Ashdown Forest – The Airmen’s Grave

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A minute or so after midnight on the last day of July 1941, the peace of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex was shattered as Wellington Mk II W5364 QT-H, returning from a bombing raid on Cologne, ended its homeward journey in fire and destruction here on these rolling slopes.

Panorama

Whether the plane ever made its intended target, or developed engine trouble over Europe, as I have seen suggested, and had to turn for home, I am unsure.  Whatever the details, the six man crew were still a long way from their base at Binbrook in Lincolnshire when their war ended here.

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For some reason I now forget I only had my phone camera on me…

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…as you can see…

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…but these shots will do.

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None of the crew of six survived the crash.

NAMESERVICEAGEWHERE BURIED/CREMATED
HENRY ALEXANDER VINCENT VIDLERR.A.F.27HULL CREMATORIUM
VICTOR RONALD SUTTONR.A.F.24BROCKLEY CEMETERY, LEWISHAM
WILFRED STANLEY BROOKS*R.A.F.25RAMSGATE & ST. LAWRENCE CEMETERY
ARTHUR ERNEST CAVER.A.F.21WALLASEY (RAKE LANE) CEMETERY
THOMAS STANLEY HATHAWAYR.A.F. V.R.24PRESTON-ON-TEES CEMETERY
LEONARD SAUNDERSR.A.F. V.R.21WHITSTABLE CEMETERY

*His brother John also died on active service.

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Flying Officer Nick Bradgate, 149 Squadron, Bomber Command.  “The horrors of war never left you and your health never recovered.”

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It has long been known as the ‘Airmen’s Grave’ (you will find it annotated as such on the Ordnance Survey map of the forest) even though no one is buried here.  I hope it remains here forever.

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Thanks to Peter and Cate, without whom etc etc. They know what I mean.

This entry was posted in Sussex East, U.K. Churches, Memorials & Cemeteries - Back in Blighty. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Ashdown Forest – The Airmen’s Grave

  1. Susan says:

    I hope it remains there forever, too.

    • Magicfingers says:

      You nearly got a name check in this post. After the recent Yeovil post I thought you’d find this of interest.

    • Martin says:

      Susan,
      I have a report of the raid that night in bomber command war diaries.

      If you want to email me, i can send you a picture of the text.

      But…..62 wellingtons took part. 1 lost, 6 crashed back in UK. (This one) it carried out the raid, otherwise would hve mentioned she turned back ( Indeed, 12 whitleys turned back due to weather and they were only bombing boulogne.) but in awful conditions CB, cold and warm fronts creating tbunder and lightning. Hardly good today, but back then..almost fatal. Possible structural damage and engine trouble due to weather, especially as they lost 6 back here.Raid not a success as reported only 3 HE bombs, 300 incendaries land 6 buildings damaged in the city. This was very much the case during the war. Not even a quarter of bombs found the right target due to being night, basic navigation and pilot error naturally…at _40 degrees im astoinded they even made it there. Right or wrong, these boys gave everything for their country. Never forget them.
      As a matter of interest, go to Brookëands museum and go inside the wellington there. How they did what they did will always amaze me. Not disimilar to a piper cherokee cockpit space wise i can fly today. RIP heroes all.

  2. Cyril Ridley says:

    I was born on Ashdown Forest not far from this spot during WW2. “The forest” was an unrestricted play ground for us local children. We also knew this spot as “The Airmans Grave” but at that time there was no enclosure, only (if memory serves) a wooden marker. My late mother would tell us children how a plane flew low over the house during the nigh and in the morning there was “A burning cross up on the forest.” I had hoped to find old photographs taken there but without success

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Cyril. Thanks for commenting. Sounds like a brilliant playground!! Have you tried the Sussex archives for possible photos – and would there have been an inquest, I wonder?

    • Carol O'Driscoll says:

      Dear Cyril,
      AIRMEN’S GRAVE- REQUEST FOR INFORMATION
      I am a member of the Ashdown Forest Research Group https://www.ashdownforest.org/…/AshdownResearchGroup.php
      and we have been requested to research information about the Airman’s Grave on the Forest with a view to publishing our findings this November, the 80th Anniversary of the crash. We particularly want to focus on people who may have witnessed the crash or its immediate aftermath. We are aware that many people who may have experiences to relate may no longer with us but would appreciate any insights or contacts. I was interested in your post above. All information and suggestions welcome. We will publish our findings on our website and attribute accordingly.

  3. Shirley J. Hearn says:

    Hello-
    Have just found this page on, what looks like to me, a fascinating website to be explored. I’d just finished reading Canadian author Helen Humphries novel, “The Evening Chorus”; the circumstances of her story take place in a German POW Camp, as well as in England. The crash of an RAF Vickers Wellington aircraft in Ashdown Forest is part of Ms. Humphries fictional tale; in her story, the six aircrew also perished, one of them being a main character in what I consider to be a powerful and beautiful story about the Second World War. I was deeply moved and heart-broken when I saw your fine photographs of this site and this memorial to the ‘real’ six young airmen. Thank you.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Shirley. That is really interesting, and I can imagine that, having read the book, finding these photos was, as you say, most moving. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment, and I hope you have a good explore of this site – there’s a lot to explore, and anything or everything gets updated as and when. I do hope you enjoy it. The Interactive Tour Maps tab near the top of the page is an easy way into the various tours featured, but there are a lot of stand-alone posts too.

    • anita mclellan says:

      I just borrowed the above mentioned book from the library. I have read several of Ms. Humphreys and have enjoyed them. Looking forward to reading this one though I have a feeling it is going to be a rather sad tale.

  4. Mark Ashdown says:

    just been their today walking the dogs with my family and came across this site
    in all the years i have never seen this before so i stopped paid my respect to the crew
    saluted with a tear in my eye and may god still looking after them
    we owe these crewmen so much to so many thanks
    mark ashdown

  5. Verity says:

    There is a memorial held at that spot every year on remembrance Sunday. It is so well attended that you have to arrive at one of the forest car parks in very good time. Most people arrive on foot or horseback but the year I went, I could see people watching from a hillside that I think was near a road. I’m glad there is some sort of access for people who can’t walk to the spot.

    There are huge crowds but the two minute silence is observed and is quite an experience with just the rustling of the trees and the shifting of dogs and horses around you.

    I don’t know if it always happens but the year I was there, a local pilot flew a light aircraft over and dropped red paper petals. The memorial is not religious, no hymns, very simple and with opportunity for people to lay wreaths and plant crosses. It is incredibly moving though and I hope the tradition continues for a very long time yet.

  6. Carol says:

    Thank you for this. I am going to walk to it with a friend 6’ away as part of my self isolation.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Sounds like a good idea to me! I cannot believe that this little post has had more than 2000 views since I first published it! Amazing.

  7. Stephen Clancy says:

    Visited today. Stirs the inner emotions and clearly a fitting artefact to the memory of these six, brave young men. Locally, it is a very well known and significant landmark. The views on the walk to the memorial are fabulous, Ashdown Forest is a wonderful place of natural beauty and I feel so lucky to live close by.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers Stephen. If I didn’t live in a pretty nice place myself, I would currently be turning green…..and I am just a little, anyway. You are indeed a lucky man. I have visited just the once.

  8. caroline mcclure says:

    my son would like to metal detect,would he be allowed?we promise that we will fill the holes back in as if nothing happened.

    kind regards Caroline McClure

  9. Michele Walter says:

    My late father was the first on the scene when this plane crashed. As we all know this is not actually a grave but a memorial, something my father was really insistent about. At the age of 16 he saw the stricken Wellington bomber coming over on fire from his house in Fairwarp. He ran across the forest to where the plane had crashed on its back. He managed to pull the rear gunner out Len Saunders but unfortunately the poor guy had already perished. Ammunition was going off in all directions and my dads mate who was with him had to pull him away. My father attended the Remembrance Sunday service almost every year.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Wow. Thank you for your comment Michele. Over time it will probably be read by many people, as this post is still regularly viewed. What a traumatic night for a sixteen year old – he should have got a medal, surely!? Thanks again – very much appreciated.

    • Carol O'Driscoll says:

      Dear Michele,
      AIRMEN’S GRAVE- REQUEST FOR INFORMATION
      I am a member of the Ashdown Forest Research Group https://www.ashdownforest.org/…/AshdownResearchGroup.php
      and we have been requested to research information about the Airman’s Grave on the Forest with a view to publishing our findings this November, the 80th Anniversary of the crash. We particularly want to focus on people who may have witnessed the crash or its immediate aftermath. We are aware that many people who may have experiences to relate may no longer with us but would appreciate any insights or contacts. I was interested in your post above. All information and suggestions welcome. We will publish our findings on our website and attribute accordingly.

  10. Forest Mum says:

    We visited on the 80 th anniversary,31st July 2021, simply by chance. It was incredibly moving especially standing with my 30 year old son by my side. The sacrifice that these young men made was incredible. May they rest in peace but never be forgotten.

  11. Carol O'Driscoll says:

    I am a member of the Ashdown Forest Research Group https://www.ashdownforest.org/enjoy/history/AshdownResearchGroup.php
    and we have been requested to research more information about the Airman’s Grave, with a view to publishing our findings this November. We particularly want to focus on people who may have witnessed the crash or its immediate aftermath. We are aware that many people who may have experiences to relate may no longer with us but would appreciate any insights or contacts. I notice that Michele Walter’s father saw the crash and wondered if Michele had any further information. All information welcome.

    • Magicfingers says:

      How very interesting. I will assume that you are monitoring this page and thus, on your reponse to this: shall I try and get hold of Michele for you? I shall see what I can do.

  12. A Walmsley says:

    My Great Uncle,Ernest Cave, is one of the men commemorated.
    I was able to visit in 2011. Sadly no one in the family had been aware of the memorial, to my knowledge.
    It’s incredibly moving to know the reverence this place holds for so many.
    Thank you.

    • Magicfingers says:

      This is ostensibly a Great War website, yet I promise you that in the five years since I posted these pictures, this post has had, and continues to get, big viewing figures. I am really glad you found my site – this page is for your Great Uncle and his colleagues – and thank you for commenting. Much appreciated.

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