Relatives have travelled from as far as Australia to pay tribute to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash of a wartime bomber near Fremington.

Five of the crew who were involved in the crash of the Wellington bomber at Penhill Point, Fremington. Pictured are Cedric Milford Wood, Australian, Allman pilot (but not involved in crash), Richard Harris, New Zealand, Frederick Phillips, RAF, Robert Ward, Australian, John Lugton Warne, Australian.Five of the crew who were involved in the crash of the Wellington bomber at Penhill Point, Fremington. Pictured are Cedric Milford Wood, Australian, Allman pilot (but not involved in crash), Richard Harris, New Zealand, Frederick Phillips, RAF, Robert Ward, Australian, John Lugton Warne, Australian.

Wellington HF129 crashed into a field at Penhill Point near Fremington Quay at 2.54am on July 7, 1944, killing five of the six men on board.

The son and daughter of sole survivor Robert Ward were joined by family members of fellow Aussie John Warne at a commemoration event yesterday (Tuesday, July 9).

The families were tracked down and the event arranged by North Devon historians Stephen Heal, Rob Palmer and Graham Moore of www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk .

There was a visit to the crash site and a remembrance service held on the quayside, conducted by the Reverend Tom Simpson.

The approximate site of where the Wellington bomber crashed at Penhill Point, Fremington, on July 7, 1944. Picture: Tony GussinThe approximate site of where the Wellington bomber crashed at Penhill Point, Fremington, on July 7, 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

The aircraft had been returning from an anti U-boat out of RAF Predannack, but had been diverted to RAF Chivenor because of bad weather after it began having engine problems.

It is not known exactly why the plane overshot the runway at Chivenor and ended up crashing, but it fell down an embankment at Penhill Point and the depth charges on board exploded.

Warrant Officer Bob Ward, aged 20 at the time of the crash, was the only survivor after he was thrown clear.

The crash claimed the lives of WO John Lugton Warne, WO Cedric Wood, Flight Sergeant Richard Harris, Flt Sgt Henry Phillips and Flt Sgt Kenneth Lentin.

Wreaths are laid in a service at Fremington Quay to mark the loss of the Wellington HF.129 aircraft and five of its six crew 75 years ago in 1944. Picture: Tony GussinWreaths are laid in a service at Fremington Quay to mark the loss of the Wellington HF.129 aircraft and five of its six crew 75 years ago in 1944. Picture: Tony Gussin

Speaking to the Gazette, Bob's son David said his dad told him he was found 100 yards away but had no memory of how he had got there.

David said: "Up until the last few days I knew it as lucky he survived but now reviewing the information, he was not expected to make it and that was a shock to everybody, it was quite miraculous."

David, his wife Joanne and his sister Jeanette travelled from Australia to mark the anniversary, as did Leigh Lugton, John Warne's first cousin and from the UK came his niece Liz Warne and another cousin, Keith Lugton.

David Ward said the memorial event had been overwhelming and added: "Once my sister and I found out about this event, it was never a question of not coming - just how do we get here.

A memorial service attended by relatives is held at Fremington Quay to mark the loss 75 years ago of Wellington HF.129 and five of its crew. Picture: Tony GussinA memorial service attended by relatives is held at Fremington Quay to mark the loss 75 years ago of Wellington HF.129 and five of its crew. Picture: Tony Gussin

"It is wonderful diligence they have gone to, assessing the detail and respecting it."

Leigh Lugton, now aged 84 and from Melbourne, said she was nine when her cousin was killed and she recalled her parents receiving the news in Western Australia.

She said: "I remember getting up and walking away, and thinking that people belonging to me had been killed.

"We are so grateful to have the opportunity to be so close to what happened at the end. It's fantastic the work these boys have done and the records they have dug up, I am so grateful, we all are."

A Vickers Wellington Mk. XIV like the one which crashed at Penhill Point near Fremington. Picture: British Military HistoryA Vickers Wellington Mk. XIV like the one which crashed at Penhill Point near Fremington. Picture: British Military History

Bob Ward was left with multiple broken bones and burns but he made a full recovery. He was given the choice of becoming ground crew or returning home and opted to go back to Australia. He passed away in April 2002.

David said when his dad spoke of the war he could tell from his tone the close camaraderie and the 'absolute trust' the crew - all in their 20s or 30s - had shared between them.

The Vickers Wellington bombers were initially used in bombing raids on Germany but were later superseded and instead became a valauble part of Coastal Command to try and track and destroy German U-boats.

RAF Predannack in Cornwall hosted 179 Squadron, which was also based at RAF Chivenor for periods of time in 1944.

The aircraft would make anti submarine patrols in the English Channel, equipped with radar, a powerful searchlight and depth charges.

The conditions of the South West coastline proved particularly hazardous to flight crews who weren't used to them and there were numerous crashes around North Devon, including Hartland and especially in the area surrounding Chivenor, with a wide variety of causes from weather to mechanical failure.

The members of www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk have and continue to research these crashes, commemorating the anniversaries and doing their best to track down surviving in the UK and abroad.

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