18.04.1945 No. 12 OTU Wellington X LP286 Fl/Sgt. William J. Hillier
Date: 18th April 1945 (Wednesday)
Unit: No. 12 OTU (Operational Training Unit)
Type: Wellington X
Code: Not known
Base: RAF Chipping Warden
Location: Between Chipping Warden and Edgcote
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. William John Hiller 1338017 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Nav: Sgt. Hamilton Mairs 1352703 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Arthur Gordon Grant 1803754 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. James Brian Egan 2220647 RAFVR Age 20. killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Patrick McGowan 1901671 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Sgt. Philip Vincent Birch RAFVR Age 19. Survived (1)
The researcher of this page, Mr. Nigel Harris, would be very interested in hearing from relatives of the pilot Fl/Sgt. Hillier as well as others who are related to crew members.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On a cross country navigation training exercise taking off from RAF Chipping Warden at 12:28 hrs. After suffering starboard engine problems the pilot returned to base. The pilot failed to land on the first attempt and went around.
At 14.03 hrs the aircraft clipped trees coming down south east of the airfield and caught fire. The only survivor being the rear gunner.
Mr. Nigel Harris continues:
I have always been aware that my mother had without fail placed three crosses at the Bishopsteignton village war memorial each remembrance day. (shown left
) To my shame I had never asked who they were in remembrance of. I knew of uncles who served during WW2 but all survived. It was not until the celebrations marking the sixtieth anniversary of WW 2 ending that I asked:
Arthur Steel - Normandy, the days after D-Day, killed during an act of bravery, Royal Engineers.
Vivian Perkin - HMS Heckla Cape Agulas, killed when the ship struck a mine.
Brian Egan - RAF plane crash during training.
Having served in the RAF I was particularly interested in finding out more about Brian. I started surfing the internet all the obvious sites and could not find any Brian Egan on the commonwealth war graves web site for 1945, RAF I finally noticed a site, “Solihull air casualties”. I knew Brian was from that area so I looked closer. The site mentioned Wellington bomber LP286 and the crew, one of the names was one James Brian Egan killed 1945. Re-checking the war graves site confirmed the crew and date. The site also gave the names of the parents; this confirmed I had the right person. James used his second name Brian. I later spoke with Moira, she did not know her brother was called James he was always known as Brian. Moira did not know of any specific details about her brother’s death, other than he was a wireless operator and was killed during a training sortie. She has the box containing Brian’s personal effects that was given to her father by the RAF Adjutant from 12 OTU.
Crew photos (courtesy Nigel Harris)
I found further hits on the internet in particular was Aviation Research (`see link below), I contacted the web master, Mr. Garth Barnard. Garth was familiar with the crash of LP286 and had researched it. I was sent a map of the crash site and a copy of the crash report. It consisted of one leaf printed on both sides. On one side were tick boxes and on the other was a short narrative. Garth also said he knew of an eye witness to the crash, a man named Philip Lucas.
In 1945 Philip was a 10 year old school boy at Chipping Warden village school. About 14.00 hrs 18 April 1945 Philip was in the school playground, when he heard and saw LP286 flying a course around the church, clearly having problems by the sound of the starboard engine and its low altitude. The aircraft went out of view, and then Philip heard the impact. An hour later Philip walked within 30m of the wreckage on his way home. The image has stayed with him all his life.
The Met Office sent me a weather report of 18th April 1945: The weather was good for flying, light surface wind from the NE of 2 + mph reported at 14:00hrs. increasing to 8 mph by 15:00 hrs. The plane attempted to land on runway 19 and so took a slight tailwind.
On the sixty third anniversary of the crash a bespoke copper etching was presented to Chipping Warden Parish Hall depicting a Wellington and the details of the accident. A short act of remembrance was observed at the crash site culminating in one minute of silence commencing at 14.03, the exact time of the crash 63 years ago. Additionally in attendance were: Mr Allen the land owner, Philip Lucas, the press, and Sgt Egan’s niece, great niece, my mother and her sisters Ruth and Sylvia, the first visit for my mother being the morning of the funeral 1945. Bill Holmes DFC President of the Banbury RAF Association organised the parading of the RAF and RBL standards.
After consulting a genealogist the Birch family were traced back to Northampton. An article in the local paper prompted an old friend of the Birch family to contact me and thus the sister of Sgt Birch. Sheila said the burns to the hands of her brother, hindered his passion for playing the piano. I feel certain there is a story of untold bravery on the part of Sgt Philip Birch in his endeavour to save his fellow aircrew from the inferno.
Memorial to the crew (courtesy Philip Lucas via Nigel Harris)
The official report blamed the accident as pilot error (most reports did, unable to spend too much time on investigations):
Aircraft crashed and burnt out, after taking overshoot procedure after starboard engine failure. Pilot stalled the aircraft when at low speed and endeavouring to clear this.
Aircraft out of control.
Pilot stalled aircraft after taking overshoot procedure. Did not raise flaps and could have done when at 500ft. Engine had not completely failed then. Pilot reported engine trouble. Only survivor reports complete failure of starboard. Pilot mishandled flaps.
(1) Although he suffered burns to his hands, Sgt. Philip Birch survived. From Norwich, Norfolk England - he later IN 1969 emigrated with is wife Elizabeth to Australia. They are understood to have had 3 children. Sadly Philip passed away in 2002.
Fl/Sgt. William John Hiller. St. Helens Cemetery. Sec. 58. Grave 72. Son of William Charles and Mary Hillier (née Crowley), husband of Hilda Mary Hillier (née Pennington), of St. Helens, Merseyside, England. They were married shortly before the the end of 1944. Hilda later remarried Arthur Moore and had a son, Christopher Moore. It is thought that Hilda died in 1972.
Sgt. Hamilton Mairs. Livingstone Churchyard (Ext). Row E. Grave 354. Son of James and Elizabeth Mairs, of Livingston Station, West Lothian, Scotland.
Sgt. Arthur Gordon Grant. Tottenham Cemetery. Risley Sec. Grave 2000. Son of George Philip and Dolly Grant, of Tottenham, London, England.
Sgt. James Brian Egan. Olton Franciscan Cemetery. Sec. J. Grave 9. Son of Joseph and Winifred Clara Egan, of Olton, Birmingham, England, brother to Joan and Moira.
Sgt. Patrick McGowan. Banbury Cemetery. Grave 11656. Son of Terence and Catherine McGowan, of Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim, Irish Republic.
Researched by Nigel Harris, with assistance from Garth Barnard, Phlip Lucas, Murray Peden. Further details our thanks to the sources shown below. Photo of Sgt. Grants grave courtesy Julia/Keld at find-a-grave.