Halam Lancaster

There was an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 2011, about a couple of Australian aircrew who had been killed when their Lancaster crashed while on a training flight. It was 10 April 1943, and the crew was on their last exercise at 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit, Winthorpe, before being posted to an operational squadron. Shortly after take-off the aircraft crashed in the small village of Halam, eight miles from the aerodrome and aligned with the runway they had departed from.

Sixty nine years later to the day, a memorial was unveiled in Halam commemorating the seven men who died in the crash. It was the culmination of some years of work by a local man named Andrew Paris who has now researched the story of the crew and how they came to be on that aircraft.

Jack Purcell was posted to RAF Winthorpe between September and November 1943 and I visited the excellent Newark Air Museum that now occupies a corner of the old airfield while visiting the UK in 2009. But that wasn’t why the story in the Herald set some faint bells of recognition chiming in my mind. As part of his research Andrew had been looking for information on what the crew might have been up to during their time at 1661 HCU. I got in touch with him through the Lancaster Archive Forum and was able to share an extract of Jack’s logbook covering the time he had been at the unit. While only a very small piece of the overall story, every little bit helps towards developing an understanding of ‘what they were doing there’.

It’s another good demonstration, I think, of how the Internet has revolutionised historical research. The reach of the web is world-wide, and it’s made finding this information much easier because it’s now a simple matter to find someone on the other side of the world who might have the information that you seek. And it’s then made it very easy to share the results of your work with a much greater audience than in the past.

(c) 2013 Adam Purcell

Event: ANZAC Day 2013,with 463-467 Squadrons Association NSW, Sydney

Arrangements for commemorating ANZAC Day on April 25 with the 463-467 Squadrons Association in Sydney remain much the same as usual.
The Association will assemble for the march at the corner of Elizabeth and King Streets in the Sydney CBD. The Banner should be in place from 1015.

Following the march, a lunch will be held in the Parkview Room of the Pullman Hotel, from about 1230 or 1300. Note this is the same venue as last year but the hotel has had a name change – it was formerly the Sydney Marriott, Hyde Park. Cost for the lunch is $55pp.
All are welcome. To book, email Association Secretary David Southwell at davidrfs@icloud.com.

I’m flying up from Melbourne for the day, and will be carrying one end of the Banner during the march. Looking forward to it.

Remembering Scredington

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.

Another Satisfied Customer

In July last year I wrote here about a 463 Squadron Flight Engineer named Sergeant Peter Taylor, and his sister-in-law, Joni, who has been trying to find relatives of Sgt Taylor’s crew. I published the names of the rest of the crew on the blog, in the hope that it might attract a passing Google search.

And it did.

At the end of January I received a blog comment from a lady named Susan Little, the niece and God-daughter of the only survivor from the crew, bomb aimer Flight Sergeant Tom Malcolm. It’s taken a little bit of too-ing and fro-ing but Joni and Susan are now in touch with each other. Susan’s sent copies of a photo of Tom and his crew:

tom-malcolm-007 copy

The men wearing the white lifejackets are Sgt taylor and his crew (the others are their ground crew). Aircrew in the back row, left to right are pilot P/O J.F. Martin, wireless operator F/S G.W. Bateman and bomb aimer F/S Tom Malcolm. In the front row, left to right, airmen are flight engineer Sgt Peter Taylor, navigator W/O Bernard Kelly, mid-upper gunner F/S L.G.L. Hunter and F/S Bramwell Barber.

There’s also this photo from Susan, showing some of the crew outside a pub:

tom-malcolm-008 copy

Bramwell Barber is on the far left, Tom Malcolm is next to him. The airman in the middle is unidentified. Next along is Peter Taylor, and on the far right is skipper J.F. Martin.

Once again, the power of the internet is demonstrated. Two people, on opposite sides of the planet, brought together simply through a little bit of curiosity, a blog post and the wonders of the Google search algorithm. I’m happy I was able to help. And finding Susan has inspired Joni to continue her search for the rest of her brother in law’s crew.

I’d call that another satisfied customer!

© 2013 Adam Purcell

(Edited 13MAR13 with identification of Peter Taylor in photos following correspondence from Joni)