Whitemoor remembers air crash victims at ‘poignant’ memorial service

The memorial service at HMP Whitemoor remembered those who lost their lives during a RAF training flight 80 years ago.

The memorial service at HMP Whitemoor remembered those who lost their lives during a RAF training flight nearly 80 years ago. - Credit: Credit: Royal Air Force/ ARCHANT

A service was held at HMP Whitemoor yesterday (Wednesday August 18) to remember those who lost their lives during a RAF training flight nearly 80 years ago. 

Six crew members and three additional staff from the 115 squadron at RAF Marham died on November 24, 1941 when their Wellington bomber crashed into a marshalling yard at the March prison. 

A memorial was installed by Gov Facility Services Ltd (GFSL) last November, to remember those who lost their lives. 

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, a small service was held where a poppy wreath from HMP Whitemoor and an RAF roundel from the GFSL team were laid. 

Now restrictions have been relaxed, governors Martin Butler and Ruth Stephens invited those to the prison who were unable to attend the first service to pay their respects.

Guests included families of those who tragically died, alongside current members of the Sqn and their Padre.

The Memorial Day started at 10am in the officers mess where those invited gathered to enjoy a catch-up, tea, coffee and biscuits. 


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Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. 

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event.

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Guests gathered to enjoy a catch up and tea and coffee whilst reading information about the tragic event.

Guests gathered to enjoy a catch up and tea and coffee whilst reading information about the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Shortly after, the service moved into the town’s nature reserve at the memorial site. 

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The prison had hired an old French War vehicle that some members chose to ride in. 

Guests walked from the prison, through the town's nature reserve and down to the memorial site. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Guests walked from the prison, through the town's nature reserve and down to the memorial site. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

A number of guests travelled to the memorial site in an old French War vehicle that the prison had hired for the day.

A number of guests travelled to the memorial site in an old French War vehicle that the prison had hired for the day. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The memorial service given by the Padre started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. 

At 11:30am (the time that the aircraft was reported to have crashed), the last post was heard and was followed with the laying of wreaths. 

Martyn Phillips, who told his story about his Uncle, wanted to thank everyone involved in the erection of the ‘splendid’ memorial that honours the nine men. 

“This event has been wonderful, absolutely superb,” said Martyn. 

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The family of March Railwayman Albert Harwin who, without regard for his own safety, went to aid the crew of Z8863.

The family of March Railwayman Albert Harwin who, without regard for his own safety, went to aid the crew of Z8863. - Credit: Royal Air Force

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Jacob Cheriyan, Reverend Andrew Smith and Reverend Squadron Leader Andrew Tucker attended

From left to right: Father Jacob Cheriyan (Prison Chaplain), Reverend Andrew Smith (St. Peter’s Church, March), Reverend Squadron Leader Andrew Tucker (RAF Wittering Chaplain) - Credit: Royal Air Force

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. 

From left to right: Squadron Leader Rich Kellett and Flight Lieutenant Ed Berwick of No 115 Squadron, RAF Wittering. - Credit: Royal Air Force

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.

The memorial service started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Martyn knew that his uncle had been killed in a plane crash in March, his log book gave that information, but he never knew exactly where. 

“My Uncle signed up, volunteered, much against my grandparents wishes, joined the RAF and became a navigator,” said Martyn. 

“I wondered whether there would be any memorial to those killed in the event and it was always my intention to visit the site, but I never knew where it was.” 

“I’d been searching online for ages to find some information, but found nothing. 

“I searched the aircraft number and ‘aircraft crash March Cambridgeshire’ but still had no luck. 

Martyn Phillips, told his story about his Uncle Norman, one of the men who tragically lost his life on board the aircraft.

Martyn Phillips, told his story about his Uncle, one of the men who tragically lost his life on board the aircraft. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

“A letter I received from Mark Twiddy answered those very questions and it gave me great comfort knowing the crew had not been forgotten.” 

Once the service came to a close, guests stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, and read the messages on the wreaths. 

They then made their way back to the officers mess and enjoyed a buffet at 12:00pm. 

After the service, guests stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, and read the messages on the wreaths.

After the service, guests stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, and read the messages on the wreaths. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

A number of wreaths were placed at the memorial during the memorials service.

A number of wreaths were placed at the memorial during the memorials service. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

A number of wreaths were placed at the memorial during the memorials service. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock

Squadron Leader Kellett lays a wreath on behalf of the RAF. - Credit: Royal Air Force

Once the service came to a close, guests stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, and read the messages on the wreaths.

Once the service came to a close, guests stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, and read the messages on the wreaths. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

Martin Butler, a governor at HMP Whitemoor, was really pleased with the service. 

“It was really nice to see so many people come out to pay their respects to those that tragically died,” said Martin. 

“I liked that the younger generation of the air cadets were represented. 

“I think it’s really important that the memory of sacrifice and the reasons why people sacrifice their lives goes on. 

The air cadets who attended the service were awarded a badge by Governor, Ruth Stephens.

The air cadets who attended the service were awarded a badge by Governor, Ruth Stephens. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The air cadets who attended the service were awarded a badge by Governor, Ruth Stephens.

The air cadets who attended the service were awarded a badge by Governor, Ruth Stephens. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

The air cadets who attended the service were awarded a badge by Governor, Ruth Stephens.

The air cadets who attended the service were awarded a badge by Governor, Ruth Stephens. PICTURE: Katie Woodcock - Credit: ARCHANT

“All materials used to make the memorial were reclaimed from the prison.” 

“This is Whitemoor’s way of reaching out and saying we may be behind a wall, but we are still part of the community in March.” 

The event was widely supported by everyone involved including the vice lord lieutenant for Cambridgeshire, the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, the deputy Mayor of March and members of the armed forces. 

“It’s been wonderful and it’s just wonderful to realise that the crew have been remembered and for me it gives a closure on a family event.” said Martyn. 

“I’m sure family members who are no longer with us would’ve been delighted to come here.” 

Visitors to the nature reserve can find the memorial within its grounds.

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