A huge crowd gathered at Tangmere Airfield on Friday to remember seven men who tragically lost their lives in 1943 when their Halifax bomber crashed into a hangar.
A special event was held to unveil a memorial which was erected at the site of the crash, thanks to the hard work of Aly Etherington, a great niece of one of the crew.
The afternoon was attended by many special guests including the mayor of Chichester, chairman of West Sussex County Council, chairman of Chichester District Council and the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper.
Speaking to the Chichester Post, Mrs Pyper said:
“I think today was hugely appropriate and very fitting for these seven brave, young airmen who gave their lives for our country.
“What a turnout. The weather is awful but the people of Tangmere and Chichester turned out in force.
“It was absolutely right and proper that we should honour their names and I think we did it in style for them. It was a very special occasion and very moving.”
On November 19, 1943, the plane was returning from a raid over Germany and the crew attempted to make an emergency landing at RAF Tangmere but crashed into the last remaining hangar. All seven crew members were killed.
Mrs Etherington has been working hard for over two years to get permission for the memorial at the site and had organised a flypast with a Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which was unfortunately cancelled on the day due to the bad weather.
Chichester Mayor Richard Plowman has described the unveiling of a memorial in Tangmere as extremely important.
Attending the event on Friday, Cllr Plowman told the Chichester Post:
“Today is very important because it’s a memorial to the Halifax bomber that came down at Tangmere in November 1943 and when you read the story it’s absolutely fascinating.
“The sacrifice they made is very important. It’s important with everything that’s been going on with D-Day and it’s also important to remember the Royal Air Force.
“The reason I am here is because Chichester was actually right at the centre of everything that was going on.
“There has always been a very strong link and it’s really great to be here and take some time to think about and remember these people.”
Andy Andrews, now 95, from Kent, flew in a Halifax during the war. He said he was touched when he heard the story due to his own experiences.
He told the Chichester Post:
“We were flying the Halifax Mk III in 1944-45 and we were looking to finish our tour off at the end of the war but unfortunately we were on a mine trip over Denmark and tagged by a night fighter that was firing cannon fire which killed our pilot and the navigator.
“The plane was on fire and three of the crew got out before it exploded but I was still in there with two dead crew members and the bomb aimer. We were blown out the plane and I was unconscious.
“I came round, three quarters of the way down, and pulled the rip cord.”
Andy was taken to hospital and then Germany where he was interrogated and then eventually taken to a prisoner of war camp for the rest of the war.
The 10 Squadron crew were on board a Halifax Mk II aircraft HX181 (ZA-K) flying out of RAF Melbourne in Yorkshire.
The crew had only flown back from a raid in Mannheim 15 hours before but grabbing their parachutes they scrambled through the small hatch into the vast aircraft.
During the raid on the chemical factory, HX181 sustained considerable damage but managed to limp back across the Channel to try to land safely.
At first, the crew attempted to land at Ford Airfield. However, contemporary reports say a crashed Flying Fortress was blocking the runway, so they flew on to RAF Tangmere but crashed into a hangar there.
On board was the captain, Flight Sergeant Ben Holdsworth, a 23-year-old from Leeds, and 20-year-old Flight Sergeant Clive Telfer, the navigator. The air bomber was 31-year-old Sergeant Jim Oudinot. Sergeant Bob Downs 22, was the wireless operator. Nineteen-year-old Sergeant Jim Steel was on his first flight, 21-year-old Sergeant Charlie Smith, who was known as ‘Little Charlie’, was the tail gunner and Australian Flight Sergeant John Harper, at 28, was the only member of the crew to have become a father (Jim Oudinot’s daughter was born five months after his death).
Organiser Aly Etherington said she started researching the crash around two and half years ago:
“When I first heard about it, I came to Tangmere to find out more and nobody knew anything about it.
“We have three eyewitness accounts and all independently stated they didn’t believe it was the pilot who was flying.”
John Dowsett’s uncle was a pilot who was onboard the Halifax when it crashed.
“There are a lot more questions than answers with the crash.
“We don’t know whether my uncle was flying it. It was a damaged aircraft so it would have been difficult to land or it could be that he had been killed and someone else had been trying to land the aircraft. He was a very experienced pilot though. This event is fabulous. If it wasn’t for Aly, this would have never occurred. Her tenacity and dedication to this is praise worthy.”
Joyce Warren, secretary at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, heard the explosion when she was nine at the time. She said:
“I lived in the village. In those days you weren’t told anything.
We heard these terrific explosions and were ordered to get into our shelter and laid there listening to it more or less all night.”
Despite the flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being cancelled, Goodwood Flying School flew one of their Harvard planes over the site during the service.