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Sgt. George White RAF VR was a wireless operator who lost his life whilst member of a Wellington Bomber crew flying with 140 Sqn based at RAF Driffield, which though having flown a successful mission without incident, crashed on Hawnby Moor, Yorkshire. A sad tale which illustrates the countries policy of hiding flying accidents from the enemy thus denying them the morale boost they would get from hearing news of aircraft losses that diminished the bombing capability of the allies. Sad, but necessary in times of war. I doubt if Sgt White's parents were ever told of the real cause of their sons death on a lonely moor in Yorkshire. Perhaps they were informed after the war but decided his gravestone should remain unaltered. The true story of what happened to Sgt White follows


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The crew of this Merlin powered Wellington Mk II took off from their base at Driffield at 18.35 hrs on the 15th of January 1942 and, along with other aircraft from the same squadron, were to bomb Emden. All appears to have gone well for this aircraft and its crew over the target and many fires were claimed as started by the 50 strong force. On return to Yorkshire, the crew of this aircraft became lost in cloud and ended up over the North Yorkshire Moors. At midnight the aircraft was flying in a south easterly direction, the aircraft descended through the cloud and clipped a piece of moor north of Hawnby at 00.05 hrs. The pilot must have just lost height at that moment as if they had been flying at a similar height for even a few seconds previous, they would have struck higher ground to the north west. On striking an upward slope, the force jumped the aircraft up and onto the moor top braking the aircrafts back and leaving it in two pieces. Part of the wreckage caught fire on the snow covered moor. Four of the crew were killed and two injured in the crash.
 Mr William Wood, (formerly of Ewe Cote Farm, now retired and living in Helmsley) in June 2003, recalled and recounted the events of this night very well as he was one of the first on the scene along with the Chop Gate policeman. His story adds some interesting facts. Mr Wood was told to check in the rear gun turret to see if there was anyone in it, after crawling in, the gunner appeared to him to have been lucky and survived, though injured as he was no where to be seen. It is thought that those who survived had walked off in the opposite direction to where those who found the aircraft had come, Mr Wood made no mention to seeing those who survived. Mr Wood recalled an orange and a bar of chocolate being tucked neatly in the rear turret and were unmoved in the crash. Mr Wood and the other young men present at the crash later carried three of the dead airmen on a cart to nearby Woolhouse Croft where they were later taken away by the authorities for burial. The pilot was removed some time later from the cockpit after RAF units arrived. The wreckage took around six weeks to remove from the moor due to the heavy snow that was to fall. Mr Wood recalls a Fordson tractor being used with a sledge to drag the main lumps away to Laskill.
In Feb 2004 I spoke to Mr Aran Clark formerly of Bumper Castle, Snilesworth (now of Egton). I recounted Mr Wood's memories of this crash to him which jogged his memory. He and Mr Wood lived close to each other at the time and were friends. Mr Clark also recalled the orange in the rear turret and that the rear gunner had indeed walked away from the crash; to Hazelshaw House, the nearest farm house just to the West of where the crash had occurred. Hazelshaw House was farmed at the time by Mr Clarks mothers sister's family, Mrs Garb. Atkinson. She did what she could for him and it is thought he made a full recovery. With regard the other survivor, it is still not known what happened to him immediately after the crash. Mr Clark recalls one of those killed in the crash was missing for a time. He was thrown out of the aircraft as is broke up. Those at the site searched the area for him and Mr Clark recalled being the one who stumbled over him in the heather. Being only young lads this incident must have shocked him and he was able to vividly recount the story to me. Mr Clark also told me that his father also assisted in taking those who were killed in the crash to Laskill to await their removal for burial. I was also told that the tail section of the aircraft was pretty much intact following the crash, as was the majority of the rest of the rear of the aircraft, in that it still looked like an aircraft.
The aircraft was built to contract B71441/40 by Vickers Armstrongs Ltd at Weybridge and delivered to 33 MU at Lyneham on 22nd April 1941. It was then transferred to 24 MU at Ternhill on 15th May 1941 and 51 MU at Lichfield on 23rd October 1941. It finally went to an operational unit, 405 Sqdn at Driffield on 9th November 1941. It was later transferred to 104 Sqn, still at Driffield on 6th January 1942. It was written off with Cat E2/FB Burnt damage ten days later on 16th January 1942 in the incident detailed above. It was struck off charge on 23rd January 1942 with total flying hours of 36.55
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The crew of the ill-fated Wellington Bomber

Pilot - Sgt John Wilmot RAFVR, aged 29, buried Barrhead RC Cemetery, Renfrewshire. Probably Of either Grimsby or Kingeton?

Pilot - Sgt John B Turner RCAF, aged 20, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Buried Topcliffe Cemetery, Yorkshire.

Observer - Sgt Douglas R Bradley RNZAF, aged 28, born Papakura, Auckland, New Zealand, buried Topcliffe Cemetery, Yorkshire.

W Op - Sgt George White RAFVR, aged 22, of Felling, Gateshead, buried Heworth Churchyard, County Durham.

? (Probably the navigator)- Sgt Regan - injured. Fate after crash unknown.

Rear Gunner - Sgt Upham RAF - injured. Survived. A J.A.Upham RAF 612251, became a PoW later in the War, held at Camp 449.

 

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