Ronald George Gravett

Since January 1943 the British had regularly been dispatching fighter aircraft to the European mainland in order to attack enemy transport being carried over land, by sea and by railroad. Such missions were given the nickname ‘rhubarb’. For this purpose, the RAF 56th Squadron had Hawker Typhoon IB one-engine fighter planes stationed at the Matlaske airbase in Norfolk, England. These aircraft were heavily armed, carrying four 20-mm guns in the wings. They could also be fitted with bombs and thus function as dive bombers. The Typhoon squadrons had become especially efficient at destroying vehicles in general and locomotives in particular; during the period preceding the later landing in Normandy, they had managed to destroy 150 locomotives each month.

Hawker Typhoon 1B fighters.

Shot down by flak

On 3 July 1943, at 12:15 hours, two Typhoons took off from airbase Matlaske. One was piloted by Flight Sergeant Woodfall and the second by Flight Sergeant Gravett. In reality, they should have flown towards Haarlem, after heading inland at Zandvoort, but instead they entered Dutch airspace at Noordwijk. They sighted the railroad line Leiden-Haarlem and followed it in the direction of Leiden. For the first time since May 1940, the air-raid siren sounded and both the German ‘Fliegerabwehrkanonen’ (Flak) in Oegstgeest, located at the viaduct which spans the Rijnzichtweg, and in Leiden sprung into action.

At 12:53 hours, the two airmen saw a steaming locomotive standing at the railway station. Woodfall made a dive at it, loosing sight of his wingman. He shot the locomotive to shreds; the machinist Wouter van der Poll from Utrecht – still in training – was killed and the boilerman wounded. Woodfall circled upward through the flak, could not locate the other Typhoon, saw half a street alight in the area of the train station, and fearing the worse turned back towards his airbase in England.

Indeed the street had not burst into flames spontaneously. German anti-aircraft guns had hit Gravett’s Typhoon, making it impossible to maneuver. With its fuel tanks still 75% full and all its ammunition on board, the airplane which had a span of more than 12 meters penetrated the roofs of five houses on the Van der Helmkade, near the Spoorweghaven to the southwest of the train station. Then the burning airplane struck the houses on the opposite side of the street. Four houses were completely destroyed while ten houses were heavily damaged to various degrees. The street was never rebuilt. Six people were wounded; greengrocer J. Siera and Sergeant Gravett both lost their lives.

Ronald George Gravett was only 22 years old. He was the son of William George and Johanna Margaret Gravett from Moulsecoomb, Brighton, Sussex. On 6 July 1943, he was buried as an ‘Unknown’ airman alongside other Allied graves in the Groene Kerkje cemetery.

Grave of Sgt. Ronald G. Gravett.