IN the early hours of a cold March morning in 1940, a Handley Page Hampden bomber roars through the darkened sky on its way home after an anti-shipping patrol around the German island of Heligoland in the North Sea.
Its pilots, Flying Officer Vivian Ayres and Pilot Officer Peter Addie, together with wireless operator/air gunner Leading Aircraftsman Allan Wallace and air gunner Flight Sergeant George Rowling were doubtlessly looking forward to getting safely home to a welcoming mug of hot tea and their bunks at 50 Squadron’s base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
Rowling, from Grimsby, was the old man of the four-strong crew at 26, with Ayres, a former Bomber Command boxing champion from Cardiff, a year younger at 25 and Wallace, from Newark in Nottinghamshire, just 20.
Baby of the crew was Addie, the 19-year-old son of Alan and Effie Addie from Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire.
But Hampden L4063 was never to make it home. On the trip back it apparently strayed off course and ended up crashing into high ground in the Cheviot hills south of Yetholm.
The official report states that the aircraft’s bomb load – which must have not been dropped – exploded when the bomber hit the ground, killing all four crew members.
The exact site of the crash was at a forlorn windswept spot called Windy Rig, some 12 miles south-south-east of Yetholm between Cock Law and Windy Gyle.
Malfunctioning direction-finding equipment producing an inaccurate QDM (magnetic drift factor) is reported to have contributed to the accident. But while nearly all traces of the crash have long since been removed, the wooden cross erected as a memorial to the dead aircrew by Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group has weathered the worst of the hill weather and still stands as a poignant reminder to the wartime sacrifice.
It was last refurbished nearly five years ago by a party from the RAF’s training centre at Cranwell.
But the Cheviot weather continues to take its toll and this week another group of cadets from Cranwell have made the long trek up into the hills to refurbish the memorial. The 10-strong party has been led by Officer Cadet Sarah Vickers, who says cadets often undertake missions such as this.
“We were made aware of the memorial and the fact it was getting a bit worse for wear by Sue Brophy from Newcastle, who had come across it while out hill walking,” Sarah told TheSouthern at the start of this week. “She had emailed us some photographs and information and we thought it would give us the opportunity for some extra training and to do something very worthwhile at the same time.
“We are heading up on Wednesday and will be going up into the hills on Thursday (today), and on Friday we will be bringing Sue and her friend up for a look at the refurbished memorial.”
Sue had actually been informed about the memorial by George Hardy, from Rothbury.
“I walk a lot in the hills with George, who’s now in his early 80s, and it was he who told me about the memorial to the crew. I first saw it about six years ago and it was looking a bit damaged and then more recently it was looking in a worse condition.
“We had thought about just taking up a bag of cement and fixing it ourselves but then thought it was something the RAF might want to know about and do something.
“And it’s fantastic that a group of cadets will be carrying our the repair work.”
The names of Flt Sgt Rowling and LAC Wallace are also officially recorded on the Runnymede Memorial, while F/O Ayres is commemorated at Cardfiff Cemetery and Addie at Oundle.
Parts of the wreckage from L4063 were eventually retrieved from the Cheviot hillside and are being incorporated into the aircraft currently being restored by the Brian Nichols Hampden Project in Lincolnshire.