NOSTALGIA: Wartime crash victims remembered at downland church

A simple memorial service is held each February at St Peter's Church in Folkington to commemorate those who died
A simple memorial service is held each February at St Peter's Church in Folkington to commemorate those who died

A memorial was held last weekend in remembrance of the 23 British and Commonwealth aircrew who died on February 6 1945 when an RAF Dakota KG630 crashed in thick mist on the South Downs half a mile west of Folkington, en-route to liberated France.

It was held at St Peter’s Church, Folkington, and attended by local historians who have documented the crash history.

The aircraft was one of a number involved in moving men and equipment from Thorney Island in Hampshire to a new base at Rosieres-en-Santerre Airfield in France.

According to official records, the Dakota KG360 crashed on the South Downs at 10.05am in cloudy and overcast conditions.

A transcript by Edward Page reports, “The Downs were hidden by a thick mist and the machine struck the top of a hill and dived into a wood and caught fire.

“A Mr Ronald Crouch of Sayerlands, Polegate, was working 300 yards away but did not see the crash owing to the mist but ran towards the sound.

“He found the blazing plane but could not see or hear anything of the crew.

“He then rang for assistance and met Mr Prodger and Mr Heath who had come from Folkington Manor where they are employed.

“Mr Heath returned to telephone the police whilst the others made a reconnaissance of the wreck and surrounding land in order to locate the occupants.

“At 10.45am Mr Reginald Beck of Polegate FAP and myself arrived with an ambulance and with my axe I managed to cut a way through the trees and branches which had been brought down by the plane.

“The machine was still burning and small arms ammunition was occasionally exploding.

“At about 10.55am Sergeant Hopkins and PC Boon arrived and was followed in about 15 minutes by Eastbourne NFS.

“A body was located under the wreckage and with the help of Section Leader Phillipson in charge of the NFS, the debris was moved and trees pulled away and further bodies recovered.

“Rescue work was hampered by lack of water as the wreck burnt continually and it was 6pm when the last body was removed.

“During the later stages the police were assisted by police from Hailsham and the NFS was relieved by a crew from Eastbourne.

“Difficult rescue work was made successful by the excellent co-operation of the above named.

“The RAF Guard was supplied from Friston.

“Bodies were moved by tractors and trailers provided by Mr Carr from Home Farm, Folkington, and Lt Col Gwynne, Folkington Manor, as far as the Rectory and then by FAP, Ambulance and RAF transport.”

The majority of the dead airmen – who were aged between 20 and 44 years old – are buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Relatives of the airmen visited the site of the crash in May 2011 when East Sussex historian Peter Tyrrell was able to pinpoint the crash site where some years earlier, a small memorial in the shape of an aluminium cross made from the aircraft wreckage, had been nailed to a tree.