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World War 2 Airmen remembered 80 years on from Cellarhead plane crash

GavinCompany Updates

A plaque remembering six airmen who died when their plane crashed near Cellarhead has been reinstated eight decades following the tragedy.

Kingsley Parish Councillor Ivor Lucas spearheaded the campaign to have the memorial plaque reinstated on Blakeley Lane Chapel which has recently been renovated by Strategy 365 for use as a new office. The plaque had initially been unveiled during a ceremony held fours years ago funded by the council and attended by members of the RAF, Kingsley Parish Councillors, Royal British Legion members, and local residents.

Flying Officer Ernest Richards (aged 26), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Flying Officer Hubert Kerr (aged 28), Flight Sergeants Kenneth Murray (aged 23) and William Joshua (aged 22), Sergeant Herbert Couling (aged 20) and Sergeant and Flight Engineer Albert Denny (aged 28) all died at the scene on February 7, 1944, when their Handley Page Halifax Mk.ll bomber crashed at around 6.30pm on Blakeley Lane Farm, land across the road from Blakeley Lane Chapel.

An agreement between the chapel and the council was that if the building was ever sold, then the plaque would need to be removed and kept safe, which happened prior to the chapel being bought in 2022 by Strategy 365. Ivor Lucas wanted to reinstate the plaque to where it belonged and Managing Director Gavin Nixon, along with the team, were happy to have the memorial reinstated on the outside of the building.

Cllr Lucas said: “We’d like to thank Gavin and his staff at Strategy 365, now based at The Old Chapel, for their help and understanding by allowing the memorial plaque to be returned to its original site on the front of the chapel.”

Strategy 365’s MD, Gavin Nixon added: “We knew of the crash when researching the building and understood the plaque had been removed prior to the sale of the chapel. We were happy to find that the plaque had been kept safe and to see it reinstalled back in pride of place. We owe it all to Ivor for reinstating the plaque 80 years to the day after the accident.

“We’re also creating a little memorial space in our office which tells the history of the site and the airmen who tragically lost their lives that night.”

The airmen had been undertaking non-operational night training cross county when the Handley Page Halifax bomber crashed just 50 minutes after take-off. No communication was received from the aircraft and the cause of the crash was unknown, as no technical defects were found.

The crash was witnessed by local boys Bernard Dale, aged 11, and Peter Capewell, aged 13, who saw the aircraft spiralling down to earth where it crashed in a field. Locals ran to help, but unfortunately the rear gunner had been mortally wounded and the other men were dead. Both Bernard and Peter attended the original unveiling ceremony fours years ago.

Previous parish councillor Martyn Hordern, who had re-discovered the story of the crash when researching WW2 history, was kind enough to bring some old photos and explain some of the history to the Strategy 365 team at the unveiling ceremony.

Mr Hordern had previously told the Leek Post and Times: “Serving as air crew with Bomber Command in WW2 was a perilous occupation. Out of 125,000 men who served, over 55,000 were killed, of those, over 8,000 were killed in flying accidents like the one we commemorated.

“We owe these men a debt of gratitude in that we were able to stand at the chapel and be able to remember their sacrifice.”

Related photos:

Plaque Unveiling 3
From left to right: Deborah Jones, Martyn Hordern, Ivor Lucas, Gavin Nixon (Strategy 365), and Dan Lucas at the plaque reinstatement ceremony.


Plaque Unveiling 1
From left to right: Martyn Hordern and Ivor Lucas, with Gavin Nixon and Sam Clements from Strategy 365 at the plaque reinstatement ceremony.


Strategy 365 Team
Members of the Strategy 365 team at the plaque reinstatement ceremony.


Restored Plaque
The wonderfully restored commemorative plaque back in its place.


Original unveiling ceremony
From left to right: Rev David Watson, Ivor Lucas, Bernard Dale, Peter Capewell, Martyn Hordern, and members of the RAF at the original unveiling ceremony four years ago.


Crash Witnesses
Bernard Dale and Peter Capewell; witnesses of the crash then aged 11 and 13.


Flying Officer Ernest Richards
Flying Officer Ernest Richards.


Volunteer Reserve Flying Officer Hubert Kerr
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Flying Officer Hubert Kerr.


Crash Site
The crash site at Blakeley Lane Farm opposite the chapel.


Crash Report 1
The official crash report page 1.


Crash Report 2
The official crash report page 2.


Letter from local business
A report written by a local business who assisted on the evening of the crash.


Handley Page Halifax Mk.ll
An example of the Handley Page Halifax Mk.ll plane.

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