Difficult holiday for two families
James Frederick (Fredrick or Federic) Devitt left at least two families mourning for him, one in the United Kingdom and his own in Ontario.
His service file shows that the man was 22 years old when he died. His birth had been a Valentine’s Day gift for his parents. Prior to joining the Air Force, he worked for the Canada Bread Company in Peterborough as a driver and route manager. He played hockey and softball and owned a motor boat.
He took his last trip as the flight engineer/pilot officer from Gransden Lodge just prior to 4 p.m. in the afternoon on December 22, 1944, exactly 71 years ago yesterday.
His Lancaster and 13 others were on a Pathfinder mission to mark a small railway freight yard in Germany’s Rhine Valley. His plane, Lancaster 405/D, was seen crashing about three hours later by four pathfinders at 50:02 N. 06:25 E., southwest of Leimbach.
Blind Sky Marker failed to return from this operation and nothing has been heard from any member of the crew since time of take-off. This was F/O Tite’s 35th operation.” 
His mother’s notes to the Air Force show how difficult these situations were for families.
The telegram and letter reporting him going missing within a month of the crash was the only official news, but she still hoped he’d survived in May.
Can nothing be done to locate my son Fred? I have waited for days thinking some message would come through. I had word from two of the fathers from two of his crew saying their sons were prisoners of war. This was some time ago. Try and help a heart-broken mother please.”
Henrietta was 65 when Devitt died, but she had already known great loss. His father Robert Campbell Devitt died of complications following a stomach ulcer operation when James Frederick was three years old and his older brothers were five, 15 and 21 and his five older sisters were eight, 11, 14, 17 and 19.
When she got news about her youngest son going missing, she was already dealing with the death of his elder brother Alexander, who had died the previous January in the Battle of Ortano, Italy.
She wrote the Royal Air Force a second note in August 1945:
I have not heard any further word about my son Jas Fredric Devitt except what the three members of his crew who came back told me by letter. They said the plane burst into flames. One bailed out and two were blown out and what happened the rest is not known. Surely some identification marks were found. If he was killed and buried like my other son I wouldn’t take it so hard.
Two of the boys were taken as prisoners and the other wounded and put in a German hospital. All any one says is missing.”
A month later she wrote again.
Surely you can tell me something of my son Pilot Officer Jas Fud shot down over Germany December 22…If I know he was died and his body found my mind would be at rest—as it is I’m afraid of results.”
A woman who knew him in the UK also worried. Eight months after his plane went down, a Mrs. S. Hitchings wrote the Royal Air Force from 111 Connaught Road, Roath Park, Cardiff. She too had heard that two airmen from his plane were taken prisoner and she hoped that perhaps they provided the Red Cross with information about Devitt.
I feel sure that if he was alive we would have heard from him, since he became part of our family whilst he was stationed in this country.”
It would take another three years to be sure about what happened to the Lancaster, but Devitt’s service record indicates that:
This 4 engined aircraft fell 60 or 70 yards behind the fam of MARTIN STOMMES in WIERSDORF (L.0357). It was shot down by a German night fighter and was burning in the air, it hit the ground, turned on its back and burned for 3 hours. One engine and the tail unit fell off before it crashed.”
Three bodies and the remains of a fourth were buried in an unmarked grave.
His remains have since been moved to Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany. For more information, refer to the memorial page Veterans Affairs Canada has for him at http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/2042924.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, General Information.
 No. 405 R.C.A.F. Squadron (P.E.F.) Operations Record Book, Gransden Lodge, photocopies of secret book, December 22, 1944, Appendix 212.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, National Estates Branch, form C92768FD269, October 29, 1945.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, report from Officer Commanding No 2, MR&E Unit RAF, dated January 17, 1947.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, letter from S. Hitchings, received August 25, 1945.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.