WRIGHT William

William WRIGHT 1919 – 1943

550968 Warrant Officer Wireless Operator (Air) William Wright, 511 Squadron, Royal Air Force died 1 February 1945, aged 25 and he is buried in Medjez-El-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia.[1]

Family Details

William Wright was born 1919 [2], the son of Robert and Sarah Wright, brother to Lily and Robert.  William attended Bishop Auckland Grammar School.  In 1937, William joined the RAF.  By 1939, the family lived at 2 Ball Alley, Toft Hill.  Robert was recorded as being “incapacitated general labourer”, Sarah as “unpaid household duties”, Lily as, a “general domestic and Robert as a “petrol pump attendant, garage”. [3]  Sarah died in 1943.[4] Robert married Millicent Etherington in 1944.[5]

Service Details [6]

July 1937:  William aged about 18 joined the RAF and was initially posted to Mildenhall.  In over 7½ years of service he had accumulated 776 flying hours serving in the Middle East, Greece, Palestine and home duties at 1 Air Gunners School, 14 Initial Training Wing and No.83 OUT Peplow.  The task there was the training of night bomber crews, the Wireless Operators and Air Gunners to complete their Bomber Defence Training in the air in Wellingtons.  At the end of November 1944, Warrant Officer Wright was posted to No. 511 Squadron of Transport Command based at Lyneham where its operations included providing VIP transport for the Allied Heads of State Conferences at Casablanca and Teheran.

In February 1945, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin were to meet at Yalta, in the Crimea, a Russian resort on the Black Sea.  The British party was to be flown via Malta by 511 Squadron.  But, the plane did not reach Malta, it ditched in the sea off the island of Lampadus and William Wright did not survive the crash, 1 February 1945.  The 511 Squadron Operations Record Book records the final chapter of Warrant Officer William Wright’s war service:

“Feb [1945]

York MW116 ditched off the island of Lampadusa [sic] in position 35 30 N, 12 35 E at 17.15Z [sic].

Wireless message received at 18.40Z [sic] reporting shortage of petrol.

Captain F/Lt A Eaton-Clarke injured, 2nd pilot F/O AVJ Vernieux injured, Navigator F/Lt JW Holdaway injured, W/O W. Wright killed, F/Enf F/Sgt ACJ Walker killed, Steward Cpl HJ Burge injured, Gunner F/O A Appleby killed.  Fourteen passengers missing believed killed.  Passengers were members of Prime Minister’s staff for “Big Three” conference.”[7]

LAC J Chicken of 511 Squadron also lost his life. [8]

The loss of the Avro York and so many of its crew and passengers was the subject of debate and questions in Parliament and reporting in the press.

“The Yalta Air Disaster

A full and frank explanation of the loss of the York aircraft carrying Government officials to the Yalta conference was given by the Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, in Parliament last week.

He said that the party was to have been taken in a Liberator but one of its engines developed a fault just before the time to take off and as the trouble could not quickly be remedied they changed over to the York which was the only other long range aircraft   immediately available.  The York’s crew, though experienced individually, had never previously flown together but the occasion was urgent and the weather forecast good.

Near Naples the weather broke and the pilot decided to go to Malta but owing to radio distortion there was an error in navigation and they arrived over Lampedusa.  After circling for an hour in darkness the pilot obtained a correct bearing but then had insufficient fuel to reach Malta, 85 miles away, and the aircraft was brought down on the sea.  Soon after alighting it broke up.” [9]  

Eleven Foreign Office, civilian and Service personnel passengers did not survive.  They were – Inspector HJ Battley, Mr J Chaplin, Capt AK Charlesworth MC, Mr AR Dew MVO, Capt WH Finch MBE, Capt (retd) RM Guthrie, Lt Col ISH Hooper, Lt Col WG Newey DSO TD, Grp Capt PS Jackson-Taylor, Mr PN Loxley and Miss PM Sullivan. [10]

550968 Warrant Officer Wireless Operator [Air] William Wright died 1 February 1945.

Burial [11]

Warrant Officer Wireless Operator [Air] William Wright is buried at grave reference 14.A.16, Medjez-El-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia.    In May 1943, the war in North Africa came to an end in Tunisia with the defeat of the Axis powers by a combined Allied force. The campaign began on 8 November 1942, when Commonwealth and American troops made a series of landings in Algeria and Morocco. The Germans responded immediately by sending a force from Sicily to northern Tunisia, which checked the Allied advance east in early December. In the south, the Axis forces defeated at El Alamein withdrew into Tunisia along the coast through Libya, pursued by the Allied Eighth Army. By mid-April 1943, the combined Axis force was hemmed into a small corner of north-eastern Tunisia and the Allies were grouped for their final offensive. Medjez-el-Bab was at the limit of the Allied advance in December 1942 and remained on the front line until the decisive Allied advances of April and May 1943. There are 2,903 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in MEDJEZ-EL-BAB WAR CEMETERY.


31 January 1951: Bishop Auckland Wesley Church: A service of dedication was held to mark the unveiling of a memorial tablet for the Old Boys of King James 1 Grammar School who had lost their lives serving in the two World Wars.  That of William Wright is engraved on the tablet.


This article was found by Valance Wright whose father was Charles Wright, William Wright’s cousin.  Charles also lost his life in WW2 when Valance was an infant [C/MX85314 Supply Assistant C.E. Wright RN HMS Gannet died 11 July 1943]. The main author is D. Clark. The main contributor is Martyn Cole.

http://www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 1998—2020



[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.510 1919Q3 Auckland

[3] 1939 England & Wales Register

[4] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.220 1943Q3 Durham South Western

[5] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.630 1944 Q3 Durham South Western

[6] 211 Squadron Operations Record Book July 1937-1942 TNA AIR 27/1302 & 511 Squadron Operations Record Book February 1942 TNA AIR 27/1970 & right W. Observer’s Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book [RAF Form 1767]

[7] 511 Squadron Operations Record Book February 1945 Form 540 & Form 541 [TNA AIR 27/1970]

[8] CWGC & “Though Without Anger: Losses of Transport and Special Duties Aircraft and Assault Gliders 1940-1945” Cummings 2009

[9] Flight 3 May 1945

[10] CWGC

[11] CWGC