Whitemoor remembers air crash victims at ‘poignant’ memorial service
- Credit: Credit: Royal Air Force/ ARCHANT
A service was held at HMP Whitemoor yesterday (Wednesday August 18) to remember those who lost their lives during a RAF training flight nearly 80 years ago.
Six crew members and three additional staff from the 115 squadron at RAF Marham died on November 24, 1941 when their Wellington bomber crashed into a marshalling yard at the March prison.
A memorial was installed by Gov Facility Services Ltd (GFSL) last November, to remember those who lost their lives.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, a small service was held where a poppy wreath from HMP Whitemoor and an RAF roundel from the GFSL team were laid.
Now restrictions have been relaxed, governors Martin Butler and Ruth Stephens invited those to the prison who were unable to attend the first service to pay their respects.
Guests included families of those who tragically died, alongside current members of the Sqn and their Padre.
The Memorial Day started at 10am in the officers mess where those invited gathered to enjoy a catch-up, tea, coffee and biscuits.
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Displays were on show, providing information on the tragic event.
Shortly after, the service moved into the town’s nature reserve at the memorial site.
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The prison had hired an old French War vehicle that some members chose to ride in.
The memorial service given by the Padre started at 11:15am and stories were read out by those who had relatives on board the plane.
At 11:30am (the time that the aircraft was reported to have crashed), the last post was heard and was followed with the laying of wreaths.
Martyn Phillips, who told his story about his Uncle, wanted to thank everyone involved in the erection of the ‘splendid’ memorial that honours the nine men.
“This event has been wonderful, absolutely superb,” said Martyn.
Martyn knew that his uncle had been killed in a plane crash in March, his log book gave that information, but he never knew exactly where.
“My Uncle signed up, volunteered, much against my grandparents wishes, joined the RAF and became a navigator,” said Martyn.
“I wondered whether there would be any memorial to those killed in the event and it was always my intention to visit the site, but I never knew where it was.”
“I’d been searching online for ages to find some information, but found nothing.
“I searched the aircraft number and ‘aircraft crash March Cambridgeshire’ but still had no luck.
“A letter I received from Mark Twiddy answered those very questions and it gave me great comfort knowing the crew had not been forgotten.”
Once the service came to a close, guests stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, and read the messages on the wreaths.
They then made their way back to the officers mess and enjoyed a buffet at 12:00pm.
Martin Butler, a governor at HMP Whitemoor, was really pleased with the service.
“It was really nice to see so many people come out to pay their respects to those that tragically died,” said Martin.
“I liked that the younger generation of the air cadets were represented.
“I think it’s really important that the memory of sacrifice and the reasons why people sacrifice their lives goes on.
“All materials used to make the memorial were reclaimed from the prison.”
“This is Whitemoor’s way of reaching out and saying we may be behind a wall, but we are still part of the community in March.”
The event was widely supported by everyone involved including the vice lord lieutenant for Cambridgeshire, the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, the deputy Mayor of March and members of the armed forces.
“It’s been wonderful and it’s just wonderful to realise that the crew have been remembered and for me it gives a closure on a family event.” said Martyn.
“I’m sure family members who are no longer with us would’ve been delighted to come here.”
Visitors to the nature reserve can find the memorial within its grounds.