Tragic air crew are remembered

Gerald Plant
Gerald Plant

gerald Plant was cycling to his friend’s house one night in the dark days of the Second World War when he heard a Wellington bomber in the sky.

The starboard engine was dead and shortly after the port engine also cut out.

There was a silence and then the 15-year-old boy watched in horror as the plane nose dived, landing in a crumpled heap on a field beside Hennymoor Farm at Creswell.

The five Canadian airmen on board were all killed.

Now 81, Gerald remembers the crash vividly and is proud to be organising a memorial to the men who lost their lives that fateful day on 5th August 1944.

Gerald, of Creswell, said: “I am constantly reminded of seeing the plane crash as I pass within 100 yards of the crash site on average twice a week.”

“The vision of the plane flying on one engine, the roar of the engine, the sudden deathly silence and the sight of the plane diving vertically into the ground is seared into my memory.”

His older brother Arthur, who died last year at the age of 88 with no children, left part of his estate to pay for a memorial stone to be located at the far end of the Creswell Crags visitor centre, about 150m from the crash site.

The estate is also contributing to the expenses of around 15 family members of the five crewmen from Canada to attend a memorial dedication service in May next year.

Relatives were traced with the help of the Canadian media, Facebook and local historians. Gerald is hoping to organise a flypast by the RAF Battle of Britain memorial flight and there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at Harrogate cemetery where the five Canadians are buried.

The memorial committee includes Peter Allam, of Hamilton, Ontario, who said: “It’s really a project of the heart. It’s not just wanting to erect a memorial, but wondering about the lads, where they were from, what they were like, what their families were like.”

“The real tragedy was they all seemed like smashing guys. They were clever and funny and had all these talents and aspirations for the future. It’s such a shame.”

The Wellington bomber had taken off from RAF Gamston near Retford on a routine training flight. A sixth crew member wasn’t on board because he was unwell.

Gerald credits the pilot, RCAF Warrant Officer WO1 Willis Don Murdie, 26, with trying to manoeuvre the dying aircraft away from the nearby villages of Whitwell and Creswell.

Gerald himself also flew in a Wellington bomber as an Air Training Corps cadet out of RAF Gamston during the war and feels an affinity to the the five Canadians he watched crash 66 years ago.

“I must admit that I was glad to get out of the plane after half-an-hour,” he said.

“The crew who crashed had been flying for six-and-a-quarter hours. I could imagine how they felt after such a long time in the cramped, cold, noisy and vibrating conditions.”

“On top of all that, the last minutes of their flight do not bear thinking about.”

Gerald, Peter, and Terry Foye, of Creswell, have researched the history of the Wellington crash and the men aboard who were Pilot Officer Lowell Milton Brehaut, 21, the navigator; Flying Officer Walter William Cooper, 32, and Sgt John Joseph Lee, 19, who were both bomb aimers; and James Robb Clarke.

Peter’s father Bert, who will be 90 in January, flew Wellingtons at the same time in Scotland and wrote in family memoirs of the dangers of training in them. He noted 11 fatal crashes that killed entire crews, and just as many deaths during operations.

The Canadian crew who died at Creswell had been briefed to fly at 140mph but the navigator’s log showed they had been flying at 150mph and so would have been using more fuel.

There was no explanation as to why they overshot their home airfield at Gamston and an official investigation said there was no-one to blame for the crash.

Gerald’s brother Arthur tried to join the RAF but was refused because of a problem with his eyesight. Instead he became a senior engineer with the coal board.

A school pal of his, Herbert Keeton, was accepted and became a Pilot Officer in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He was shot down and killed over the North Sea in 1942 while attacking an enemy convoy.

Gerald said that Arthur had requested that Herbert be included on the memorial stone.

Gerald would like anyone else who saw the crash to contact him by email at gerald@gpplant.plus.com