Wollaston victims of Second World War 'friendly fire' bomber crash memorial honour

One man's passion for airplanes has led to the memorial to seven Second World War airmen

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 5:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 10:32 am

At 1.55am on June 22, 1941, an Avro Manchester twin-engine heavy bomber was flying over the fields of Northamptonshire heading to the docks of Boulogne in enemy-held France

But, tragically for the crew, they never made their rendez-vous at the channel port - in the darkness they were mistaken for a Luftwaffe plane and sprayed with 'friendly fire' .

A Bristol Beaufighter based at RAF Wittering had shot down one of their own, and the seven-strong team on board lost their lives after their bomb load exploded after a crash landing.

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Lindsay Alvis

Now, eight decades on, the families of the young men tragically killed on active service will be present at the unveiling of a memorial to them organised by village resident Lindsay Alvis.

Mr Alvis said: "I was upset that there was no memorial to these brave men, and I wanted to recognise the loss of seven airmen close to our community which had been lost in the mist of time.

"With the enthusiastic support of a great group of people and the outstanding generosity of the people and businesses of Wollaston, we can now recognise and establish a permanent memorial to these airmen."

It was when Mr Alvis, 66, had been walking his dog in the fields near Wollaston that he wondered if any aircraft had been lost in the area, and during lockdown used the time to research.

The plaque

He said: "I have lived in the area for over 35 years and in Wollaston for over 27 years. During lockdown in 2020, I worked from home and during the marvellous weather in May, I enjoyed walking my dog in the beautiful countryside surrounding Wollaston.

"I have always had an interest in military aircraft archaeology and wondered whether there were any incidents of air crashes in the area. So I investigated the internet and came up with the tragic story of Avro Manchester L7314."

The accident investigation card from the time had noted that the pilot, who made the mistake, had been convinced the aircraft intercepted was hostile, and that this had resulted in his failure to correctly identify it.

He had been influenced by the sector controller who had informed him that a 'bandit' enemy aircraft was in vicinity, and as a result a portion of the blame went to ground control for the part they played in the identification process.

That same night another Beaufighter from 25 Squadron had intercepted and successfully shot down an enemy aircraft near Market Deeping - it was L7314’s misfortune to have been passing during the alert.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the event Wollaston Parish Council will be dedicating a memorial to the seven members of the crew on June 22.

The memorial is being erected on a farm lane near Poplars Farm, Wollaston where the plane came down. It consists of a 1 ½ ton block of Derbyshire Gritstone that was once used as a ballast on a hoist during construction work on Peterborough Cathedral.

The squadron to which the bomber belonged (207) still exists and is based at RAF Marham. Their commanding officer will unveil the memorial, with the squadron padre is taking the service. As well as the Last Post and Reveille, the Rushden branch of the RAFA with their Standard will also be represented and there will be a small detachment of air cadets of Wellingborough School army cadets. It is hoped there may be a flypast.

Mr Alvis said: "Thanks to a whizz with ancestry websites and using RAF records it has been possible to find relatives of five members of the crew, four of whom are attending the ceremony. The fifth crew member was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. His family are living near Montreal where his sister is going to be 101 this month and she will be represented by the Canadian Air Advisor from the Canadian High Commission in London."

"I have been a parish councillor for over 14 years, and every year the village pays respect to the community's sacrifice in two world wars and yet here on our doorstep, seven young men lost their lives without any recognition, other than a gravestone in a cemetery. I decided that we, as a community, needed to recognise the sacrifice of these brave men and as they lost their lives on June 22 1941, dedicating a memorial to their sacrifice 80 years on seemed an appropriate response.

"I have always had a great deal of respect for the airmen who fought and gave their lives for this country during two world wars."

The tragic crash took the lives of Flying Officer J D G Withers, Sergeant A M James, Sergeant W Brown DFM, Sergeant A Malone, Sergeant S Veitch, Sergeant M V Browne and Sergeant J A Maville RCAF. Most of the men are buried in Lincolnshire close to their base.