The Hartlepool 22-year-old who disappeared without a trace - along with six more aircraft crew

A New Zealand man is hoping Mail readers can help uncover more about the mystery of a bomber crew which disappeared without trace – just weeks before the end of the Second World War.

Saturday, 21st May 2022, 4:45 am

Alan Goodwin has reached out to the people of Hartlepool because a West Hartlepool man called Richard Robson was one of the seven-strong crew on board the Avro Lancaster plane.

The men, including Alan’s uncle William (Billy) Goodwin, served in the RAF.

But at 6.08pm on March 15, 1945, they took off for a mission over Hagen in Germany.

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Alan Goodwin whose family tree research has led him to Hartlepool.

They were spotted over their target early on March 16 – but were never seen again after that.

"There is no record of what happened to the plane, other than confirmation that it was seen over the target, but no other crew witnessed what happened to it,” said Alan.

“Theirs were the last operational deaths of 582 Squadron. That is how close they got to surviving the war.”

Alan has made it his mission to find out more and shared what he knows with the Hartlepool Mail.

William Goodwin who was one of the Lancaster crew which went missing in 1945.

He has collected letters from the grief-stricken families in the aftermath of the disappearance.

He has photos and other information but is still hoping to find out more.

Alan told us: “There is obviously a shared connection in the letters of the families wanting to know what happened to their sons and loved ones and in their shared grief.”

Can you help? Here’s what Alan, who is a family court judge from Manukau, in New Zealand, knows so far.

Alan Goodwin who is hoping for the help of Mail readers in his search for information on the bomber crew.

Hartlepool man Richard William Robson was a 22-year-old Flight Sergeant with the crew in 582 Squadron which was part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was the navigator.

He was the son of Richard and Sarah Elizabeth Robson, from West Hartlepool. He is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, in Surrey.

Also in the crew was Alan’s uncle William John Goodwin, who was a sergeant with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was the flight engineer.

He was 19 when he died and was the son of William Henry and Kathleen Florence Goodwin, of Saffron Walden, in Essex.

Billy’s father (and Alan's grandfather) William Goodwin, with one of his grandchildren.

The rest of the crew was made up of:

Flying Officer William Harry Thomas Underwood was the pilot.

Flying Officer John William Lewis, 29, the son of William Thomas Lewis and Edith Lewis, of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, was the air bomber.

Warrant Officer Richard Power Cantwell, 20, of the Royal Australian Air Force. Son of Richard and Louisa May Cantwell of Marouba, New South Wales, Australia and he was the wireless operator.

Sergeant George Murray, 25, son of William Murray, and of Elizabeth Murray, of Lanesboro, County Longford, Republic of Ireland, was the mid upper gunner.

Sergeant Gordon Oliver Willer, 22, son of Thomas W and Amplias E Willer, of Quinton, Birmingham, was the rear gunner.

A grainy photo of Billy and his mother Kathleen Goodwin.

Alan said: “Last year I set about finding out what I could about the lost crew. I wanted to discover their lives, find those family members who remembered them and assemble a set of photographs of them.”

His uncle Billy was in a Lancaster crew that was originally in 166 squadron and was transferred in December 1945 to the Pathfinders, 582 Squadron, stationed at Little Staughton in Cambridgeshire.

These were no raw recruits and were men with experience and skill. Indeed, one of them was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Alan said: “They were clearly an accomplished crew to have been selected for the Pathfinders and their pilot, William Underwood won the DFC for a mission to Ulm on 17/12/44 for successfully returning when 2 engines had to be shut down.

“They flew a number of missions in January, February and early March 1945. On 15/3/45 on a mission to Hagan their plane went missing without trace.

“Billy was 19 when he died, the eldest of 4 children. His parents, my paternal grandparents, lived in Saffron Walden, Essex.

“One of the crew was Richard William Robson. He was from West Hartlepool. Through other contacts I have a copy of a letter written by Richard’s father to the father of another of the crewman. I would like to bring this back to his family.

The letter tells of Richard’s father fearing that “we have heard the last of our boys and are just left to mourn our great loss”.

It continues: “Their achievements and the part they played in the war so that we and others might live are as you say forgotten and a thing of the past.

“I shall never forget this great blow in fact there isn’t a minute of the day goes by without my thoughts being with them.”

The letter describes how there had been at least some “satisfaction of knowing that our boys did their bit and perhaps in their own minds preferred to go this way.”

Do you know of anyone related to Richard William Robson, from West Hartlepool?

Let’s help Alan with his research and hopefully help to find the Hartlepool family to assist with the return of the letter.

To tell us more, email [email protected]

Is there an aspect of Hartlepool history you would like us to spotlight?

Perhaps you have a family member who you would like to find out more about. Tell us more.

Is there a long lost friend, a former workmate or a one-time classmate at school that you would like to get back in touch with? Perhaps we can help.

We would love to hear from you.

To get in touch, email [email protected]

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William Goodwin who was 19 when he died in 1945.
William Goodwin’s mother Kathleen.
Alan Goodwin.