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Second world war airmen William Franklin, Walter Blom and Frederick Stewart to be remembered in East Bridgford ceremony

GREATER love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends ­— that inscription appears on the gravestone of Frederick Stewart, one of seven airmen who died trying to fight a fire that caused a bomb to explode.

A commemorative service honouring three of those RAF personnel ­— William Franklin, Walter Blom and Frederick Stewart ­— is to take place on Monday, on the 80th anniversary of their deaths, in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, East Bridgford.

They died in a wartime bomb loading accident at RAF Newton, and are buried in Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves.

They shall not grow old - the headstones of the fallen three in St Peter's Churchyard, East Bridgford. (38857171)
They shall not grow old - the headstones of the fallen three in St Peter's Churchyard, East Bridgford. (38857171)

The relatives of Frederick Stewart, will be holding an event in Cookstown, County Tyrone, to view a live feed of the service, and it is hoped two of his relatives who live in Burton-on-Trent, will attend.

Villager Phil Rudman, one of the organisers, said: “A lockdown walk in April took us on the path that runs through St Peter’s graveyard. I noticed in the north west corner three Commonwealth War graves.

“The three airmen were killed on July 27, 1940, and therefore 2020 marks the 80th anniversary.

Walter Blom. (38857169)
Walter Blom. (38857169)

“VE day celebration and remembrance events had been reduced due to covid-19 and so Rev Ruth Colby was approached to suggest that we might mark the 80th anniversary.”

Mr Rudman was helped in organising the commemoration by Phil Clarke, Rev Colby, Lynne Black, Martin Waring and Sherry Rudman.

The three airmen came from Tasmania, Northern Ireland and Hertfordshire.

Frederick Stewart. (38891031)
Frederick Stewart. (38891031)

Mr Rudman’s wife, Sherry, said: “The most touching thing was that the families of Walter and Frederick had no idea that they had graves.

“To know that people will gather to remember them in a small village hundreds or thousands of miles from the places they called home 80 years on was very emotional for them.”

A group set about tracing descendants, resulting in relatives ofFrederick Stewart and Walter Blom being traced. Less is known about William Franklin.

On the afternoon of July 27, 1940, a Fairey Battle light bomber of No 150 Squadron at RAF Newton exploded on the ground when a parachute flare ignited and detonated the bomb load.

Flight Lieutenant Blom, as the duty Flight Commander, was leading the fire-fighting party endeavouring to extinguish the blaze and he, along with five airmen were killed.

Fred Stewart, 22, was the son of Bobby and Rebecca Stewart, of Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

Sergeant William Franklin, 28, was from Radlett, Hertfordshire, and had been awarded the British Empire Medal “for meritorious service and devotion to duty over a period of time.”

Flight Lieutenant Walter Blom was a 23-year old Australian who lived with his wife in Peterborough. He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for gallantry only two months earlier during the Nazi Blitzkreig through the Benelux countries.

The commemoration is from 7pm. There will be the Last Post and Reveille, the Act of Remembrance, Kohima Epitaph, poems, prayers, a blessing, and stories of the three will be told.

A Commonwealth War Graves Commission plaque will be mounted on the lychgate at the entrance to the church and a map and poster prepared by Martin and Sue Waring is displayed in the porch of the church as a permanent reminder.

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