Operation: Air Test
Date: 06th September 1941 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 10 Squadron. 4 Group (motto: Rem acu tangere - 'To hit the mark')
Type: Whitley V
Base: RAF Leeming, Yorkshire
Location: RAF Brunton, Northumberland
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. William Stuart R/60298 RCAF Age 21. Killed
Pilot: P/O. Richard Scott Austin NZ/403785 RNZAF Age 21. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Peter Williams Bryant 976876 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O. Robert Whitlock 163028 RAFVR Age 29. Injured
REASON FOR LOSS:
During an air test the crew lost bearings due to poor visibility and apparently navigation instrument failure.
They made a forced landing at RAF Brunton for a check of their position. The ai field was still under construction at this time but the crew decided that they could then take off again in the afternoon to return to their base.
During take off they struck barrels on the runway and then swung and hit a steam roller. However although they became airborne, in the process trying to avoid high tension cables the aircraft stalled and crashed with the whitley bursting into flames. The only survivor was the rear gunner who was rescued from the aircraft.
Mr. George Dickinson 2851078 an eye witness at the time, describes the incident (courtesy BBC Peoples War):
"On the 6th September 1941 I was serving with 410 Battery, 53rd Searchlight Regiment, R.A. (originally 5th Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers T.A.) on a site near Brunton, Christen Bank, Northumberland, when in the early evening an RAF Whitley plane number Z6932 circled the area. It came over so low that the crew could be seen. We tried to indicate that they should fly South to locate, RAF Acklington Airfield, but they eventually landed on the partially built Brunton Airfield some ½ mile away.
(Note: The webmaster also served with the Northumberland Fusiliers - which then became the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment Fusiliers)
Three of my colleagues led by Lance Bombardier Bob Furness, from Gosforth ran up to meet the crew and they explained that they only had to follow the railway line Southwards to land at Acklington. The pilot stated that they had been out over the North Sea for testing and training but their navigational instruments had failed and they were lost.
They decided to take off again to locate Acklington. After taxiing to the end of the runway they took off North - South and as the plane became airborne the pilot was so low that he struck a steamroller causing the nose to come up sharply and come into contact with some live high tension wires which were still in place. The plane burst into flames and crashed.
Furness and his colleagues who were still nearby saw that the rear gunner was struggling to get out of the rear turret, which at that time was not in flames. They somehow managed to get him out, but were unable to do anything for the rest of the crew.
Another colleague and I, having seen the crash, jumped into our site van and rushed to the airfield in time to see the rescuers dragging the injured rear gunner away from the flames as the fuel tanks blew up and ammunition was popping all over the place. He managed to explain that there were no bombs on board and with great difficulty we managed to lift him to the floor of the van then we drove very slowly to a nearby farmhouse where he was given help before he was taken by ambulance to Newcastle General Hospital.
The 3 other members of the crew, Pilot Officer R S Austin, RNZAF aged 21, Flight Sergeant W Stuart , Pilot RCAF and Sergeant P W Bryant, Observer RAFVR perished in the flames. Austin and Stuart are buried in Chevington Churchyard, (Northumberland).
The survivor was Sergeant Whitlock, Wireless Operator/Rear Gunner, RAFVR and after recovering from his injuries he returned to active service.
Later in the war he undertook further training, became a pilot, was commissioned and posted to the Middle East. Sadly on the 16th June 1944, while flying in a Wellington X HE766 of 76 Operational Training Unit he was involved in an air crash. Tragically he was the only member of the crew of 6 who lost his life. The other crew members survived with only minor injuries. The crew abandoned near Breha in Palestine during a night navigation exercise following an engine failure.
From reports received from the injured rear gunner and witnesses, it appeared that the captain landed at Brunton (an aerodrome under construction) because he had lost himself in bad visibility. On taking off the aircraft hit obstructions in the form of barrels along the runway, swung to the left, hit a steamroller with starboard wing, attempted to avoid H.T. cables after becoming airborne in a damaged condition, stalled and crashed".
Fl/Sgt. William Stuart. Chevington Cemetery. Section H. Grave 289. Son of Duncan and Christine J. Stuart, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Grave inscription: "In Loving Memory Of William Our Beloved Son. Fond Love Will Ever Linger Where He Is Laid".
P/O. Richard Scott Austin. Chevington Cemetery. Section H. Grave 284. Born on the 29th September 1919 at Pahialua, the son of Robert Cox Austin and Amy Charity Baring Austin (née Gould), of Feilding, Wellington, New Zealand. A total of 235 flying hours logged and understood to be flying as second pilot on his first operation.
Sgt. Peter Williams Bryant. Reading Crematorium. Panel 1. Son of Percy G. Bryant and Dorothy Bryant, of Tilehurst, Berkshire, England.
P/O. Robert Whitlock. Sidon War Cemetery. Grave 3.G.13. Son of Arthur and Amy Whitlock, of Knightsbridge, London, England.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Jenifer Lemaire and to the research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Weekly News of New Zealand, George Dickinson and his article of the event on BBC Peoples War, Operation Picture Me, other sources as quoted below:
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember
them. - Laurence
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