Interview with Sue Chaplin

Title

Interview with Sue Chaplin

Description

Susan Chaplin was born in North Marston and was a local teacher. She recounts the story her mother told her as a young girl, about Wellington HE740 which crashed near the village. With her local history group she researched and wrote a book “The North Marston Story”, about the crash and erected a memorial in the village church. Flight Sergeant Michael Reece, Flight Sergeant Donald McLennan, Flight Sergeant Alexander Bolger, Sergeant Ian Smith, Sergeant John Wenham and Sergeant Reginald Price were killed in the crash.

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Date

2017-04-07

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Coverage

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00:52:23 audio recording

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IBCC Digital Archive

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

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AChaplinSR170407

Transcription

CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Thursday, 7th April, 2017, and I am here in Thornton with Sue Chaplin who arranged for details to be made much more public and memorable about an air crash at North Marston nearby. So Sue what are your earliest recollections of life?
SC: I was born in North Marston where my mother and her brothers and sisters, and grandparents, great grandparents were all born, and my mother was always very very interested herself in local history and the stories of everyone so I was brought up surrounded by stories of village people and family and one of her stories was always about how she had witnessed this Wellington plane crashing in the war when she was twenty seven years old and she used to show me on our country walks the field where it came down and she always used said to me ‘there’s an engine deep down in that field you know may be one day it will be dug up’, so that’s how I grew up really with an interest in local history and the family and I’ve always had a very strong connection with North Marston where all of my family seem to take up most of the churchyard and so although I don’t live in the village anymore I have very strong connections there and my mother herself died nine years ago and my cousin still lives there so I’m going back there all the time and it’s really what led me to write back in 2014 to write the history of North Marston “The North Marston Story” which really I was prompted to do because I wanted to put down in writing all of those things that my mother had told me when I was a child, and then of course the book expanded in to far more than that in the end. I went to school in I went to Aylesbury High School er and after that I went to Teachers Training College at Wall Hall Aldenham for three years where I trained to be a teacher and then I went to the University of East Anglia after that and did a degree in history and education, so history has always been a great interest anyway and when I qualified I got a job at a school called Akeley Wood School which was a private school near Buckingham, er I got the job in 1976 and I thought it would be a stop gap for a few years until I got a different job. I had never been to a private school so it was nothing that I knew about so I thought well it would be a nice job just for a year or two but I actually stayed for my whole career and I was there for over thirty years ,and er I became head of the junior school there, and I retired in 2006 I took an early retirement in 2006.
CB: Okay we’ll stop there for a minute.
SC: In er about 2008 a gentleman came to live in North Marston who was a local historian, John Spargo, and in conversation with him one day he mentioned to me that he was surprised there was no written history of the village of North Marston as it was so rich in history, and I said to him ‘well I would absolutely love to help you put that down’ because as I mentioned just now it was something I’d always thought would be a good idea. So we decided to see if there would be um an interest in the village for a written history and we sent round a questionnaire and yes people would love it, so we started off by recording I offered to do all recordings of all the elderly people in the village and actually the not so elderly as well some of them were my old friends from school, and I did twenty three recordings including my mother, one of the recordings was also a chap called Chris Holden and Chris had been a little boy when the Wellington came and crashed and during his recording he was recollecting that night and he said ‘you know’ he said ‘I think it’s tragic there’s never been a memorial to those boys’ so I thought about this and coupled with my mother’s story of that night and finally by the fact the nearby village to me Thornborough erected a memorial in 2014 to the Wellington Bomber that crashed there all of those three things combined, so I went to the North Marston History Club which we had founded by then and said ‘how about it why not do a project the anniversary of the North Marston Wellington crash is coming up on 4th January 2015, that will be the seventieth anniversary, Thornborough had just put up one, Chris Holden had said in his interview what a shame so why don’t we go for it?’, it was agreed that we would then start to investigate the possibility of doing it this would have been the summer of 2014 when we started to think about it so we had about six months before the seventieth anniversary in January 2015 came up, obviously we had we wanted to put a memorial in the church so the first thing we had to do was approach the Vicar and the Faculty at Oxford to see if they would give permission, so the er church Parochial Church Council applied to Oxford for the Faculty that took quite a long time to come through, but we decided that we would go ahead with the memorial even if it couldn’t be put in the church because we would find somewhere for it in the village and obviously the next thing to do was to get going on finding out more and more and more about these boys. In our North Marston Story that we had written the big book about the village we had actually mentioned this crash, we knew the names of the six boys who’d died, we knew where they had come from, three were from New Zealand, one from Sussex, and two from Kent, so our next project was to try and trace any relatives that we could and my colleague in the history club Jane Springer started off by emailing the Otago Daily Times in New Zealand because we knew that two of the boys came from there, she had an instant response that day from the journalist from the Otago Daily Times and within a few days he had published our story, I sent him all the details we knew he published our story and that same day we had a response from Michael Reece who was the nephew of our pilot Michael Reece he had seen this in the paper, and we had a response from Chas Forsyth who had been a friend of the Reece’s he had seen this article in the paper, we had a response from dear Neville Selwood who was a Lancaster navigator who had been stationed at Westcott who knew Alex Bulger our bomb aimer, and we had a response from Alex Bulger’s family and that all took place within a few days. The biggest surprise at the time to us was that the Reece family and the Bulger family who had both lived all their lives in Otago knew each other but until we got in touch they hadn’t realised that their uncles had died in the same plane so that was just the most amazing thing and that was the first of many coincidences that were to happen, er so then they started to inundate us with photographs, letters that they’d had from their boys, photographs, photographs of the funerals in Oxford because five of the boys who died in the Wellington were buried at Botley in Oxford, the other one went home to Maidstone, but the Reece family in New Zealand had photographs of the burial and so they sent us photographs of the family of the boys, I mean to suddenly seeing photographs of these boys who my mother knew died that night, she by then had passed away, and it was of great sadness to me that my mother couldn’t see these photographs that suddenly came to us because she would have just loved to have seen the pictures of the boys who died. So we were suddenly starting to get information and we, Jane my colleague, went on to Ancestory.com and she was contacted by somebody who said I am a relative of Don McClellan the wireless operator, Don McClellan came from New Zealand but much further north, so she put us in touch with Don McClellan’s family so then we suddenly had photographs and information from the McClellan’s so we thought wow we’ve got enough stuff here to put out a little publication throughout the village let us put all these pictures into a little pamphlet and let’s send this round the village and tell everybody that this is our project and ask if we could have any contributions towards it. Well whilst we were doing this we then er decided that we would write to the Kent Messenger newspaper and the Brighton Argos and we had an immediate response from the Brighton Argos, somebody knew of our Reginald Price his name was in the memorial book in the St. Peters Church Brighton, we had a response from two people who read the Brighton Argos called Jackie and Nick Carter who were interested in tracing people they offered to help trace the other three British boys, they came up first of all with a relative that they had found from a free electoral um site of Mormon a family search Mormon site and free birth, marriage and death site, they came up with an address of a Christopher Colbeck who they believed was a nephew of John Wenham, I wrote to him actually wrote to him and yes he was John Wenham’s nephew and his mother John Wenham’s sister was still alive down the road in Luton, so suddenly we got John Wenham’s photographs, letters, documentation, that left us with Reginald Price and it left us with Ian Smith, then Reginald Price um suddenly started to appear because again from the Brighton Argos somebody who had read the Brighton Argos who again loved investigating went on to Ancestry.com and located a Catherine Cook who was a marine biologist in Scotland who was distantly related step step family distantly related to Reginald Price she put us in touch with her mother who had um you know was a step daughter of of a relative and we then had pictures from them that was Reginald Price ticked off. The only by now our doc out leaflet had gone round North Marston village and we had put in it that we didn’t actually have any pictures of er Ian Smith we couldn’t trace Ian Smith’s family, so the doc the leaflet went round North Marston we immediately started getting money in but the leaflet went in North Marston to a gentleman called Mike Fillamore, who again is a local historian, he saw the name Ian Smith he telephoned me and said ‘Sue a few years ago I was in North Marston Church and a gentleman was in the church looking to see if there was a memorial to a relative of his called Ian Smith and I happened to take down his name and address’ and so I telephoned I found on the internet his telephone number and I phoned him that night and he said ‘yes this is amazing’ um and so we then were put in touch with Ian Smith’s more immediate family and again the photographs started rolling in. So we had by well by November we had got pictures of all of the boys, documents, letters and we were in touch with their families and the money had started to roll in and in the end we er I had approached Brett and Sons the stonemasons in Norfolk who did a lot of the village churchyard gravestones, they um gave us a quote for um the actual plaque would have been um was going to be about fifteen hundred pounds in the church but in total our donations from the village people and from the families of the crew came to three thousand pounds so that enabled us to put up the plaque, Oxford Diocese said absolutely fine no problem, and so then we had money left over for a lovely reception and things like that. But um if I can just go back for a moment the er anniversary of the crash was 4th January, and the seventieth anniversary would have been 4th January 2015, but we didn’t have time to get together the Faculty permission to get the plaque done and to get a big service organised for 4th January, we also asked all the New Zealand relatives what they felt about it and all of them said they would absolutely love to come to the service but really January is too soon for us and we would rather come to England when the weather was a bit warmer, so we decided to have a remembrance service on 4th January 2015, which happened to be a Sunday, we put together a lovely service, we as history club wrote some of our own poems, the niece of Michael Reece the pilot, great niece of Michael Reece the pilot happened to live in Wales she said ‘I will come to this January service to represent the families’ and she read a poem at the service, we had the Last Post and it was a wonderful anniversary service followed by a lunch in the church so village people and a few RAF people who we knew and Tina Reece as the relative, and of course she wasn’t the only relative to come to our January service because all the Luton people, John Wenham the young air gunner his sister Joy in her nineties and her family all attended the January service so we had a lovely representation from families there, but we decided then that we needed to find a date to have the big plaque unveiling and the bigger service the New Zealand families suggested if it were possible what about having it on Anzac Day 25th April, it was a very special Anzac Day in 2015 and so we all you know went to the powers that be the church and everybody and it was decided to hold the big memorial on 25th April 2015, by which time the plaque in church would have been completed and we would have time to organise a big big celebration so that is where we’ve got to at the moment. We then decided that er obviously we would like some more representation at this service than we had at the other so I contacted the New Zealand Embassy in London and asked if we could possibly have any New Zealand er RAF people they said being Anzac Day they were a bit short on the ground, but as it happened a week before our service they phoned me and said we are sending six RA New Zealand Air Force, we also had very very honoured to have Air Marshall Sir Colin Terry who agreed to I wrote to him and he agreed to unveil the plaque, we had um members of the er cadets, we had from Maidstone in Kent where young John Wenham had been a boy and had attended the Scouts the Tovil Scouts came up and represented the Scouts they came, we had some local RAF reserve people, and we had our Church Warden um an ex RAF wing commander so he took a big part in the service, um the Royal British Legion of course were desperately keen to be involved and so we ended up with a procession involving um a lot of people all in uniform we had the Last Post we had um eight relatives from New Zealand that day at the service, and a huge coincidence again was that one of the New Zealand relatives was talking to one of the RAF New Zealand RAF and er she said ‘well my er son is a photographer in the RAF’ he said ‘what’s his name, ooh I know him’ so that’s amazing this lady had come from New Zealand and one of our New Zealand RAF boys knew knew her son so that was another little coincidence. So er we had well I say the most wonderful service the church was packed we had wonderful hymns we started off with “God is our Strength and Refuge” sung to the Dambusters tune and it was um a really really lovely service members of the history club all read poems and did readings, I introduced the whole service I set the scene and gave the whole background to it and er then afterwards we went down to the village hall where some local groups had set up memorabilia war time memorabilia, and er a local lady had set up a huge huge refreshments we had a cake with “Lest We Forget” and Joy Colbeck the ninety ninety two year old sister of the young air gunner er she cut the cake and all her family were there so I mean it was really absolutely marvellous, but we had decided before the er big celebration that really with all the photographs that we’d got and the documents er we really need to needed to write a proper book so John Spargo the chairman of the history club and I and two other people from the village, John Newby who was very interested in aircraft he had been er flying with the RAF in the RAF Volunteer Reserves and had had twenty five years in management per to the aviation industry he helped write all of the technical stuff about the plane, and Martin Bromelly who was a current airline pilot and again very very interested in airline history he investigated an awful lot for us, he found out the weather conditions that night, he wrote his own version of what he thought happened that night, so all of these us four basically put together this book with photographs all the photographs that we’d got plus um our interpretation of what actually happened that night and we sold over a hundred copies of the book and we put all the photographs from the day onto a DVD and sold I think about seventy or eighty of those.
CB: Having a break having a breather. So continuing from there.
SC: Um so following the service it it certainly wasn’t the end to everything because although it was coming up now for two years ago we are still in very close contact with the New Zealand families and the families of the British people we are getting emails from them every now and then with best wishes we have Christmas cards we have letters, Jane Springer my colleague who did a lot of the initial investigation with Ancestry.com, she and I have visited dear Joy Colbeck er the sister of the young air gunner John Wenham we visited her several times we visit her on her birthday she has been back to North Marston on several occasions so she has become very much a family friend, er we have been given gifts er um we’ve been given lovely pictures of Wellington aircraft and things like that, and not only have we learned about the six boys themselves but of course we’ve learned very much about their families and these New Zealand boys who had also had brothers in the air force, and Don McClellan whose brother was killed very tragically just before he died his he had also lost a brother on a POW ship that had been sunk by er um mistakenly by a British torpedo, so we learnt about all the tragedies in the families and how sad they’d been and we learnt how much it had meant to them all to lose these boys some of their descendants are named after their uncles and great uncles who died in the crash and the wireless operator Don McClellan his sister is still alive in New Zealand and she has had a picture of him on her wall ever since he died, Michael Reece the pilot his brother Jim is still alive in New Zealand, and of course Joy Colbeck is still alive and Ian Smith’s sister only died a couple of months before we started to do our investigation, so in fact it’s amazing that there are still siblings of these boys still around, it has brought the Colbeck family um John Wenham’s family who are called the Colbeck’s they had had a bit of a rift in the family and because of our investigation about John and they all came together for the service they have all been reunited. Also um dear Ed Andrews from Westcott showed me a photograph one day of a Wellington crew and he said ‘we don’t know who these people are in this picture’ but he gave me the photograph, well Neville Selwood the Lancaster pilot from the Lancaster navigator from New Zealand who was a friend of Alex Bulger who had been to Westcott also sent me a photograph of himself at Westcott and it was exactly the same photograph that Ed had given me so I could then contact Ed and say ‘I now know who this crew is’ and dear Neville Selwood he’s still going strong he writes to me frequently he sends me copies of all his log books, he is the honorary chaplain of the Royal New the New Zealand Bomber Command Association he’s the honorary chaplain and I get their magazines every quarter or every six months they send me their magazine and I believe Ed Andrews from Westcott writes in this magazine because um I’ve seen his articles, so having having um this contact with these people has been wonderful and I myself have found it really heart-warming, I spoke to Captain Jack Charley again who was a Lancaster navigator I believe had a long conversation with him so to to talk to these people is absolutely wonderful, and er as I say you know we’ve brought closure to the families and we have explained a lot to them that they didn’t actually know before they now know that it was North Marston not Long Marston, they’ve seen the site, they’ve seen the field and the actual spot where the plane came down, um one thing that Joy Colbeck er John Wenham’s sister was very very concerned about which is interesting is that she had the official report sent to her of the crash and many many years ago and in it it mentioned that the pilot it was the pilot’s fault because he was inexperienced she was desperately worried when she met the Reece family that this shouldn’t come out, she didn’t want it put in our book she didn’t want them to know because she felt that if they thought that that they wouldn’t be able to live with that, er and so of course we never mentioned it anywhere but I think you know we have discussed this and um basically if he didn’t have enough experience to go up that night then he shouldn’t have been allowed to go up so one can hardly blame the pilot we feel, but we did keep it quiet from the Reece family ah but it has been the most amazingly heart-warming experience since the service in April 2015, we have had three more sets of relatives from New Zealand who have visited they couldn’t make the service themselves but they have been over to England and I have taken them to the memorial, to the crash site, shown them round Westcott airfield which I am now getting very familiar with, and have taken them to Botley to the cemetery, and I expect there’ll soon be some more coming [laughs].
CB: Is there a crucial question here or matter I think which helped closure for families and that is um what was the um what was the operation that they were on because some people don’t recognise how many crashes were in training and there they attributed the loss to a wartime operation, so how did that come out with the different families?
SC: Um the fact that they were just on a on a training mission um I believe John Wenham’s sister knew that anyway um the New Zealand families were happy to know the facts.
CB: Which were?
SC: Which were that they had taken off from Westcott at about seven o’clock on a snowy evening to go on a training mission we’re not quite sure we haven’t been able to find out exactly where they were heading but they took off from Westcott at about seven seven ten and fifteen minutes fifteen minutes later the plane came down in North Marston, so it said on the official report that it came down in from five thousand feet, my mother who was in the back garden at the time heard the plane coming very low over and she knew that it sounded wrong there were Wellington planes all around the airfields around North Marston and she knew it sounded wrong, and Chris Holden with his friend up the road heard the explosion heard the bang, er Clifford Cheshire who was a young boy was out delivering bread with his father he came upon this crash scene within minutes, and er so that is why these people have such vivid memories but they we do not know we haven’t been able to find out what they were doing but it was a training flight the pilot was alone there wasn’t any other train there wasn’t um anybody training them they were on their own, um the New Zealand families were surprised to hear that it wasn’t a mission but they accepted it and er I don’t think they were anything other than pleased to know the facts.
CB: So just to clarify that so some of the families that were there were under some misapprehension that this was actually a bomber sortie.
SC: Yes they hadn’t ever been told that it was a training flight so they assumed that it was a bomber sortie in the in the New Zealand the New Zealand yes yes we have the letters in our book we have the letters that were written to them after the death to announce you know the deaths um from Captain Stevens who was the Group Captain at Westcott um and it basically says ‘your son lost his life as a result of a flying accident the aircraft in which he was flying took off from the station on a normal exercise at nineteen thirty five hours the aircraft crashed’ it doesn’t say what time it took off it just says it crashed at nineteen thirty five hours and it says it was a normal exercise and I think that they just assumed in New Zealand that it was actually a bombing mission, their boys had trained in Canada before they’d come over here and so they had these boys had arrived at Westcott in October around about October and this was January they were due to go off to another base very shortly where they would be going on to Lancasters and things um but I don’t think that er the families probably comprehended that they were just still training I think they probably thought having trained in Canada and come over to England that they had finished their training and no more training was involved er and the letter from Captain Stevens goes on to say ‘no details as to how the accident occurred are available’.
CB: So just to clarify that they’d done their initial training in Canada?
SC: They have.
CB: They’ve come to an operational conversion unit on a twin engine Wellington?
SC: Yes.
CB: There next move probably would have been to heavy bombers because of where the Westcott stream went.
SC: Yes.
CB: So they would have gone to a heavy conversion unit.
SC: Yes.
CB: After that they would have gone to an operational squadron.
SC: Yes yes and I believe that the New Zealand er contingent often went to the same place it was um you might know which one they went to.
CB: Seventy Five Squadron.
SC: Seventy Five Squadron yes yes, one of the letters that we have from one of the boys when he wrote home said that er you know he was sort of suggesting that very soon they would be on their way to somewhere else yes er you know um and they never got there and of course it was only a few months before the war finished
CB: Yes.
SC: Which is very very tragic.
CB: Yes because this was January 45 and the war finished on 8th May in Europe
SC: That’s right yes.
CB: 1945.
SC: Yes.
CB: What would you say was the reaction of the families to the event you put on in memory of the crew?
SC: Huge gratitude and overwhelming surprise that we had decided to honour their family members seventy years after the event that’s that those six lads were still being remembered and were in somebodies memory and I think they were honoured they felt honoured to um think that we had done this, that their boys names are now in the church on a plaque forever and er yes great surprise, but as I have said already several of them said what wonderful closure the actual siblings of the crew who died it brought real closure to these elderly people all in their nineties of course that now they felt it was it had come a full circle and this had been remembered, and of course they were so grateful that they now knew more details about everything and that they had managed to find out about the other crew members that were in the plane with their relatives that night and they have become firm friends the New Zealanders now are all in contact with each other and they write to the old lady in Luton so they’re emailing her she is in her nineties but she still emails she’s very lucid so its brought great friendship and a sense of togetherness and very heart-warming to us at the history club that we managed to do this for these people.
CB: Yes, and in the village what was the reaction to the publication of the book but actually the event itself also?
SC: Well we had the most amazing response to the book because the money just starting pouring in I think the fact that we showed the photograph the photographs we got by then that the photographs the story of this plane crash in this little booklet made it very personal and very poignant um and the village people showed great interest in fact I think we could have filled the church twice over er that day of the big service but obviously with all the RAF personnel and relatives you know and people close to it we er we couldn’t fit we wouldn’t have fitted everybody in um [laughs] but er yes um great interest great interest.
CB: I remember it was a very good event.
SC: You see a lot of people in the village er had no idea that a plane had crashed you know in the village and they didn’t know that and so I think yes it was an event very well worth doing all round for everybody concerned.
CB: Two supplementary questions associated with this what was the reaction of the Church of England to this?
SC: Er there was no opposition whatsoever to putting a memorial in the church the Faculty although they took a long time to give us permission but I think faculties always take a long time to come through and the er Vicar the village Vicar was very very happy to do that.
CB: And afterwards did you get anything from them?
SC: From the church?
CB: Yes.
SC: Yes um in fact er we we because we had some money er left over from our collection we actually gave the church a substan quite a nice amount of money as er the collection at the church that day was about five hundred pounds that day and so er I think we actually handed that over to the church so they were very grateful for that as well.
CB: Right brilliant, the second question is to do with your speciality education so how did the Local Education Authority but particularly the school in the village react?
SC: The school in the village? Er they had very little to do with it the village school yes yes.
CB: It’s not surprising in a way that so many people don’t even know when the war was.
SC: Mmm mmm.
CB: Let alone anything that came out of it.
SC: Absolutely, I think to be honest with you we were so busy, and I was particularly busy because I I organised it all, so I wrote all the letters, I wrote all the invitations, I did all of the organising absolutely everything, I wrote the service and everything, I think I was so probably taken up with the organisation of it all that I didn’t actually involve to be fair the village school children at that time because um we we just had so much else to do, we have the North Marston History Club we do go into the school I have gone into the school and given talks on various things like the history of the school but we haven’t actually talked to them about this particular event but we we might because I think it it’s something that we can we can do but at the time the village school children weren’t really involved, the children who were at the service were not the village school children they were air cadets local air cadets and the young scouts from Maidstone, er quite another nice coincidence was that John Wenham the young air gunner was a scout in Maidstone in the Tovil Scouts and there is a memorial to him on their Scout memorial but also his name is just alongside Guy Gibson’s because Guy Gibson was an honorary Tovil Scout, so John Wenham and Guy Gibson are on the same memorial down in Maidstone which is rather rather lovely, and those scouts our Tovil Scouts from Maidstone have forged a relationship with old dear Joy Colbeck now and they um have looked after they have now gone round to look after her brother’s grave in Maidstone and in fact the war grave the War Grave Commission have renovated er his stone and so that’s another nice outcome, I think the she wrote to it and I think it all brought it to the fore that the stone was getting in very poor condition and so that’s another result of this is that his stone has now been renovated at and the Tovil Scouts tend it and have shown an interest in him so it’s been educational for those young boys as well, and I think also what has been again so amazing is the response from the newspapers the Kent Messenger they have run big they wrote ran a big article for and to find to try and help us trace relatives they reported our service afterwards, The Best of British Magazine had it in , in er you know the Bucks Herald, er and the Brigton Argos if they hadn’t have published our story that time, and then since then the Kent Messenger the journalist there who was so interested in our story that he has contacted Joy Colbeck and has got a lot of stories about her family and her her family grew up in Maidstone, her family ran I’ll say a well known shop in Maidstone and I think he’s just suddenly she’s become a local celebrity in Maidstone although she lives in Luton she’s become a local celebrity in Maidstone and he’s been writing stories about her so that’s another offshoot really from it yes yes.
CB: You mentioned the Military Cemetery at Botley on the west side of Oxford.
SC: Yes yes.
CB: How well is that maintained and by who?
SC: It’s maintained beautifully um I’m not sure whether it’s the Oxford Council who do it or whether it’s the War Graves Commission but I’ve visited it on many occasions occasions and there’s always somebody mowing it’s beautifully kept and the three New Zealand boys are buried side by side and then the two British are just a few yards away in a different place, and all of the relatives who have visited this country have all obviously been over to Botley, and on the morning of our service on 25th April, we organised a little minibus and er a little minibus load of people went over there before they came back for our afternoon service and they took poppies and flowers over there to lay on the graves that day, yes very very beautifully maintained.
CB: Finally you’ve done a huge amount of work on this which worked extremely well and gave great closure for the families what would you say was the most memorable aspect of your task in arranging and er closing this operation?
SC: I think the most memorable aspect was our initial contact with the families we had no idea we would actually contact anybody and I think to receive photographs but receiving the photographs um I think every time I had a photograph I burst into tears when I saw it, there was only one of the crew who we couldn’t get a photograph of as an adult we only had one of the child, but to see photographs of those boys who died that night that’s my most I think one of the most poignant things, and I think to looking back to think how we have brought the families together and have given them so much information and honoured them, I think they felt honoured that we had remembered their boys and I think it’s the overwhelming sense of thanks and gratitude that we have had from the families I think that has been the the the personal aspect of it has been the most the thing that will live with me forever, I think it really well and er its been er yes a very very very worthy thing and I shall never regret doing it, my only regret is that my dear mother who saw the plane come down that night and who gave me the first early stories of this plane er had died before we managed to do this she would have just loved to have met everybody so that was my regret but yes that’s it I think really to say the everlasting legacy of it I think.
CB: In view of what you said I think it’s worth recording that er to do with the New Zealanders that of all the Commonwealth Countries New Zealand contributed the highest proportion of it’s population towards the war effort in Britain.
SC: Really, that’s amazing.
CB: So Sue we’ve spoken about people who are effectively are not in this locality in terms of the crew and their families and their descendants but in the locality first of all what was the reactions of schools and secondly the press because that links together really in an awareness but first the school so what was their reaction?
SC: Er the local village school er didn’t actually show any interest in it really, that said we didn’t approach the school at the time because we were so very very busy involved in the organisation and all of you can imagine how busy we were, er but some of the people who had given us money er and were helping us in the project had children had links with the village school but somehow it didn’t filter through to the village school or the headmistress there er that this might be a worthy project for her children to do, I don’t think that the headmistress of North Marston Village School had a great interest in history herself, in fact the only thing that the village school has done in North Marston in any way to do with history is that they have called their four houses after some important names linked with the village history, like Shaw and Camden and things like that because of its their names that go back in North Marston history back to twelve hundreds they have called their children’s houses by those names, misspelt I might say they haven’t spelt them properly, but that’s the only real thing that they’ve done towards village history, and they did er I asked them if I could go in and give them a history talk and I talked about the history of the village school er so that is really the only link that they have they have had with history, oh and I believe our Chairman of the History Club did take them on a guided walk around the village but certainly with where we go back to the bomber they didn’t show any interest at the time but that said we were so busy and exhausted with it all actually that we probably didn’t approach the school ourselves so we might have engendered so interest if we had gone in, um but the local newspapers were very disinterested the Buckingham Advertiser didn’t even publish a story about it and the Bucks Herald did publish something many weeks after after we had cajoled and that was a complete contrast to the reactions that we had from the Kent Messenger newspaper and the Brigton Argos newspaper who were thrilled to publish pictures of our big service and the stories behind them so it’s interesting that the editorial in the Bucks papers is disinterested in that sort of thing, er I will probably give a talk to the school at some stage actually I’m sure that they will um yes they they will let me go in and talk to them but I think um it didn’t engender their interest at the time.
CB: And your secondary school is in Waddesdon so what was the reaction there?
SC: No well we haven’t heard anything from them but again they might not have known anything about it because the local papers didn’t publicise it.
CB: Okay right I’ll stop there.
SC: Keep thinking of things but
CB: There are occasionally other things that come to mind afterwards and one is that there are stories about things that happened like what your mother’s perception was so shall we just cover that and also the other one so what did your mother say about it?
SC: Well my mother who happened to be in the outside privy in the garden at the time age twenty seven heard the Wellington bomber coming over and knew that it was in trouble because it didn’t sound like the other Wellington bombers that were always going over, she always said to me that it was on fire and she heard those poor boys screaming, but thinking about it with the noise of a Wellington bomber just a hundred feet above your head she probably didn’t hear screams and although it exploded in a field about quarter of a mile away er and obviously there was fire all around them, er we’ve all discussed since that possibly it wasn’t on fire when my mother saw it but it’s something that she thought it probably would have been but she didn’t actually see it but she’s dead now so we won’t ever know but that was her perception of it at the time.
CB: Well it could have been an engine fire of course as the crash was undetermined, what was the other story?
SC: Well this isn’t in our book at all and we haven’t mentioned it to some of the relatives but a local person in North Marston, Mike Fillamore, who is still alive, said that he was told by another local villager that the morning after the crash when they were down there a body was found hanging in a tree an ash tree just on the edge of the road, this was news to me I’ve never heard this story certainly my mother had never mentioned it, but the person who told this story was somebody called Jeff Ayres who has now passed away, but Mike Fillamore who heard this story from him said that was what he told him but Mike Fillamore could still tell you that, but we didn’t mention this to er the Joy Colbeck, the sister of John Wenham who was an air gunner, because we thought that it would upset her if she thought that it was her young brother who might have been in that tree and possibly in the dark might not have been noticed that night and could possibly have been saved, so we thought it was best not to tell her this because it’s not substantiated but I think I don’t know where the story comes from but this was what was said.
CB: So it is quite possible of course that somebody tried to get out like the rear gunner rotating his turret.
SC: Yes, so it could have been John Wenham or the young Reg Price the two nineteen year olds.
CB: Yes. Thank you.

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Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Sue Chaplin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3370.

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