75 years ago five USAF aircrew died when their aircraft crashed in Ampfield woods. On Tuesday a service led by Revd Victoria Ashdown was held to remember them at their memorial near the crash site. More than 100 people attended the service and a presentation about the events, including eyewitnesses to the crash.
The cloud base was very low. We heard an aircraft with a very irregular engine noise. We thought it was a V1 but anyway it wasn’t a V1, and we heard rending crash just through the trees here so we raced up through the wood but we only got half way there because the whole forest floor was strewn with debris. The smell of aviation fuel was unbearable. and also there was a green tinge to the air, which I later realised must have been the dye markers from the survival markers.Steve White, eye witness, speaking to @acnbchurch after the service
A USAF side party under Major French attended, and USAF Chaplain Major Carollo shared leading the service with Revd Ashdown, who is the vicar of Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley. The Royal British Legion supplied a colour party and buglers, and children from Ampfield school read part of the act of remembrance and laid posies of flowers.
Speaking to @acnbchurch Chaplain Major Carollo USAF said: I think its important, not only as a member of the armed forces but as a citizen, as a human being, to recognise and remember those who went before us and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives to protect not only our freedoms but really helped shape what the world looks like today. They were the heros of a different generation and if we don’t remember them, take time and pause, out of our schedule to reflect upon the sacrifice that they gave there’s a chance we may forget and it’s just so important that we keep that at the forefront of our mind because they gave up their lives today so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today.
One of poignant things about this aircrash is that these five USAF flight crew weren’t directly killed by the violence of the enemy. Their flight was taking them out of the combat area towards safety. Then, as now, the machinery of war and violence is itself dangerous.
Holding memory is one of the unique callings of parish churches like St Mark. How we remember, what we remember, how for long we choose to remember are some of the things that makes us human. As parish churches we are embedded in the land. One of our callings is to hold up the memories which seep out the ground into the revealing light of Jesus resurrection. That is a healing gift for communities and individuals and one of our communities defences against terror, and evil.
In the 1980’s Mr Martin Vear found a small heavily damaged piece of aluminium skin from the aircraft in the woods. A further search showed ‘not massive pieces of wreckage’, but ‘there was a lot of stuff still there on the forest floor that had been there for 35 years’ He recovered an identity bracelet for a pilot and, in a remarkable pre-internet transcontinental search he with the help of the US historical records office and a genealogist traced all the surviving relatives of those who died. He said:
Martn Vear said: It took a couple of years to trace them all down because people had obviously moved around but we found ‘em. I went out to America on about three different occasions in the late 1990s – met several of the family members, big ceremony over there in Louisiana to formally hand over Lieutenant Quinn’s USAF’s personal effects… It’s affected me, spiritually I almost know these men, one of the most incredible feelings was, when I went up to the crash site there were five pairs of eyes sort of watching you – not in a creepy sort of spirit but there was something or somebody there. I’ve never really talked too much about it emotionally, I’m not a massively emotionally person.
A lot of the relatives didn’t know the facts of what actually happened. Some of the military records refer to ‘an aeroplane crash near Stoney Cross’ (which is about twenty miles away from Ampfield) ‘in a place called Dorsetshire’ (which doesn’t exist) and the work done by Martin Vear and his collaborators managed to provide much needed closure to relatives.
The service and event was jointly organised between Ampfield Parish Council and St Marks Church. The minister was Revd Victoria Ashdown, and Lay Minister Sally Kerson assisted. Photos and videos were provided by Ian Wyllie and refreshment were facilitated by the team from St Mark.