30.04.1945 No. 428 Squadron Lancaster X KB879 NA-Y Fl/Lt. William G. Campbell
Operation: Training (Cross country)
Date: 30th April 1945 (Monday)
Unit: No. 428 Squadron
Type: Lancaster X
Base: RAF Middleton St George
Location: Sandon, NE of Stafford
Pilot: Fl/Lt. William Gavin Campbell J/21450 RCAF Age 23. Killed
Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Walter Graham Ward 1567245 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Nav: Sgt. John Henry Kay R/142448 RCAF Age 26. Killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Stuart Berryman R/186388 RCAF Age 23. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. Thomas Daniel Lawley R/214612 RCAF Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. John Lester Tweedy R/286646 RCAF Age 19. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Edward James Wright R/287664 RCAF Age 16. Killed (1)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 10:59 hrs from RAF Middleton St George on a cross country training exercise.
The pilot of the second Lancaster, flying slightly above, was alarmed at the erratic behavior of KB879. His tail-gunner, Sgt. Ronald Cranston, had alerted him to this after they'd been in the air awhile. Flying at an altitude of 18,000 feet, Cranston had a relatively clear view of Campbell's aircraft, three thousand feet below. "At first it appeared to be flying with a side-slipping motion," he later told investigators. "After another 20-25 minutes I noticed the aircraft going down in a spiral dive with white vapour trails or smoke coming from the starboard engine. It appeared that nothing was done to counteract the dive. No parachutes appeared to open and no part of the aircraft seemed to fall off."
For some unknown reason, communication between the two aircraft was cut. There was now no way of knowing what was transpiring inside KB879. Had the skipper lost control? If so, why? Was there an oxygen problem? Was it a mechanical or a man-made problem? We'll never know for sure.
Eyewitnesses on the ground had somewhat different and sometimes conflicting stories. John Kent, a student at a local school, stated in a booklet subsequently published about the crash that the plane "went over the building and then very low over Grove Farm. It seemed to swing around and clipped nearby trees, crossing A51 highway, and bursting into flames as it hit the ground."
Another local resident reported that the main aircraft parts, the fuselage and wings, landed in a corner of the Burston Cottage Farm, near the highway. The tail section, which had split off, rolled across the highway and hit a farm building. Fl/Sgt. Wright was ejected during the crash and later found some distance from the aircraft. He was the first casualty to be identified. Peter Betts, a Sandon School student, watched in disbelief as "a big wheel bounced towards the Williams Farm" according to the booklet he heard a huge thud that actually rattled the school. He assumed this was when the plane crashed. Then Betts saw a massive cloud of smoke. He later recalled walking past the crash site after school Betts saw bodies being taken away while the charred remains of the aircraft were piled onto flatbed trucks.
The subsequent investigation, to which Sgt. Cranston provided his statement, and the RAF 'Report on Flying Accident' concluded that the Lancaster broke up in the air, likely as a result of the pressure and stress from the vertical dive. First, the wing tips came away, followed by parts of the fuselage and the outer port engine. What remained spiraled down, hit the ground and caught fire.
The oxygen supply cock was found to be partially closed. This may have caused some crew members to black out. An additional finding was that, as on a previous occasion, the autopilot was faulty. But this time it was a fatal flaw, causing loss of control and loss of life.
(1) Fl/Sgt. Wright had previously tried to join the navy when his father found out and prevented him. He then foiled the Canadian authorities and joined the RCAF at about 15yrs old. Over 2000 other "boys" are listed on the CWGC website - he was not alone!
In 1946, a letter from Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) arrived at the Wright residence. The CWGC was preparing an inscription for a stone tablet to be placed on Teddy Wright's grave. The reply from Wright's mother, Alfreda, surprised commission officials. Wright had been only 16 when he died. On his original attestation papers, Wright had given his date of birth as Nov. 7, 1925. But his mother provided the commission with his actual date of birth. As stated on his birth certificate, he was born in Montreal on Nov. 7, 1928.
(TOO YOUNG TO FLY, OLD ENOUGH TO DIE by Floyd Williston Winnipeg Free Press - Sunday, May 1, 2005).
It seems Flt Sgt Ward was acting as the Flight Engineer to gain flying time.
Above and below - funerals for the RCAF airman lost. Fl/Sgt. Walter Ward was buried in his home town.
Fl/Lt. William Gavin Campbell. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec A Grave 707. Son of John M Campbell and Katherine E Campbell of Manitoba, Canada.
Fl/Sgt Walter Graham Ward. Selkirk Cemetery (Shawfield) Selkirk. Sec H Grave 2009. Next of kin details not available - are you able to assist?
Sgt John Henry Kay. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec A Grave 932. Son of Frank and Elizabeth Kay of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Fl/Sgt. Stuart Berryman. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec A Grave 842. Son of Edward HJ Berryman and Kathleen Berryman of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
W/O. Thomas Daniel Lawley. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec A Grave 1093E. Son of Daniel J Lawley and Maguerite Lawley of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Fl/Sgt. John Lester Tweedy. Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec A Grave 752. Son of Nelson and Margaret Plewes Tweedy of Fabyan, Alberta, Canada.
Fl/Sgt Edward James Wright Chester Cemetery (Blacon) Sec A Grave 1023. Son of James and Alfreda May Wright of Brighton, Sussex, England.
Researched by Emma Scott for Aircrew Remembered. For all the relatives / friends of the crew. With thanks to the following: Veteran Affairs Website Canada for photo's of the crew, other sources as quoted below. Thanks to John Jones for the additional information regarding the crash.
Left: A memorial to the crew on the outskirts of Sandon Village - situated on the A51 to Stone The stone was erected on August 28th, 1999 by the Royal British Legion.