419 Squadron

The search for the early training history of F/L Laidlaw has not come up with very much information, putting his crew together at No. 23 OTU before training at No. 1659 HCU then on to 419 Squadron.

His arrival with his crew in July of 1943 shows the crew as being:
Navigator F/O Walter E Rempel
B/A P/O Russell W Kemp
WAG Sgt. B. Brakes
F/E P/O John N S Ashton
A/G Sgt. A G Miller
A/G Sgt. Joseph G Bachand

His Navigator, Bomb Aimer, and A/G Miller would serve with Laidlaw for all his operations. Around October his WAG position would be filled by Sgt. Stanley A. Lagdon. Sgt. Bachard would be his rear gunner on 18 of the operations, P/O Ashton would serve on 22 of his operations.
Although the crew photo shows them in front of VR-Q, the Halifax F/O Laidlaw and his crew would fly most would be VR-R

VR-R a Problem Child ?

It is not often that I find that a series of aircraft that appear to have had so many problems during operations and are related by their squadron code, in this case "R". Laidlaw flew four different VR-R Halifax aircraft, JD381, LW231 (later became VR-F),JP112 and HR910. There are a total of six operations that were not completed or never to leave the base because of mechanical failures on these VR-R.
JD381 was determined to be unrepairable after the August 30/31st operation to Muenchen-Gladbach. The next VR-R was LW231 which was "R" from September 5th through to November 18th, when it was changed to VR-F. Although it appears as VR-F and VR-R on the operations of November 18/19, which was impossible. Halifax JP112 shows as VR-R on November 18/19 then was replaced by HR910 in February of '44. All this is simply to show that Laidlaw was a pilot on each VR-R, after HR910 there would not be another VR-R until Lancaster KB772 "Ropey".

August 30/31 - Muenchen-Gladbach

The raid on Muenchen-Gladbach gave 419 Squadron one of it's "Destroyed" claims, but the Luftwaffe struck back at the squadron hard. An enemy night fighter struck VR-R JD381 from below with heavy cannon fire which blew in through the bomb-doors destroying hydraulics, the IFF and Gee sets, radio, bomb sight camera and starting some batteries amidships on fire. Flight Engineer Sgt. Ashton quickly subdued the fire with the extinguisher and then moved on to check out the bomb-bay fire. As he raised the inspection panel flames jumped towards his face, with the use of a gloved hand he managed to spray the liquid into the slight opening in the panel allowing the slipstream to carry the fire fighting fluid to spray within the bomb-bay. For his quick actions he received the DFM. It was all accomplished at 18,000 feet without the aid of his oxygen mask.
Through the skills of Laidlaw the aircraft came back to it's base in Britain along with his crew. As for JD381 the extensive damage to the aircraft brought an end to it's fighting career.
The November 26/27th operation on Stuttgart, F/O Laidlaw was to see something so different that made them record it "100 to 150 yellow night fighter flares seen from north of Frankfurt extending E. to a point, then S. as though expecting an attack on Frankfurt, Area from Frankfurt to T/A brilliantly illuminated, almost as light as day"

February 12/13 th 1944

The squadron log shows from September 1st on into February that the different VR-R Halifaxes had a variety of mechanical and electrical problems which caused the crew to lose credits towards their Tour tally. In all during this time four incidents caused Laidlaw to turn back from the assigned operation. One Gardening op had to be shortened after one of the mines refused to drop and so Laidlaw brought the aircraft back with a mine in danger of braking loose on landing.
This was on February 10/11 their next operation was again a mining operation off Borkum on February 12/13. The flak was reported as being light but Laidlaw's crew and VR-R did not return from the operation. Five other 419 Halifax were in the same area but so no signs of an aircraft exploding. There had been solid cloud cover beneath the different aircraft.
W/C Pleasance had been in the drop area for 20 minutes, unable to drop his mines because of the heavy cloud and loss of his H2S radar.
Two of the crews noted the fact that no enemy fighters had been seen and they mentioned that the enemy seemed unaware of the presence of the six bombers. The loss of Laidlaw's crew didn't make sense to all who had been there. Further photos and details on HR910 and her crew