Remembering airmen who perished on Cheshire soil
AT 9.13am on Saturday, October 28, 1944, Wellington bomber XHF465 took off from RAF Chipping Warden in Oxfordshire. A crew of seven were preparing for raids over Germany and were in advanced stages of training. But horrendous weather brought the aircraft down in Bridgemere, Cheshire, just over three hours into the flight. The main part of the fuselage fell at Prince Hill near the A51, half-a-mile clear of what is now Bridgemere Garden World.
Those killed were Flight Sergeant Leonard Joseph Timperley, Pilot Officer Cecil Frank Holmes, Sgt Laurence Edwin Harrison, Sgt James David Milne, Sgt Arthur Fred Baker and Sgt Ronald Whiteley.
Sgt Douglas Stuart Hollis Wilson, the only survivor, sustained spinal injuries after baling out by parachute.
To this day little else would be known of those young heroes if it were not for the meticulous research of Nantwich historian and author Derek J Inskeep. The author of new book Wings of White Linen was so moved by the tragedy of the deaths of these airmen that he was compelled to tell their story.
The coffins of the dead airmen were transported by rail to their home towns with the exception of Canadian pilot Flight Sgt Timperley, whose body was transported to RAF Regional Cemetery in Blacon, where he was buried with full military honours.
His grave stands among fellow airmen - 192 Royal Canadian Air Force, 93 Royal Air Force, 90 Royal Australian Air Force, 18 Royal New Zealand Air Force and 3 South African Air Force graves.
An Air Investigation Board report into the crash states "pilot may have been descending due to engine trouble. Aircraft flying in cumulonimbus clouds when loss of control occurred".
Mr Inskeep has gone into painstaking detail into the background of the RAF airmen who died on XHF465.
His book also details how Cheshire aircraft factories Boughton and Byley which produced Wellington Bombers played a vital role in winning the Second World War.
The book recalls how in 1944, a "group of 50-60 assembly workers at the Vickers Armstrongs Ltd, Broughton Factory working overa weekend in their own time, carried out a timed exercise assembling a Wellington airframe from start on the factory floor to its test flight, achieving this in a record 24 hours and 48 minutes of non-stop work".
This almost halved the world record held by an American aircraft factory which assembled a Douglas Boston twin engined bomber in 48 hours. By the end of production, the Blackpool and Broughton/Byley factories had produced 8,946 Wellington airframes from a total production figure of 11,461.
The book also refers to Cheshire girls who helped to win the war by helping to build the Wellington bombers in Boughton and Byley.
Nancy Kershaw nÃÂ©e Hughes, Tarvin was born at Ashfield Street, Middlewich. Nancy worked at Byley working at the Time Rating office with Barbara Baston, Holmes Chapel and Edith Tattershall. The distance to Byley from Middlewich was two miles with workers using a local coach company, cycling or often walking.
At the end of a working day girls and women would sometimes get a lift from a low loader named Queen Mary. The working hours at Byley were 8am-6pm with one hour for lunch with occasional night shifts. Starting wage was 15 shillings with full pay at five pounds.
At difficult stages of the war, workers were allowed time off to visit Byley church. During busier times the congregation spilled into the churchyard.
In a foreword to the book, Mr Innskeep writes: "Not having myself served in the armed forces though always having a sense of gratitude for those who have and still serve their country, for this reason The Bridgemere Memorial came into being.
"Although dedicated to one aircraft crew who lost their lives nearby, the memorial is intended to remind those of my generation and subsequent ones of the debt we owe to all who fought and worked for our freedom.
"Being present at Bridgemere one day last summer when a grandmother took the time to show her grandchildren the memorial reading to them the names and ages of the aircrew ending with the epitaph They gave their tomorrows for our today. My intended reasons for its building gratified by just one visit."
Derek was instrumental in getting a memorial stone and plaque built in 2003 to commemorate the aircrew of the downed Wellington bomber. It was dedicated in October that year with family members in attendance at the service.
He was aided by Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council, Cheshire County Council Oxley's Funeral Services and The Royal Air Force Association, and Nantwich and District Branch of The Royal British Legion.
Wings of White Linen is available from the author on 01270 841912 and proceeds go to the Royal British Legion.