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Widecombe History Group Talks
A talk given by John Lowe on the fate of The Handley Page Hampden Bomber that crashed on Hameldown, during the night of 21st/22nd March 1941.
John & Zena Lowe have spent a great deal of time researching the fate of the Hampden Bomber that crashed on Hameldown during World War II. The sub-title of the talk was - "The Boys" - and by the end of what proved to a fascinating and interesting evening we knew why !
At that time the German army was in control of France and 'The Battle of the Atlantic (sometimes called the longest battle of WWI) was full on. At one time it was considered that Britain had only three days supply of food at its disposal.
Merchant ships were travelling forward and back the Atlantic bringing urgently needed food from North America at great risk to themselves. In fact at least 1000 ships were sunk by German 'U-boats', and battleships during this devastating period. There is an arboretum of 1000 oak trees planted in memory of those ships and their crews.
John & Zena were out walking on Dartmoor one day when they came upon the granite stone on the side of Hameldown with four sets of initials carved on one side (R. D. W., R. B., C. .J. L., & R. L. A. E.,) and a 'plaque' fixed to the other side. They immediately noticed that the dates on one each side did not marry up. This led to wonder what and why this discrepancy on what appeared to them to be a memorial and who were these people. That started them on search and what they have found out made for a most interesting talk.
This plane was created as 'a medium bomber', powered by two Olympus engines and with a crew of four. Each man was in very very cramped space, were the temperature often dropped to 40 degrees below freezing. They could not see each other and they were in that position for 6-8 hours at a time..
They were part of 49 Squadron and they flew out of RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire. John then said how much he appreciated the help that Leonard & Barbara Norrish had been to them in their search for the truth of details of that fateful day. They were 'youngsters' at that time, but Leonard in particular remembers the day well and often went up to the crash site - as curious young lads would. John also mentioned an Eric Clarke who they met once, 100 years old and had been involved with 49 Squadron. he was able to give them 'first-hand knowledge’ of flying these planes. No complete example survives, but there are plans to rebuild one from 'bits & pieces' that are being collected at RAF museums.
This unfortunate sortie was to fly to Lorient in France, in an attempt to destroy the 'U-boat' base there. It was unfortunate that the base was constructed with a seven foot thick concrete roof and the bombs carried by these planes were not anywhere near strong enough to pierce that strength of protection.
We were then given a run down on how a mission of this kind unfolded. At 10.00 a.m. the crew would be assembled. The planes would then be given a ‘air test’. It appears since that the Germans monitored these tests and so were aware that a raid could be imminent. After lunch the crew would be briefed and the plan was to cross the southern coast at Chessel Beach, and head for France. The weather forecasts were poor to say the least, with little communication between Lincolnshire and what was known at Plymouth or Portsmouth. Pretty Haphazard one could say! This fateful flight took off at 18.21, crossed Chessel at 20.00 hrs and the crash happened on the return journey at 22.55.
Now to these four men:-
The initials stood for R. D. Wilson, R. Brames, C. J. Lyon, R. L. A. Ellis.
The ‘official’ records state that they broke cloud to check position.
It is known that 28 crews did not get back from that mission and one plane crashed into Snowdon, in Wales.
Listening to John, one marvelled at the time and effort that they had put into researching this whole episode. The Kitson family who lived at Natsworthy heard the crash and they went to see if they could be of any assistance and found R. D. Wilson still alive. They got him removed to Moretonhampstead Hospital where he survived for a couple of days, long enough for members of his family to get to his bedside. His mother Lady Marjorie Numburnholme kept a detailed diary and in it she recorded what he told her in great detail. john has had access to this diary which has helped him no end with producing a book on the whole affair. She refers to them as “The Boys” hence the title of John & Zena’s book.
She wrote :- David had to make a forced landing. Just missed Widecombe Church at 1700 feet. They landed in the heather. The propellers dug into the soil. Ploughed a trench 100 yards in to ground. David’s physical state was very serious with broken bones, cuts and blood all over him and much damage to his head and body. Richard Leonard Ashburton Ellis one of his fellow crew members was buried near him in Higher Cemetery, Pinhoe, Exeter. Brames’ body was returned to London for burial as was Lyon’s.
The RAF was full of clever educated brilliant young men.
Lady Marjorie's tribute to them was;
“They were lovely and pleasant in their lives
and in their death they were not divided“.
So ended a very interesting talk, carefully researched, full of accurate facts which gave us all an insight into the activities of those brave young men that gave their lives so that we can enjoy our freedom today. We MUST not forget them and their many compatriots.
The book...”The Boys” is available from John & Zena Lowe at £4.99 plus postage. Contact them on 01395 278279
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