What began as a curiosity ended as a ride back in history for the Black Mountains Chapter
They were on a mission to locate the resting place of WWII veterans buried at the Prague War Cemetery, inspired by the annual Ride to the Wall event, ‘Find a Fallen Hero’, held at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire.
“We’ve attended Ride to the Wall since the Chapter was formed five years ago, and decided to extend the idea with our visit to Prague,” says Chapter Director Steve Link.
One Chapter member who took up the challenge with gusto was Michael Crocker, who identified two young lads aged just 19 who had grown up 40 miles from each other in Scotland. Serving in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as air gunners, both were also members of 153 Squadron, until they lost their lives on 6th March 1945 when their Lancaster Bomber, PB872 P4-X, was shot down during a bombing mission to Chemnitz (a military hardware manufacturing base in Germany).
Crash landing near Hranice in the Czech Republic, all seven crew members were killed. Their bodies were subsequently recovered and buried in a graveyard next to the local church, with a memorial erected at the crash site.
“We had hoped to find a piece of wreckage at the site when we visited,” says Steve. “However, with the reconnaissance producing nothing, we decided to mark the occasion by collecting an oak sapling from the site.”
Back in Blighty, the Chapter made contact with the 153 Squadron Association, formed after the war to enable ex-members and their families (the squadron disbanded in 1958) to stay in touch with each other to recall their missions.
“It was obvious to all of us that this amazing group of people had taken this research very seriously, and what they had discovered was truly wonderful,” says 153 Squadron Association secretary Jill Saunders. “They had taken numerous photos from the crash site, the crews’ graves and of wreckage from a display in Prague.”
Following their initial contact, the Chapter were invited to attend 153 Squadron’s annual weekend reunion in May this year, where they presented their findings, along with the sapling (now planted in the International Bomber Command Centre grounds) and several pine cones from the crash site, placing two on each table at dinner on the Friday evening.
“The presentation, shared between Alan Holland and others on the Friday evening, was simply wonderful and so professionally done; it left everyone totally speechless and very emotional,” says Jill.
But the story doesn’t end there. After numerous fruitless enquiries and searches to try to find any living relatives of the crew that perished in PB872, suddenly, coincidentally and completely out of the blue just a couple of weeks prior to the reunion, the nephew of Walter Simpson (tail gunner), “Wullie” Simpson, got in touch with the Squadron. Within a matter of days, “Wullie” was in contact with the Chapter, had joined 153 Squadron Association and had booked his train ticket to attend the reunion.
“He then came down from Scotland to attend our reunion on behalf of his father Adam, as he wasn’t well enough to travel himself,” explains Jill. Adam is the youngest of seven brothers, the eldest being Walter.
“This culminated in the most tear-jerking moment of the whole presentation: the introduction of “Wullie” Simpson by Alan Holland – not one dry eye in the house! Because of this, our Association and the Black Mountains H.O.G.® Chapter from South Wales will now forever be friends, and hopefully they will attend many more reunions and other events with us.”
The Squadron arranged for a plaque to be placed at the foot of the sapling by the Memorial Spire at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, to mark the Chapter’s journey and the oak’s significance.