The RAF’s largest bomber aircraft of World War Two. At a length of 87 feet, 3 inches, she was a full 18 feet longer than the Lancaster and was the first of the RAF’s trio of four engined heavy bombers.
There are no surviving examples of this aircraft in the world today.
It was about this time last year that a New Zealand newspaper, The Nelson Mail began running a series of stories about a war-time event including the heroic actions of a local man named Tom Wilkinson. Wilkinson, who hailed from Nelson sacrificed his life attempting to crash land his stricken RAF bomber whilst avoiding the German forest village of Schwanheim at midnight on a September evening in 1943.
As it turned out, three of the seven man crew onboard the Stirling bomber of 75(NZ)Sqn RAF came from the South Island town of Nelson – my father included.
Since the discovery of the crash site in 2011 and under the guidance of German air crash historian, Uwe Benkel, the town of Schwanheim decided to memorialise the historic event in a gesture of reconciliation and appreciation.
It made one heck of a story.
My thanks go to The Nelson Mail’s senior reporter, Tracy Neal.
Pages reproduced with the permission of The Nelson Mail.
“Then outward bound they set, these Vikings of a new born age
To write fresh deeds of valour, with crystal pen on history’s deathless page.
In silver galleons they set out, Strange ships and wondrous men were these who plumbed the unknown starlit depths of God’s celestial seas.
True sons! Who’s ancestors in bygone days vanquished the Spaniards and his seaborne might
Young England’s sky born fleet set sail
‘Armada of a cloudless night’.
The winking stars in wonder watch as thro’ cloud and moonlit haze each silver ship sails gracefully by, past phantom caps and starfilled bays
The captain and the crew of each imbued with but one single thought.
Their England ne’er shall feel those chains, which alien hands have wrought
Tho’ well knowing as their gallant ships, the tempest fury brave
The harbour which perchance they’ll find lies yond silent grave
The Navy of the sky sails on! Their decks awash with cloud
Swift galleons of Celestial Seas of whom we’re justly proud.
Stern guardians of our Empire’s heart patrolling high above
how proudly do they sail – these ships out o’er the azure blue
well knowing that though many sail, those who return are few
We need no day, we earth-bound folk, no hour set aside in which to turn our thoughts to then and those of them who died!
No cenotaph need we erect to assist us to recall how many of those silver ships with gallant crews did fall!
Their memory shall be evergreen, bourne on the evening breeze
which murmurs softly o’er the world
Strange ships and wondrous men were these.”
– written by Sgt. A C Easton (SAF) as a tribute to those aircrew who didn’t make it.
Reproduced from my father’s POW diary.