“MAYBE the other one survived, I don’t know”.

These were the speculative words with which Mike Phillips ended a poignant and wistful speech on the right bank of the Wye.

It was 77 years ago that his father lost his life a little further up on Tent Bank.

In a powerful illustration of casualties among bomber crew airmen, numbering some 56,000, we hear that Flying Officer Algernon Michael Phillips had a photograph of the other 21 young men who had passed out of training with him at RAF Cranwell; movingly, he had already penned crosses through the image of 20 of them.

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Algernon Phillips was living with wife Gwenyth, an RAF nurse, at the Bell Inn, Eckington just a couple of miles away from RAF Defford in the lee of the Malvern Hills.

When he flew from Defford on Sunday 7th June, 1942, with about 700 hours of flying experience in 16 types of aircraft, he was embarking on a mission with four RAF men and six scientists.

Hereford Times:

At the unveiling of a memorial for the lost scientist and airmen

Project leader Bernard Lovell had been on board the modified Halifax Bomber only the previous day and arranged the flight so that Alan Blumlein and his colleagues could inspect the progress of the new H2S radar equipment.

The 11 never came back and a fateful letter dated 18th June to Gwenyth written by Defford Group Captain Patrick King read (partly) as follows:

"I am writing to offer my heartfelt sympathy on your recent bereavement.

RELATED NEWS: Hereford Times launches appeal to honour war-time scientist Alan Blumlein

"The primary cause of the accident appears to have been an outbreak of fire in the outer starboard engine of the Halifax aircraft.

"The fire spread rapidly and caused one of the petrol tanks in the wing to explode with the result that the aircraft came down out of control.

"When the fire broke out the pilot was at such a low altitude that it would have been impossible for anyone to use the parachutes with which they had been provided and the pilot took the wisest course of trying to land as quickly as possible.

"Unfortunately, the explosion occurred just before the aircraft reached the ground and it struck the ground with considerable force completely out of control.

"I think it is fairly definitely established that your husband was not piloting the aircraft at the time and so he cannot bear any responsibility in connection with the accident.

"Actually, the late pilot officer Berrington, who was in control, acted with great coolness and resourcefulness, and did everything humanly possible to avert disaster.

"It is some consolation to know that it is practically that all the occupants of the aircraft were killed instantly in the crash and could not have suffered.

RELATED NEWS: Doomed crew's pivotal role in winning the war

"I can tell you that your husband being in the second pilot’s seat escaped the worst effects of the fire and his body was not seriously burnt.

"I visited the scene of the accident on the Sunday and found that the bodies had been moved and laid out reverently in a tent which had been put up nearby.

"Part of one of the parachutes was used to cover them. You may like to know that the Reverend IHL Bickley of Goodrich Vicarage, Ross-on-Wye, visited the scene, and asked me to convey his condolences to the bereaved families, and to say that prayers were offered for the deceased at Evensong.

"As you know, your husband had not been long at this unit but I had a high opinion of his keenness and ability. In the short time he had been with us he had made many friends and his loss is keenly felt by all of us.

Hereford Times:

A Halifax bomber similar to the one that crashed and, inset, Alan Blumlein

"It is a terrible tragedy for you to become a widow after so short a married life. It makes no difference whether men are killed on active operations against the enemy or otherwise. One and all, they have given their lives in the cause of freedom."

On 9th June, 2019, a Forest of Dean memorial stone, blessed by the Reverend Simon Tarlton, was unveiled by Mike Phillips and Alan Dower Blumlein’s sons Simon and David.

Blumlein’s meticulous notes and the magnetron device retrieved from the aircraft wreckage helped enabled H2S radar to change the course of the war.

Significantly, in close attendance was Judy Spence, daughter of Sir Bernard Lovell. We wonder too whether on that Victory Day in 1945, the solitary colleague of Algernon Phillips was smiling.

Goodrich and Welsh Bicknor

5¾ mile moderate ramble.

Woodland and river edge. Memorial to The Eleven.

The Route

1. Goodrich Village Hall. Leave, TL 50m past War Memorial to Castle Lane junction. TL for Courtfield, Welsh Bicknor and Youth Hostel, up no through road. Climb past Shepherd’s Hill, Charlton and wall post box to green island.

2. Island. TR, beneath Hillbrow with stone wall R. At Chenstone keep ahead on upper path. Immediately beyond Cloud Nine, drop down track with grass in middle, L of Cider Mill Cottage. Keep ahead past 2 Rocklands Cottage, down past waymarked t/pole. Now follow R edge of wood, with wall generally down to R, for half a mile.

3. Stile. Beyond (what is) Mainoaks below R, exit wood and Coppet Hill Common Nature Reserve, by stile R. TL along obvious wide track, straight ahead through gate. Bear R to riverbank. You now follow the delightful bank for two and a half miles - around the apex of the bend, opposite Yat Rock, through a gate, past the Gothic Memorial to John Warre, through gate, pasture, over stile, long pasture, to gate by monolith.

4. Memorial in Tent Meadow to The Eleven who lost their lives in Halifax flight V9977, 7TH June, 1942. “If you are going to die, this is a beautiful place”. The crash was a little higher up towards the oak tree on Tent Bank, which is private land. When ready, continue along riverbank, through long pasture, stile, pasture and gate. As you draw level with works on other side of river, cross an inlet and go up bank to left.

5 Walkers’ gate on edge of trees. Don’t go through, turn sharp left along wide track. Just past telephone wires, before a tower on private land, TR up aggregate track. Pass bungalow. Go further R on surfaced track, over grid, 400m to triangle. Continue R past stone cottage to T-junction of thoroughfares.

6. Turn left on same narrow lane all the way back down to Village Hall.