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RAF - whodunnit

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Another exciting day of research in the Hallam household began with the discovery of an interesting grave in London Road Cemetery, Coventry. Here's what we uncovered...

Ralph and Frederick Kilbuern: Ralph, a 23yr old Sergeant Pilot in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, killed on active service April 21 1941. Also Frederick, a 32 yr old Leading Fireman, Auxiliary Fire Service, killed on 14 November 1940.

In Coventry the 14 November 1940 is a date that will live in infamy. Coventry Blitz began at 19.20 that day and the all clear did not sound until 06.15 the following morning, 515 German bombers dropped 500 tonnes of high explosives and 36,000 incendiary bombs on the beautiful medieval city. An estimated 568 people were killed. Leading Fireman Frederick died that night on Cope Street, leaving a widow Lily May and a four year old son. That night his younger brother Ralph was also working at a fire station dealing with incendiary bombs. He wasn't a fireman though, he was a pilot on leave.

Ralph Kilbuern

Ralph was born in 1918 in Coventry to Frederick and Emma Kilbuern. An apprentice at British Thomson Houston, in the spring of 1940 he married Mavis Lonsdale.

In the RAF he was an instructor based at 12 Flight Training School flying out of RAF Grantham. In the early hours of 21st April 1941 he was in a Fairey Battle with his pupil, Leading Aircraftman Anthony John Evans Foster flying over Lincolnshire when an enemy aircraft appeared. The RAF Incident reports states their aircraft (P6674) was destroyed at 0235hrs when it was shot down by an enemy intruder aircraft and burned out on the ground, the plane came down at Stroxton near Harlaxton in Lincolnshire.

An article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph featured a photograph of Ralph, looking dashing in his uniform. A few days later there was a short message of thanks from his family and his wife thanking people for their support. For several years afterwards In Memoriam messages were printed in the paper.

Having the plane's identifying number can sometimes give us the chance to find out more details. Sometimes photographs of the plane itself, details of previous missions or even details of whodunnit. In this case a search for P6674 and April 1941 reveals that the Luftwaffe pilot who killed Ralph and his pupil was Leutnant Hans Hahn.


He was the same age as Ralph and had already shot down 7 RAF planes by the time they encountered each other in the dark over Lincolnshire.

On 9 July 1941 Hahn was awarded the Knights Cross, he was the first night fighter pilot to receive the award. A few months later on 11th October he was flying over his usual hunting ground, over Lincolnshire when he engaged another training aircraft. Unfortunately he collided with his target and he and his crew were killed. The plane came down near Grantham.

Discovering that Hans and his crew were buried at the German War Cemetery at Cannock Chase we decided to take a trip out to see him.

The cemetery is a lovely place and relatively easy to navigate as long as you know what block and number your grave is. In Hahn's case his grave is located in Block 3 Reihe 10 Grab 306. The Findagrave website has details of all the burials in the cemetery, There is a map in the entrance chamber so that you can locate the block and all the headstones have numbers engraved on the bottom. Watch out though as there are names engraved on both sides of the stones. We found Hans, buried with one of his crew: Helmut Scheidt and his other crewmember Ernst-Wilhelm Meissler is buried to his right.

hans hahn grave

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