John Thomas Brown

The RAF suffered heavy losses on the night of 16th-17th December 1943, known as "Black Thursday". Belfast-born John Thomas Brown was one of many losses.

Flying Officer

John Thomas Brown


Flying Officer John Thomas Brown served with the Royal Air Force and was one of many losses on a night that became known in RAF history as "Black Thursday".

Flying Officer John Thomas Brown (156611) served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two. He was the son of Robert Brown and Elsie May Brown of 51 Wandsworth Road, Belfast, Co. Antrim.

He was a navigator with RAF 97 (Pathfinder) Squadron. The London Gazette on 20th May 1943 listed Brown as a Pilot Officer on probation to be called up in an emergency. By 20th November 1943, he had received a promotion to Flying Officer.

He died on what would go down in Royal Air Force History as “Black Thursday” on 17th December 1943 aged 22 years old. Flying Officer Brown from Belfast, Co. Antrim was the navigator on board Avro Lancaster JB243 OF-P.

Black Thursday

Brown’s plane came down near RAF Gravely, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire on the return leg of a pathfinder mission to Berlin, Germany. Severe weather across much of England, with heavy fog over airfields, resulted in many losses for the Royal Air Force.

As well as the crew of which Brown was part, 4 other crews from RAF 97 Squadron resulted in 28 fatalities. All had taken off from RAF Bourn, Cambridgeshire bound for Berlin. The other losses from RAF 97 Squadron that night were Duncan Forbes McKenzie’s crew in JB119, James Kirkwood’s crew in JB219, Ian Macdonald Scott’s crew in JB117, and Edward Thackway’s crew in JB176.

Poor weather had closed in around Cambridgeshire so that landing at RAF Bourn was almost impossible. The RAF employed many techniques to get the bombers down safely. Still, they were unable to shift the fog or sufficiently illuminate runways. Some planes diverted to other nearby bases while others decided to wait out the weather.

JB243 was one of those that decided to wait. The plane ran out of fuel as they circled the airfield under the command of an extremely experienced pilot Ernest Alfred Deverill. On colliding with the ground, the plane burst into flames, leaving the sole survivor with severe burns.

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRoleInformation
DeverillAlfred ErnestSquadron LeaderPilotKilled In Action.
RussellAlexanderFlight SergeantFlight EngineerKilled In Action.
BrownJohn ThomasFlying OfficerNavigatorKilled In Action.
FarrFrancis RoyFlight SergeantBomb AimerKilled In Action.
CrossgroveRalphFlight SergeantWireless OperatorRNZAF. Killed In Action.
PenfoldDonald JamiesonWarrant OfficerRear GunnerKilled In Action.
BenbowJamesWarrant OfficerMid-Upper GunnerInjured.

John Thomas Brown’s grave is in Section A3, Grave 166 of Dundonald Cemetery, Dundonald, Co. Down. The funeral took place on 22nd December 1943. John now lies at rest next to his parents and other family members. His headstone bears the inscription:

In loving memory of John, killed on pathfinder duty. His plane crashed in fog returning from Berlin.