apparently the aircraft hydraulics were damaged and the bomb doors could not be opened, so the plane crashed with all bombs inside. From family information, Allen went back to help the rear gunner George Cavanagh exit the plane, but George was already dead and the plane was too close to the ground for Allen to exit.
Allen Bachelder, the fresh faced Canadian from Kemptville is buried alongside his crew mate George Cavanagh and the rest of the crew of “P-Peter”. The crew had endured their fair share of incidents but like so many had continued on with the job in hand, sadly with tragic results.
I would like to give my sincere thanks to Cliff Smith for the photographs of Allen.