Relatives to visit memorial site

PUBLISHED: 15:03 21 August 2001 | UPDATED: 10:28 03 March 2010

RELATIVES of seven brave young airmen who sacrificed their own lives to avert a wartime disaster that could have killed hundreds are to visit the spot where they died.

RELATIVES of seven brave young airmen who sacrificed their own lives to avert a wartime disaster that could have killed hundreds are to visit the spot where they died.

The families of the airmen will this week travel from as far afield as New Zealand and America to see where the tragedy happened, and to attend a ceremony to unveil a memorial to the crew.

It has been a 57 year wait for the families but now they are delighted councillors have agreed to put a memorial plaque on Felixstowe Town Hall, which overlooks the site where the Lancaster bomber crashed.

The airmen were heading back from a raid on a V1 launch site in France to Methwold, Norfolk, when the plane was hit by enemy fire.

As it reached Felixstowe, it began to suffer serious problems.

Many of the town's 8,775 residents – at the time 5,000 had been evacuated – flooded onto the streets when they heard the plane and could only watch helplessly as the crew, knowing their fate, steered away from homes and ditched in the sea.

Today the wreck of the plane is still shown on shipping maps to warn sailors, about 1,200 yards off the shore roughly opposite Platters Road.

Thanks to historian and campaigner Joe Potter the story of the men's amazing courage in giving their own lives to save others has come to light and will now be remembered on the plaque.

Mr Potter carried out months of research into the circumstances and records surrounding the crash, and also in tracing surviving relatives around the world.

Mayor of Felixstowe, Harry Dangerfield said: "Felixstowe owes a great debt of gratitude to the young men who died as a result of this act of bravery.

"Felixstowe Town Council is very pleased that we are now able to commemorate the crew of the Lancaster bomber LM 258."

The airmen who will be remembered on the plaque when it is unveiled on Saturday August 25 – exactly 57 years to the day of the incident – are Flt Lt Douglas Charles Haggis, Flying Officer Glyn Davies Mathias, who is buried in the war graves in Felixstowe Cemetery, Sgt William Augustus Dyer, Flying Officer Charles Bryce Oxenham, Flt Sgt Ernest George Murray, Sgt George Covell, and Sgt Angus Craig.

One relative who Mr Potter was able to get in contact with was Joan Snell, 70, sister of Sgt Covell.

She was only 13 when her brother died but could still remember her parents being told the news, and also recalled an aunt looking for a memorial on a visit to Felixstowe and being surprised not to find one.

Another relative he managed to trace was Pat Nicholls, the younger sister of 20-year-old Flying Officer Oxenham, a New Zealander.

Currently living in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand, she can still remember arriving home in Blockhouse Bay to find he had died in action. "I think it will be lovely to have a memorial. We were all very proud of him and what his colleagues did, but the war was all so unnecessary. I don't agree with war," said Mrs Nicholls.

"I hadn't even got to the gate when my dad came out to tell me. I called my boss up to tell her I wouldn't be coming in but couldn't get the words out. She guessed what had happened as she had had a fiancé who had been killed."

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