In June 1943, a seven year old lad named Neil Trotter was in the playground at school in a tiny English village called Scredington when he saw a big black bomber flying very low overhead. After walking home that afternoon, he was told by his mother that the aircraft had crashed in the fields behind the house (about two miles from the school). Neil later learnt that his mother had approached the aircraft intending to render what assistance she could, but because of exploding ammunition was unable to get anywhere near the wreck. All on board perished in the crash.
The aircraft was Lancaster I ED439, of 83 Squadron. It had taken off from Wyton at around 11.00am on 18 June 1943 with a crew of seven, plus two passengers believed to have been wireless technicians:
Pilot: AUS409804 F/Sgt M.K. Cummings
Flight Engineer: AUS6756 Sgt H.W. Luker
Navigator: 537936 Sgt F.W. Wilcox
Bomb Aimer: 1431821 Sgt J. Roughley
Wireless Operator: 1396788 Sgt Cheshire
Mid Upper Gunner: 1588938 Sgt N. Woodcock
Rear Gunner: Can. R113958 Sgt R. Taylor
Passengers: 1024724 Cpl Bond and 1544915 Cpl. Sloss
The ‘Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing Not Attributable to Enemy Action’ in Max Cummings’ casualty file at the National Archives of Australia shows that the aircraft was on a practice bombing flight “but did not carry out [its] detail”. It was seen to dive out of cloud near Highgate Farm, Scredington, about 45 minutes after take-off. The aircraft burnt on impact. While the Commanding Officer, 83 Squadron, recommended a Court of Enquiry be held as “this was a fully capable crew”, he appears to have been overruled by the Station Commander, RAF Wyton, Group Captain H.R. Graham, who wrote that “pending [the] report of Accident Investigation branch, I doubt that any useful purpose can be gained by holding [a] Court of Enquiry”. A report by the Engineer Officer, 83 Squadron, written after examination of the accident scene, states that “the starboard wing hit a farm building, and demolished one end wall, the fuselage and probably undercarriage nacelle tore off the roof of an unoccupied house close to the Barn.” The aircraft was identified by means of a number plate attached to one of the four engines. Because of the lack of a formal Court of Enquiry, the exact cause of the crash remains unknown to this day.
The idea to properly commemorate the men who died in this crash has been percolating around in Neil Trotter’s mind for some years and, now he’s retired after a long career in the post-war RAF, he’s had the time to do something about it. With the assistance of the RAF Association (Lincolnshire Branch), he has been working on organising for an appropriate memorial plaque to be placed in the village church in memory of the crew. He has managed to contact the families of six of the nine men who were on board the Lancaster when it crashed, and representatives of some of these families will be attending the unveiling ceremony in June this year. Other parties involved in the ceremony will be a large crowd of Scredington villagers, the Mayor of the local area, a considerable current RAF presence from the stations at Waddington, Coningsby and Wyton, and the local Air Training Corps, who will become custodians of the memorial after the ceremony. All in all, it’s a significant undertaking and it all comes, primarily, from Neil Trotter’s desire to find out more about that fleeting childhood glimpse of a Lancaster.
Ultimately stories like these are about the airmen themselves. They deserve to be remembered, and it’s heartening to see the work that people like Neil have done in the UK to ensure the stories live on.
© 2013 Adam Purcell
Emails between Neil Trotter, Ian Milnes, Bill Hauxwell, Gerrit Kuijper and myself, November 2012- March 2013
Research into P/O Max Cummings, carried out by Victor Harbour RSL Sub Branch, South Australia
NAA: A705, 166/8/141; CUMMINGS, Max Keiran – (Pilot Officer); Service Number – 408904; File type – Casualty – Repatriation; Aircraft – Lancaster ED 439; Place – Lincolnshire; Date – 18 June 1943
I became involved in this story through a very small part that I played in the search for the family of P/O Cummings.