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Sgt. James Rattigan

Wilfrid James Rattigan, Sgt.
431 Squadron, Air Gunner, R.C.A.F.

Wilfrid James Rattigan contributed to Canada by serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Being part of the Canadian Air Force during 1943, Wilfrid was faced with a 1 in 3 chance of dying. It was very brave of him to sacrifice himself for peace.

Wilfrid James Rattigan was born on June 24, 1922 in Sleeman, Ontario. At the young age of 21 Wilfrid stood 5 feet 6.5 inches tall and weighed 137 pounds. He had brown eyes and brown hair with good body development and a medium complexion. Wilfrid lived in the Rainy River District with his family of 4 brothers, 6 sisters and his mother and father, William and Queenie Rattigan, until his enlistment on August 10, 1942. From oldest to youngest his siblings were: Catherine, Jack, Charles, Mary, Queenie, Bernice, Gladys, Eunice, William, Eugene.

William and Queenie were married on January 17, 1916 in Winnipeg at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Wilfrid’s father worked as a postmaster and his mother stayed at home caring for the large family. Only two of Wilfrid’s brothers, Jack and Charles, are documented as going overseas. Jack was a flight engineer and became a prisoner of war on May 4th, 1945. He did return from Germany and is currently living in Sleeman, Ontario.

During his short, unmarried life Wilfrid went to school in Sleeman, Ontario until grade 10 and then worked as an assistant male carrier, in Sleeman, Ontario. Wilfrid also acquired odd jobs around the district for four years and completed his last one in Fort Frances, Ontario for Mr. Campbell as a timber merchant. He then enlisted on August 10th, 1943 and headed off to Brandon, Manitoba for his training.

Wilfrid Rattigan was a part of the 431 Squadron for the R.C.A.F, as a mid-air gunner. It was his duty to shoot down enemy planes and clean the gun. He started his training in Brandon, Manitoba at the No. 2 Manning Depot R.C.A.F Arena building, even though he had no previous flying experience. When he completed training he sailed over to Leonfield, Yorkshire, England, landing between September 11-18, 1943.

The 431 Squadron formed at Burn, Yorkshire, England during November 1942, which was where Wilfrid was stationed. With their official badge, of an Iroquois Indian head, the 431 squadron flew Wellingtons, Halifaxes, and Canadian-built Mk. X Lancasters. Sometime in December 1943 the Squadron transferred to the RCAF base at Croft, North Yorkshire, England. The Squadron still continues to serve as No. 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, known as “The Snowbirds”, and use the motto “The hatilen ronteriios” (“Warriors of the air”).

Wilfrid, and a crew of six were flying towards their target Leipzig, Germany in a Halifax V. L.K. 898 bomber when they were attacked by a German night fighter. This night fighter could have been a Messerschmitt BF 110 as it was used by the Germans in the Second World War in long-range escort fighter, fighter-bomber, reconnaissance, ground attack and night fighter roles.

At approximately 04.45 hours, during the night between the 3rd and 4th of December, 1943, the plane Wilfrid was in still had a full load of bombs and was approaching Altranstadt at about 1,000 feet. The plane was shot by a night fighter. The plane exploded in mid-air and crashed just south of the village. It took the wreckage about three hours to burn down, but still had live bombs on board, which were removed by the Wehrmacht; the unified HYPERLINK “” \o “Armed forces” armed forces of HYPERLINK “” \o “Germany” Germany. The wreckage, which covered about the area of one mile, was gathered by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, and taken to Halle, England three days later.

Seven bodies were recovered from the crash; three of them badly burned and four were found in the surrounding fields. Their identity discs were removed by the military.

The entire crew was buried in the Berlin War Cemetery on December 7, 1943 by the villagers. They were buried in individual coffins in the west corner.

On October 13, 1947 the exhumation begun on the seven graves by Capt. D. Gowers, team commander and a Russian conducting officer. The other six bodies were unidentified, but through logical thinking and elimination reasonable grave references were established.

The Rattigan family was informed of their son’s death by a telegram sent on December 12th, 1943. The wire reads:
“FB—MISSING—presumed over Leipzig night 3⁄4 Dec/43—Halifax—presumed enemy action—also involved S/L Cook, P/O Snow, Sgt Williamson and three not RCAF all missing—(62/5) PCX160 Jan/44 from AMK—telegram from IRCC quoting German information states Sgt Rattigan died 4 Dec/43—now reclassified MISSING BELIEVED KILLED—(16/12)”

He was a healthy young man with no physical issues. Wilfrid Rattigan was never injured, but did take two leaves during his short time overseas. He took his first leave from August 14th, 1943 to August 20th, 1934 and his second from October 7th, 1943 to October 15th, 1943. There are no military reports of where Wilfrid went or what he did during his two leaves.

To this day there is no official account of Rattigan’s earnings or the details of his will. Wilfrid James Rattigan died in-between the 3rd and 4th of December, 1943 over Altrastadt, Germany as his airplane was shot down. The investigation report states that the bodies were exhumed on December 13th, 1947 for a proper burial on Canadian soil and cared for. He now is laid to rest in the Berlin War Cemetery, Germany, among others who died between 1939-1945. His grave reference is 4. Z. 24.

Wilfrid has 3412 as a military plaque number and one award to his name. He was awarded the Air Gunner Badge on May 5th, 1943. The Air Gunner Badge was worn by all air gunners in the RCAF when their position, within the aircrew, was considered full-time.

Wilfrid James Rattigan served his country with great bravery and courage as a mid-air gunner for the RCAF. His life ended with no possessions or earnings to his name. His willingness to fight for his country will never be forgotten.

By: Timo Brielmann