VISIT | Northamptonshire's Never Forgotten American B-17 Bomber Airmen | Northamptonshire
A Local Remembrance to American Airmen
A wartime flying accident of American B17 bombers
Eleven lives lost, scattered across 170 fields of Northamptonshire countryside
A local remembrance to lives lost and an impact made
"...this local memorial to people who came to serve and left their own memories..."
The remains of the two B17 Flying Fortress bombers were scattered across one hundred and seventy fields from the villages of Farthingstone down to Woodend. It would be one of the biggest recovery and salvage operations the Northamptonshire officials would ever see in its history. And the fact it happened during wartime conditions meant that the truth, the innate truth would never entirely be revealed. Eleven American airmen would die that day - October 11th 1944.
They were characterful flying machines – most of them named, with painted noses or cartoons labelling them as their own. The planes that crashed that day in 1944 during the Second World War were flying out of RAF Snetterton Heath in rural Norfolk. Their planned actions had been called off over Germany because of bad weather. Instead three planes found themselves out for a routine training flight.
The weather that October day was changeable. One of those typical October days when the weather can change on a sixpence and the cloud can descend, the mist appears and rain can beat down and the wind spins. Three American bombers flew in formation that October day after turning at Rugby, they were heading for Silverstone to turn back to base at the airfield at Snetterton Heath.
Their identifications merely numbers and letters to us – B17 42-3510, B17 43-37684 and B17 42-31053 more commonly known as Stingy. They were all based out of the 96th Battle group based at Snetterton.
The official report from the incidents that happened that day was that all three B17 bombers were involved in a mid-air collision. It resulted in two of the three planes (B17 42-31053 and B17 42-3510) crashing to the earth and the third plane (B17-37684) limping back to base critically wounded. Eleven airmen died.
The truth in effect was that in the changing weather, one plane pulled up clipping another plane which clipped another plane. 42-31053 or Stingy had come out of it the worst. It had fractured into two. Captained that day by Pilot Nick Jorgensen, he had a crew of six others including Co-Pilot Dave Fritsch, Navigator Ralph Harrison, Bombardier Tom Hooper, Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Edwin Frogner, Radio Operator Paul Worthington and Ball Turret Gunner Howard Raab.
When their B17 finally laid to rest, the final piece of the plane was lying in a field out the back of the tiny village of Woodend. Its blood and bones scattered across the countryside of Northamptonshire.
The other plane that came down that day was 42-3510. Piloted by Jack Core, he managed to parachute out of the plane but the rest of his crew were killed including Co-Pilot Ben Bailey, Navigator Dick McCall, Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Van Calvert, and Radio Operator Ken LeBaron.
The casualties were originally buried at Cambridge American Cemetery where some of those men still remain but others were taken back to their homelands. The locals who lived past those events remembered the flaming tragedy which occurred in their part of the Northamptonshire countryside. Well past the months and years, and past the end of the Second World War.
For these were the young men who had risked their lives and futures flying across the skies from the homes in the US, temporarily homed in this British land to play their own part in fighting in a war to bring peace back to this European arena. They had seen action in the skies over Germany, over France, over the English Channel and even now over Britain. They came from the bones of America – from North, East, South and West; from New York, New Jersey, from California, Pennsylvania. They left behind families and friends; they left their homes. And some never returned alive. Like these eleven airmen. Lost in the fight of war. War brings tragedy in event and in accident.
But it seems that for the locals of Woodend and Blakesley in Northamptonshire, as generations came and went, it was never entirely forgotten. In 2010 interested amateurs and archaeologists organised a dig in the field at Woodend for the remains of the B17s. They found pieces of plane, of the tragic accident. But amazingly also a bracelet marked with the name of its owner Nick Jorgensen. That even after sixty years, the memories of these fallen American airmen would still remain. In a happy meeting, Jorgensen’s bracelet would be handed back to his family; from one era of the past to the present. This event had come full circle.
Now there is a memorial at the corner of that field. A place to consider. And maybe more significantly a sign to those who came to fight on this island of ours, that though the years pass, the local people never forgot of the young men whose lives dropped into their own; scattered across all those fields of Northamptonshire.
Directions and Map |
Head west from Towcester to the little hamlet of Woodend near Blakesley in Northamptonshire, head out of Woodend in the direction of Plumpton and look for a turning on the left where there is a small memorial near residential houses. Park considerately.