Friday, 22 April 2011

Event - Fitting tribute to some of Canada's bravest warriors (Creswell Crags)

THE Wellington bomber was clearly in trouble, the engines dying, the pilot struggling to maintain control.
It was August 1944. Teenager Gerald Plant was cycling along the lanes near his home at Creswell, on the Notts/Derbys border, when he saw the Wellington approaching, low and fast.

His attention was drawn to it because of the unusually loud engine noise it was making.

Gerald could see one propellor on the twin-engine aircraft was not working.

As it drew nearer, to his horror it went out of control, performed a half spin and crashed in a field at Hennymoor Farm.

The five crew members, all Canadians, did not stand a chance.

Pilot Willis Murdie, 26, navigator Lowell Brehaut, 21, wireless operator James Clarke, 20, bomb aimers Walter Cooper, 32, and John Lee, 19, died together and were later buried side by side in Stonefall Cemetery, Harrogate.

Although it was nearly 70 years ago, those five Commonwealth heroes have never been forgotten, certainly not by Gerald Plant who still lives in Creswell.

He said: "I am constantly reminded of seeing the plane crash, as I pass within 100 yards of the crash site on average twice a week.

"The vision of the plane flying on one engine, the roar of the engine, the sudden deathly silence and the sight of the plane diving vertically into the ground is seared into my memory." The tragedy also made an impression on Gerald's elder brother Arthur who died last year, leaving enough money to pay for a memorial stone.

That will be dedicated on May 21 at Creswell Crags visitor centre in a ceremony to be attended by more than dozen family members of the crew, whose expenses for the trip from Canada were also paid by Arthur Plant's bequest. There will be a fly-past by the RAF and it will be attended by representatives of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian High Commission.

The five airmen came from all over Canada. Some, like James Clarke and John Lee, were single and just out of high school. Others, like Walter Cooper, were older, married men with families. Local poet Craig Griffin, who has written a special verse for to honour the men, has been in contact with relatives.

"What has come through very strongly from the relatives is that they were a grand bunch, some of Canada's finest sons.

"Each had their own talents, passions and aspirations from dancing to model making to mathematics to teaching – hopes and plans for the future that events cruelly put an end to.''

The crew were training with No 86 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Gamston (now Retford Airport). They would have come together as a crew for the first time at Gamston and would have spent several months there training.

On August 5, 1944, the crew were flying in a Vickers Wellington on a long-range navigational exercise which had taken them down to the South Coast before returning to Gamston. The flight would have been one of the crew's last at 86 OTU before moving on to the next stage of their training.

Craig said: "For reasons unknown they flew the whole flight about 10 knots faster than the briefed airspeed and consequently ran out of fuel in the vicinity of Creswell. We don't know why they did not land at Gamston but a navigational error could be the reason."

"I was over the moon when the poem I wrote was not only accepted but I was told it would be used on the actual day and in the commemorative booklet to mark the memorial. I think that the organisers should have credit for their achievement in getting this project off the ground and their efforts to never forget those that allowed us to live our lives freely."

Craig's poem:
At Hennymoor Farm
In a field rarely seen
A young schoolboy witnesses
The end of so many dreams
As the Wellington they flew
Fell horribly from the sky
Navigation or lack of fuel
May have been the reasons why

Some of Canada's bravest were lost
On that August summer's night
Training to protect our island
As Fascism this world did fight
Willis, Lowell, James
Walter and John Lee
Heroes to our island
Forever you will be

And the only way we can say it
As the moment is now long gone
Is with a fitting memorial
So your names
Will eternally live on

The memorial is situated to one side of the visitor centre at Creswell Crags, site of a prehistoric cave system where evidence of Britain's earliest inhabitants has been found. The unveiling ceremony on May 21 will start at 11.15am.

After lunch at the centre guests will take the short walk to the Crags gorge and at 1.50pm an RAF Lancaster bomber will perform a fly-past.

1 comment:

  1. Read more about the crash and crew here: