Monday, 11 April 2011

News - Memorial honours lost airmen (RAAF Pilots Halam)

A MEMORIAL in England will honour the lives of two Australian airmen who died in World War II, although the true cause of their deaths might be forever ''lost in the web of war''.

Leonard Lean, 22, of Lindfield, died after his Lancaster bomber crashed on April 10, 1943. It was his last night-training flight before being assigned to a squadron. His crew mate, flight engineer Frank Dunkin, 21, from Armidale, was also killed.

Reports about the crash have cited pilot error as the cause but their families are convinced there is another explanation.

Relatives have travelled to Halam in Nottinghamshire where a memorial to the crew of seven will be dedicated today.

Last year, after a notice was placed in The Sydney Morning Herald seeking Lean's relatives, his niece Barbara Butchart and sister Elaine Caldwell examined 58 letters that had remained untouched in Ms Butchart's mother's garage for years.

''There was a bundle in my mother's garage covered in cobwebs and slaters. Once we heard about the memorial, Elaine started looking at the letters and going into things.

''They were in their original envelopes and hadn't been opened very often. It was just too painful.''

One letter, written by the wife of the navigator to Lean's mother Elsie, said the crew was ''only just airborne when it happened. The engine was overheating when they took off and blew up just as they left the ground but owing to your boy's quick thought they were not burned. He managed to stop the fire by turning his engines off.''

Less than two weeks before the crash, Lean wrote home: ''Well folks, I have mastered the four-engined kites and am as pleased as punch. They are what I have been working for. The bigger, the better. I shall have to wait until a bigger one is invented as these are 'tops' at the moment. The crew are all good types and work well together.''

Andrew Paris, who had the idea for the memorial, said: ''I just felt that this piece of village history shouldn't be forgotten, and that the sad sacrifice of seven airmen should not go unmarked.

''The official report of the accident is very brief and dismissive. It is easier perhaps just to imply pilot error than to go through proper forensics to establish what really happened. Time, money and resources were scarce; there was a war on. 'Write off the crash, write to the bereaved families, and get on training the next crew' may have been the attitude.''

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