The popular east Norfolk beauty spot that holds heartbreaking wartime memories
17:48 24 April 2014
Archant Norfolk © 2014
For decades its wide sandy beach, unspoilt views and resident seal population have provided many a happy day out for holidaymakers, wildlife spotters and families.
But the tufty-capped dunes and golden sands of Horsey Gap also hold heartbreaking memories, after it was the site of a tragic war-time crash in which seven airmen lost their lives.
On March 24, 1944 the entire crew of Halifax bomber LW718 perished after their plane crashed into the beach and exploded.
And on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, an amateur historian is keen to tell the story of the crash as he says no one really knows about the sad tale of Horsey’s sands.
William Buck, 60, from Martham, said: “I found out about it because I like to research war time crashes in and around the area.
“But there’s so many people who go down to Horsey Gap to see the seals and nobody knows that they’re within a few hundred yards of where seven men lost their lives.
“I’ve spoken to people from Horsey who don’t even know it’s there.”
The crew of LW718 were from 158 Squadron based at Lissett in Yorkshire. Their four-engined Halifax was among 830 aircraft taking part in a raid on Berlin when disaster struck.
Leaving their base at Lissett at 6.55pm they headed for the continent, but a radio message from the aircraft a few hours later as they were over the Dutch coast told that the crew had suffered major engine problems - losing power from two of them.
The crew of LW718
Pilot - Keith Shambler Simpson, 25, from Sydney, Australia.
Flt Engineer - Sgt Thomas James Barnett, 39, from High Wycombe, Bucks.
Navigator - Flying Officer Norman Hindley, 27, from Merton.
Air Bomber - Pilot Officer Derek Joseph Hemsley, 20, from Salfords, Surrey.
Wireless Operator - Flt Sgt Walter Suddaby, 22, from Hull.
Mid Upper Gunner - Sgt William Buchan, 28, from Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Rear Gunner - Flt Sgt Malcolm John McKay, 21 from Queensland, Australia.
William Buchan and Norman Hindley are buried at their home towns, the other crew are buried at Cambridge City Cemetery.
All came to 158 Squadron from the 1658 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) on August, 28 1943 and all - with the exception of Malcolm McKay, flew with Keith Simpson while at HCU.
Flt Sgt McKay joined the crew at Lissett.
The seven-man crew, which included two Australians, could not continue and aborted the mission.
Pilot Keith Shambler Simpson managed to nurse the Halifax back to England’s shores but tragically, with land in sight, it crashed.
The plane came down at 11.11pm, just 31 minutes after relaying the abort message, and left a large crater in the beach.
Mr Buck, a grandfather of three, said: “It can feel a bit eerie when you know about it and go [to the beach]. It’s a war grave more or less.”
Out of the seven crew, six were under the age of 29 and Mr Buck said the story of LW718 went deeper than the crash, when you looked into the lives of the airmen.
“The crew of this aircraft - apart from the rear gunner - all trained together and they stayed together throughout the war, which is quite a rare occurrence,” he added.
“A bomber crew was a family; they worked together, slept together, ate together and they died together.
“That’s the bit of it I like finding out. The aircraft is a material thing, it’s the story behind that aircraft.”
Mr Buck, who has been researching war time crashes for 30 years, gives regular talks to local groups and is keen to spread the word of LW718, which is especially poignant as the nation reflects on both world wars.
“I think more and more people are remembering the young men who lost their lives during both wars and it’s important to remember them, especially when they’re so close to your doorstep,” he added.