70 years on, WWII airmen killed over Canvey are remembered

Moving - the service at St Nicholas's Church. Right: David Land, Tom Townsend and Mike Watson

Dick Andrews - only living survivor of mid-air collision

First published in Southend

ELEVEN United States airmen killed in a horrific Second World War bomber collision over Canvey have been honoured at a touching memorial service, 70 years on.

About 200 people packed St Nicholas’ Church, in Long Road, Canvey, to remember the events of June 19, 1944, when two B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 525th Bomb Squadron crashed.

The commemoration service was led by the Rev David Tudor, with the Royal British Legion, and began with a procession featuring standard bearers, former servicemen and Scout and Guide groups.

The Rev Tudor said: “This is the first time we have done this and I never expected so may people – there were about 200.

“It is important to commemorate this and we had a beautiful service.

“We had ten eyewitnesses to the collision at the service, as well as the daughter and son-inlaw of the only living survivor from America, who could not make it, but sent a message to be read out.”

Barbara Tarbox travelled from the US on behalf of her father Dick Andrews – the only living survivor of the crash.

There were a series of hymns, Bible readings and prayers, before candles were lit in honour of the tragic servicemen.

The Rev Tudor ended the service by saying: “We remember with thanksgiving those who are prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for us in time of war.

“We pray the offering of their lives may not be in vain.”

Dignitaries who attended included Castle Point MP Rebecca Harris and Castle Point mayor Jackie Govier.

Ray Howard, Tory councillor for Canvey West, said: “What a wonderful service.”

Royal British Legion members said it was an honour to take part in the service. Mike Watson, 80, from Ouida Road, Canvey, who was in the Coldstream Guards, acted as a standard bearer.

He said: “It was a very nice service. I lived in London at the time and knew nothing about this but, three days after it happened, we were bombed out of our house, so I was commemorating that, too.”

Tom Townsend, 86, of Matlock Road, Canvey, was in the Navy and also lived in London when the accident happened.

He said: “It is important to remember the Americans and what they did in the Second World War.

“Without them, things may have been very different for us today.”

David Land, 64, of Gaffzell Drive, Canvey, was also a standard bearer. He never saw active service, but most of his relatives did.

He said: “I wasn’t born 70 years ago, but it is so important we mark what happened.”

 

How tragedy struck bomber group after daring French raid

JUST after 6pm on June 19, 1944, a formation of B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 379th Bomb Group of the United States Army Air Force was approaching the River Thames from the south.

They were returning from a raid on a V1 rocket site in France.

As the aircraft crossed the Thames, witnesses on the ground reported hearing a loud whining noise.

Two of the aircraft came together, locking for a second or two.

Then one fell away, breaking up and crashing into the River Thames. The other circled around as parachutes appeared and the crewmen escaped.

The collision happened as one of the planes was flying in heavy cloud cover, piloted by Lt AJ Ramacitti, and experienced engine troubles.

It was reported the plane gained altitude, overtaking the formation, before turning into an uncontrollable dive.

Lt Ramacitti’s plane collided with flight 42-97942 just behind the pilot’s compartment, where Lt LL Burns was at the controls.

According to an eyewitness at the time, Mr CT Ellison, the collision happened over the Leigh Middle Buoy, east of Canvey Point.

Lt Ramacitti’s aircraft plunged into a dive, crashing into a minefield in the Thames.

Airmen of Lt Burns’s aircraft managed to bail out before the pilot turned away from the town and ditched in the mud.

In total 11 men died, including both pilots.

Seven men managed to parachute to safety.

On July 2, 1944, three of the dead were buried at the American Military Cemetery, at Cambridge. The body of a radio gunner from one of the aircraft was

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