Plaque marks tragedy so close to home

PUBLISHED: 13:54 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:48 23 October 2015

From left to right, Bernard Myhill, Peter Tennant, Pamela Ibberson, Pat Applegarth, Mike Killeen, Elizabeth Highfield, Michael Highfield.

From left to right, Bernard Myhill, Peter Tennant, Pamela Ibberson, Pat Applegarth, Mike Killeen, Elizabeth Highfield, Michael Highfield.


It was a devastating but little known crash on Norfolk’s peaceful sands more than 70 years ago – and now a marble plaque has been unveiled to mark the spot where six airmen lost their lives.

A plaque unveiled to mark the death of six airmen in 1941 in CaliforniaA plaque unveiled to mark the death of six airmen in 1941 in California

Peter Tennant has been working hard for five years to put up a tribute – at California Sands, near Scratby – where six airmen died on October 11, 1941, after first receiving inquiries from a woman in Barnsley when he was a parish councillor.

Mr Tennant’s father was an ARP warden during the war and helped to secure the crash scene, taking the bodies to a nearby bungalow.

Since then Mr Tennant has made a determined effort to unravel the events leading up to their deaths, which happened so close to safety.

Some believe the airmen simply misjudged the cliffs and flew into them – but with a virtual news blackout and the tragedy not even making the local papers at the time, there is little to go on after so many years.

Mr Tennant said family members of those killed in action were given little, if any, detail about what happened.

“My aim is to provide a record of these six airmen who lost their lives on their way back from a bombing raid in Cologne.

“I just wish I had done it before. It has become a passion.

“One of the crew was buried at Scottow, near Coltishall for some reason.

“All the others were buried in their home towns – and I have been to visit the grave. It is the relatives that have inspired me to push on with it; they thought it would be nice to have some sort of commemoration.

“During the war when people were told their family member was lost they never got any details.

“At the time it was not even in the paper because they did not want to divulge what had happened.”

Pamela Ibbotson is a relative of Flight Sgt Aldwyn Norden, from Barnsley. She travelled to California from Hull for the unveiling on Saturday, along with other members of her family and relatives of Sgt Alfred (Teddy) Cosgrove, from Manchester, who also died.

Both men were 20 years old at the time.

“It’s just so important that these men aren’t forgotten,” said Ms Ibbotson. “Peter has done such a fantastic job, we think our great aunt – Sgt Norden’s mother – would have been very happy.”

The Wellington bomber took off from RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, at 11.52pm joining 68 others on a bombing mission to Cologne. But because of bad weather only minor damage was caused and five bombers from 12 Squadron failed to return.

The doomed plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire after it had dropped its bombs, and turned back, coming to grief on the sands at California.

One person who attended the unveiling, where the plaque was blessed by the Rev Mandy Bishop, was Bernard Myhill.

“I was nine when it happened,” Mr Myhill, 83, said. “The word went around the village like wildfire. Me and my cousin went down the next day to play in the wreckage but the RAF had been and taken it away.”

Before unveiling the plaque – which takes pride of place on the wall of the California Tavern – Mr Tennant was presented with an ARP medal from the crash victims’ relatives for his efforts.

Mr Tennant will now attempt to contact the relatives of the other airmen: Flight Sgt James Dunlop, Sgt Arthur Pilkington, Sgt Ray Todman and Sgt Frank Tothill.

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