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Village History

Memories in a distant country

Posted on November 20 2012 at 12:10:59 0 comments

Rowney Green service

Relatives of a Canadian airman killed in the 1943 bomber crash in Rowney Green attended this year’s memorial service.

Remembrance in Rowney Green was particularly poignant this year as the members of Alvechurch Ex-Services Association welcomed Charles Baker and his wife Caroline who had flown in specially from Ontario, Canada.

Charles is the nephew of Sergeant Alton O’Neil, who was a Rear Gunner based at RAF Pershore during the Second World War. Alton died on November 9, 1943 when Wellington Bomber X3932 crashed near Rowney Green at 19.49 hours on its way back to RAF Pershore from a routine training exercise.

The port engine failed and the impact of the crash was so hard that the starboard engine was driven nine feet into the ground.  All five crew were killed instantly on impact and are buried in the Military Graves section of Pershore Cemetery. 

The actual point of the crash was located in 1982 by Midland Aircraft Recovery Group and in October 2007, Alvechurch Ex-Services Association held a service of dedication on the site and dedicated a maple tree and plaque to the memory of the five members of the Royal Canadian Air Force who were killed.

Each year on November 9, the Association holds a Service of Remembrance at the Memorial Tree and this year they were delighted to welcome not only Charles and Caroline, but also Chris Dovey, National Chairman of the Royal Naval Association; Councillor Judy Pearce, Deputy Leader of Wychavon District Council, and Trudy Burge, Hon Secretary of Pershore RNA.

Judy and Trudy worked together last year to name 10 new roads next to Pershore Cemetery after the fallen buried at the cemetery, and when the news filtered through to the newspapers in Canada, Charles made contact.

Trudy keeps in regular contact with him as well as Jill Desjardins-Brandelli and Gilbert Philips, who also have uncles buried at Pershore Cemetery.  Unfortunately, the name O’Neil could not be used due to the apostrophe not being accepted by the planning system.

The service was conducted by Rev David Martin and attended by approximately 80 people, including pupils from Alvechurch Middle School who laid five poppy crosses, one for each of those who were killed that fateful evening.

Charles laid a floral wreath on behalf of his cousin Sharon O’Neil, who is Alton’s only daughter and is too ill to travel. Caroline laid a poppy wreath and Chris Dovey laid a floral tribute on behalf of the RNA and people of Pershore.

Afterwards, villagers decamped to the Peace Hall, where there was a small display regarding the crash and crew and refreshments were provided.

Charles Baker said, “Meeting Trudy Burge and Judy Pearce after more than a year of correspondence and planning for our visit was wonderful. Even though I never knew my uncle, he was family, and he gave his life for his country. That makes me quite emotional.

“The service and trip to the grave site touched me greatly. Putting the wreaths and Canadian flag on my uncle’s grave and the flags for all the Canadian aircrew buried in Pershore felt emotionally satisfying.

“Trudy has been an enormous help and getting some of the names of the streets in the new development named after the aircrew buried in Pershore is a wonderful memorial.

‘Our trip has been filled with laughter and tears.  We have met new friends and look forward to continuing our friendship over the years.

Chris Dovey said, “As National Chairman of the RNA it was a pleasure to attend the ceremony at Rowney Green. I have close ties with Canada as my son lives there. It was a special pleasure to meet Charles and Caroline and we have already made plans to meet in Canada in 2013, and hopefully for me to meet up with members of the Canadian Legion Branch in Prescott, the home town of Sgt O’Neil. 

“With the advances in transportation technology the world is a much smaller place than it was in 1943.  Events like this one serve to remind us not only how close we are to our friends and allies around the world, but also what debts we owe to so many of them.”

Charles and Caroline also visited Throckmorton Airfield to see where Alton was based at the time of his death.  The airfield has many of the original features from when it was RAF Pershore, and it was the first time that Charles had seen it in person.

Afterwards, they drove to Pershore cemetery where Charles laid a second wreath from Sharon on Alton’s grave before putting Canadian flags on all the Canadian war graves. He also laid the floral tributes on Ernie Desjardins and Graham Hynam’s graves so that the photographs could be emailed to their families.

They then joined Pershore RNA to attend the Service of Remembrance in Pershore Abbey and the special Service at the Commemorative Garden where pupils from Pershore High School laid a poppy wreath and poppy crosses at the stone dedicated to our Armed Forces.

See also: Remembrance in Alvechurch

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