On 24 November 1941 a Vickers Wellington bomber (Z8863) of No 115 Squadron from RAF Marham crashed approximately two miles outside March in Cambridgeshire with the loss of the entire crew. The crash site sits within a nature reserve owned by the Ministry of Justice as part of the HMP Whitemoor estate.
The history of the site was bought to the prison’s attention by Andrew Wood, a worker with Government Facility Services Limited (GFSL).
Together with Senior Site Manager Mark Twiddy, the team from GFSL designed and built a special memorial to the crew of Z8863. Using reclaimed and unused materials, and with the GFSL team working in their own time, the memorial was completed at no cost to the taxpayer.
Yesterday a service was held to mark the opening of the memorial.
Speaking on behalf of HMP Whitemoor, Prison Governor Ruth Stephens said: “Mark, Andrew and our team from GFSL have done us, the people of March and the RAF proud. It is a beautiful and fitting memorial, which rightly honours the sacrifice made by the crew of Z8863 and is a welcome addition to the nature reserve that is enjoyed by many visitors from the local area.”
At the time of the crash, the No 115 Squadron Wellington was headed to its home base at RAF Marham. The crew was comprised entirely of non-commissioned officers, the oldest of which was only 29 years of age. The pilot, Sergeant George Bruce, and the co-pilot, Sergeant Percival Taylor, were aged just 20 and 19 years respectively.
No 115 Squadron was fist formed in 1917 and saw action in both world wars, operating from RAF Marham in the second world war. Today No 115 Squadron at RAF Wittering teaches already qualified pilots to become instructors on the Grob Tutor aircraft, in which many UK military pilots begin their flying careers.
Wednesday morning’s grey skies suited the tone of the occasion as a party from RAF Wittering joined townsfolk, prison staff and local figures to mark the eightieth anniversary of the crash. A delegation from 115 Squadron attended and the service was taken by RAF Wittering Chaplain, Reverend Squadron Leader Andrew Tucker.
Contributions to the service were made by Reverend Andrew Smith of St Peter’s Church (March), Father Jacob Cheriyan (Roman Catholic Chaplain at HMP Whitemoor) and words of thanks were given by a Martyn Phillips, a relative of crewmember Sgt Henry O’Shea. The last post was played by Prison Officer Terry Knight.
Squadron Leader Rich Kellett is Officer Commanding No 115 Squadron. He said: “I can’t help but be impressed by how Andrew, Mark and the team at Whitemoor Prison have embraced this project and created a beautiful memorial to the crew of Z8863. The people of March have turned out in good numbers to remember the sacrifices made in World War II, and it was especially fitting that members of the family made their own contributions to the service. It was an honour to represent my squadron and the RAF.”
Wing Commander Jez Case is the Station Commander at RAF Wittering. He said: “Remembering the losses of our forebears anchors us in our shared past which helps motivate us in the present. The loss of the crew of Z8863 being remembered by 115 Sqn is important for that reason, and I thank Governor Stephens and her team for their significant efforts to make this memorial happen. As we saw this morning, that connection is also felt by the personnel of Whitemoor Prison and the people of March. This continuing goodwill is as vital to those of us that serve now as it was back then.”