Do you know the Norfolk history of this Lancaster bomber weathervane?
- Credit: Helen Theron
Can you solve the mystery of the Norfolk links with a unique weathervane which is also a war memorial honouring seven lost lives? Derek James reports.
It was on the night of January 3, 1944 that a Lancaster Bomber of the Pathfinder Force set off from RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire on a mission over Germany dropping flares over targets to light the way for the following aircraft.
On its return the plane encountered enemy fire and came down over Blankenburg. The pilot Flying Officer Ernest Blair Stiles of the Canadian Royal Force and the young crew of six all lost their lives.
They are buried at the war graves cemetery in Berlin which some members of their families have visited over the years.
The elite Pathfinder Force at Wyton in Cambridgeshire led the way for Bomber Command. It flew more than 50,000 sorties deep over enemy territory and around 3,700 members were killed on operations.
But why was this particular aircraft singled out to become the subject of a weathervane now at Westhope in Herefordshire?
And what is the Norfolk connection?
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Helen Theron explained that in around 2009 they bought the weathervane in a salvage yard at a garden centre in Surrey.
The owner, Stephen Popescu (now retired) said he had bought it in the Norfolk area and that it originated from an old farmhouse nearby.
“I’d wanted a weathervane for many years but hadn’t seen one which inspired me,” explained Helen. This one was very different. “We were thrilled as it complimented my husband John’s love for aviation and he is now building his own light aircraft.”
A few years on they moved to Westhope in Herefordshire taking their much-loved weathervane with them.
“Whilst the weathervane waited to be raised up into its new position, I noticed engraved on one side the inscription JB453OL-F. I entered this onto Google and was amazed,” said Helen.
She uncovered the story of how the Avro Lancaster III was from 83 Squadron at RAF Wyton . Under Bomber Command, the crew’s mission was planned for January 2 and the next day the crew of seven were reported dead. Victims of a night fighter over the Harz Mountains.
“I have discovered the names of each of the crew, spoken to members of the families. Their average age 24. Whilst on the internet search I left details of our weathervane in the hope that we might discover its origins. Why was it made and where was its first home?” asks Helen.
Then she had a phone call from International Bomber Command (IBC) saying the weathervane would be classified as a war memorial and they were putting together an internet site to help people to access all the memorials linked with any military war fatalities.
The information regarding this particular Lancaster Bomber and its final crew poured in from various enthusiasts and researchers, including The Imperial War Museum.
“We are extremely proud to have this pre-eminent bomber of the Second World War flying above our home. We plan to place a plaque on our wall to commemorate the seven brave crew that lost their lives so that we may have ours,” said Helen.
IBC has suggested that a full “unveiling ceremony” would be in order with representatives from both the Royal and Canadian Air Force, members of the local branch of the Royal British Legion and International Bomber Command.
The Last Post will be played – a fitting tribute to these young men and all the others who lost their lives fighting for our freedom…brave warrior of the skies,
The ceremony is due to take place in September…but do you know more about this important weathervane and its Norfolk links?
The crew were Flying Officer Ian Godfrey Allan, Sergeant Joseph Banks, Sergeant John McIntyre Dunlop, Flying Officer William Horace Dyke, Pilot Officer Denis Charles James McKendry, Flying Officer Ernest Blair Stiles and Flight Sergeant Patrick Traynor.
If you can help please get in touch with Helen at email@example.com or call her on 0791 2183101,