Campbell Crichton-Miller was born on 6th August 1915, the younger son of Dr Hugh Crichton-Miller and Eleanor Jean Campbell-Miller, nee Lorimer, of Edinburgh. He came to Culver’s Close (later Turner’s) as an Exhibitioner from Orley Farm School, Harrow, where he was Head Boy. Already a keen mountaineer, at fourteen years old he climbed the Matterhorn. He was appointed a Senior Prefect, a role he excelled in, going on to Balliol with the Frazer Scholarship and the first Open Exhibition in October 1934. At Oxford in 1935 he took a Second in Maths and on the same day in 1937 that he heard he had a First in Physics, became engaged to Miss Sheila Cobley. They married in 1939. At Oxford he continued his interest in mountaining, was a keen member of the Mountaineering Club of which he was honorary secretary and business editor of its journal. He was elected to the Alpine Club in 1936. Probably his best climb was a guideless ascent of the Z’mutt Ridge in 1938. His diaries of his expeditions showed a keen appreciation of the effects of weather on his climbs.
He was working for a firm of Patent Agents, Gill, Jennings & Every, having passed the Intermediate Examination of the Chartered Institute, and at the same period volunteered for the Royal Engineers unit of the Territorial Army. He was almost immediately transferred to the RAF. In May 1939 The Times announced that the RAF was forming a Meteorological Branch in the RAFVR, and Crichton-Miller saw immediately that this was where his skills could be most useful. Having volunteered, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on August 1st 1939.
On September 18th 1939 he and thirty-nine other prospective weather-forecasters reported for training at Berkeley Square House, London. Their instructor for the two-month theory course was the distinguished Professor Brunt, who had performed the same role during the First World War. After two months, Crichton-Miller was posted to RAF Leuchars, near St. Andrew’s, for a month’s practical training; and then on to RAF Finningley just after New Year 1940. Some sources state that he undertook training for service in Finland, for which the army had raised a ski battalion.
At the beginning of March 1940 he was posted to HQ No 2 Component BEF at Nantes, but found himself back in England at the end of the month. Having spent a month at RAF Thornaby, he was sent back to France to re-join HQ RAF Component BEF at Arras, arriving there on 11th May. The Germans had invaded Belgium the day before and this rapid advance had forced the Meteorological Section of the HQ to retreat to Boulogne, from where they were evacuated on a destroyer on May 21st-22nd. By May 27th, the Met Section had settled at RAF Hawkinge in Kent. His third trip to France was a few days later, when he and R.C. Sutcliffe (author of “Meteorology for Aviators”, 1939) were flown to France to set up a mobile Met Section for HQ British Air Forces France, in Orleans. There, on June 5th, Sutcliffe formed the Mobile Meteorological Unit (MMU) which was to support 71 Wing (‘Haddock Force’) in attacking Italy should that country enter the war, which she did five days later.
The MMU was small, just three vehicles, and having joined Haddock Force at Salon on 7th June, it used what sparse data there was to support offensive operations.
The first attack planned by Haddock Force, on June 11th-12th, was prevented from taking off by French troops, who drove lorries to block their path. The French were on the point of capitulating, but Haddock Force launched two raids in the days which followed. As the second raid was in progress, on the night of 16th June, the news was announced that the French had surrendered. Haddock Force immediately began to evacuate via Marseilles, and the MMU reached the port at 1700 on June 17th 1940. The unit’s vehicles were driven into the harbour to prevent their capture, and the MMU personnel – together with nine hundred other British troops – were evacuated on board the collier SS Coultarn. After five days, the MMU reached Gibraltar, and transferred to HMT Dunera.
Reaching Liverpool on July 4th, Crichton-Miller was still caked in so much coal-dust from the Coultarn that it took him three baths to get clean. He had made good use of the time, however; three days after arriving home, he sent off an article (on the isoballaric wind equation) to the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.
He then took command of the Met Section of the Balloon Development Unit at RAF Cardington on July 13th (Cardington is instantly recognizable to drivers on the A421 where the huge airship sheds still stand). There he was responsible for testing lightning conductors on barrage balloons, although he was more interested in the effects of gusts and turbulence. Whilst there, he was promoted to Flying Officer.
In May 1941 he was posted to RAF Ringway, near Manchester, serving at first with the Central Landing School (later the Parachute Taining School), before being transferred to the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment (AFEE). There he undertook some parachute jumps himself, looking into into the effects of wind-speed and visibility and how they affected parachute landings. His observations were later incorporated into training memoranda and into the Parachute Training Manual and the Glider Training Manual.
AFEE had also been investigating whether gliders could be militarily useful, and when in late 1941 No.1 Gliding Training School was set up at RAF Thame, Crichton-Miller was sent to advise on meteorological aspects of operations. But it was in the spring of 1942 that Crichton-Miller was involved directly in the planning of operations for the first time. It had been decided to launch an airborne raid to capture German radar equipment. This, the famous Bruneval Raid, was heavily dependent on weather forecasts, not only for the initial drop of parachutists (which required light winds and little cloud), but also for the subsequent evacuation by coastal forces of the Royal Navy (which required a full moon, high tide and gentle seas). Crichton-Miller, now a Flight Lieutenant, was selected to be the meteorological advisor for the airborne forces at Combined Operations HQ at RAF Tangmere. He was posted there on February 16th 1942. Ideal moon and tide conditions for the raid would have been between February 23rd and 26th, but in the event strong winds and snow showers vetoed operations. However, early on February 27th Crichton-Miller was able to report that weather conditions suitable for a drop would be available that night. As a result, the Bruneval Raid succeeded admirably and with minimal casualties.
He was then posted to RAF Netheravon in Wiltshire as Senior Meteorological Officer, serving with HQ 38 Wing, then commanded by another OW, Group Captain Sir Henry Nigel St Valery Norman, Bart, CBE (A 1910-1915) who was to be killed in a flying accident in 1943 (see individual entry). He had personally asked for Crichton-Miller to join 38 Wing. Troops transported in gliders seemed to be more prone to air-sickness than paratroops and Crichton-Miller assisted in experiments to look into the matter in the summer of 1942. He was also asked to investigate the effects of light and weather conditions on visibility, since it was vital that aircrews be able to locate and identify the correct dropping zones for airborne troops.
38 Wing’s aircrew spent most of their time training and on leaflet drops over France, both of which were becoming tedious, and Group Captain Norman approved Operation Sparks, a bombing attack on three electricity transformers in Northern France. 295 Squadron was tasked to attack a transformer at Distré, near Saumur, in north-west France, on the night of February 19th 1943. Crichton-Miller carried out the weather forecasting for the raid. He had identified the period between February 18th and 25th as having the right moon conditions, and at noon each day prepared a forecast for the evening. His forecast for February 18th precluded a mission, but on February 19th his forecast suggested ideal conditions, with little cloud, visibility of between four and eight miles, and some fog and haze by the time of return.
When Halifax V DK123 took off that night, Crichton-Miller was listed as Flight Engineer – for which he had no qualifications or experience – he had requested permission to fly on the mission so as to see first-hand the conditions. Also, almost certainly, he wanted to be able to say that he had flown an operational mission.
However, as the Halifaxes approached the target, they encountered much heavier flak than had been expected. DK123 was shot down, crashing close to the intended target. Nadine Jackson-Croker, whose father was on board the Halifax, heard from French eye-witnesses what happened: “One of the airmen was Flight-Lieutenant Michael Croker, and he was on the crew of the Halifax instead of a friend whose wife was unwell. Despite having finished his tour of duty he went as a favour to his friend. Michael Croker was my Dad… I don’t know too much about what happened to the Whitley other than it came down in woodland and that all but one on board were killed outright. The survivor walked away from the crash unhurt, but was captured by the Germans and made a prisoner of war. The Halifax, meanwhile, came in low on the target, but met with heavy flak as the Germans had installed new ack-ack guns only the day before. The Halifax managed to let go one bomb but was damaged by ground fire. Instead of making for home they decided to make a second run at the target. It is not certain what actually happened next, but according to eye-witness reports the aircraft blew up and came down in a vineyard, killing all on board instantly… The bodies of the airmen were left on the side of the road by the Germans for three days until a French hearse went to collect them for burial. The Germans acknowledged the men’s bravery by giving them full military honours… The Germans were upset because the French were covering the British graves with flowers so they ordered the gardeners at the cemetery to put flowers on the German graves as well. They did as they were told and planted one daisy on each German grave.”
Photographs of the graves were sent out to London via the French Resistance.
Crichton-Miller, who was twenty-seven years old, was at first posted missing, but his death was confirmed in May 1943. He lies in Row 1, Grave 3 of the Military Plot in Saumur Communal Cemetery. The inscription on his grave reads: “He passed… in the height of his virtue, in the service of his country”.
Crichton-Miller’s grave, and those of the crews of both the Halifax and the Whitley, are the only CWGC graves in the cemetery at Saumur.
Crichton-Miller’s RAF forage-cap miraculously survived the crash – it seems that his body was thrown clear of the wreckage – and in 2006 was returned by the Frenchman who had picked it up to his nephew, James Neil Crichton-Miller (H1946-1951).
His only child, a daughter, was born on 8th June 1943 but died four days later. The Times published the notice:
Crichton-Miller. On June 12th 1943, after an operation, Anne Margot Campbell, baby daughter of Sheila and Campbell Crichton-Miller (reported killed in action February 1943), aged four days.
- Surname: Crichton-Miller
- Forenames or initials: Campbell
- House: I
- Years in School: 1929-1934
- Rank: Squadron Leader
- Regiment: RAF Volunteer Reserve
- Date of Birth: 6th August 1915
- Date of Death: 19th February 1943
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner F2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Saumur Communal Cemetery: Grave 3, Row 1 Military Plot