During the later part of the Second World War a number of specialist Bomber Defence Training Flights took place. These Flights were specialist units using mainly Spitfire or Hawker Hurricane aircraft and were based at or near RAF Bomber Command airfields. Often, they were flown by pilots that had served on bomber aircraft.
Early in the morning of 2nd March 1945 a fighter affiliation training exercise – one where RAF bombers would be ‘attacked’ by RAF fighters – was taking place in the skies above Ruskington. It was a routine exercise designed to test the skills of all involved.
The fighter would close on its quarry and the bomber crews would try and ‘shoot down’ their adversary with cine cameras attached to their guns while the bomber pilot took – often violent – evasive action and the rest of the crew kept a look out in a bid to ‘save’ his aircraft. After the exercise the cine film would be examined in detail and feedback given.
But on this occasion, a night fighter affiliation exercise, the outcome was unexpected.
Avro Lancaster III bomber ME473, of No. 207 Squadron, RAF, had completed its exercise with the RAF fighter – probably from No. 1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight based at nearby RAF Metheringham – and was flying away from the exercise area.
At the same time a second Lancaster – DX-F/ND572 – from No. 57 Squadron RAF was approaching to take its place.
In that moment seventeen men lost their lives as wreckage fell to Fen Farm below.
Avro Lancaster III Bomber ME473, of No. 207 Squadron, RAF
The aircraft, which is believed to have arrived on the Squadron during mid February 1945, had done one operation, on 24th February (Ladbergen). Lawson’s crew had done 22 operations.
The aircraft was destroyed at 0118 hours in a mid-air collision with Lancaster ND572. ME473 had just completed a fighter affiliation exercise with a Hurricane and was leaving the training area when it collided with ND572 which was running in to commence a similar exercise with the same Hurricane.
The regular crew is shown in the photos below. It is not known why Sgt. Bernard Fox and Sgt A.J. (“Jock”) Corsar were not in the crew on this final flight.
The crew of ME473 who died in the skies over Ruskington were:
- Pilot: Flt. Lt. 419881 Edward McMaster LAWSON (RAAF) – see CWGC
- Navigator: F/O 154636 William Winston LORD (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Bomber: Flt. Sgt. 1671712 Arthur HENDERSON (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Gunner: Sgt. 1899297 Robert Charles BANKS (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Gunner: Sgt. 1869316 George Walter FLITT (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Gunner: Sgt. 1596299 George WILKINSON (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- W/Operator: Sgt. 1590550 Raymond RICHARDSON (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Leading Aircraftman 1559833 John MORRISON (RAFVR) – see CWGC
Men from RAF Metheringham spent three weeks at the crash site recovering the crews. However, it would another 50 years for Sergeants Robert Banks and Arthur Henderson could be officially accounted for. Leading Aircraftman John Morrison was flying as a passenger on ME473.
An unnamed airman had been initially buried at Cambridge City Cemetery and his gravestone marked accordingly. But another body remained to be found.
In 1995 an excavation licenced by the Ministry of Defence of the 57 Squadron aircraft (below) by the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group, it emerged that the site coordinates provided by the Ministry of Defence were in fact those of the 207 Squadron aircraft.
A body found on board was identified as Sergeant Robert Charles Banks. Hence the ‘unknown airman’ buried at Cambridge was Sergeant Arthur Henderson. On Friday, 25 October 1996 at Cambridge City Cemetery Sergeant Banks was buried with full military honours.
A plaque commemorating the two aircrews was erected at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirby, Lincolnshire.
Avro Lancaster III Bomber ND572, of No. 57 Squadron, RAF
Lancaster ND572 had taken off from its base at RAF East Kirby in the evening of 2 March 1945 and was moving in to position for its night-fighter exercise, after Lancaster ME473.
57 Squadron flew Lancasters out of East Kirby from 27 August 1943 to 25 November 1945, when the Squadron disbanded.
This aircraft was destroyed at 0118 hours when it collided with Lancaster ME473 whilst engaged in a fighter affiliation exercise. The pilot had contacted the Hurricane involved and was just turning in to commence training when the collision occurred. ME473 had just finished the same exercise with the same aircraft.
All on board were lost, including AC2 (Aircraftman Second Class) Hunter Mason Aitken, a trainee navigator, who was on board ND572 as an observer.
The crew of ND572 who died in the skies over Ruskington were:
- Pilot – F/O 174549 Robert Joseph ANSCOMB (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Navigator: Sgt. 1654216 Derrick WHITEFOOT (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Flight Engineer – Sgt. 2210620 Gerald Edward DANDY (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Wireless Operator: Sgt. 1892463 Cyril William WATTS (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Bomber: Fl./Sgt. 1419043 Cyril John WATERS (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Gunner: Sgt. 1591071 Eric DAVIS (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Gunner: Sgt. 3033640 Frederick Douglas LEAHY (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Air Gunner: Sgt. 1586842 Ronald THOMAS (RAFVR) – see CWGC
- Trainee Nav.: AC II 3030232 Hunter Mason AITKEN (RAFVR) – see CWGC
All of the men lost on that day are commemorated on the IBCC (International Bomber Command) Memorial at Lincoln, where a simple search will give more details about each man.