Crew of Avro Lancaster ED823
Flight Sergeant L W LEAN RAAF Pilot Aged 22 14855
Sergeant F DUNKIN RAAF Flight Engineer Aged 21 127064
Flying Officer E LAMBERT Navigator Aged 34 1087359
Sergeant H U OXSPRING Bomb Aimer Aged 27 1345277
Sergeant W S L GRAHAM Wireless Operator Aged 20 R/115799
Flight Sergeant R D LEWIS RCAF Air Gunner Aged 22 1231524
Sergeant W G STEPHENSON Air Gunner Aged 21
From the left -Raymond Lewis - air gunner (RCAF); "Jock" Graham - wireless operator;
Ted Lambert - navigator; Len Lean - pilot (RAAF)
The pilot Len Lean and the flight engineer Frank Dunkin were both from Australia. They had both joined the RAAF for initial training before being embarked for Great Britain. Flt Sgt Lean came from Chatswood, Sydney, and Sgt Dunkin's home was in Armidale, New South Wales. Raymond Lewis, one of the crew's air gunners was from Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada.
All three of these Commonwealth airmen are buried in Newark cemetery, about eight miles from this memorial.
The Navigator, Ted Lambert, lived with his wife Lavinia in Overhulton, Bolton, Lancashire. At 34 he was looked on by the rest of the crew as "the daddy" of the aircrew as he was "so much older" than the rest of them. He is buried in Fleetwood Borough Cemetery, near Blackpool.
Sgt Henry Oxspring as bomber aimer, manned the front gun turret and would have been responsible for releasing the plane's bombs on target once the crew had gone operational and were sent on bombing runs. He is buried in Hoyland Nether Cemetery near Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
Wireless Operator "Jock" Graham's family came from Glasgow. At 20 years old he was the youngest member of the crew. He is buried in the Glasgow Western Necropolis.
Sergeant William Stephenson was the crew's second air gunner, along with Flt Sgt Lewis, his job was to provide the Lancaster's defence against enemy fighters. He was from Leicester, where he is buried in Gilroes Cemetery.
The pilot Len Lean - he is still a trainee pilot in this picture as he has white band on his flying cap
Flying Officer Ted Lambert (navigator) - at 34 years old, the most senior crew member in terms of rank and age
Frank Dunkin from Australia. He was the Flight Engineer - his role was to support the pilot by keeping "the kite" flying
Sergeant Henry Oxspring - bomb aimer. He would also have manned the front machine gun turret
Wireless Operator Sergeant "Jock" Graham from Glasgow. His report of an engine fire was overheard by other crews also on training flights the night of the crash
Canadian Flight Sergeant Lewis was one of the Lancaster's two air gunners. He would keep a sharp look-out for enemy fighters, and defend the bomber from attack
Sergeant Billy Stephenson from Leicester, the other air gunner on the plane. When flying with other bombers, or in formation, the air gunners would also look out for wandering "friendly" aircraft threatening to collide with their own plane, and would warn the pilot to take evasive action.
Official Crash Report
The official crash report was produced the day after the crash. It is a brief summary and gives little detail as to the events leading up to the crash. The report implies "pilot error" as the cause - HOWEVER, there is strong evidence that the Lancaster experienced problems with one of its engines right from take off. In fact it seems most likely that one of the engines was on fire when the plane crashed. Engine trouble and a fire are reported in a letter to the wife of Ted Lambert, the navigator, written by a fellow airman based at RAF Winthorpe. Further confirmation comes from an eye-witness story from Mrs Clarke who saw the plane moments before the crash. She was a young child at the time but she clearly remembers the plane passing over their cottage and recalls a "serious fire" which made it look as though the whole plane was burning.
Flt Sgt Lean would have had to struggle to keep the plane on a level flight, especially if the fire was spreading to the wing. It may well be that he was looking for a flat field in which to crash land - a further hundred yards and he would have had somewhere to put the plane down. The trees on the hill at Norwood Park and the power cables across the field where they crashed meant they had no chance for a safe landing. The plane was certainly heading towards open country where a crash landing could be attempted.
Rather than pilot error, it seems that it was mechanical failure and sheer bad luck that Len couldn't bring his crew down safely.
Why the engine problems, and possible fire, are not mentioned in the accident report remains a mystery. Was this an oversight in a rushed report by people busy fighting a desperate war? Perhaps it was easier to blame a trainee pilot rather than admit to a faulty, or poorly maintained aircraft.... after all to send an aircrew up in a plane that wasn't airworthy would be to put seven lives as great risk.... Perhaps we will never know.
So far the official Accident Investigation Branch (A.I.B.) report hasn't been traced - if that can be found, perhaps more light can be shone on the tragic events.
Can anyone provide any more information on the likely cause of the crash, or help us find the A.I.B. report?
To read the official RAF accident report for ED823 - Click Here
The Avro Lancaster Bomber
The Lancaster bomber was the most famous and most successful of the Second World War heavy bombers. Although primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles including daylight precision bombing, and gained worldwide fame as the "Dam Buster" used in the 1943 raids on Germany's Ruhr Valley dams
8 January 1941
Introduced in service
69 ft 5 ins (21.2m)
102 ft (31.1m)
36,828 lb (16,705kg)
Weight (max. load)
63,000 lb (29,000kg)
£45,000 - 50,000
[about £1.3 - £1.5m in 2011 currency]
During WWII 7,377 Lancasters were built and this workhorse of Bomber Command flew 156,000 sorties, dropping over 600,000 tons of bombs. Although of an exceptional design and thought by most pilots to be a great plane to fly, almost half of all Lancasters delivered during the war were lost (a total of 3,345 planes lost) on operations with the loss of over 21,000 crew members; a sad reflection of the casualties of war.
Unfortunately accidents involving aircrews in training were all too common. The crew of ED823 were such a trainee aircrew; on that tragic night seven young men "gave their tomorrows for our todays".
Lest we forget
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