Interview with Dennis Kirk. One


Interview with Dennis Kirk. One


Dennis Kirk was born in 1920, to farming parents, in the village of Barkestone in Nottinghamshire. He says that he didn’t want to be a farmer but when he left school he had to work on the farm. When the war started he wanted to join up but because farming was a reserved occupation, he couldn’t, so he joined the Home Guard instead. He relates how, on 5 March 1943, whilst on patrol at night, he witnessed the crash of Lancaster ED549, in which six of the seven crew were killed. He tells how he helped the injured survivor to a nearby house before personnel arrived from nearby RAF Langar. He describes how, 63 years later, the discovery, by metal detector, of a part from the aircraft stirred up memories of the crash and prompted research into the event. He tells of how the whole village joined in, collecting for a memorial and trying to locate the relatives of the crew. A memorial ceremony was arranged, presided over by a retired RAF chaplain and a Spitfire flypast. A memorial stone, paid for by the village, and an information board were unveiled at the crash site.
Dennis also goes on to describe two other wartime crashes in the area.




Temporal Coverage





00:22:34 audio recording


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CB: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command centre, the interviewer is Clare Bennett, the interviewee is Mr Dennis Kirk. The interview is taking place at Mr Kirk’s home at Plungar, Nottinghamshire, on the tenth of June twenty fifteen. Right Dennis, so whereabouts were you born?
DK: I was born at Barkestone, in the next village, and my brother and my sister, and my father and my mother lived at Harby Farm, Barkestone
CB: What date was that?
DK: That was er, we lived there ‘till nineteen twenty-nine, then we moved to [unclear] Plungar in nineteen twenty-nine.
CB: So, you were born, in?
DK: April the twenty fifth nineteen twenty [laughs].
CB: And, do you remember much of your early life?
DK: Well, I, I had a good life, you know, in, in the village. Everybody played games and that, and the school was at Barkestone you see, but then, when we moved to Plungar in nineteen twenty-nine, we had to walk to Barkestone school every day then, in the morning and then back in the afternoon [laughs]. I played all sorts of games, but er, it was a nice little school it was, yeh.
CB: Was your family in farming then?
DK: Yep, yeh, well the family started farming in about seventeen ninety [laughs] but, I didn’t want to be a farmer, I wanted to be a wheelwright or a butcher, but you did what your parents told you in those days [laughs], you didn’t tell them what you wanted to do [laughs].
CB: They told you, so what did you do after school, you know, after you left school?
DK: Well, I helped the butcher for, at weekends, used to help him deliver two or three, when I left school, and then ‘cos I worked on the farm from then on, yes.
CB: And, war was started, so you’d be about er, twenty, something like that?
DK: I was twenty-one when the plane crashed, yes
CB: Right, and you were in the Home Guard?
DK: Home guard and fire watch, yes.
CB: So, was it because you were in a reserved occupation, that you were into farming?
DK: Yeh, at the time, you could have been called up, but you never, you had the medical but you weren’t called up, you see, but one or two round here were kept because the short of, short of, labour round here at the time, yes.
CB: Did you want to join the forces?
DK: I would have liked to join the forces, yeh, but didn’t have the chance, no [laughs].
CB: So, you did your Home Guard duties?
DK: Yeh, yeh.
CB: And, so, what did that -?
DK: Well, we used to have a, have a, on a Wednesday night, in the, used to do some training there, then every Sunday morning, we either did some training or in this [unclear] hill, had er, had places to jump into pits, and things to climb across [laughs], whether it made any good, I don’t know [laughs]. And then at times they would take us into, up to Eaton, where there was a lot of disused mines, where we used to use a Lewis gun or a Sten gun, but it was interesting a lot of it, but, you mean, you thought you were doing a bit of good for the country, but it was, when we were on the bridge, we never saw a soul at all, we’d just got the guns and rifle there [laughs].
CB: Of course, I’ve got to mention Dads Army, haven’t I, you’ve watched that. Does that bear any resemblance to what you did?
DK: No, [emphasis] no [laughter] But, anyway, we enjoyed the, you had a night out, once, I say, different people, each week, I mean, old people and the young ones as well. This chappie was with me, he weren’t a young chap when playing cards, he were good company [laughs].
CB: So, the, the night that we’re interested in, it was obviously just an ordinary night for you that night?
DK: yeh, well, we’d just walked up the village, we always checked in the village for lights and things, if any lights on.
CB: And this is March the fifth nineteen forty-three?
DK: Nineteen forty-three, yeh.
CB: Yes.
DK: We was just walking down back to the Home Guard hut there, and we heard this plane making a weird sort of a noise. Funny, I can’t describe the noise it made and it just went dead, and the plane just went down there and of course, we expected to find it on the rail track, but when we got down there, there was only a survivor on the rail track.
CB: Did it, was there a loud crash or?
DK: Well, it must have woken all the people up there you see, but it just went straight down.
CB: Right.
DK: And, we got the laddie off the railway line and took him there, and just, then me friend and I were walking down to see the plane and we saw these three men thrown out in a matter of space as this, they must have come out the front of the plane, and then the rear, he was in the turret upside down, but there was two more dead in the plane.
CB: So, you are right up close now?
DK: Say?
CB: You were right up close to this Lancaster?
DK: Oh yes, yes, we walked all round it, you see, yeh.
CB: You didn’t think it was going to explode or anything like that?
DK: No, no, I said, ‘any bombs?’, they said, ‘no, no’, so I think they must have run out of fuel or something.
CB: Who did you ask?
DK: Well, no one said that, but someone said, perhaps a shortage of fuel, in one of the letters, I think it said from -
CB: But, at the time, but at the time, you went up to it, you didn’t know whether it, bombs or anything else?
DK: No, within, within, quarter of an hour, the whole lot of serving aircrew, airmen from Lanc, came running to the plane, you see.
CB: I see.
DK: But then we walked away and left, left it to them because it weren’t our responsibility, you see, no.
CB: So, you could see the bodies, in and around it?
DK: Yeh, yeh, yeh.
CB: And, also, one of the, the crew had been thrown out, you say and landed on the -?
DK: On the railway line, yeh.
CB: And, did you go up to him?
DK: We, we, got him off the rail track and took him to the houses, yeh.
CB: So, did you think he was dead or could you see that he was alive?
DK: He was walking on the railway.
CB: Oh, right.
DK: No, no, we couldn’t see his face, but I think he had a head injury, but what, but what they said didn’t they, Joan?
JK: Someone said he had severe head injuries, but he was, he was, compos mentis, because you said to him, ‘are there any bombs on the plane?’, and he said, ‘no, we, we disposed’, you know, ‘we got rid of them all’.
DK: He was only eighteen, but he, he walked pretty well on the rail track, I mean got him off the rail track and took him to the farmhouse there, so, what happened to them, I said everything was lost until nineteen, until sixty-three years afterwards, when they found this, this chappie found a bit of metal.
CB: Oh, can you tell me about that, who was that, was it er, somebody with a metal detector?
DK: The man in the, who was a metal detector and he, what he said was, he found this bit of metal, that’s in Waltham, Waltham museum, all the details there, and er, he kept it for two years [laughs] in his shed, didn’t know what it was. And another gentleman on this village said, ‘ask Dennis, ‘cos he saw a plane crash there’, but erm, it was very interesting to, no one seemed to know what part of the plane it was, where from the plane it had come off, but, in the end I think someone did sort it out, where, where it, which part of the plane it was.
CB: So, you saw them, you saw the crash and the survivor?
DK: Yeh.
CB: And then they came running from RAF Langar?
DK: Yeh.
CB: To pick up the -
DK: Yeh, ‘cos it was in, if it had gone another half mile, he would have landed, but he wasn’t going the right way, he was going, if you like, would you like to see the memorial or not? [laughs].
CB: Yes, we can have a look later.
DK: He was going, how to explain, he was going straight, he would have gone to Bingham, instead of, at the rate he was going, yeh.
CB: Right, did you think he sort of lost his bearings as to where he was going, or -?
DK: Well, I think, I feel for sure, he’d run out of, he couldn’t go no further, no.
CB: Right.
DK: But, but, he, they say that then or some years or so, will never really know what happened to, until this chappie found this metal, then after that Tim Chamberlin found where three of the crew were buried at Long Bennington, but - [laughs].
CB: So, it had, he’d done a forced landing, hasn’t, hadn’t he?
DK: Yeh, er, yeh.
CB: So, er, with, as you say with little fuel.
DK: Well, if he had gone on that way, he’d have landed on the airfield, he was going, not in the right direction for the airfield, but you see below here is an old airfield from the first World War [laughs], but whether he’d got that on his map I don’t know [laughs].
CB: When did they come and take the rest of the plane away?
DK: I say, we had to work again, it was cleared, it was cleared up the same day, yeh.
CB: Oh.
DK: On one of these long, what do they call them, they used to collect them at [unclear], you see, but this plane weren’t smashed up a lot, no.
CB: No.
DK: No, but it, they say, I’ve read in books about it, flying, the pilot, there was not a spark at all.
CB: No, well no bombs and no fuel, so -
DK: No, no, no, there couldn’t have been any fuel, ‘cos I’m sure it would have caught fire.
CB: So, the, the gentleman with the metal detector has found this, and then research starts on it, on this, on this crash I take it?
DK: Pardon?
CB: Did research start then on to what had happened?
DK: Yeh, it was Chamberlin, Tim Chamberlin, who started it all up, you see, then of course, the village got involved, and then that’s when we did a collection and well. Tim got the, Tim got the whole service involved himself, didn’t he, Joan.
JK: Yes, he found the erm, Padre that retired.
DK: Air Force Padre, yeh.
JK: Air Force Padre to take the service and erm -
DK: No.
CB: Yes, the Venerable Air Vice Marshal, Robin Turner.
JK: He organised the service, for the Lancaster and Spitfire to have a flypast after the service.
CB: Who did the research to find the families of the crew?
JK: Well, we all kind of did a bit. Tim did the Canadians because he had a brother in Canada, erm, I don’t know how we found the Barbadian, erm, I think it was David Webb that found -
DK: He found the Barbadians on the wotsit.
JK: Yes, he found the Barbadian, I think, on the, by doing some research on the internet, and erm, then various people, we found out where they were all, the English people were all buried, and did research into the different areas where they were buried, but of course, why we couldn’t find out, how we couldn’t find out er, about them from that. We put adverts in newspapers and you know, in the local area but er, then you see we found the others, quite a few of them had moved, because the, well, found out that the ones from Tyneside had moved down to Daventry, and the Portsmouth ones had moved to Southampton, so we couldn’t, never occurred to us to find out in the Southampton area or the Daventry area. We did all the research in the local area where they were buried.
CB: So, you had, erm, a dedication of the memorial?
DK: Yeh, yeh.
CB: Erm, to the crew of Lancaster ED 549 of a 100 Squadron, on the twenty second of September twenty twelve.
DK: Yeh.
CB: And, erm, [pause] as you say, the Venerable Air Vice Marshal Robin Turner.
JK: That’s right.
CB: Led the, and did erm, did the survivors?
DK: There’s that, what we found at the start, you can have it [unclear], that’s all we found to start off with, you can have that book as well.
CB: Thank you. So, the survivor, erm, Sergeant Davies, erm, he was, his family, erm, he’d died by this time hadn’t he, died in his fifties?
DK: Oh yes.
JK: Died in his fifties.
CB: So, who, who was, did his, some of his family manage to come to the service?
DK: No, no.
JK: No, because we couldn’t find, we found about them after, oh I think it was in the November, after the service, and it was because he was doing, he was asked to do some, his father was asked to do some, no, his son was asked to do some research when he was living in Cyprus, erm [pause] on Bomber, erm, bomb gunnery instruction and it was through that, that he found out, about the erm, the crash here and er contacted us. And he rang up and just said, ‘I’m the survivor, er, I’m the son of the survivor of the aircraft’, [laughs] so, we were all a bit gobsmacked [laughs].
CB: So, you managed to find -
JK: Because the Air Force didn’t know, couldn’t tell us whether he had actually survived or not.
CB: Oh, so you managed to find the family of the Canadian and er -
JK: Yes, yes.
DK: Yes, we found the Canadian.
CB: And the family from Barbados, but not the, not the English survivor.
JK: That’s what we couldn’t understand. I mean, the one that we found out about after was the Hallet family, er, and Emily Hallet rang us from Southampton, but we got the names of the brothers of the, the man that was killed and we found out where they, where they lived, erm, and I say, one lived in Nottingham, and I searched through all the Nottingham telephone directory and rang every Hallet in the Nottingham telephone directory. One was in Northampton, and I forget where the other one was, there were three brothers and er, but no success at all.
DK: That’s, that’s where the plane crashed though, if you like, we can take you down and see where it is [unclear], it’s quite, it’s a rough road, if you like see where the memorial is, would you like to see it, the memorial?
CB: Yes, we can do that later.
DK: The people, the people, Gills of Newark did the memorial, because they did it for a reasonable price you see, but people all in this village contributed to the cost of that, there’s still a bit left in the kitty, to keep it, and our neighbour he did, did something else with it, where the memorial is, yeh. But Tim, now, the Chairman, is now, is redoing it, a book now about the whole families, at the time he’d only got the Barbados and the Canadian, but he’s doing a new book.
JK: Updating the book.
DK: Updating it, yeh, it’s very interesting [unclear] volunteer, yeh, while you’re talking to me.
JK: He’s an American.
CB: Well, you live quite close to RAF Langar, so, and other, and other airfields round here, so you must have seen other crashes and -?
JK: Well, yes, I said, I saw the one which crashed in Belvoir Woods, that plane flew from Syerston, a trainer plane, that killed them all, then, then, there’s one crash near Belvoir, that was all, just one survivor there, then the one crashed in [unclear] Branston there, and there was, no survivors there, then, then at Barnstone, that little village opposite Langar there, there was one crash in Langar there, no survivors and er -
CB: Did you ever get used to all these crashes then?
DK: Well, you see [laughs], you see the Lancs were flying over regular and you just took it for granted that they’d crash you see, then the one which blew up on the airfield, there was some ones not taking the ones not, the ones not, taking a certain, I don’t know, [unclear] it blew up you see, yeh, but er, no but is was er, you’d see them taking off on the way from Langar there, yeh.
CB: So, you carried, carried on your Home Guard duties until the end of the war?
DK: Yeh, yeh [laughs].
CB: And then you went back to farming, I believe?
DK: Farming, we were farming at the time as well, you see, farming in the daytime, yeh [unclear] [laughs].
CB: Did you find wreckage as you were farming round here or -?
DK: No, no, [unclear] you see, but er, let’s see, in, in [unclear] where was it? They came to bomb, bomb Derby one night during the war, but they diverted to Nottingham and did a lot of damage in Nottingham, then they dropped all the bombs round here.
CB: Right.
DK: And they dug two, time bombs off the farm and we had fifteen craters filled in [laughs], but no one was injured, no one, no one was killed, right from Cropwell Bishop to Plungar, they just scattered the bombs, [laughs] [telephone ringing] but we were lucky really, yeh. But they say you [unclear] the war, but you met a lot of lovely people, and these people who came to the dedication, you couldn’t wish for nicer families. To me, because they had a house at Normanton near the Bottesford airfield and they were very impressed with that, after we had done this function that day. My wife did that in the morning, about thirty from abroad you see, then we had the church service, and so many went back to the village hall, was a meal for everyone, the rest came here [laughs] and er, had a lovely, er, I know it was war, but it was really nice, meeting up with them. And so, then Tim found out, Tim the Chairman, found out about the museum at Waltham, so we visited that then.
CB: Do you think that the people of Plungar, erm, sort of came together?
DK: Yeh, yeh.
CB: With this memorial and finding out, and the ceremony?
DK: Mr David Webb who lived at [unclear], he did a lot towards it and then, I said, he guaranteed to find out as much as he could, and Chamberlin got, but at Bennington, there’s an old chappie still alive, he cares for those graves, for I don’t know how many years until he wasn’t capable of doing it, so someone else has taken over since then, but er, [laughs].
CB: So, it’s been er, it’s been sort of, positive effect?
DK: Yeh.
CB: On the, on the village this, to have this memorial and this event?
DK: Yeh, people who have never set foot in church [laughs], I say, my son was going to play the organ but he got this [unclear], my cousin he played for the service but [unclear], he played for the service, and we had the Reverend [unclear], he took part in the service, and I rang the bell [laughs]. And my wife, she, she put, you know, people into which places they wanted to be and we had the boy there, because as they lined the footpath [laughs] so, it was really nice, I won’t forget it you see, no.
CB: When the erm, crash happened did any official come and interview you or anything like that?
DK: No, no, they sent nothing, never heard a thing from them. I know a chap who went down to have a look at it and they told him to get out, so we left it. When the plane went down, we walked round, and when this drove of crew came from Langar airfield to check on it, we moved away and maybe just forgot [laughs].
CB: So, they picked up the remains of the crew, and also, the survivor and then, took them away?
DK: So, where, where they took the dead people too, you know, I don’t know where they took them, where they took those too, but we, as I say, and this chap we moved away and left it with them. It was their job, yeh, but I’d never seen a dead, a dead man before you see, but they were just in an awful state, so they must have gone out the front of the plane, I don’t know, yeh.
CB: With the force of it, had thrown them out I suppose?
DK: Yeh.
CB: Well, Dennis, that’s -
DK: If there’s anything else to show you while I’m at it then, [background noise] but they were very good to me, weren’t they?
CB: Thank you very much.



Clare Bennett, “Interview with Dennis Kirk. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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