6 December 2023

Story of lost bomber crew revealed

by Rebecca Hannant

A memorial has been unveiled in Rimswell to honour those who died in the Lancaster bomber crash of 1945.

On Sunday, February 12, a service was held to unveil the memorial in Church Road, which is dedicated to the NG 132 Avro Lancaster that crashed on March 17, 1945.

In attendance were about 30 people including from Withernsea Royal British Legion, 550 Sqn Association RAF, Scouts, Beavers, Cubs and village residents. The service was led by Withernsea Royal British Legion president Darren England, who organised the project after discovering historic records on the crash.

At the unveiling, Darren gave an introduction about the records and the story behind the crash.

He said: “Early last year I attended the archives at Beverley to look for information on the crashed Avro Lancaster at Holmpton and while looking through thousands of reports and telegrams I came across a number of police handwritten telegrams which reported on a crashed aircraft behind the water tower at Rimswell. This got me wondering what happened and who was involved.

“Having looked through the records for Allied and German crashes on this date, I could find no aircraft that crashed in Rimswell but the nearest being on the front at Withernsea or in the Humber near Sunk Island all saying that flight NG132 Avro Lancaster was the one but no clear crash location.”

Darren explained that, after looking at the telegrams and speaking to witnesses, he was able to find out what happened to the crew on the night of the crash.

They were New Zealander pilot (captain) Lockyer, navigator Berry, air bomber Farmer, F/Engineer Drawbridge, W/OP Elliot, middle/upper gunner Matthews and rear gunner Lucey. The crew of NG132 all arrived at 550 Squadron on March 13, 1945, in Killingholme, Lincolnshire.

On the evening of March 17, they were to conduct a training bombing run at Aldbrough with fighter cover. The fighter cover was cancelled, but the run went ahead. After doing one run and dropping 10 out of 16 practice bombs, they received a radio message to return to base.

At about 4,000ft and over the airfield they received a “lights out” message and told to return to base as an enemy aircraft was in the area.

German fighter bombers targeting Hull came in over Mablethorpe and followed the coast north – and one found the Lancaster NG132.

At about 9.35pm Sgt Lucy reported that a twin-engine aircraft was flying behind them and beginning to close in rapidly.

He gave the instruction, “Corkscrew port,” which the pilot carried out, and the night fighter overshot them. Two further attacks were made and in each the Lancaster pilot evaded being hit by making corkscrews. The Lancaster conducted four differing corkscrew manoeuvres before being hit in the rear and middle of the aircraft.

A fire broke out on the aircraft and it become partially out of control. The captain ordered the crew to bail out and two of the men (Berry and Farmer) landed in the Humber estuary.

The officer in charge, Lt Col Herron of 133 Field Battery, the anti-aircraft guns at Stone Creek and Sunk Island, reported hearing screams for help and called out the lifeboat and Navy, but no one could be found. Berry was found dead a month-and-a-half later near Withernsea, and Farmer’s body was never discovered.

Drawbridge was ordered to bail out with Berry and Farmer, but his parachute got stuck behind a step. On landing he injured his leg and crawled to the Patrington/ Withernsea Road where a local bus stopped and took him to a doctor in Patrington. Reports suggested that a resident of the village named Mrs Cripps said that the airman was slightly injured, and once seen to he was taken to Withernsea police station.

During the time of the incident, a dance was being held at Rimswell village hall and attendees reported hearing an aircraft with engine failure coming towards them. Everybody ran out of the hall and saw the Lancaster fly very low over them and crash in a field nearby behind the water tower. The pilot was later found dead by the side of the aircraft. He was taken to nearby Manor House barn overnight till the RAF at Catfoss (Hornsea) recovered him the following day.

The aircraft NG132 is allegedly the last Allied bomber to be shot down over the UK.

Darren added: “I also have an elderly witness that has given an account of this and the exact location. A daughter of another witness, who has passed away, unfortunately, states that her mother and others left the dance hall in Rimswell as they heard an aircraft flying low that sounded as though it was in difficulties.

“They watched the plane fly over the hall and towards the water tower where it crashed. She stated that the local farmer would not plough that area of field, which had a large hole in it and it became overgrown and left to wildlife. Unfortunately the farmer passed away and the field was sold.

“About 18 years ago the hole was filled in and again used as farmland, although once the field has been ploughed you can see the differing colour in soil that was brought in to fill the large hole to level out the field.”

During the memorial service, Rimswell resident Jean Everson spoke of her mother’s accounts of the crash.

Darren then unveiled the plaque, and the Last Post was played by bugler Emma Collinson. It was at this point that the standards were lowered, and a minute’s silence observed.

Emma then played the Reveille and the standards were raised. The exhortation was read out along with the names of the aircrew, before wreaths were laid and private tributes paid.

Darren added: “I would like to say a massive thank you to Jean Everson and her husband Simon who have taken this project on with passion, placing this memorial on their land and Simon building the memorial in his spare time.

“I would also like to thank MKM and the Buffs for their help with materials and funding.”