Warrant Officer James Douglas Ronald Pugsley RAF Volunteer Reserve

Written by Karen Day
First Published


Warrant Officer 581416 James Douglas Ronald Pugsley RAF Volunteer Reserve 524 Squadron.

James Pugsley (dob 24/3/1918) was the husband of Beatrice Ada (nee Morlidge) and son of Annie (Sarah Anne) & Wilfred George of Baveno, Flixborough Rd, Burton upon Stather and Father to Bryan D (b.1943) and Diane J (b.1944). His siblings were; Lilian J C (b.1908), Winifred A L (b.1910), Eric T G (b.1911), Alice D (b.1913), Frederick C (b.1914), Patricia M (b.1916), Phillip E H (b.1919), Bryan (b.1920) and Norman F (b.1921).

We chatted with Geoff Robinson about him during the Summer of 2018 and one of the things he told us was that James was known as Jim.

Pugsley is a name synonymous with the Burton upon Stather of yesteryear. Pre WWI his father had been a private Chauffeur/Mechanic and also a reserve in the Worcester Regiment. In the 1920s WG Pugsley had purchased a garage which became Normanby Road Garage, later being demolished to make way for Westholme Close.

He also operated a bus service running to and from Scunthorpe named Dugout a reference to Mr Pugsley's time in the trenches during WWI as a Sgt with RASC (MT). The RASC were a corps of the Army that was responsible for land, coastal and lake transport.

A photograph of the Dugout can be see in Geoffrey Robinson's book The Parish of Burton Stather, with Normanby & Thealby page 90. Three of the Pugsley boys Bryan, Jim and Norman are sat on the Bumper. The boys were all educated at De Aston School, Market Rasen in Lincolnshire and James is also commemorated on the school Roll of Honour.

As a side note James was one of four brothers serving during WWII, three of whom survived and returned home.

Bryan 1473828 served with the RAF as a LAC from 1941 in France & Holland.

Phillip with The Royal Marines as a Sergeant, enlisting in 1936. Serving in Crete, North Africa, Italy, Ceylon, India & Burma. He was taken prisoner in rearguard action in Crete but escaped. Mentioned in despatches by Lord Louis Mountbatten for devotion to duty with The South East Asia Command (S.E.A.C).

Norman 581412 (possibly joining via the Cardington recruiting centre) served in the RAF as a Sergeant from August 1939 in France & Holland.

The basis of the following information was supplied by his family during and after WWII to Miss Dudley & Miss Fell, whom for which, all these years later we are still indebted. They collated the information which was later published in a supplement to the parish magazine. Also, Mr John Allen, a researcher and member of The Friends of Langham Dome has been able to supply the operational information relating to James. Along with the links we have added, James’ story is full of interesting information and at times a snapshot of some of the most momentous times during WWII.

1939 Outbreak of War

James joined the RAF in 1939 and I find him on the 1939 Register training alongside his brother Norman (dob 22/1/21) as an Air Observer at No.3 Civil Air Navigation School which was a civilian run unit that trained RAF Observers at RAF Desford, Leicestershire. The school was run by the Reid and Sigrist Company who specialised in making aircraft instruments and became involved in training and repairing aircraft components. The two brothers service numbers were only a few digits apart and it’s likely that they joined at the same time.

Serving in France flying Fairey Battles

Fairey Battles
Fairey Battles. © IWM (C 2116)

James initially joined No.98 Squadron which in 1938 based in Hucknall with detachments in Western Zoyland, Upwood and Bassingbourn. There was a brief move to RAF Scampton in March 1940 and then on to RAF Finningley before moving to France on the 16th of April 1940 to be based at Chateau Bougon.

Fairey Battles were single engine light bombers flown by a crew of three - Pilot, Navigator and Rear Gunner with two .303 machine guns as its only defense. The Battle units suffered heavy losses, up to 50% in some reports of sorties launched, gaining the Fairey Battle the nickname Messerschmitt Fodder.

RMS Lancastria
The RMS Lancastria
Creative Commons. Pauline Marie

Eventually, they were withdrawn from France on June 15th and the weary few were ordered back across the Channel. James was evacuated from Dunkirk on the Lancastria, he survived the sinking on June 17th 1940 off St. Nazaire. No. 98 Squadron had seen less in the way of operations and avoided the appalling losses of the other Squadrons and so it seems more than tragic that the Squadron lost so many on the Lancastria.

The sinking of the Lancastria was subject to a news blackout at the time but it is without doubt the worst British Maritime disaster ever with estimates of over 4,000 lives lost that day. John Allan was able to conclude that James was in No.98 Squadron as all the RAF personnel on Lancastria were No. 98 Squadron and 73 Squadron, with the latter being a Hurricane Squadron so would not have had any observers on strength.

HMS Hood

No. 98 Squadron remustered at Gatwick before being sent to Iceland at the end of July 1940, still operating Fairey Battles. This would fit with the family information to Miss Fell & Miss Dudley, regarding James being on patrol with HMS Hood.

HMS Hood HU67486
HMS Hood

HMS hood was operating in the North Atlantic from Rosyth, Scotland from 13th Sept 1940 to January 1941 then again in 19th April 1941 until sunk on 24th May. She was blocking the German Navy from breaking out into the Atlantic, therefore, protecting the Allied shipping lines between North America and Britain.

The battle between the Mighty Hood and the Bismark in May 1941 in the Denmark Strait is again well documented and more can be read here.

98 Squadron remained in Iceland until mid-July and were involved in reconnaissance and convoy mission from their base in Kadadarnes. Again John Alan has been able to confirm that James served with 98 Squadron in Iceland by finding a Sgt. Pugsley listed on their Operations Record Book for May 1941. His usual crew were Pilot Officer Dwight and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sergeant McKenzie.

1,000 Bomber Raids

He also took part in one of the first 1000 Bomber Raids over Germany. Code named Operation Millennium. Intense bombing raids were conducted over night on Cologne 30th/31st May, Essen 1st/2nd June, Bremen 25th/26th June 1942. The Cologne raid also saw the first use of Bomber Stream used to overwhelm enemy radar by flying in a long dense formation.

It is highly likely that James was in an entirely different squadron by this time, probably after operational training on Wellington’s and training as a bomb aimer and within Bomber Command.

524 Squadron

Vickers Wellington medium range bombers
Vickers Wellington medium range bombers.
© IWM (CH 18411)

524 Squadron were an RAF Costal Command Squadron from 7th April 1944 - 25th May 1945 who flew Vickers Wellington, medium range bombers (April 1944 Mk.III then Dec 1944 > Mk.XIV).

By the time James arrived in 524 Squadron on 2nd May 1944 to Davidstow Moor, Cornwall he had qualified as a bomb aimer as he is listed in operations as Nav /B indicating he could operate as a bomb aimer as well as navigate. This was a normal combined function on Wellingtons of both Bomber and Coastal Commands.

By the time James arrived in 524 Squadron on 2nd May 1944 to Davidstow Moor, Cornwall he had qualified as a bomb aimer as he is listed in operations as Nav /B indicating he could operate as a bomb aimer as well as navigate. This was a normal combined function on Wellingtons of both Bomber and Coastal Commands.

524 Squadron were based at RAF Langham, Norfolk from July 1944 having previously been based in the South West of England at RAF Davidstowe Moor, Cornwall. Attacking enemy tankers, costal craft, E & R boats and midget submarines. James was engaged in strafing enemy Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB's) on D Day. He arrived at Davidstow Moor as part of the crew of F/O (laterF/L) Alan Crabtree. They flew 5 missions from Davidstow and a further 14 from Docking before moving to RAF Langham on 17th Oct 1944.

Operational Missions Flown from Langham
DateA/C TypeSerial NoPilotMission
27/10/1944 Wellington XIV ??? (H) F/O A.Crabtree Drem Laying (1)
15/11/1944 Wellington XIV ??? (O) F/O A.Crabtree Anti-Shipping Patrol (2)
07/12/1944 Wellington XIV ??? (P) F/O A.Crabtree Box Patrol (3)
09/12/1944 Wellington XIV ??? (V) F/O A.Crabtree Box Patrol (4)
17/12/1944 Wellington XIV ??? (H) F/O A.Crabtree Box Patrol
30/12/1944 Wellington XIV ??? (P) F/O A.Crabtree Box Patrol (3)
02/01/1945 Wellington XIV ??? (V) F/O A.Crabtree Box Patrol (5)
14/01/1945 Wellington XIV ??? (H) F/O A.Crabtree Box Patrol (6)
22/02/1945 Wellington XIV HF361 (T) F/L A.Crabtree Box Patrol (3)
24/02/1945 Wellington XIV ??? (M) F/L A.Crabtree Box Patrol (7)
01/03/1945 Wellington XIV ??? (V) F/L A.Crabtree Box Patrol
03/03/1945 Wellington XIV HF361 (T) F/L A.Crabtree Box Patrol - Failed to Return

Mission Notes:-

??? As the official records for 524 Squadron generally only quote aircraft squadron identification letters it has not been possible to identify the specific serial numbers of aircraft involved in all missions.

  1. Drem was a system of flare floats which were dropped to provide a rendezvous point or indicate an attack direction for aircraft on anti-shipping attack missions.
  2. Operating on detachment from RAF Dallachy in Scotland.
  3. Shadowed by enemy aircraft resulting in evasive action having to be taken.
  4. Mission aborted due to bad weather.
  5. Radar went unserviceable so returned to base.
  6. Attack made using radar to identify target resulting in a large explosion and disappearance of radar target.
  7. Mission aborted due to engine trouble.

In addition to the 12 missions described above James Pugsley had flown 5 missions from Davidstow Moor and 14 from Docking making a total of 31, all with Alan Crabtree as his captain.

Wellington GR Mk XIII IWM CNA 3535
Wellington Mk XIII with anti-submarine radar masts.

Read more interesting facts ie. How the 524 Sqd. Wellington gained its nickname Stickleback Here.

Once in Norfolk at Langham 524 Wellington's had a new job, carrying Mk3 Airbourne Surface Vessel (ASV) Radar, it was to protect British and Allied ships and to attack enemy convoy shipping.

James was presumed killed 4th March 1945.

John Alan of Friends of Langham Dome has researched the circumstances of James’ death and kindly provided them to us.

On the evening of 03 Mar 1945 W/O J.D.R.Pugsley was the Navigator in the crew of F/L A.Crabtree, detailed to carry out a box patrol over a specific sector of the North Sea using radar to search for enemy shipping. The other members of the crew were F/Sgt M.Jones (2nd Pilot), W/O A.J.Bezant (W/Op A/G), F/O C.W.Bowers (W/Op A/G), W/O F.Wilkinson (W/Op A/G), and W/O B.R.Nelson (W/Op A/G). Their aircraft was a Vickers Wellington GR MkXIV serial number HF361 (T). Take-off was at 18:35 and the patrol appeared to proceed normally with a message being received at 01:27 giving the aircraft’s estimated time of arrival back at Langham as 01:56 on 04 Mar. The aircraft failed to return and at 05:22 another 524 Sqn Wellington took off to search off Cromer for the missing aircraft. Nothing was found and none of bodies of the crew were ever recovered

Probate was granted to his wife Beatice Ada Pugsley on 6th September 1946.

in Runnymede. 360° Panorama.

Record Details for James Douglas Ronald Pugsley

First Names:James Douglas Ronald
Initials:J. D. R.
Death Date:
Family Info:Son of Wilfred George and Annie Pugsley, of Burton-on-Stather, Lincolnshire; Husband of Beatrice Ada Pugsley.
Rank:Warrant Officer
Service Number:581416
Command:RAF Volunteer Reserve
Squadron:524 Squadron
Commemorated:Runnymede, Surrey. Panel 269 Map
Bench:Flixborough Rd, Burton, on the corner as you turn left down second part of Flix Rd heading to Flixborough. Mapphoto


Use the interactive map to view the location of James Douglas Ronald Pugsley's Memorial. Click the Bench link to view the location of his Memorial Bench. You can view all the graves, memorials and benches by downloading our which can be viewed in Google Earth and other mapping software.


  1. UK Census
  2. 1939 Register
  3. www.historyofwar.org
  4. John Alan, Friends of Langham Dome

Remembered with Honour.

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