All images © Philip Coops 2005
The Bridgemere War Memorial
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The Story of the Fate of HF465
It happened in October 1944, in a peaceful farmer's field. Suddenly, severed wings split the earth, as Wellington bomber X, HF465 disintegrated on impact with the ground. Six young men forfeited their lives that day for our future freedom. They were on their final training flight prior to active bombing missions over occupied Europe.
This event, long forgotten by most, is not a priority for those who never experienced death and destruction in their teenage years. But it remained poignant to an eighty-year-old widow who still grieved, one of the young war brides who received the fateful telegram that day: "We regret to inform you… " Fifty years had passed, including immigration to Canada, a new life with another husband and family. Yet still the powerful memories lingered, the questions remained.
Where did the plane fall? Why did the too young crew die? Who else had been left behind, 'grieving? Finding answers became a personal quest. New access to WWII records provided the clues.
"Loss of control" was the duly recorded cause of the crash. The real cause? A pilot, barely out of his teens and trained too few hours to fly a huge fabric-covered warplane. Not nearly enough flight time to handle the sudden reality of volatile weather, iced-up wings; and the aerodynamics of a heavy but fragile aircraft.
Military records note the exact location of the crash. Tentative Internet inquiries piquing the interest of local inhabitants. Investigations began. Eyewitnesses were found. Yes, a plane had crashed in a local farmer's field. Pieces were scattered, bodies were recovered; one survivor was rescued. A farmer, 97 years old at the time of writing, had been first to reach the wreckage and find the bodies. He still remembers, too well. A farm boy, then eight years old, leaning on the barn door his uncle by his side, had witnessed the free-falI of a wing-less aircraft. He still farms that very field. Bits of the aircraft, are occasionally turned up by the plough.
The widow had to see the site and was determined to know every detail. Somehow it might assuage the grief. Fifty-six years after the crash, she flew to Cheshire, England. She found it was just a farmer's field. But spirits haunted the hedgerow, where the holly bushes had been roughly pruned by the plummeting aircraft. No scars remained in the earth now; no hints of the wind and the ice and the screaming impact. No, only memories lingered. And a bit of the aircraft, presented by the farm boy to the grieving widow.
She laid flowers. She wept bitter tears. The local people observed in respect and wonder. Their field could stir such memories; somebody would come "all this way" to weep at the site. They thought it a touching and final good-bye.
Three years later, an email enquiry arrived from England, from a local historian seeking information on the plane crash engraved in local lore. Too many deaths had gone unobserved. Too many widows were passing on and taking their memories with them. The next generation needed to be reminded. He was suggesting a memorial to the crash victims. Would she be interested...?
And so, in October 2003, it came to be - an elegantly simple blue-brick memorial built by volunteers using donated materials, located on a small lay-by near the field. The names are touched with silver - six souls and one survivor. The dedication ceremony was attended by a lone bugler, pennant bearers, an honour guard. Local residents streamed into the field to observe the event. The families came to lay wreaths in respect, to honour their fallen relatives. Representatives from the Royal British Legion and Royal Air Force saluted and spoke their words: The mayor carefully folded the flag. Heads were bowed in prayer. Voices were lifted in praise. Six lives were lost that day, in training for a battle never fought, yet as dead as any who died on the cruel battlefields in Europe. Gone, but remembered still. .
We often forget that what we have now is due to what they gave then. We need such visual reminders and dates of remembrance etched into our busy calendars, to remind us to honour the past, white we live in the present and dream of the future. One widow's quest to know the past resulted in a lasting memorial for the next generation to remember to never forget.
'They gave their tomorrows for our today.- Memorial Inscription, Prince Hill, Cheshire, England.
This article was written by Anne Shelton from Toronto, Canada in 2004. Marjorie was the wife of Sgt Harrison, Air Bomber. Marjorie was widowed after just 4 months when he was killed in this crash. She later married again and moved to Canada with her second husband. This is where Anne, her daughter, was born.
No. 12 OPERATIONAL TRAINING UNIT. CASUALTY'S WHILE BASED AT CHIPPING WARDEN 16th AUGUST 1941 - 23rd JUNE 1945.
KlLLED 202, INJURED 92, P.O.W. 7 - FIGURES EXTRACTED FROM BOMBER COMMAND LOSSES VOLUME 7, OPERATIONAL TRAlNlNG UNITS 1940- 1947.
W.R CHORLEY, PUBLISHED 2002 BY MIDLAND PUBLISHING
Roll of Honour
The Crew of Wellington Bomber HF 465
Flight Sergeant Leonard Joseph Timperley. R.A.F.V.R. - Pilot - Age 20
Son of Joscph and Elizabeth Timperley of Stretford, Lancashire.
Buried in Chester (Blacon) Cemetery. Cheshire.
Pilot Officer Cecil Frank Holmes. R.A.F.V.R. -. Navigator/Bomber - Age 29
Son of Cecil and Mabel Sarah Holmes of Richmond. Surrey
Husband of Margaret Jane Holmes of Richmond, Surrey
Buried in Richmond Cemetery. Surrey.
Sergeant D. S. H Wilson, R.A.F.V.R - Navigator - Survivor - Age 22
Lived in Sutton Coldfield
Buried (Ashes) at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium
Sergeant Laurence Edwin Harrison, R.A.F.V.R. Air Bomber - Age 24
Son of William and Rose Harrison of Dalston,
Husband of Marjorie Harrison of Chingford, Essex
Buried in Chingford Mount Cemetery. Essex
Sergeant James David Milne, R.A.F.V.R. Wireless Operator/Air Gunner - Age 32
Son of William and Hetty Milne
Husband of Louisa Henrietta Jane Milne of Mitcham, Surrey
Buried in Lambeth (Tooting) Cemetery, London
Sergeant Arthur Fred Baker, R.A.F.V.R - Air Gunner - Age 35
Son of Fred and Asenath Kate Baker
Husband of Doris Mary Baker of Tisbury. Wiltshire
Buried in Tisbury (St. John the Baptist) Churchyard, Wiltshire
Sergeant Ronald Whiteley, R.A.F.V.R - Air Gunner - Age 23
Son of George Henry and Isabel Whiteley of Rochdale, Lancashire
Buried at Rochdale Crematorium, Lancashire
Their spirits passed in the prime of their manhood, may they sleep in peace.