Thursday, 11 August 2011

Book - Permanent reminders of brave airmen who made ultimate sacrifice (Notts)

IT is an odd sort of thing to find in an ancient Vale of Belvoir village churchyard.

Sitting on a slate plinth is the twisted strut of an aircraft propeller, its legend explained on two small brass plaques.

It honours seven British and Canadian airmen who died when their Lancaster bomber crashed in the winter of 1943, just a mile north of St Mary's Church, in Staunton-in-the Vale.

The Lancaster, W4270, had taken off from RAF Syerston, near Newark, on a night training exercise, but it got into difficulties and plunged into the ground despite Canadian pilot Herb Warne's efforts.

The bodies of Warrant Officer Warne's crew were recovered and taken home for burial.

They were Sergeant Robert Preece of Somerset, Sergeant John Coaker, Devon; Sergeant Eddie Loverock, Matlock; Sergeant James Whitehead, Glasgow; Sergeant Thomas Newton, Durham; and Sergeant George Hitchon, Lancashire.

But Herb Warne rests in Notts, in a corner of Newark Cemetery.

The memorial is one of 19 revealed in a new Notts County Council publication celebrating local contributions to aviation.

As well as the memorials, nearly 30 airfields, ranging from major military sites like Hucknall and Newton to recreational strips at Greasley and Lambley, are listed in the guide, which has been produced in conjunction with Newark Air Museum.

Newark Cemetery figures several times in the booklet – the crew of Lancaster L7578 were buried together after they were killed in a crash near Gonalston.

It is also the site of the memorial cross to Polish airmen who flew from airfields in the area.

Among the most interesting can be found in the village of Farnsfield where the heroic crew of Halifax MZ519 of 578 Squadron are remembered.

In the weeks after the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, the Nazis launched a terrifying new weapon against England – the V1 flying bomb.

On July 6, a squadron of Halifax bombers took off from RAF Burn in Yorkshire on a mission to destroy a V1 site near Dieppe. Despite a blanket of anti-aircraft fire around the target, the bombers did their job but MZ519, piloted by Reginald Parfitt of Cardiff, was fatally damaged.

Parfitt, aged 22, nursed his stricken plane back to England but, as it flew over Nottingham, witnesses saw at least one engine on fire and the Halifax came down on the outskirts of Farnsfield, killing all on board.

Parfitt's crew who perished were navigator Brian Turnidge, 24, from Bristol; Sergeant Thomas Hill, air gunner, 21, Staffordshire; Sergeant Leonard Leatham, air gunner, 20, Staffs; Sergeant Thomas Pitts, wireless operator, 22, Cheshire; Sergeant Raymond Rolph, flight engineer, 23, Essex; and Flight Sergeant John Godin, bomb aimer, 20, Ontario, Canada.

In 1994, relatives, friends and villagers unveiled a memorial to the fallen.

A second memorial was later unveiled to Pilot Officer Parfitt after a new road in the village was named in his honour.

Not much remains of the 17 airfields operating during the Second World War – apart from Hucknall, Tollerton and Langar – but some fascinating history is recorded.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson was based at RAF Syerston with 106 Squadron before being given the job of leading the famous Dambusters of 617 Squadron.

And Flight Lieutenant Bill Reid won his Victoria Cross with 61 Squadron when he pressed on with a bombing raid on Dusseldorf despite being severely wounded, his aircraft shot up, his navigator and wireless operator killed before bringing the stricken aircraft back to England for a belly-landing in Norfolk.

The booklet Airfields and Memorials is available from Newark Air Museum.

Call the museum on 01636 707 170, e-mail or visit

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