19/20th April 1944 1657 HCU Stirling I R9353 XT-W Fl/Sgt. Gold
Date: 19/20th April 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit. 3 Group
Type: Stirling I
Base: RAF Stradishall, Suffolk
Location: At base
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. 'Jock' John Gold NZ/421847 RNZAF Age 23. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. John Cooper 1384316 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. 'Murray' William Murray Aitken NZ/429078 RNZAF Age 21. Killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. 'Geogh' Godfrey Randal Weston NZ/426183 RNZAF Age 22. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. 'Dug' Douglas Howard de Laney NZ/422938 RNZAF Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. 'Frank' Francis Phillip Hudson NZ/426200 RNZAF Age 26. Injured *
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Hector Frew NZ/426210 RNZAF Age 24. Injured *
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off at around 01:12 on a circuit and landing exercise.
Bill Knight takes up the events with information he had gained from the two survivors in 2002:
The crew had completed twenty-two training flights at 1657CU. They had come to the end of their training and were due to be posted to No. 75 Squadron New Zealand Squadron, flying the Lancaster heavy bombers at Mepal, Cambridgeshire.
The week had many interruptions due to the flying schedule, what with the weather and aircraft unserviceable, so the station was very low on actual flying hours.
On Friday night, 20th April 1944, to get up time spent in the air, Gold’s crew, as a fully experienced crew, took off on their twenty-third and final training flight before they were due to join No.75 Squadron the following day. This was a long cross-country night flight, which would add to their flying time.
When they returned to land, two motors cut out, the port wing dropped and the plane crashed head on into the runway at 2312 hours in front of the control tower. The plane burst into flames as the tail of the plane rose into the air to be whipped backwards with the force of the impact before falling back onto it’s belly.
All of the fuselage forward of the mid-upper turret was demolished. Jock Gold, Murray Aitken, Geogh Weston, Dug De Laney and John Cooper were all killed instantly.
As the tail of the plane whipped backwards, Frank Hudson was worried he would be flipped into the fire so attempted to get out of his mid-upper turret but as the plane fell back onto it’s belly, Frank who was already partly out of his turret, was thrown, smashing the ladder from the turret to the floor of the plane. Everything was on fire but he knew where the plane’s door was and passed through the flames to the door and jumped out. He expected a six-foot drop but as the plane was on its belly the drop was only six inches so he jarred himself badly as he landed. Despite a suspected fractured forearm, broken teeth and an injured hip, he ran around the plane hoping to rescue any survivors. At the back of the plane he only found a hole where Hectors turret had been.
In the force of the impact and as the tail had flipped backwards, Hector and his turret had been thrown some distance away from the plane. Frank found Hector, still in his turret amongst flames where petrol had spilt.
He pulled Hector out of his turret and as he did so, a WAAF girl returning on her pushbike from a night out stopped to assist. Together they supported him by his shoulders and dragged him away from the plane and flames into long grass before the plane blew up, as there was 2000 gallons of high-octane petrol on board.
The WAAF girl then lay on top of Hector in the long grass to protect him from the exploding ammunition and petrol tanks. Hector had suffered a blow to his head, which had brought his scalp down over his eyes. He was bleeding profusely over his flying suit and the WAAF girl, and was drifting in and out of consciousness.
Meanwhile, Frank had run back to the front of the plane but it was a mass of roaring flames and exploding ammunition so it was impossible to approach. The fire brigade and ambulance arrived which picked up Frank but they were unaware that Hector was in the long grass until Frank told them so they had to go back to find him.
The ambulance took them to the stations sick quarters and Hector was later transferred to the RAF hospital at Ely having suffered three crushed vertebrae in his lower spine in addition to the head wound.
In the crash, Hectors natural curve in his spine had been knocked straight when the turret hit the ground. Hector was later told that a piece of armour plating that formed the gunners seat had a “dish” in it from the force of the descent.
Frank was treated for shock and after a week in the stations sick quarters, he was discharged, put on light duties and given fourteen days sick leave, However, before the fourteen days had elapsed, Frank had to fly again to make sure his nerve hadn’t gone. It had! But he slowly regained his confidence.
Meanwhile, Hector later saw the WAAF girl again and was able to thank her. She had had her uniform cleaned. Hector was hoping she might have been issued with a new one! After that meeting, she was never seen again.
Fl/Sgt. John Gold. Cambridge City Cemetery. Grave 14109. Son of Edward and Mary Gold née Caskie), of Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand and husband of Gladys Irene Gold (née Malcolmson) of Dunedin. Born on the 30th August 1920 at South Otago. Worked at his fathers bakery prior to enlisting on the 17th October 1942. A total of 222 hours logged with 15 hours solo on the Stirling.
Sgt. John Cooper. Islington Cemetery and Crematorium. Sec. L. Block 9. Grave 21452. Son of John and Catherine Louise Cooper, of Hornsey the only son with two sisters. Born on 5th July 1921 in London. On the 25th February 1944 he was posted to 1657 HCU.
Fl/Sgt. William Murray Aitken. Cambridge City Cemetery. Grave 13909. Son of William James Murray Aitken and Sadie May Aitken (née Snodgrass), of Wades town, Wellington, New Zealand. Born on the 30 January 1923 at Nelson. Worked as a journalist prior to enlisting in 1942. A total of 270 hours logged
Fl/Sgt. Godfrey Randal Weston. Hemblington Churchyard (All. Saints). Son of George and Frances Lesley Weston (née Cureton), of Nelson City, New Zealand. Born on the 05th October 1921. Worked was a bookkeeper / shop assistant for his father. A total of 264 hours logged. His brother 23 year old, Sq/Ldr. George Ernest Weston DFC NZ/41885 (A total of 1230 flying hours logged and having completed 44 operations) lost his life on the 01st October 1942. Whilst with 61 Squadron flying Lancaster I R5703 during take off the dingy inflated, released itself jamming the controls. All 7 crew were killed when the aircraft hit the ground and exploded.
Fl/Sgt. Douglas Howard de Laney. Cambridge City Cemetery. Grave 13709. Son of William Charles and Selena De Laney (née Taylor), of Hikurangi, Auckland, New Zealand. Born on the 23rd October 1923 in Auckland. Railway guard on the New Zealand railways. Enlisted on the 7th May 1942. A total of 265 hours logged
* Hector Frew. Born in Scotland on 30th May 1920. Hectors parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand and bought a farm. Passed away peacefully on Sunday, 29th March 2015 age 94.
Francis Phillip Hudson. Born on 4th February 1918. Farmer in New Zealand before the war, no further information.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Bill Knight (relative of Sgt. John Cooper) and the BBC WW2 People at War. Jenifer Lemaire and to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, AWMM, Weekly News of New Zealand, other sources as quoted below: