Friday, 17 November 2017

We Conquer the Heights - Remembrance 2017

Sunday 12 November 2017, Remembrance Sunday, was a sunny but cold day with a strong biting north-westerly wind. 

On this day we remembered the crew members that lost their lives when Halifax MZ920 (WL-C) of No 434 Squadron RCAF crashed outside the village of Dunchurch on the night of 14 October 1944 before it could reach the runway of the airfield at Church Lawford, to the west of Rugby in Warwickshire. The aircraft had suffered an engine problem that culminated in a major fire that ultimately caused the crash.

The crew are listed below and those names that are shown in black bailed out of the aircraft prior to it crashing and survived. Their squadron motto was "In Excelcis Vincimus" which translates to "We Conquer the Heights" and they had already completed a mission earlier in the day and on this, their second mission, they never crossed the North Sea as the engine problem on take-off before they could form up with other aircraft to jointly deliver their "message" to the enemy.

This year's Remembrance Service at St. Peter's, Dunchurch Parish Church was special for two reasons, the first of which being the first reading out of the names of MZ920's crew that perished after the names of the local soldiers, sailors and airmen that gave their lives for our freedom had been read out.

The second reason was that a new memorial plague has been hung within the walls of St. Peter's. 

Currently the plaque resides in the church on an unofficial basis due to Church Planning Rules that require the diocese to approve anything that is displayed on a permanent basis. The approval process has started and is supported by the Vicar, the Church Warden and the Arch Deacon so will come through in due course. Once permission has been granted the plaque will be dedicated and blessed during a special service.

The story behind the plaque started a few weeks ago when Roger Higgerson called me to discuss this idea of having a plaque made up to complement the memorial stone that stands on the Heath along Rugby Road in Dunchurch. Roger had already been in touch with the Church Warden of St. Peter's and had got the green light so now he wanted to know what to write on the plaque. The resulting text can be seen in the picture below and the people at Timpson's, the company that produced the plaque,  sourced the Halifax image that has been delicately engraved on the brass plate.
The plague is shown below.
The brass plaque is so shiny it can only be photographed at an angle.

Roger Higgerson (left) and David George (right) hold up the new memorial plaque. Spot the black cat.
The story of the memorial stone, of which this is a much abridged version, started with the research into the crash of Halifax MZ920 by David George. When the story unfolded and the facts became known David, who at the time was a member of the Rugby Aviation Group, found a joint "conspirator" in Roger Higgerson when it came to the idea of erecting memorial stone. Despite some hurdles with siting a memorial everything eventually was agreed with local authorities and all pieces fell into place. They were ably assisted in their endeavour by Bob Munroe and Andrew Gardner. Roger found a suitable stone that was about to be thrown into a skip and together with David he created what is the memorial stone on the Heath in Dunchurch.

In the picture below, which was taken inside St.Peter's Church, and it shows the position of the plaque on the left hand wall of the church. Once it permanent position has been granted we will return to record it.

Following the Remembrance service at St.Peter's church we gathered on the Heath to honour and remember the crew of what we term "our Halifax". 
The picture that follow give an impression on the event and were taken by RAG member Paul Waller.

Rugby Aviation Group Chairmen past and present, David George, Barry Jones and me

David George and Roger Higgerson 

David George proudly lays the wreath for the first time in years

Good to see David George attending the Remembrance ceremony

David George brought five crosses each with the name of a crew member

My privilege to place the crosses around the wreath. 

Watched by all, the crosses are firmly pressed into the ground

The wreath laid and the crosses planted and with this the MZ920 crew honoured

Close-up of the wreath and crosses, some of the latter showing the names

The memorial stone is and will always be a tribute to those five brave men that gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. 

We will remember them.

16 November 2017
Theo Claassen

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Visit to Gnat Display Team

When our fellow RAG member Ray Ball needed some detail pictures and measurements of the Gnat in order to build an accurate model of Gnat XR992 Oliver Wheeldon, the Gnat Display Team's chief pilot, invited Ray down to North Weald. Yours truly tagged along to take some pictures too.

As reported in the aviation press a little while ago,  the GDT are restoring an ex- Indian Air Force Gnat F1 to flying condition, which is not without its challenges, especially because it is very different from the Gnat T1 in several aspects, not least the engine, which is a much more powerful version of the Rolls Royce Orpheus turbojet.

The pictures below show some of the aircraft found in the GDT hangar.

Gnat F1 is undergoing a return to flight restoration

F1 with long range tanks.

Gnat F1 tail cone
XR992 having some issue sorted

N513X was used in the film " Hot Shots - Part Deux" and will eventually be restored to flying condition.

XR538 in good condition with slipper tanks.
XR538 front cockpit right side

XR538 rear cockpit right side  
XR538 front cockpit left side wall 

XR538 front cockpit right side wall

One of two UH-1 Hueys flying in the UK
Our thanks to Oliver Wheeldon whose endless patience allowed us to take our pictures.
The Group will meet Oliver next year when he will be coming to give us a talk.

Burbage, 15 October 2017

Halifax MZ920 Memorial

David George writes:

"73 years ago today, on the 14th October 1944, five crew members of Handley Page Halifax MZ920, WL C, died when their aircraft crashed in the parish of Dunchurch. They were on their second mission of the day when a serious fire broke out in the outer starboard engine. Two of the crew managed to escape by parachute but unfortunately the others were unable to leave the aircraft as the escape hatch had jammed.
I have enclosed photos of four that died that night. They

  • F/L Donald Zachary Taylor Wood, RCAF - Pilot
  • F/O Bill Ewing, RCAF - Navigator

  • Sgt Geoffrey Grant. RAFVR - Flight Engineer

  • Sgt Donald Ward, RCAF - Rear Gunner
I haven't been able to locate photos of Sgt Parsons who also died in the crash nor the latter two below, who survived the crash.
  • Sgt Owen Parsons RCAF - Mid Upper Gunner 
  • F/O W Stirling, RCAF, Bomb Aimer
  • F/S O Stamatis, RCAF, Wireless Operator. 

A Memorial Stone can be found on The Heath in Dunchurch which was dedicated in June 2004".

Following the Remembrance Day Service at the Dunchurch Parish Church on Sunday 12 November 2017 there will be a wreath laying at the Memorial to honour the crew that perished that night.

Rugby, 14 October 2017

Lutterworth Museum Trip to Coningsby & East Kirkby

The Lutterworth & District Museum, who are the custodians of some valuable and rare memorabilia and artifacts relating to Sir Frank Whittle, invited our Group to participate in a visit to Bomber County and specifically the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby and the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. The visit took place on Thursday 5th of October 2017 and eight of us joined the ranks of the museum folks.

The following are some pictures of the BBMF visitor centre and hangar where we found all aircraft but one Spitfire that was at Biggin Hill for an overhaul. The Avro Lancaster had returned from the Netherlands the previous day where is had overflown the site where a Lancaster is being recovered.

The Dakota has not flow for two years now due to engine issues


Our Guide Tony in full swing

Returned from the Netherlands in time for our visit

Quad guns in this Lancaster
500lb bomb


Grand Slam
We arrived at LAHC around one o'clock to witness Lancaster NX611 "Just Jane" perform a taxi run, so from one Lancaster to another.

Note the missing aileron

Twin guns in this Lancaster

Mosquito Might Fighter being returned to taxi condition

Once the taxi run was done, it was queueing in the NAAFI for some delicious and value for money lunch. A great place to visit with its nostalgic atmosphere.

Burbage, 7 October 2017