THE weather on Friday, December 8, 1944, was, to say the very least, atrocious – thick cloud, severe icing and poor visibility.

In peacetime, flying would have been completely out of the question, but this was war.

The RAF’s 64 Squadron had been deployed at Bradwell for just over three months.

Equipped with Mustang Mk III fighters, the pilots consisted of both Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel, who lived by the motto ‘Tenax propositi’ ('Firm of purpose').

An essential aspect of their work involved flying bomber escorts and that was what was planned for the morning of the 8th.

The mission – codenamed Ramrod 1398 – consisted of no less than 163 Lancasters from No3 Group out of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, scheduled to bomb rail marshalling yard targets at Duisburg, in the Ruhr.

The heavily-laden bombers desperately needed protection and 64 Squadron answered the call.

Just before 10am, 11 Mustangs lined up for take-off, led by their CO, 29-year-old, S/Ldr Clifford P Rudland.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • RAF Mustangs flew from RAF Bradwell. Image: Jon Yuill

He was first up by example, followed by his wingman, F/O O’Neil.

Then it was the turn of J/22887, F/O Arthur David Hone.

The weather worsened and something was clearly wrong with KH445.

Arthur Hone fought with the controls of his stricken Mustang and attempted to abort the flight.

He turned back to base, making a steep turn, stalled and then crashed short of the runway.

The aircraft hit the ground 200 yards west of Eastlands Farm and immediately burst into flames.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • F/O Arthur Hone fought with controls

Despite valiant attempts to save him, the 25-year-old Canadian pilot perished in the wreckage.

It was a tragic start to the mission, but the squadron pressed on through the winter gloom.

One after another, the rest followed their CO – F/L Drew and Crow, W/O Wilson, F/L Richards, F/O Matthews, P/O Scott and F/O DeVerteuil and Law.

As they flew on, F/L Richards was unable to find S/Ldr Rudland and so led four of the others to successfully meet and escort the bomber formation to their target. As a result of a false call of enemy aircraft (which actually turned out to be Spitfires) the Mustangs scattered and F/O Matthews' aircraft was seen to break up in the mêlée, lose a wing and spin down through the black clouds. F/O Law’s Mustang was alongside and appeared to be hit by some of the flying wreckage.

Only F/L Richards and P/O Scott completed the mission and made it back to Bradwell that day, landing, exhausted, at 12.55pm.

Four of the others had put down (at 11.55am) at, what was by then liberated, Brussels, and two (F/O O’Neil and F/L Clow) had returned early.

F/O Hone was dead. Both F/O Matthews and Law were missing – listed as 'NYR' (not yet returned) in the operations record book.

And that’s how it remained – they never returned to Bradwell.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • F/O Robert Law was missing in action

So what had happened to them? In the confusion of battle and the blur of adverse weather, it was unclear if both had been killed, had bailed out or had crash-landed.

With the hindsight of time and modern day research, can we find out?

Commonwealth War Graves archives reveal that Quebec-born F/L Robert Robinson Law (J/23792) died not on December 8, 1944, but on January 19, 1945 (aged 21).

He had, in fact, survived the mission and became a prisoner of war at the infamous Wehrmacht camp Kgf-Lager Hoffnungsthal, at Rösrath, Cologne.

Conditions there were terrible, the food was scarce and poor and, doubtless suffering from the effects of his wounds, F/L Law succumbed to anaemia some six weeks after capture.

F/O Gerald James Matthews (53102) had also survived Ramrod 1398.

He was picked up by the enemy and incarcerated in Stalag Luft I, in Barth, Western Pomerania, Germany – a camp specifically allocated for captured airmen.

Unlike Robert Law, however, Gerald survived his POW camp experience and only died relatively recently, in November 2002, aged 82.

All these years on, Arthur Hone’s name is listed on one of the panels on the distinctive Mosquito war memorial at his old aerodrome, while for some reason Robert Law’s is not.

Robert lies a long way away from Bradwell and his native Canada, in the Rheinberg Military Cemetery, Germany.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

  • Arthur Hone's name is included on the RAF Bradwell memorial

But the memory of the bravery of those men on that winter’s day back in 1944 does not fade.

Standing by the surviving control tower on a cold, blustery and fog-bound morning, you might still imagine you can hear the roar of their Mustangs on the wind.

Eleven shadowy aircraft climb into the dark skies.

One suddenly explodes, illuminating the bleak surroundings.

All goes quiet until two eventually limp home. Another two, however, become temporarily stuck in time – listed as 'NYR'.

But not anymore.