An emotional day as relatives of the five air crew who died at Hartland on April 13, 1942, visit North Devon – including a woman was able to visit her father’s grave for the first time

On the 75th anniversary of the Hartland air crash relatives John Le Bon (centre) and Susan Strong (right) at Hartland Museum and the Wellington's engine. L-R: Ken Moore, Graham Moore, Di Le Bon, Rob Palmer, Stephen Heal, John Le Bon, Alan strong, Chrissie Wilson, Susan Strong. Picture: Tony GussinOn the 75th anniversary of the Hartland air crash relatives John Le Bon (centre) and Susan Strong (right) at Hartland Museum and the Wellington's engine. L-R: Ken Moore, Graham Moore, Di Le Bon, Rob Palmer, Stephen Heal, John Le Bon, Alan strong, Chrissie Wilson, Susan Strong. Picture: Tony Gussin

The daughter of a wartime airman whose plane crashed near Hartland 75 years ago today has been able to visit his grave for the first time.

On April 13, 1942 and in poor visibility, Wellington Z8721 from RAF Chivenor crashed into cliffs at Beckland Bay, instantly killing all five crewmen on board.

Susan Strong, 79, had only ever been told her father Leslie Noble, a navigator, died in the war and until a month ago had not known he had a grave.

But today (Thursday) she attended a commemoration to mark the 75th anniversary of the accident, organised by North Devon's Rob Palmer and Graham Moore.

Four of the air crew who died near Hartland. Clockwise from left: 'Bill' Russ, Freddie Le Bon, Leslie Noble and Charles Daniel.Four of the air crew who died near Hartland. Clockwise from left: 'Bill' Russ, Freddie Le Bon, Leslie Noble and Charles Daniel.

They have researched what happened, tracked down living relatives of the crew and produced a report on their findings.

RAF Chivenor was an important airfield for Coastal Command and was at the forefront of the battles against German submarines - they would hunt for them at night using radar and searchlights, helping to turn the tide against the U-Boat sea raiders.

Wellington Z8721 was on a non-operational flight to Cornwall when it crashed. The other four on board were pilot Hamar William 'Bill' Russ, second pilot Ernest Blair, Sergeant Charles Daniel and Pilot Officer Frederick 'Freddie' Le Bon.

Freddie's nephew John joined Susan and other family members today to visit the church at Heanton Punchardon where the crew is buried, before visiting the base at Chivenor where the Wellington's propeller is.

Part of the Wellington engine display at Hartland Museum, showing its recovery in 1986.Part of the Wellington engine display at Hartland Museum, showing its recovery in 1986.

Then they went to Hartland Quay Museum where the engine is displayed after being recovered in 1986 and finally to visit a memorial stone on the cliff top at Beckland Bay.

Susan, who is from Wiltshire, told the Gazette: "Since I heard the news that he had a grave it's been a very emotional time, with sadness and with joy that there was somewhere we could visit.

"It was lovely to see the war graves so well looked after and it's absolutely incredible, we are so grateful to Graham and Rob for their assistance."

She said although their mother had told Susan and her sister their father had been killed in the war that was all they were told and her mother married again afterwards.

Susan Strong and John Le Bon at the memorial to Wellington Z8721 overlooking Beckland Bay. Picture: Graham Moore.Susan Strong and John Le Bon at the memorial to Wellington Z8721 overlooking Beckland Bay. Picture: Graham Moore.

Susan also thanked the museum at Hartland for the detailed display about the crash and said she was pleased to see that after all this time people still cared about the young men who were killed.

John le Bon, from West Sussex, said he was seven when his uncle Freddie died. He said: "I have fond memories of him, when he was on leave he stayed with my family.

"He did his training in Africa and brought back some African artefacts - he gave me a drum which for a boy of six or seven was a wonderful thing to have."

Graham Moore added: "It was a pleasure to help getting everyone together for this 75th anniversary."

The grave of pilot Hamar William 'Bill' Russ at Heanton Punchardon near Braunton. Picture: Rob PalmerThe grave of pilot Hamar William 'Bill' Russ at Heanton Punchardon near Braunton. Picture: Rob Palmer

Rob Palmer has written several accounts of local air crashes of the Second World War, in his Last Flight Of series. You can visit his website at www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk