Relatives gather for 75th anniversary of wartime plane crash near Torrington

Relatives gathered for the memorial service to the crew of the wartime bomber that crashed at St Gil

Relatives gathered for the memorial service to the crew of the wartime bomber that crashed at St Giles in the Wood near Torrington. Picture: Graham Moore - Credit: Graham Moore

Relatives came from as far afield as the United States to pay tribute to the air crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed near Torrington almost 75 years ago.

A picture of the crew of the crashed St Giles in the Wood bomber taken in the Middle East before No

A picture of the crew of the crashed St Giles in the Wood bomber taken in the Middle East before No 36 Squadron and the six returned to the UK. Standing: (L – R) COX, MINGAY, QUAIFE, PERRIN; bottom row – SMITH and HADDOCK. Picture: Courtesy of Jamie Smith - Credit: Jamie Smith

Three were killed, two seriously injured and one escaped unharmed when the Coastal Command bomber from RAF Chivenor suffered engine failure shortly after take-off and crashed at St Giles in the Wood.

A remembrance service was held on Sunday, October 6 at the location, organised by the local historians of britishmilitaryhistory.com, who have previously arranged similar events around North Devon.

Graham Moore, Stephen Heal, Rob Palmer, Julian Avery and David Howells researched the crash, as well as tracing the relatives and arranging the event, which was also attended by members of the Royal Air Forces Association and Royal British Legion.

The crash on December 26, 1944 claimed the lives of Sergeant Donald Cox, Flight Sgt Frederick Mingay and Flying Officer Stephen Perrin.

Relatives gathered for the memorial service to the crew of the wartime bomber that crashed at St Gil

Relatives gathered for the memorial service to the crew of the wartime bomber that crashed at St Giles in the Wood near Torrington. Picture: Graham Moore - Credit: Graham Moore


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The pilot, F/O John Smith and Sgt Ian Quaife suffered severe burns while rear gunner Sgt Gordon Haddock was uninjured.

The three survivors gathered at St Giles to mark the 50th anniversary in 1996 and to plant a tree.

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The service to mark the 75th anniversary was attended by Jamie Smith and Maggie Fagan, from Albany in New York, son and granddaughter of pilot John Smith.

Other relatives included Philip Cox, whose brother Donald was killed, plus Julia Preston, the niece of Sgt Mingay.

A Vickers Wellington bomber like the one from Coastal Command that crashed at St Giles in the Wood o

A Vickers Wellington bomber like the one from Coastal Command that crashed at St Giles in the Wood on December 26, 1944. Picture: britishmilitaryhistory.com - Credit: britishmilitaryhistory.com

Also present was Richard and Benjamin Tanton, whose father and grandfather Bill was the driving force behind the original memorial, with support from landowner Roy Giles-Morris.

Avril Bowen from North Devon, who was driving past with her father on the night of the crash, said they were flagged down by airmen urging them to take them to hospital - the family had to be evicted from the car to make room.

Mr Smith and his daughter joined other relatives to visit Davidstow Moor Memorial Museum, where some of the wreckage from the crash is on display.

He said: "It's been a rather emotional but rewarding experience."

Relatives gathered for the memorial service to the crew of the wartime bomber that crashed at St Gil

Relatives gathered for the memorial service to the crew of the wartime bomber that crashed at St Giles in the Wood near Torrington. Picture: Graham Moore - Credit: Graham Moore

Maggie added about the memorial service: "It was a really beautiful day and a really touching experience; I think that it was fitting for the day and with Graham's work it went very smoothly. "We so appreciate everyone's open arms to us and willingness to meet us in bad weather and a difficult time."

Philip Cox said: "Now, Donald and his position in my life make far more sense and in particular I had got rid of one thought that dominated my thoughts, that because it had crashed of engine failure, they had never been taught how to service an engine properly, but in fact I found out they were incredibly good at doing it and it was nature itself that caused the crash."

Mr Cox's daughter-in-law Catherine Smith was doing some research for him when she got in touch with Maggie Fagan, who connected her with Graham Moore and the historians.

Mrs Smith said: "Today's memorial has meant a great deal to Philip, allowing him to learn so much about his brother.

"The service was a great testament to everything the soldiers did, and also to the dedication of Graham's team who do so much to respect the memories of those who served and keep their memories alive."

Stella Haddock, the widow of Sgt Gordon Haddock,asked Mr Moore to read some comments out at the memorial service, apologising that she could not attend due to her age and health, but added: "I wish I could have been with you all but would just like to iterate that with Gordon and Johnnie's passing they 'have met again' in a far better place."

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