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December’s walk by GARTH LAWSON takes in the site of a wartime tragedy
7:00am Saturday 3rd December 2011 in Walks
YOUNG Brian Moran heard a tremendous noise as the ailing leviathan groaned past Sparrowplock Cottage. “It must have been a Monday or a Friday”, he later recalled, “because I was in the bath”.
Flight EF 352 had taken off at 5.45pm from RAF Stradishall in Suffolk. It was on a cross-country training mission encompassing York, Mull of Galloway, Ludlow and Leighton Buzzard.
Although the flight had not been routed into an area of bad weather, it was noted that the meteorological conditions were worsening. After being seen on fire over Tumpy Lakes lane, the Stirling bomber dived vertically into the ground at Rosemaund Farm at 9.20pm. It exploded on impact and killed the nine crewmen instantaneously.
The engines were partly buried and wreckage was scattered far and wide.
According to an 11-year-old from Ocle Pychard the plane went down “looking like an ocean liner with all its portholes lit up”.
The Stirling had entered service in 1941 as Britain’s first bomber with four engines. It was an enormous, strongly built aircraft – effective for low level operations like towing gliders and dropping paratroopers; but it was difficult to get airborne when laden with bombs and the short wing span prevented it from climbing above 15,000 feet.
This was a disadvantage when mounting raids on Italy being forced to fly through, rather than over, the Alps. It was preyed upon by Luftwaffe fighters and more vulnerable than other bombers to taking flak from below. Within five months of being introduced, 67 out of the 84 aircraft delivered had been lost to enemy action or written off after crashes.
When the Halifax and the Avro Lancaster became more readily available, the Stirling was relegated to secondary tasks. Lancasters could carry twice the bombload over long distances, travel at least 40 mph faster, and operate about 4,000 feet higher.
The exact cause of the crash on October 22, 1943, has never been established.
Some critics have pointed the finger at the short wing design, claiming that its only merit was to allow the craft to fit inside a standard hangar.
Another suggestion was that the plane was struck by lightning over Ludlow before eventually crash landing at Rosemaund.
A plaque inside Preston Wynne Church commemorates the sad event.
Thomas Clifford Elstub of the Royal Australian Air Force was pilot of the ill-starred mission. Born in New South Wales, the twenty-two year old all-round sportsman was captain of a crew which comprised J L Stalker and G P Hewson (navigators), A J Smith and S B Cribb (air gunners), V C Gerrard (staff navigation instructor), D Dickson (flight engineer), A H Hines (air bomber) and E J McMillan (wireless air gunner). Albert Hines the bomb aimer and Stanley Cribb were also Australians.
At a time when the RAF was launching “firestorm” raids in Germany, the catastrophe at Rosemaund brought the immediacy of war to rural Herefordshire.
Gunner Jack Smith’s three sons paid a poignant visit to the site in 1988, and Doris Mintram, the widow of 21-year-old Jack McMillan of Wandsworth, attended a remembrance service nine years later. She was presented with a model of a Stirling bomber by Ron Miles who, as a lad of 15, had cycled from Pencombe to Rosemaund the day after the crash.
The crash site is just east of today’s farm buildings and there are no visible scars, but from time to time small parts of the aircraft have been unearthed.
1. GR 544 484. Park on verge east of sharp bend between Sutton and Bodenham at west end of No Through Road to Holbach. Head east for 1½ miles: first, along surfaced lane past Amber Cottage, Caldicott Cottage to Upper Holba(t)ch: then, wide bridle track ahead beyond Camp Cottage and Cheat Hill to the end of a line of trees on right. (Carry on all the way to Felton and back for a pleasant five-mile stroll).
2. Above Rosemaund. TR across stile along R edge/hedge down the crop field. Keep L of tall trees, parallel with surfaced drive, then join the drive in bottom R corner gap. Keep ahead towards tallest structure at Rosemaund.
TR, then TL straight up yard 30m past Chemical Store (R).
3. Rosemaund Farm Office. TR up drive beyond ADAS Rosemaund reception area and bear R along road past houses.
Just beyond detached garage, TR into crop field along L edge/hedge. At gap, kink L into the field (with tower) to put hedge on your R. Climb to slight crest and cross two stiles ahead hidden in R corner. Bear L along L edge/hedge of pasture across two stiles (orchard R) to emerge in Preston Wynne through gate at Stocks Tree.
4. Preston Wynne. TR (same direction) along the road to footpath junction and TL through farmyard with barns R and old B & W farmhouse L.
Cross three stiles ahead down to Preston Wynne Church. Holy Trinity has commemorative plaque just inside. From your original line to the church, bear R through pasture and k-gate to road. TR past the lake at Lower Town, bend L on road, then bend R twice to a stile (L).
TL across this double stile into large crop field. Take care.
Bear R to a gap in the hedge.
5. Gap in hedge. TR through the gap up the wide channel through the hopyard. Go through gap, ahead across stiled f/bridge and ahead to TR over second f/bridge. Bear R through gate R of dwelling, up drive, over grid and TR across f/bridge opposite Ivy Cottage, next to B & W cottage.
6. Tumpy Lakes. Go ahead seven paces and TL over high stile into paddock. Cross 2 more stiles ahead and follow L edge of copse. Cross two plank bridges and a stile to emerge. TL, TR along R edge/hedge of pasture up to far end, out through gap. TR along surfaced drive towards buildings of Amberley Court. But before buildings, TL up wide footpath, through small metal gate, up R edge to Holbach lane/start.