Special service of commemoration marks the 70th anniversary of tragic plane crash near Great Yarmouth
- Credit: Archant
It was a routine night training exercise, which ended in tragedy.
Witnesses described hearing a terrible bang, and seeing a ball of flames as a RAF Lincoln bomber crashed in the village of Mautby, near Great Yarmouth.
And 70 years on from the tragic deaths of the nine young men aboard the Avro Lincoln plane, prayers were said and candles were lit during an emotional service to honour the airmen.
The special service on Saturday (September 23) at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Mautby – close to where the plane had crashed 70 years ago – paid touching tributes to the nine airmen who were killed in one of the RAF's deadliest peacetime plane crashes.
About 100 people – including families of three of the victims and special guests – commemorated the crewmen who died as they returned to RAF Helmswell from a night navigation exercise to Cherbourg on September 24, 1947.
The RAF Lincoln bomber RE373, from 97 Squadron, was flown into heavy rain as it crossed the coast over Great Yarmouth and it is believed the plane was struck by lightning as it crashed into a farmer's field in Mautby.
After welcoming the guests and a parade of standard bearers to the church, Rev Judith Dunkling said: 'At Mautby, we are pleased to welcome members of the families of Ronald Havard, Stanley Whitlock and Roy Trundle.
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'We also welcome the Bishop Graham James and our Rural Dean, the Rev Kincchin-Smith, as well as representatives from the Royal Air Force, Royal British Legion, the Air Training Corps, Caister Lifeboat, Norfolk Police, Lowestoft Aviation Society, the Mayor, local councillors and also our local community.'
The Bishop of Norwich led the tributes, and before nine candles were lit in memory of the crewmen, he said: 'Be with us today as we honour the lives of the nine young men who tragically died 70 years ago.
'They were sons, brothers, husbands and friends. We hold them - and all who have lived with their loss - in your resurrection light and life.'
The congregation also had an unexpected bonus, as prior to the start of the service of commemoration a Tiger Moth plane flew over the church and passed over the crash site.
With the service organised by Richard and Jan Howard, of Ormesby St Margaret, along with Lowestoft Aviation Society (LAS), there were readings from Mrs Howard and aviation historian Simon Baker, from LAS, during the commemoration event.
Rev Dunkling praised Mr and Mrs Howard, and members of the Aviation Society, for 'working so hard over more than two years to pull this special commemoration event together.'
With people attended the service from all over the country, Mr Baker said: 'Bob Collis and myself had been doing some research and we came across some new pictures and information about the crash. We contacted the church with a view to updating their file and presented it to them in 2015. We said it would be nice if we could have a special service to mark the 70th anniversary – and it snowballed from there. It's been more than two years in planning and we're absolutely over the moon with how it has gone.'
Roll of Honour
The nine crew members killed were:
Pilot I Stanley Whitlock, 26, RAF(VR) of Downham, Bromley, Kent.
Pilot IV Jack Guest, 22, RAF(VR) of Edinburgh.
Flt Lt John Cook, 24, of Brasted Chart, Kent.
Flt Lt Ronald Havard, 24, RAF(VR) of Trent Vale, Stoke on Trent.
Signaller II Albert Wattleworth, 21, RAF(VR) of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester.
Gunner II Vincent Woods, 22, RAF(VR) of Morden, Surrey.
Engineer II William Allison, 32, RAF of Kinloch-Leven, Argyllshire.
Gunner II Roy Trundle, 22, RAF(VR) of Lowestoft.
AC 1 Denis Cummings, 23, RAF(VR) of Woodlands Park, Berkshire.
All the crew except Roy Trundle, who is buried in Lowestoft cemetery, were interred in Caister cemetery.
With the families of Stanley Whitlock, Roy Trundle and Ronald Havard – who flew with the legendary 617 squadron in May 1947 in preparation for their goodwill tour to America – in attendance, among those present was Flt Lt Havard's daughter Veronica Ledward, who was born just a week after he was killed.