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Plane crash revelations


New findings about seven men who died when their Lancaster crashed in a field near Staunton 65 years ago on Monday was put on show in St Mary’s Church, Staunton on Sunday.

The work, by Farndon Archaeological Research Institute, started seven years ago.

It was initiated by retired farmer Mr Sid Baggaley who asked his chiropodist Mrs Di Ablewhite of Church Street, Long Bennington, a member of the group, if they could find anything out about the crash which he could remember seeing in 1943 during the second world war.

He gave her a piece of the wreckage which he had recovered from the crash site and kept safe.

The piece was taken to Newark Air Museum where it was cleaned and found to have RAF section and reference marks on which identified it as a Mark 1 Lancaster.

The Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group advised the Farndon group on how to find details of the crash by searching through the Bomber Command Loss Books.

Mrs Ablewhite trawled through old records and finally the search narrowed down to just one aircraft.

With this information it was established that the plane had been from RAF Syerston and had been a cross country training flight.

It had been in the air for almost seven hours when a con rod broke causing a fire which the crew could not put out. The fire spread towards the cockpit and probably the fuel tanks. They lost control and the aircraft crashed killing all seven crew instantly.

The pilot, a Canadian, Warrant Officer Thomas Herbert Warne, known as Herb from Saskatchewan was the oldest at 23. He was the most experienced member of the crew but still had only 15 hours of night flying experience on this type of aircraft. He is buried in Newark Cemetery.

The other crew members were Sergeants Robert John Preece (22) of Bridgwater, Somerset; John Coaker, (22) from Poundsgate, Devon; Edward John Loverock (21) of Matlock, Derbyshire; James Milton Whitehead (22) of Riddrie, Glasgow; Thomas Raine Newton (21) of Durham and George Arthur Hitchon (19) from Padiham, Lancashire.

Mrs Ablewhite said that once they had identified the plane and why it had crashed they were given permission by the owner of the land when the crash happened to do a field walk.

They found more than 100 pieces of debris. Some of them had part numbers on them and so they were able to identity where many of the pieces had come from.

To mark the incident a memorial with a propeller blade from a Lancaster now stands in the shadow of the church.

Mr Baggaley died after the first research was carried out, but his daughter Mrs Barbara Hogg (56) and granddaughter Miss Annie Hogg (21) of Riverside Cottages, Caunton, last year asked the Farndon group if the work could go further.

They especially wanted to see photographs of the crew.

The group used many ways to ask for help including websites, old records and newspaper reports.

They also contacted local churches, history societies and parish councils in the home towns of the crew. As a result they now have more information about the men, pictures of all graves and photographs of three of the men.

Last week family members of George Hitchon visited Staunton to see the crash site and found a piece of crumpled aluminium from the Lancaster.

They also visited the memorial and sent seven lilies and seven roses to put on it on Sunday.

The group has been given copies of letters and telegrams breaking the news of the tragedy and newspaper reports helping to piece the lives of the young men and the accident together.

Miss Hogg has now become involved in the research. She said her grandfather would have been really pleased to see how much they had uncovered and hoped that as time passed they would be able to add to the work.

They would eventually like to get photographs of all seven crew members.

The display of the findings was combined with an exhibition of Roman finds from a site in Staunton. The grounds of Staunton Hall were open and 1,130 visitors walked through the snowdrop-filled gardens. Proceeds from the day, £4,000, will go towards the running costs of St Mary’s Church, Staunton.

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