Hesketh, John Callely
Hesketh, John Callely

John Callely Hesketh was born in the second quarter of 1922 in Bury. His father was Thomas Edward Hesketh (b. 1878 in Rufford), a secretary in the cotton mill. His mother was Martha Eleanor Callely (b. 1880 in Lostock Hall). Tom and Martha were married in 1907 and in 1909 they had a daughter, Marion. In 1911, the family lived at 1 Queen Street, Lostock Hall, and Tom was working in the mill as a cashier. It seems the family moved to Bury in the early 1920s, where John was born (and Tom was a member of the local Freemasons’ lodge). By 1939, however, the family had moved back to Lostock Hall, and they were living at 109 Watkin Lane.

Tom Hesketh (John’s father)  had fought in World War 1. He was a Private in the Border Regiment, enlisting on 12 June 1917. He was in 7thBattalion, which formed part of 51st Brigade in 17th(Northern) Division. Tom fought at Passchendaele in 1917, then in 1918, he fought through the first phase of the German Spring Offensive (March and April), and later in the year in the advance to Cambrai and the final pursuit of the Germans into Belgium. Tom was discharged on 30 April 1919 and the family then moved to Bury before coming back to Lostock Hall. Tom had an older brother William (b. 1876) who also served in the War. He joined the Royal Flying Corps on 8 March 1917, and this became the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. William was discharged on 12 February 1919. I guess it’s possible that John Hesketh’s decision to join the RAF was influenced by his uncle’s experience in WW1.

John Hesketh was a Flight Sergeant and air bomber with 37th Squadron. From 1940, 37th Squadron was based in Egypt, at El Shallufa, on the Suez  Canal. After the Battle of El Alamein in October-November 1942, the Allies began to turn their attention to plan for an invasion of Europe from the south. The US and British landing in Sicily would take place on 9-10 July 1943 but prior to that, there were a number of bombing raids on Italian ports and infrastructure.

Hesketh, John Callely

Wellington bombers of 37 Sqn

John Hesketh was a crew member of Wellington bomber HF723 which took off at 2100 hours from Egypt on 19/20 June 1943 to bomb Messina, Sicily. The aircraft was detailed along with other aircraft at a “blitz” period of 2330 hours. At 2343 hours an SOS was received “may be forced to land, starboard engine”. At the time the aircraft was slightly west of the target. It appeared that the aircraft sustained trouble with the starboard engine when over the target. The aircraft failed to return to base. Six aircraft searched the area the next day but no trace of a dinghy was found.


RAAF 411957 FO Sheehy, B J Captain (Pilot)

RAF FO Norrie A A , (Navigator)

RAF Sgt J S Taylor, (Wireless Air Gunner)

RAF Flt Sgt J C Hesketh, (Air Bomber)

RAF Flt Sgt J Richards, (Air Gunner)

FO Norrie and Sgt Taylor survived the crash and were taken prisoner, but the other three crew members lost their lives. Sgt Taylor later reported “I was informed by the Military police at Enna in Sicily that FO Sheehy was admitted to hospital on 20 June, suffering a broken arm and burns, but died and was buried at Enna. The aircraft was over Sicily when it developed engine trouble when both engines cut out. The Pilot gave the abandon order when the aircraft began losing height but was under control. Norrie, Richards and Hesketh baled out at about 1500 feet, before I baled out. I assume that the chutes of both Richards and Hesketh failed to open. I left the aircraft about 1000/1500 feet and the pilot was still in the aircraft. It was apparently under control but in a dive. I saw the aircraft crash and burn. Norrie was also captured and a POW.” FO Sheehy, Flt Sgts Hesketh and Richards are buried in the Catania War Cemetery, Italy.

John Hesketh was 22 years old.

Rank: Flight Sergeant

Service Number: 1131407

Unit/Regiment: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 37 Sqdn.

Date of death: 20/06/1943

Age: 22


Cemetery Reference: I. K. 41.

Additional Information: Son of Thomas Edward and Martha Eleanor Hesketh, of Lostock Hall, Lancashire.

Hesketh, John Callely