Forgotten are honoured

PUBLISHED: 11:15 09 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:49 03 March 2010

SERVICEMEN, many of whose graves have lain almost forgotten in quiet Suffolk churchyards, are being honoured for giving their lives in the service of their country.

SERVICEMEN, many of whose graves have lain almost forgotten in quiet Suffolk churchyards, are being honoured for giving their lives in the service of their country.

Members of Wattisham Airfield's museum are visiting the graves in four villages near Stowmarket, laying poppy crosses on their tombs.

At Hitcham 11 airmen buried in a mass grave are among those whose memory is being honoured just days before Remembrance Sunday.

The men all died after a German bombing raid on East Anglia on November 1, 1940, which attacked the then RAF military base near Stowmarket.

A German Dornier 17Z bomber, based in Belgium and flown by a Lt Fritz Breuer and crew, dropped a stick of ten bombs on RAF Wattisham at 7.45am.

The bombs started detonating in the married quarters, demolishing three, before sweeping across the administration site and ending up near the hangers.

In all 11 servicemen were killed, the majority on the administration site, with 19 others suffering varying injuries.

The attacker was shot down over the North Sea off Orfordness just 15 minutes later by a Hurricane fighter. The German bomber, Lt Breuer and his crew were all lost.

Close to the mass grave in the peaceful graveyard at Hitcham is the headstone of Sergeant Victor Thorne who died after his plane crashed during low level training out of RAF Wattisham in November 1939.

The aircraft, piloted by a colleague, crashed at Barking Tye two miles east of Wattisham killing observer Sgt Thorne and seriously injuring the pilot.

Sgt Thorne's grave was terribly overgrown, with a tree sprouting from the plot.

Now, thanks to the work of the museum, the grave has been cleared and poppy crosses are being lain at both.

Museum volunteers Maggie Aggiss and Mick Bown were yesterday visiting the graves at Hitcham, as well as Ringshall, Norton and Wattisham's Baptist Chapel.

The graves are all Wattisham personnel and they are determined to lay the poppy crosses at the headstones of the servicemen laid to rest in local churchyards and chapels, whether they died in war or peacetime.

Mr Bown, who uncovered the Hitcham histories of the lost men, is continuing to research the background of those who lost their lives, including Americans, Canadians and Polish servicemen based at Wattisham and buried at Ringshall.

He hopes to include all his research in to the lost Wattisham soldiers lives in to the museum's collection.

Mrs Aggiss said yesterday: "It's about honouring all the personnel who are buried at these villages. Before today we do not believe they have ever had poppy crosses lain on them.

"We just felt it was the right time to honour these men, who have lain here so long. A lot of their graves were unkempt and not many people know that they are graves of servicemen.

"In some places you could not read the tombstones, in one a tree had grown up right around it. They gave their lives in very different ways, through bombing raids or as pilots, all very different ways.

"They were young personnel who did not have anyone left to do this for them and it's our way of showing our respect.''

Mr Bown, himself a former serviceman who served at the base which is today an army base known as Wattisham Airfield, said he has started researching the history of the men who lost their lives.

He has been using wartime books, bomber records and the Internet and is keen to preserve the men's histories.

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