Historians hunt for family of bomber pilot

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A team of historians is appealing for help to solve a decades old mystery surrounding a Peterborough wartime pilot.

On March 22 1944, what was supposed to be a straightforward night-time flight for a Wellington bomber crew from Number 105 Operations Training Unit (O.T.U) ended in disaster at Birmingham.

Bernard Balchin, war hero's grave at Eastfield Cemetery EMN-180603-223303009

Bernard Balchin, war hero's grave at Eastfield Cemetery EMN-180603-223303009

The aircraft crash landed, killing everyone on board - including Flight Lieutenant Bernard James Balchin from Peterborough.

The 27-year-old was onboard with 34-year-old Pilot Officer David Huddleston and Sergeant Bramwell Morgan (23) both from Birmingham.

Now Richard Pursehouse and Lee Dent of Cannock-based The Chase Project military research group, are trying to find out more about the life of Flt Lt Balchin and his family. The historians have already researched details of the two Birmingham airmen, and are looking to complete the story. Mr Pursehouse said they had discovered Flt Lt Balchin’s body was taken to Peterborough following the crash, and he was buried in Eastfield Cemetery. He was the son of George and Lily Balchin, and husband to Gladys Balchin.

Mr Pursehouse said: “We really want to hear from any relatives of Flt Lt Balchin.

“As the centenary of the creation of the Royal Air Force in April 1918 gets closer, such stories as the Wellington bomber crash at Digbeth remind us of the sacrifices made to defend this island.”

The crash itself happened just before midnight, as the plane was flying from RAF Bramcote to RAF Castle Bromwich to be transformed into a transport vehicle. A faulty fuel system caused both engines to cut out.

It was lucky there were no civilian casualties on the ground - four Birmingham City Transport girls, who worked in the Birmingham and Midland ‘Red’ Omnibus Digbeth depot, had taken up the offer of a cup of tea and slice of cake barely 10 minutes before the Wellington crashed through the roof, slicing in half the bus they had been sitting in.

One witness who worked as ground crew at nearby RAF Castle Bromwich and was familiar with the layout arrived at the scene, saw the leaking fuel and the fires that had already started. He grabbed a hose from one of the fire crew which had arrived within minutes and entered the plane wreckage to switch off the fuel pipe. In the darkness and acrid smoke he found one of the crew but he was dead, his body incinerated. Another crewman was pulled from the wreckage by a police sergeant but he died shortly afterwards. The third and final crew member was thrown clear of the wreckage and was found dead.

Anyone who can help The Chase Project team with information about the pilot’s family,or the crash, should email richardpursehouse2112@gmail.com