‘We don’t want to forget what a huge sacrifice they gave’: Bid to raise £5,000 for memorial to RAF crews who tragically died in three Chatteris crashes
PUBLISHED: 16:59 21 January 2019
A campaign has been launched to raise £5,000 for a memorial in Chatteris to mark three “horrendous” crashes that saw dozen of airmen killed during the Second World War.
Research by the local branch of the British Legion led to the discovery of the tragedies involving Lancaster, Blenheim and Wellington Bombers.
All three took place in Chatteris between July 1941 and February 1945, just off the A141 and near to the New Road.
The Lancaster Bomber ME450 crashed on February 26 1945 around 4.10pm, close to Chatteris gasworks on the site of what is now Jack’s supermarket.
It was returning from a raid on Dortmund and was seen flying in formation over Mepal, but for some unknown reason crashed soon after.
Out of the seven members of crew on board, all aged between 19 and 35, only two survived.
Navigator sergeant George William McManus, 35, and flight sergeant Joseph Alfred air bomber, 23, from Trinidad, are both buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.
In the crash photos supplied, the storage tower in Chatteris can be seen in the background.
The 21-year-old pilot, Noel Humphrey Thorpe, from New Zealand, had only recently been promoted to flying officer during his last mission.
A member of the British Legion project committee, who is a former serviceman, said: “There was a lot of speculation about why it happened and that the crew may have been tired, but we’ll never know for sure.
“There was also a Commonwealth airman on board and sometimes people forget what a huge sacrifice that they gave too.”
A Wellington MK 1C crashed while on a night navigation exercise on September 10 1941. Pilot, flying officer Joshua Stephen Willis, 33, died.
A searchlight located the aircraft in a field off New Road, which is now an estate across the road from Glebelands Primary School.
A Blenheim Bomber MK IV lost control and crashed at Old Harves, near Chatteris on July 12 1941.
It has taken off from RAF Wyton to practice landings with wireless assistance. Three of the crew died.
Sergeant James Tinker, from Sheffield, died at the age of 21.
The British Legion member, who does not wish to be named, added: “A former neighbour of mine who was a teenager at the time of the Blenheim crash was a fireman and attended.
“This was the other side of Chatteris and they came down while on their way to RAF Wyton.
“He told me how he went to the site but it was so far away from the road that the hoses couldn’t reach and the crew were still trapped inside trying to get out but they couldn’t be saved.
“It was horrendous.”
The idea for a memorial was suggested last year following the centenary of the RAF and now a project committee has been setup – including members of Fenland District Council and Chatteris Museum - and grants are being sourced.
It is also thought that a second Lancaster Bomber crashed into a field along the New Road in May 1942, but the crew survived.
Tina Prior, who is owner of the Old Bakery in Chatteris and member of the British Legion, said: “We just feel that it’s important to mark where Chatteris is and in the Fens we were surrounded by a lot of airbases and fields.
“After the branch started research they found there was a possible five planes that came down in the area but only three are confirmed.
“There are still lots of RAF links in the local area and I think this should strike a chord with local people.
“Remembrance Day is something that we do really well as a town and it’s something we excel at.
“There is a committee in place to take this project forward and £5,000 is what we’re looking for as it will be about five tonne of stone, so it won’t be cheap but we are looking to apply for grants too.
“The sooner the funds are raised, the sooner we can commence and move forward with the next stages.”
To help with the fundraising visit: https://www.gofundme.com/chatteris-raf-memorial