The Connors family

In Memory of Elizabeth Connor 1920 - 2018

As the first of April 2018 marks the centenary of the RAF, I thought we couldn’t possibly let it pass without a mention. Many stories of heroism from both wars have been recorded over the years, but few tug at the heart strings more than that of Clare Arthur Hovendon Connor DFC and his wife Elizabeth.

Clare Connor was a 25 year old Canadian pilot who came to the UK on a cattle boat in 1938 hoping to join the RAF. He served in No 83 (Guy Gibson’s) Squadron and following the outbreak of war, began flying Hampdens out of Scampton.

The couple were billeted at ‘Manor Farm’ Brattleby.

In August 1940, 83 Squadron made its first raids on Berlin and attacking of the great battleships, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz and Von Scheer.

On the night of September 15/16th 1940, during a moonlight attack on invasion barges at Antwerp, Connor’s plane was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire. The bomb compartment was shattered and an intense fire resulted, which quickly spread to the wireless operators and rear gunners stations. Two petrol tanks were pierced and the tail boom damaged, resulting in both the navigator and rear gunner having no option but to bail out.

The radio operator, John Hannah – an 18 year old Scotsman – attempted to battle the blaze in the fuselage, even though the planes own ammunition was exploding all around him.

After the fire extinguisher finally gave out, he tried to quell the flames with his log book, knowing his – now burned - parachute would be useless.

Meanwhile, Connor, with flames burning the back of his neck and no cockpit floor, leaving him able to view the sea below, fought to keep the aircraft under control, knowing if he bailed out, it would be a ‘death sentence’ for Sergeant Hannah.

Hannah, eventually managed to extinguish the fire, but was badly burned in the process. Through sheer skill and some good fortune, Connor flew the Hampden back to Scampton.

The next day, Air Vice Marshal ‘Bomber’ Harris said in a communique,

“The condition of this aircraft has to be seen to be believed, I strongly recommended Connor be immediately awarded a DFC.

In October 1940, Clare and Elizabeth – who was now 4 months pregnant - were invited to Buckingham Palace for Clare to be presented with Distinguished Flying Cross by King George.

In a letter home to her mother in Somerset, Elizabeth said,

“It was lovely to see Clare and the King smile at each other and shake hands, I was so proud.”

Elizabeth remembers this as perhaps the most wonderful period of her long life. However, it was to be short lived. Three weeks after receiving the DFC, Connor was shot down over the North Sea and killed!

Clare Arthur Hovendon Connor, was buried with full military honours in the corner of Brattleby churchyard near the Thorpe Lane Gate.

When the baby was born, it was a girl and of course, named Clare - now 77.

After the war, Elizabeth emigrated to Canada, as Clare’s wish was for their daughter to be brought up there. She married twice more, having 4 further children. Regrettably, losing both husbands to illness, she raised the 5 children alone.

In October 2010, Elizabeth Connor returned to Brattleby for a memorial service in honour of Pilot Officer Clare Connor, she was 90 and wore her husband’s DFC. It was a memorable evening, attended by the Station Commander of RAF Scampton, the Lincoln Orpheus Male Voice Choir and many Brattleby residents.

I was asked to write a eulogy for the event and concluded with a poem, entitled ‘The Bombers’, by Sarah Churchill - daughter of Winston – which can be seen below.

On the day of the service, Elizabeth asked if I would walk her around the village. Resting for a moment at the gate of “Manor Farm”, she said something which still brings a tear to my eye as I write,

“Do you know Mike, I’ve never told this to anyone before, but the day they buried Clare, I stood on this very spot listening to the Bugler playing the ‘Last Post’ in the churchyard, I was ill with the baby and forbidden by the doctor to go to his funeral.”

Elizabeth’s family have subsequently said, following her trips to Brattleby, she has been finally able to talk about this painful period in her life for the first time in 70 years, laying to rest many ghosts. 

Elizabeth died peacefully on March 8th surrounded by her family. She was 98.

Clare Connor DFC can be seen talking to John Hannah V.C on the Pathe News web site (movie footage) outside Buckingham Palace in October 1940.

Poem by Sarah Churchill.

Whenever I see them ride on high

Gleaming and proud in the morning sky

Or I lie awake in my bed at night

I hear them pass on their outward flight

O feel the mass of their metal and guns

Delicate instruments and deadweight tons

Awkward, slow, bomb racks full

Straining onward from downward pull

Winging away from home and base

As I try to see the pilots face

I imagine a boy who’s just left school

On who’s quick learned skill and courage cool

Depends the lives of his friends and crew

And the success of the job there to do

And something happens to me inside

That is deeper than grief, yet greater than pride

And though there is nothing I can Say

I always look skyward as they go on their way

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone

As I steel my heart to say

Thy will be done.

Anyone requiring further information, please contact Mike Spencer

In 2011 we welcomed the Connors family to remember and celebrate Flying Officer Clare Arthur Connor DFC. A number of activities were organised around the visit, two at St Cuthbert's Church and the annual cream tea in the garden of Sunnyside. If you would like your picture to be shown here, please use the feedback option for further instructions.

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