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VIDEO: Tribute to air crew 70 years after crash

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Almost 70 years to the day after a fatal wartime plane crash, the memory of the crew has been honoured at a special commemorative service at Airfield Farm, Caistor.

It was into the late afternoon sunshine that R5672 took off from the Lancaster finishing School at RAF Hemswell, crewed by young, vibrant servicemen and a talented visiting ATA pilot.

The air-test ended in tragedy, as the Lancaster crashed into the south-west corner of Caistor airfield - all on board perished.

Each one was a son, daughter, brother, sister, grandchild and friend - and one was a father.

Family members of this fateful crew gathered alongside Caistor Town Councillors, members of Caistor Lions and others for the service at the crash site, organised by Ben Jacob and his family.

One of those family members was Beverley Hines, granddaughter of AC1 Harold Quinton, the only married member of the crew.

“This day has made us all very proud,” she said.

And the day brought to the end a 10-year search.

“I had been looking for the crash site for nine years,” added Beverley, ”but had mistakenly been looking at Caister in Norfolk. Then last May I came upon Ben, who was looking for the families of the crew members - and both our searches were over.”

Beverley was accompanied by around 20 members of Harold’s family, including his oldest daughter Kathleen, who was nine-years-old when the crash happened, and the youngest of his six children Valerie, born one month after the crash.

The Rev Canon Ian Robinson conducted the memorial service and a plaque with all the names of those lost aboard Lancaster R5672, provided with a donation from Caistor Lions, was dedicated.

Captain of the plane was Wing Commander Eric Campling, whose 93-year-old twin sister was unable to attend the service at the last moment, on doctor’s orders.

Also on board were Sgt Lancelot Regan, LAC Ronald Freer, AC1 Thomas King, AC1 Edward Steverton, AC1 Alfred Spiller and AC2 George Killick, as well as 2nd Officer Miss Taniya Whittall of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Ben Jacob gave this speech at the start of the memorial service.

Firstly I would like to welcome you all to Airfield Farm Caistor by kind permission of Mr Robert Nickerson, and to this service which will be conducted by Canon Ian Robinson

From what started out as a bit of personal research into something I had always known about, but actually knew nothing about, has culminated in me standing here addressing you today, something I might add I regard as a great honour.

I want to take you back a while, 70 years to 1944, to be more precise Easter Saturday 8th April 1944.

Lets put this in perspective; this is 11 months after the Dams Raid, 2 weeks after the Great Escape and 2 months before D Day.

At 16.40hrs on Easter Saturday, 8th April 1944, Lancaster 1 No R5672 from No 1 Lancaster Finishing School, RAF Hemswell, crashed onto the South East Corner of Caistor Airfield during an air test. Around about where we are today.

Following a low turn, the aircraft was seen to explode at tree top height. Fragments of wreckage were blasted over a large area. All on board perished. I believe Mr Tom Harneiss who witnessed the crash as a young lad is here today.

Captain of the plane was Wing Commander Eric Campling DSO DFC.

Wing Commander Campling was the Chief Flying instructor at No 1LFS. His career started in November 1939 when He was commissioned into the RAF as a Pilot Officer. Promotion to Flying Officer followed a year later and to Flight Lieutenant in 1941.

Up until early this week, Wing Commander Campling’s twin sister, who herself was a WAAF NCO serving at Biggin Hill during the war, was going to attend today, but much to her disappointment and annoyance the doctors have advised against it. Marjorie though sends her best wishes and thanks to everyone here. We do however welcome Alison and other members of the family.

During a tour with 142 squadron flying Wellingtons out of Waltham (RAF Grimsby), Flight Lieutenant Campling was awarded an immediate DFC for his actions on 12th February 1942. His citation reads: “On 12th February 1942, this officer was detailed as leader of a section of two aircraft to attack the German warships Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen. After crossing the coast the aircraft accompanying Flight Lieutenant Campling returned to base with a defective turret, but using cloud cover, Flight Lieutenant Campling proceeded to the target alone. He successfully delivered an attack on the Scharnhorst from a height of 700 feet, having dived from 1200 feet. During the attack severe damage from flack was sustained to the port wing, elevator trimming tabs and the fuselage near the tailplane, causing control to be temporarily lost and the aircraft dived towards the sea. At 300 feet before control had been fully regained, the aircraft was attacked by two ME109s. The rear gunner was unable to retaliate due to damaged hydraulics and only by the greatest piloting skill was Flight Lieutenant Campling able to evade the fighters and keep the aircraft out of the sea. By flying low over the water the pilot prevented further interception and by first class airmanship brought the aircraft back to its base where he effected a normal landing with his crew intact and uninjured. Flight Lieutenant Campling has always shown a magnificent offensive spirit and by his own knowledge, skill and zeal maintains a high morale in his own crew and is an inspiring influence to all crews in the squadron. His conduct cited above is held in great esteem by me and his fellow pilots.”

Posted to 460 Squadron Flight Lieutenant Campling was mentioned in despatches and awarded a DSO. Eric never received his medal, His mother collected it on his behalf from Buckingham Palace.

Wing Commander Campling was a very experienced pilot with 1673 hours in his log book including 290 on Lancasters.

He was 23 when he died.

Lancaster R5672, which Wing Commander Campling was flying that day, was one of a batch of 200 Mk1s built by A V Roe in Newton Heath, Manchester, and delivered between February and July 1942. R5672 served initially with 97 squadron before transferring to 1656 HCU and latterly to No1 LFS. She logged 695 hours.

On board R5672 on 8th April 1944 was 2nd Officer Miss Taniya Whittall of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Taniya was the daughter of Colonel Francis Whittall of HM Indian Army.

Taniya had served in the WAAFs in 1939 and for nine months in the WRNS before joining the ATA in September 1942. Taniya had completed her training for class 3 aircraft (Twin engine light aircraft) and her record shows she had flown Oxfords and Ansons.

Taniya’s nephew Peter Chapuisat sends his best wishes to you all and apologies for not being here. He lives in Switzerland.

Taniya had been on flying duties on 7th April and stayed overnight at Hemswell.

The station commander at Hemswell wrote to Officer Commanding ATA “I have little doubt that 2nd Officer Whittall was taking an opportunity of flying on this occasion to obtain experience of four engine aircraft”.

Amongst the Air Transport Auxiliary personnel there were 166 female pilots, 20 of whom were to lose their lives, including Taniya and also Amy Johnson the famous aviatrix. It is believed Taniya was the only one to be killed in a Lancaster. She was 24 years old.

There were some 1,300 pilots in the ATA who were used to ferry aircraft from factories to combat units, thus freeing RAF pilots for combat duties.

The flight engineer on the Air Test that day was Sergeant Lancelot Regan. We welcome Lorraine and other members of Sergeant Regan’s family here today. He was 20 years old.

Also on board were six ground crew; LAC Ronald Freer (22), AC1 Harold Quinton (34), AC1 Thomas King, AC1 Alfred Spiller(19), AC1 Edward Steverton and AC2 George Killick.

It gives me great pleasure to also welcome Beverley, Harold Quinton’s eldest grand daughter, and her mother, Harold’s daughter and other members of the family. Much of today’s memorial is down to Beverley.

Harold Quinton was the oldest on board by far and was the only married man.

Harold was born on 10th May 1909 in Ramsbottom Lancashire, the 2nd son of a railway signalman. On 8th August 1931 he married Edith Speake.

Harold worked in a cotton mill as a colour mixer. This was actually a reserved occupation, as the mill was making khaki for the army, but he had a family to keep, 5 children in all by the time he was killed with another born one month later. The pay in the RAF was better than the mill. In 1944 Harold’s pay was 4s 6d per day (22.5p)

Harold worked on recovery operations with 3RC and 20RC. He also served with 142 and 166 squadron, before finally being attached to 1LFS from March 1943.

AC2 George Killick was buried in a family grave in Chatham Kent, with his mother, his father who died one week after George was killed, and his step mother.

This crash was remarkable and tragic for several reasons;

I believe this aircraft was the only one lost by 1LFS during the 10 months it operated from Hemswell. The aircraft was in the charge of the Chief Flying instructor - an experienced pilot with two tours of operational duty behind him and then to perish during what should have been a relatively safe job.

Miss Taniya Whittall I believe to be the only ATA lady pilot killed in a Lancaster.

There were 9 on board and 6 were ground crew on an air experience flight.

Later we shall be dedicating a brass plaque kindly donated by Caistor and district Lions which will be mounted at North Lodge, Very close to the site courtesy of Mr Malcolm Boddell.

I think this tragedy is very aptly summed up by the words of Mrs Harneiss, who lived in North Lodge in 1944,

“The pieces of plane etc were blown across our garden and amongst the trees. My husband, his father and brother together with several men from around collected what remains they could find, into buckets. Next evening, when everything was quiet, I walked in the woods, alone, I saw the twisted metal, torn fabric and things hung in trees. At the foot of a pine tree I picked up the fingers of a brown suede glove; the fingers were still inside. I dug a resting place for them, amongst the pine needles, and buried them. I wept for the mothers, wives and families who had lost their loved ones that lovely Easter Saturday.”

 

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