French village to mark loss of a Lancaster bomber

The graves of John Edward, Sam Isherwood and Tom Price in Leulingham churchyard.The graves of John Edward, Sam Isherwood and Tom Price in Leulingham churchyard.
The graves of John Edward, Sam Isherwood and Tom Price in Leulingham churchyard.
A French village is set to mark the 80th anniversary of the loss of a 617 Dambuster Sqn Lancaster bomber.

On June 24, 1944, a Lancaster bomber was lost over Pas de Calais in France after a 617 Dambuster Squadron raid set out to drop a Tallboy on the German V-bomb site at Wizernes, France.

The aircraft took off from Woodhall Spa airfield, now a nature reserve, but was hit by flak over the target.

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The Lancaster was carrying a crew of eight – one more than usual because there was an extra gunner on board – Tom Price RCAF in his first flight with this crew.

Sam Isherwood.Sam Isherwood.
Sam Isherwood.

Five of the crew died, including the pilot Flt Lt John Edward, along with gunners Sam Isherwood, Canadians Tom Price and Ian Johnston, and the flight engineer, Bill King.

Three men – wireless operator Gerry Hobbs, Canadian navigator Lorne Pritchard, and bomb aimer Jackie Brook – were injured but captured and interned by the Nazis.

A local Resistance worker, André Schamp, from the village of Leulingham, was instrumental in helping to rescue the three aircrew who survived, at a huge risk to his own safety, and he later buried three of the dead in Leulingham churchyard, with Johnston and King buried a short distance away at St Omer.

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All these graves have headstones erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Now, a local historian in Leulingham, Gaetan Sagot, is organising a special event in the village to mark the loss of the Lancaster’s crew 80 years ago.

He enlisted the help of Trevor Kerry, a professor at Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste Universities, who have both undertaken extensive research to fill out the picture of the individual airmen and of these events.

Trevor has been involved for some years with the history of this aircraft and its crew, having first visited the graves of five crew members when he was Branch Secretary of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Cranwell RAF group.

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Trevor said: “Every time I re-connect with this story, new information comes to light. Working with Gaetan, we have uncovered some previously unknown photographs, and I have become party to some of the sources in the original French language.”

The event will see an exhibition and a procession to the graves, set to take place on Saturday and Sunday June 22 and 23.

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