The war record of Francis Patrick Reilly, RCAF, who lost his life 28th January 1944 aged 21, in an air raid over Berlin


Francis Patrick Reilly
Francis Patrick Reilly

Frank Reilly was the eldest son of Edward and Margaret Reilly, nee Prior. He was born in 1922 at Castle Hill, Gilford and attended the local primary school there. The whole family later moved to Armagh City and eventually settled in Gravesend, Kent in 1938.

Frank enlisted in the RAF on the 9th January 1941 and later qualified as Flight Sergeant and Wireless Operator. He was later assigned to No. 419 Squadron, RCAF flying Halifax bombers out of Middleton St. George, Yorkshire. The crew of seven were all Canadians with the exception of himself and one other Irishman.

Life expectancy for bomber crews was relatively short and his flight mission record confirms this. He commenced operations in September 1943 and completed eleven missions over various targets in Germany, before his twelfth and last one, on the 28th January 1944 at the young age of twenty-one. On that eventful raid on Berlin, he was not the Pilot but the Wireless Operator. They took off at 23.35 hrs. with an estimated return time of 07.55 hrs. from Middleton, St George, in a Halifax Bomber Mark II serial number JP119 VR-O. The total number of aircraft involved in the raid was 677 of which 46 failed to return; sadly Halifax JP119 was one of these aircraft. German records show that JP119 was shot down at approximately 03.00 hrs, crashing on the Glienicke-Zuhlen road, near Neuruppin, with the loss of the entire crew. The following day all the crew members were buried in a Comrade’s grave in the Parish Cemetery at Zuhlen.

In the late 1950’s the graves were exhumed and sadly it was only possible to identify 6 members of the crew and the names P/O Palmer RCAF and P/O Milner RCAF have been commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. F/Sgt Reilly was reverently re-interred in the Berlin (Heerstrasse) British Military Cemetery.

F Reilly’s name does not appear in alphabetical order on Gilford’s War Memorial, due to it being added much later in the late 1950’s. He is survived by his two brothers and six sisters, all still living in Gravesend, Kent. One of their children visited Gilford last summer, meeting lots of people in the town and visiting the War Memorial.