Wartime bomber crash at Fremington Quay remembered 75 years on

Remembering the four crew of a Vickers Wellington which crashed into the river at Fremington Quay on June 5, 1943. Picture: British Military History/Tony Gussin
Remembering the four crew of a Vickers Wellington which crashed into the river at Fremington Quay on June 5, 1943. Picture: British Military History/Tony Gussin

A solemn service has been held at Fremington Quay to mark the 75th anniversary of a wartime plane crash that killed four men.

The participants in a memorial service at Fremington Quay for the four who died when a wartime bomber crashed into the estuary. Picture: Tony Gussin The participants in a memorial service at Fremington Quay for the four who died when a wartime bomber crashed into the estuary. Picture: Tony Gussin

Family members, including the son of the pilot, gathered at the quay on Tuesday where exactly 75 years before a Vickers Wellington had crashed into the sand while trying to reach Chivenor, leaving only two survivors.

At the service was lifelong Fremington resident Mike Snell, who as a seven-year-old was playing in a field across the village when he and his friends saw the plane bank, clip a tree and narrowly miss a boat before hitting the sand.

It transpired the Wellington had suffered a ‘catastrophic’ engine failure and the conclusion at the time was there was nothing the men on board could have done to prevent the crash.

The memorial was organised by North Devon’s Rob palmer, Graham Moore and Stephen Heal of www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk who have researched numerous wartime plane crashes and tried to contact surviving relatives.

Remembering the four aircrew who died when a wartime bomber crashed into the estuary at Fremington Quay. Picture: Tony Gussin Remembering the four aircrew who died when a wartime bomber crashed into the estuary at Fremington Quay. Picture: Tony Gussin

At 3.57pm on Tuesday, the exact time the plane had crashed, a one minute’s silence was observed in the memory of the pilot, Wing Commander James Kendrick (RAF), Flight Sergeant George Garrett (Royal Australian Air Force), Warrant Officer Donald Turnbull (Royal Canadian Air Force), and Flight Officer Peter Millington (RAF Volunteer Reserve).

W/Cmr Kendrick’s son Colin, who was nine months old when his father died, attended the memorial and said it had been ‘a special day’.

Also in attendance was Sir Michael Alcock, second cousin to the pilot and also the former Air Chief Marshal of the RAF, as well as Tom Jerrard from Ontario, Canada, first cousin once removed on Donald Turnbull.

Mr Kendrick said: “I think today has been a very beautiful day. When Graham got in touch with me I was very touched that other people were thinking about it and I never forgot.

Laying wreaths at a memorial service at Fremington Quay for the four who died when a wartime bomber crashed into the estuary. Picture: Tony Gussin Laying wreaths at a memorial service at Fremington Quay for the four who died when a wartime bomber crashed into the estuary. Picture: Tony Gussin

“Unfortunately my two brothers are no longer with us and it would have been good for them to be here.”

Mr Snell, 82, said even at the age of seven it had been imprinted on his mind and he had never forgotten the sight of the victims being carried away on stretchers.

He said: “We saw the plane come around and there was obviously something wrong with it. I thought it had been hit, but the engine had failed and it was making a noise.

“I think with a bit of luck, if it had not clipped the trees it would have made it.”

Sir Michael said he was seven when his cousin died: “All I knew was he was killed in the war, of what cause I didn’t know.

“What I do remember is the RAF Benevolent Fund took care of the family after the accident and the three boys, looking after their education. It gave me great pleasure later on to be a trustee of the fund.

“I think what Graham and his colleagues have put together is quite wonderful and a huge tribute to get us all together on the day the accident happened.”


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