Remains of missing Norfolk bomber found in lake
PUBLISHED: 10:25 28 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:27 28 January 2020
Like thousands, they took off from Norfolk in their lumbering bomber and never came home.
Now the remains of the Short Stirling aircraft in which they plunged to a watery grave have finally been found in a Dutch lake.
Stirling BK716 took off from RAF Downham Market to take part in a raid on Berlin on March 29, 1943, with 320 other bombers.
But the four-engined warplane and its crew of seven disappeared and were officially listed as missing in action.
It was believed to be one of a number of aircraft which crashed after being hit by flak on the return journey, after dropping its bombs on the German capital.
Now it has been found at Lake Markermeer, near Amsterdam.
Bodies of its crew members are believed to remain on board the aircraft.
They included radio operator and gunner Sgt Charles Bell from Langley Park, Durham.
As preparations get under way to recover the plane in March, the Bomber Command Museum of Canada contacted Consett Police, part of Durham Constabulary, to help track down any living relatives of the sergeant.
A family member contacted Consett Police after appeals were shared on social media - and relatives of the six other crew members have also been traced.
They were pilot flying officer Frederick Harris, flight engineer Sgt Ronald Kennedy, observer flying officer Harry Farrington and air gunners John Campbell, Leonard Shrubsall and John McCaw.
Their ages ranged from 22 - 30. They were among more than 700 aircrew lost from Downham between 1942 and the end of the war on Germany three years later.
As well as the massive Stirlings, the RAF's largest bomber at the time, the base at Bexwell was also home to the Lancasters of the RAF's elite Pathfinder force, which flew in low before the main bomber force to mark their intended targets.
Little remains of the base today beyond a few sheds. Its great concrete runways were broken up for the foundations of the A10 bypass in the early 1970s.
Campaigners are raising money for a memorial which will carry the name of every one of Downham's lost crews.