Ernest Russell Lyon

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Ernest Russell Lyon
Russell Lyon.jpg
F/O Ernest Russell Lyon soon after the award of his wings in May 1942.
Born(1922-12-19)19 December 1922
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died27 July 1944(1944-07-27) (aged 21)
Ploemeur, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service1941–1944
RankFlying Officer
Unit234 Squadron
Battles/warsSecond World War

Ernest Russell Lyon (19 December 1922 – 27 July 1944) was a flying officer in 234 Squadron of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He was known as Russell. On 27 July 1944, Russell piloted a Supermarine Spitfire, flying with seven other Spitfires, on a mission over Lorient in southern Brittany. His Spitfire was hit by flak over the Lorient area and was seen to crash in flames near Ploemeur.[1] Lyon was reported as missing in action[2] and later he was reported as presumed dead.[3]

In 2001 a Spitfire crash site was found by local history enthusiasts near Ploemeur, and through further research the crash site was identified as the location of Lyon's Spitfire. The French researchers also found a grave in the nearby Commonwealth War Graves Commission[4] Cemetery at Guidel which is marked Unknown RAF Airman and where the contemporary Cemetery Register records that the burial of an unknown English casualty took place on 29 July 1944.

Early life[edit]

The son of Ernest H. Lyon and Elizabeth W. Pealling, Ernest Russell Lyon was born in Colinton, Edinburgh, Scotland on 19 December 1922. He had an older step brother, Stanley, and a younger brother James (Jimmy). Russell's mother Elizabeth was the second wife of E.H. Lyon, whose first wife Helen died in 1919 from Bright's Disease. His middle name Russell derived, in the Scottish naming tradition, from the maiden name of his maternal grandmother, Jane Russell, whose family originally came from Dumfries-shire, Scotland. His father was born in Kincardine-shire Scotland, with earlier antecedents coming from the Buchan area of NE Aberdeenshire, and Banffshire, Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Russell's early school years were spent firstly at Gillespies[5] and then at George Heriot's School in Edinburgh. He entered Heriot's on 23 September 1930. In July 1932, he left George Heriot's School and started his next phase of education on 22 September 1932 at George Watson's School, also in Edinburgh. The George Watson's school record shows that " He got the bronze medal for swimming in fourth year and by the time he was in sixth year he was in the rugby First XV where he gained his colours. He did English, French, physics and chemistry in sixth year, was a patrol leader in the Scouts and was also in the Army Training Corps and played tennis and cricket. He was also a prefect".

On 15 October 1935, when Russell was approaching his 13th birthday, his mother Elizabeth died following a sudden and severe stroke.

As he was growing up Russell often holidayed with his family in and around Braemar and Deeside, Aberdeenshire, where one of his uncles, George Melvin Rennie (1874–1953), a landscape artist, had a summer studio.

Military service[edit]

Volunteering, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 1 March 1941, shortly after his 18th birthday. He undertook pilot training in the US, after which he became a pilot instructor in the US and Canada. Around March 1943, he asked to be posted to an operational squadron and was posted to RAF 234 Squadron, joining them in autumn 1943, where he acquired the nickname "Ben" after the American TV and radio personality Ben Lyon.

He undertook a variety of missions, flying from various airfields in the UK. At the time of D-Day, 234 Squadron was based at RAF Deanland. Soon afterwards, it was moved to RAF Predannack, on the Lizard Peninsula, where they flew further missions over northern and western France.

In the days leading up to 27 July, Lyon was involved in a number of missions. On 22 July, eight RAF 234 Squadron Spitfires, one piloted by Lyon, escorted three Mosquitoes of RAF 151 Squadron on a bombing mission of a German Naval HQ at Nostang, east of Lorient, the Spitfires attacking afterwards with cannon and machine gun. On 23 July, he flew with three others on a shipping reconnaissance mission between Morlaix and the Île de Sein. On 24 July, he flew on with seven others on a bombing mission on rail infrastructure. Unusually the Spitfires had been modified to carry 500 lb bombs for these missions. Later the same day he flew on a shipping patrol mission west of Ushant. A similar mission was flown by Lyon with seven Spitfires on the afternoon of 25 July attacking locomotives and vehicle movements in Landivisiau and in the area North of Quimper, Finistère.

The Squadron Record book also notes that the weather over the Channel during this week was not good.

Last mission[1][edit]

On the evening of 27 July, eight Spitfires left RAF Predannack at 19:00 hrs. on a "Rhubarb 323" mission over southern Brittany. The Spitfires from 234 Squadron were:

  • Spitfire BM200 Fl/Lt. W.C. Walton, DFC, mission leader
  • Spitfire ..?.. Fl/Sgt. P.J. Mall
  • Spitfire AR343 F/O E.R. Lyon
  • Spitfire BL646 Fl/Sgt. L.M. Stockwall
  • Spitfire BL810 Fl/Lt. F.E. Dymond
  • Spitfire AR364 Fl/Sgt. A. Morgan
  • Spitfire BM238 F/O. G.F. Sparrow
  • Spitfire W3320 Fl/Sgt. A.C. Buttler

After crossing the French coast at Plouescat at 6,000 feet (1,800 m) altitude under clouds, the Spitfires set direction for an attack on the installations at the Luftwaffe base at Kerlin Bastard (now known as Lann-Bihoué or Base d'aéronautique navale de Lann-Bihoué [fr] now part of the Lorient South Brittany Airport near Lorient). The mission was also to determine what aircraft the Luftwaffe might have at this airbase. A strafing attack was carried out by Blue Section, with damage being caused to the watchtower, barracks and hangars. Following this, Red Section proceeded a little further down the coast towards Lorient. It was here that they were bracketed by accurate and heavy flak, which firstly hit Lyon's Spitfire (Red 3) at 6000 ft. by the Quatre-Chemins Flak Battery located south of Ploemeur. Red 3 was severely damaged and was seen to dive away out of control and crash in flames. A little while later, Walton was also shot down, by a flak battery at Kerlec; he was able to parachute to safety, but was captured.

The crash of Lyon's Spitfire was witnessed by the local French farmer on whose land the crash occurred, who was the first on the scene, seeing the mangled body of the pilot lying on the ground some 6 metres (20 ft) away from the remains of the fuselage and cockpit. The Germans were also quickly on the scene and ordered the farmer away. Others in the vicinity also witnessed the plane falling from the sky and hitting the ground.[6] On Saturday 29 July, the remains of an "inconnu" (unknown) English airman were buried by the German military in grave no. 33 in row 6 at Guidel Cemetery, just a few kilometres north-west of the crash site of Spitfire AR343. A witness statement made by the farmer witness records (1) that one of the French-speaking Germans clearing the crash site told him that the body of the pilot had been taken to Guidel to be buried and (2) that on a visit to Guidel two days after the crash on his land the farmer spoke with the gravedigger of Guidel Cemetery who said that a grave was ready and he was going to bury a pilot.[7]

Full service record[edit]

1 March 1941 enlistment Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve held in reserve then: 7 July 1941 L.A.C.R.C. July to Sept. 1941 Basic Training October 1941 to May 1942 Canada and the USA Training 20 May 1942 Awarded pilot’s wings, promoted to Sergeant May 1942 – March 1943 Pilot Instructor USA[8] and Canada 4 March 1943 promoted to Flying Officer June to October 1943 Pilot Operational training 20 October 1943 Posted to 234 Squadron 26 September 1943 RAF Hutton Cranswick, 12 Group December 1943 RAF Church Fenton 29 January 1944 RAF Coltishall 19 March 1944 RAF Bolt Head 10 Group 30 April 1944 RAF Deanland 85 Group 19 June 1944 RAF Predannack 10 Group 27 July 1944 Missing in Action


Following the German surrender in May 1945, Allied forces eventually searched for missing personnel. For the RAF, this mission was undertaken by the MREU Unit[9] 7,[10] responsible for searches in the whole of France, and which became operational from August 1945 onwards.[11] In July 1946, RAF MREU Unit 7 carried out examination of grave no. 33, row 6 at Guidel, but were unable to positively identify this casualty.

In the early 1950s, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission installed headstones, replacing the original simple wooden crosses installed over each war grave, in the military section of the Guidel Cemetery. Over the grave, the inscription read:

        "An Airman of the 1939–45 War, Royal Air Force, 29 July 1944, Known unto God".

Crash site discovery 2001[edit]

In 2001, some metal 'pipes' were seen in woodland near Kercavès, to the south of Ploemeur, poking out from the ground. Local history enthusiasts were alerted and excavation took place which showed that the 'pipes' were two cannon guns which were fitted to Spitfires. Further metallic objects, including the propeller hub, were excavated and removed from the site. These were identified as coming from a Spitfire MKVb. Further research was undertaken involving French and English researchers and the site was identified as the crash site of Spitfire AR343 piloted by F/O Ernest Russell Lyon.

The French researchers made contact with the 234 Squadron Association and in 2003 were visited by Group Captain N. Walpole OBE BA RAF, then writing Dragon Rampant, the Story of 234 Fighter Squadron, in which the fatal shooting down of F/O Lyon is recounted.[12]

German records were also found in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington DC, and in the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv [de] at Freiburg, which variously reported and confirmed the shooting down of Spitfires in the area at or around 19:54 on 27 July 1944.

Enquiries to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva made in 2009/2010 have revealed no 'totenlist' record of the casualty of 27 July 1944 being made or informed via this route by the German Reich via the Red Cross to the United Kingdom, but given the conditions in the area in immediate period following 27 July 1944 and the disruptions caused by the Allied advances into the area the absence of such a neutral and humanitarian record is not unusual.

Official recognition of the crash site of Spitfire AR343 by the RAF Air Historical Branch was eventually given on 3 March 2009.

The crash site of Spitfire BM200 was found and excavated in 2004 by local French enthusiasts.[13][14]

The recovered and broken Spitfire BM200 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was donated to the Salle des Expositions at the Base Aéronavale de Lann Bihoué, where it was cleaned by members of the French air and naval veterans association and put on display in the Salle des Expositions.

Local honours – 2008[edit]

In 2008, the commune of Larmor-Plage decided to honour the memory of the young pilot of Spitfire AR343 by dedicating a new roundabout in his name. The roundabout is on the Rue de Ploemeur and gave access to a new housing development being built in the village of Kercavès, on the main road between Kernevel and Ploemeur. Beside the roundabout, a 'stele' was erected.

The stele was formed by the technical employees of the municipality of Larmor-Plage using the propeller hub that had been removed from the nearby crash site. New propeller blades were formed with metal bars and attached to the hub. The stele is fixed to a solid base of granite that was part of the roof of the Keroman U-boat base at Lorient, just a few kilometres across the estuary to the north-east. At a dedication ceremony, held with full military and civic honours on 8 November 2008, the stele was unveiled.[15][16] The stele carries a plaque engraved with the name of Ernest Russell Lyon, the date of 27 July 1944 and his RAF squadron details.

When French researchers succeeded in making contact with the living kin of Russell Lyon, and when the roundabout was dedicated in Lyon's name, coverage was given in the English and Scottish press, including The Scotsman, The Daily Record, the Daily Mail, and The Edinburgh Evening News. The story was featured in Digging up your Roots, a 30-minute programme, which was broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland in October 2007. This included interviews with the French researchers, with veteran Spitfire pilots who served with Russell Lyon in 234 Squadron, and with his relations. The ceremony of the inauguration of the roundabout was given wide coverage in the Scottish and English press and also filmed for Anglia TV, which broadcast an edited version in the early evening news of 11 November 2008.

In the Lorient region of France, an article appeared in Ouest-France on 23 January 2008 carrying an appeal for further eyewitnesses to the crash to come forward. Three new eyewitnesses made contact with the local researchers. The story is used in the local schools for educational purposes, and coverage of this was given by Ouest-France on 18 June 2008.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Spitfire, The Journal of the Spitfire Society, which was published in spring 2009, carried an illustrated article on the story at pages 3–6. Another article on the subject was published on pages 36–41, in "Les Cahiers du Pays de Ploemeur", on 17 December 2007.

Attempts were made to obtain official recognition that the grave contains the remains of F/O Ernest Russell Lyon since March 2009. In July 2014 those efforts were successful, with the Ministry of Defence confirming that ... it has been decided that the existing headstone on Grave 33 should be replaced with a memorial to F/O Ernest Russell Lyon stating that he is buried near this spot.

On 5 October 2015, a rededication service was held at the Guidel Communal Cemetery.[17]


His name appears on the War Memorials in Colinton Cemetery, at George Watson's School Edinburgh, at George Heriot's School Edinburgh, and on Panel 207 at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede amongst some 20,331 names of Second World War RAF casualties with no known grave.[18] He is also recorded in the Book of Remembrance at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle.[19]


Posthumously the following medals were awarded to Ernest Russell Lyon and were sent by the Air Ministry to his father:

  • 39-45 Star BAR.svg 1939-1945 Star (Battle of Britain)
  • Air Crew Europe BAR.svg Air Crew Europe Star (Atlantic or France and Germany)
  • Defence Medal BAR.svg Defence Medal (Silver laurel leaves (King's Commendation for brave conduct. Civil))
  • War Medal 1939–1945 (UK) ribbon.png War Medal 1939–1945 (Oak leaf)

See also[edit]

  • Atlantic pockets
  • Lorient Submarine Base
  • Poche de Lorient [fr]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The National Archives Kew, UK, 234 Squadron Operations Record Book AIR 27/1440
  2. The Scotsman, 25 November 1944
  3. The Scotsman, 30 June 1945
  4. Reading Room Manchester. "CWGC – Cemetery Details".
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. Witness Statement J. Le C. 29 November 2003 et al
  7. Witness Statement C. 25 January 2008
  9. "Archie – A Pilot in RAF Bomber Command – RAF Missing Research Enquiry Service".
  11. Missing Believed Killed The Royal Air Force and the Search for Missing Aircrew 1939–1952 Stuart Hadaway, Pen and Sword Books, ISBN 978-1-84415-734-1 Search this book on Logo.png. published 19 June 2008
  12. pp. 106–107 Walpole, Group Captain Nigel, OBE, BA. Dragon Rampant: The Story of No. 234 Fighter Squadron. London Colney, Hertfordshire, UK: Merlin Massara Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9543900-1-3 Search this book on Logo.png.
  13. "Info Lorient - Toute l'info de votre région -".
  15. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 2 March 2011. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  16. "R.P Ernest Russell Lyon".
  17. "Histoire. Ernest Russell Lyon honoré (History. Ernest Russell Lyon Honored)". Le Télégramme. 8 October 2015.
  18. Reading Room Manchester. "CWGC – Casualty Details".

External links[edit]


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